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What you need to know about summer internships this year

Internships still aren’t back to normal due to the pandemic. Here’s how to get the most out of yours anyway.

Stephanie Vozza | May 12, 2021

Last summer, a lot of companies cancelled student internships due to the pandemic. While a few pivoted to virtual offerings, many students were left to find other ways to fill their time. Having a year of planning under their belts and a vaccine promising a return to normal, this summer students seeking internships have more options.

“While 2020 was the year of quick decisions and rapid pivots, companies are being much more purposeful about internships this year,” says Jamie Kohn, research director for Gartner’s HR practice. “After all, internships are a key way organizations build future pipelines and infuse diverse talent into their workforces.”

While 2021 may hold more opportunity than 2020, it’s not back to normal, says Christopher Rim, CEO and founder of Command Education, college admissions consultants. “We have still yet to see internships and competitive summer programs resume full in-person attendance,” he says. Whether you’re the intern or you’re launching (or relaunching) the program at your workplace, here’s what you can expect this summer.


The vast majority of programs and internships are still remote, says Rim. “Although some programs have returned in-person, they are doing so at a mostly reduced capacity with fewer interns and participants,” he says. “This limited capacity means that these in-person programs will be more competitive than ever, so applicants should be sure to spend time and effort on their applications.”

For example, Insight Partners, a leading global venture capital and private equity firm, will be holding its Summer Investment Analyst program virtually this summer.

“The safety of employees has been our top priority throughout the pandemic,” says Jed Heller, senior vice president and head of human capital. “We hope by the end of this summer to have at least one in-person event to celebrate our interns.”

To engage students, Heller says the company created a more structured program to better prepares interns to be successful. Interns are paired with an employee and can participate in a weekly speaker series and digital networking events that connect them with key leaders across Insight’s different business functions.

“The drawback of not being physically together is we don’t have the opportunity to enjoy each other’s company socially,” says Heller. “However, we have initiated fun and interesting digital events to provide non-work-focused relationship-building opportunities.”


While a return to the office is in sight, some intern programs may be hybrid arrangements, says Tim Rowley, COO and CTO of PeopleCaddie, a technology company connecting businesses with specialized contract workers.

“Hybrid programs aren’t just for interns,” he says. “Employees are adopting a hybrid schedule, too, working two or three days out of the week in the office and the remainder remotely.”

It’s much harder to onboard an intern in a virtual environment, Rowley adds. “It’s more challenging to get indoctrinated in the culture and to provide a compelling experience for interns,” he says. “Over the past year, employers had time to develop their internal processes. They weren’t ready last summer.”

Rowley doesn’t expect the hybrid trend to last, though. “Our view as a company is this is something that may not be permanent,” he says. “We’re hearing more from clients that as things normalize and more employees are vaccinated, they’re increasingly looking at being back into the office. We think the long-term trend will be much closer to pre-pandemic than what took place during the pandemic.”


While organizations typically look to differentiate their internships with one-of-a-kind experiences, these costly endeavors may be impossible today, says Kohn. With remote internships, smaller companies may have a better chance to attract high quality student talent.

“This gives more organizations the opportunity to compete on internship experience,” she says. “Interns will be less swayed by grand experiences and more by opportunities to contribute meaningfully and add experience to their résumé.”

Virtual internships also allow more students to apply, says Matthew Wheeler, assistant director of career services at the Filene Center for Academic Advising and Career Services at Wheaton College in Norton, Mass.

“This shift is good for students in general, since it means they have more options this summer,” he says. “In particular, though, I think it’s great news for students from more rural communities who can’t feasibly commute to the cities and metro areas that are internship hubs.”


While being virtual once again is likely disappointing, it’s possible that students can be just as successful, says Rebecca Cook, executive director of undergraduate career services at the Indiana University Kelley School of Business in Bloomington, Ind.

“The key is staying connected with their supervisor and coworkers on a regular basis,” she says. “Make sure to network with as many people in the internship company as possible. Take the initiative to set up regular Zoom meetings—or whatever video conferencing tool that the company uses—in order to learn as much about the company and role as possible, as well as to build their network for future opportunities.”

Internships are viewed as extended interviews by employers, says Rowley. “Be intentional about building relationships within company,” he advises. “And not just over work, but socially as well. Relationships have suffered because people are not spending time casually talking in the same way they do in offices. Now students and managers need to be more intentional about it, building time into the schedule.”

Fortunately, 2020 and 2021 intern programs aren’t likely to be the norm going forward, says Rim. “We project that next year, once most of the population is fully vaccinated, these summer programs and internships will resume full in-person attendance,” he says.


Fast Company

Originally published in Fast Company on May 12, 2021.

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