Internships, work experience and the coronavirus

Are there any internships or placements available in 2022? What if Covid-19 means I won’t be able to get any work experience?

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What are your chances of securing an internship or placement in 2022? As the effects of the pandemic drag on, we examine the opportunities available and what to do if you don’t secure a formal placement.

In 2022 most employers are planning either to run virtual work experience programmes or adopt a hybrid approach, in which students will spend some time in the office and some time working remotely from home.

This is according to the Institute of Student Employers, which surveyed 177 of its members (typically the largest graduate employers) and found that 69% expected to deliver internships (and 76% placement years) in these ways.

This tallies with some of what we are hearing at targetjobs. However, we are also gaining the impression that some employers are waiting to see what the spring and summer will bring before deciding whether to offer fully in-person, fully virtual or hybrid programmes. Often recruiters are not yet stating on their vacancy advertisements whether the opportunity is virtual, hybrid or in-person. While this is something you can explore with the recruiter later in the recruitment process, you should think about whether you are prepared to relocate if the work experience location is not commutable.

Search for internship, placement and work experience vacancies on targetjobs .

How do I apply for internships and placements in 2022?

In the depths of the pandemic, many large employers turned to digital recruitment, increasing their use of video interviews (both live and pre-recorded) and introducing virtual assessment centres . This trend is set to continue over this next year. Smaller employers, too, may well continue to interview you over a video calling platform such as Skype or Zoom . Rest assured that the initial application stages won’t have changed from before the pandemic: larger employers usually favour online application forms , while smaller employers typically ask you to email a CV and covering letter .

Discover more about applying to large and small internship employers.

Which sectors offer the largest number of internships?

The ISE reported that in 2020–21 the biggest increases in the number of internships were found in the following sectors: retail, FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods) and tourism; charity and the public sector; and digital and IT. The biggest increase in the number of placements, meanwhile, could be found in the built environment and retail, FMCG and tourism sectors. But this comes from a small sample of the largest employers and also perhaps reflects the sectors hit most hard in 2020. So, is it a trend set to continue into 2022?

A snapshot view of the various work experience, internship, placement and insight programmes advertised on targetjobs in November 2021 shows that the highest number are in the following sectors:

  1. Technology
  2. Accounting and finance
  3. Management and business
  4. Banking, insurance and financial services
  5. Engineering
  6. Law
  7. Investment banking and fund management
  8. Marketing, advertising and PR
  9. Management consulting
  10. Retail

If the sectors you are interested in do not appear in the above list, don’t make the mistake of thinking that there are no work experience opportunities available for you. Bear in mind that not all employers have the budget to advertise on national jobs boards and that many sectors – the creative industries, for example – have a tradition of offering informal work experience in response to speculative applications , rather than providing structured schemes.

What is the competition like for internships and placements?

As 2020 saw the cancelling of many work experience programmes, it is not surprising that the competition for formal work experience in the 2020–21 cycle was fierce. According to the ISE, the average organisation among its members received 83 applications for every internship vacancy and 82 applications for every placement opportunity. While you should remember that this is the level of competition at a relatively small number of graduate employers, it is true that recruiters tend to offer fewer internships and placements in troubled economic times. Expect a good level of competition this year, too, even if employers are telling us that they are not receiving as many applications quite as quickly this year as they did last year.

So, if you want to obtain an internship, placement year or other formal work experience opportunity, you will need to ensure that you put together an application that is entirely tailored to the organisation: one that uses background research on the company to explain why you especially want the opportunity with that specific employer and one that demonstrates that you have the particular skills and qualities the employer seeks.

Undertaking at least one formal summer internship will help you to stand out among other candidates for graduate roles. Even during the midst of the pandemic, some students did manage to secure an internship. The 2021 Cibyl Graduate Research UK survey, which polled 67,688 students and graduates, found that 34% of final-year students and 24% of students in the middle year(s) of their degree had undertaken an internship. It may also get you a graduate job offer: the ISE reports that 60% of interns and placement students go on to accept a job with the employer.

But what can I do if I don’t get a formal internship or placement?

No reasonable recruiter would have expected you to have gained work experience at the height of the pandemic and during lockdown, so don’t worry about any gap appearing on your CV for 2020 and 2021. As things begin to open up, though, recruiters will be expecting you to be starting to develop the kinds of skills and knowledge they seek in graduate hires. But you don’t have to develop these via a formal internship or placement. While this form of work experience is valuable – especially if it is in a sector in which you want to work – it is not the only way. Instead you could:

  • search for part-time jobs : the opening of hospitality venues and a continued need for couriers and delivery staff mean that there are increased opportunities in many areas – some retailers and logistics employers (such as Amazon) are so keen to attract staff that they are offering sign-on bonuses too. If you are vulnerable or nervous about the pandemic, though, you could take a look for positions you can carry out remotely, such as online tutoring.
  • create your own internship by reaching out to smaller employers to see if they could offer you some informal work experience – this is known as making a speculative application .
  • attend employer events, such as those offered by targetjobs . They are a great way to learn more about an employer or a sector and to demonstrate your interest to employers; most also have training sessions to help you develop your skills or to put in a stronger application.
  • undertake online courses to build your knowledge of specific areas, such as marketing, and skills, such as programming languages.
  • participate in student societies, hobbies and interests: we know that many student societies are still running virtually, but get involved however you can. Your extracurricular activities can provide you with key employability skills.
  • volunteer for a cause you care about – whether in person or digitally.

In fact, these are good things to do even if you do secure a formal internship.

Last updated: November 2021

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