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Internships and the coronavirus: your questions answered

Internships, work experience and the coronavirus

Are there any internships or placements available in 2021? What if Covid-19 means I won’t be able to get any work experience?

Employers are advertising opportunities right now.

The coronavirus put a halt to many work experience programmes in the spring and summer of 2020. The question is whether the pandemic will similarly affect opportunities for 2021. Much to do with the pandemic remains unclear, but in this feature we tell you what we currently know and will update it as we find out more.

There are internships to apply for right now…

Employers are actively advertising work experience opportunities right now – in fact, as we write this in January, there are more than 300 available via our internship search. These include open and insight days, spring and summer internships, vacation schemes and placement years.

…but they are going fast…

We are hearing that employers are receiving unprecedented numbers of applications for their work experience vacancies. As a consequence, some employers are having to bring their deadlines forward and close their schemes early, so that they can properly assess the applications they have received.

Don’t let this news deter you from applying; the only way you can be certain of not getting work experience is by nor applying. But do get on with your application straight away – don’t wait until nearer the deadline in case you miss out.

However, no matter how urgent the application, still make time to undertake the employer research that employers expect and to check your submission carefully for mistakes. Under-researched and error-filled applications will be automatically rejected.

Find out how to apply for internships with graduate employers.

…possibly because there are fewer…

From what we have seen, there are fewer internship and placement vacancies available this year than previously. Back in May 2020, the Institute of Student Employers said that its members (who are typically the largest graduate employers) were expecting to offer up to 40% fewer placements and internships – and in November 2020 it reported that overall its members were expecting to make between 5,000–6,000 intern and placement hires this year, in comparison to more than 7,000 in 2018/19.

Those sectors that are more set up to offer virtual internships – and those sectors that are designated as ‘keyworker’ sectors and are feeling more confident about offering Covid-safe workplaces – are feeling more able to offer opportunities. Those sectors that are potentially not as well set up to switch to virtual opportunities or have been more economically hampered by the pandemic, meanwhile, appear to be feeling less confident. For example:

  • we are seeing a good number of vacancies in technology, in engineering, with solicitors firms and with professional services firms.
  • we are seeing fewer in property and with barristers chambers (both of which traditionally rely on a lot of in-person job-shadowing to train students up), very few in non-food, in-store retail and all but none in hospitality.

…although some employers are ready to switch to virtual…

In the spring and summer of 2020, some employers were able to offer virtual internships: Sky, Clifford Chance, EY and IBM were just four of them. And since then many more employers have investigated the technology platforms that will enable them to offer online opportunities. If in-person opportunities can’t go ahead, we hope, therefore, that there will be fewer cancellations and more virtual opportunities available. At least in those sectors that are able to offer homeworking.

Find out more about virtual internships and how they work.

…and there may be more internships advertised later on

Some employers haven’t yet made a final decision about internships yet. They are waiting and seeing what their economic prospects and the pandemic will be like before deciding whether to go ahead. This means that they could well advertise new work experience opportunities later in the spring – so keep checking TARGETjobs and your careers service website for new vacancies.

What if I don’t get any work experience?

Our advice is not to worry overly about this. It would be an unusual and unreasonable employer that would not, when considering your future graduate job application, take into account the difficulties of undertaking an internship during the coronavirus pandemic .

Ultimately, recruiters seek evidence that you would make a good employee (that is, someone interested in the sector and who has desirable skills and qualities).

That evidence does not have to come from an internship in a related sector. There are things you can do to develop further skills and knowledge from home. For example, you could:

Volunteer (digitally if not in person)

Volunteering could be a great addition to your CV and help you to develop employability skills such as flexibility and adaptability. You can volunteer online or over the phone. Check to see what your university’s RAG society is doing – and bear in mind that Amnesty International, Be My Eyes, Missing Maps, The Granny Cloud, The Prince’s Trust and Zooniverse are just some of the organisations look for online volunteers all-year-round.

Use moocs or other online courses to develop skills and knowledge

There are tonnes of both free and paid-for massively open online courses (moocs) covering all sorts of different topics and skills. If you have had a hankering to learn more about a subject or even a new language, now is the time to pursue it. If you go on to Coursera or similar, you will also find moocs run by employers on different business topics, such as PwC’s introduction to data analysis and presentation skills.

When you complete these, write about them on your CV (you can add them to your ‘Education’ section along with the dates you took them). Our article on online courses gives further examples of providers, along with advice for using these to advance your job search.

Find out more about learning a language in lockdown and beyond.

Stay up to date with the news and employers in your chosen sector(s)

Follow the social media accounts of employers and professional bodies, read the ‘industry press’ (specific news publications/websites catering to the sector) and browse the financial pages of at least one broadsheet or a publication such as The Economist. Your university library should be able to provide you with access to sites behind paywalls. Alternatively, many news outlets – and indeed some employers – are producing podcasts.

For each piece of news, think through what the implications might be for the sector as a whole and for the employer. Being able to talk informedly at interview about what is happening in your chosen sector or industry is one of the best ways to show enthusiasm for the sector – and this ability does not come over night.

However, mental health organisations recommend you to limit your exposure to news (especially if you find it triggering), so perhaps look at news updates for specific, short periods of time.

Watch and take part in webinars

Webinars have really taken off during the pandemic; it feels like everyone and their dog are running them on a variety of topics. Seek out ones run by employers or professional bodies for industry insights and career-focused ones to gain tips and knowledge on getting a graduate job. In fact, here at TARGETjobs we are running our own series of webinars with leading employers. Register for webinars here.

You can add them to your CV in order to show you have been keeping busy – depending on the topics, they could go under a section of ‘Interest in [the sector]’.

Build your network

Join LinkedIn and get networking. As well as connecting with your university alumni group, you might be able to connect with speakers in the webinars you’ve seen. You never know: if you build up a good relationship with professionals in your chosen sector, they may be able to recommend you for any work experience opportunities in future. Our advice on first how to create the perfect LinkedIn profile and then how to use LinkedIn for networking will get you off to a great start.

Focus on taking care of yourself and those around you

We suggest the above activities because it will help your future job applications if you can demonstrate that you have used your time under lockdown or other social distancing restrictions to further develop your skills and knowledge. However, please prioritise taking care of your own physical and mental health (and minimising the risks to others) over pursuing CV-friendly activities.

If you are unable to do any of the above suggestions because of the pandemic, try not to stress too much. Employers are aware that this is an unprecedented and anxious time for students. Remember that any previous part-time jobs or involvement in extracurricular activities will provide examples of your skills. It’s not all about what you have done in 2020 and 2021.

Last updated: January 2021.

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This content has been written or sourced by AGCAS, the Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services, and edited by TARGETjobs as part of a content partnership. AGCAS provides impartial information and guidance resources for higher education student career development and graduate employment professionals.