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Interning online

Another crop of students will get job experience through the screen this year


iStock.com/Tzido

Interning online

Last year, just days before she signed a rental agreement to spend the summer in New York City, college senior Carolyn Shabe learned her internship with a bank would be online. Instead of working in a Fifth Avenue building with a view of midtown Manhattan, Shabe logged in from her parents’ house in Virginia.

Many companies canceled internships altogether last year due to the pandemic, and the rest mostly went online. For students, remote positions meant more networking opportunities but fewer deep connections, while companies saved money but lost the chance to assess how interns fit with office culture. This year, most companies are still planning remote or hybrid internships.

The cancelations disrupted a crucial stepping stone for students trying to start careers. Internship experience boosts college graduates’ employment rates and pay, and students gain skills and meet potential employers and mentors. But last spring, job posting company Glassdoor estimated half of internships in the United States were canceled. During the summer, a National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) survey found 22 percent of companies suspended their plans, according to NACE Executive Director Shawn VanDerziel. About three-quarters of the rest moved online. So far, NACE data shows companies offering about the same number of slots this year as they did in 2020, VanDerziel said.

Going remote has advantages for students. Some save money on housing and travel by working from home. Zoom meetings during lunch breaks allow ambitious students to network beyond their immediate coworkers. Shabe estimated she talked to hundreds of people in her company, more than she would have met in person.

But an online setup can’t replicate the office environment. Shabe’s assigned mentor called her on Fridays to check in, and she collaborated on projects with other employees, but she missed the camaraderie of working face-to-face. “It definitely wasn’t as in-depth as my in-person internships I’ve done, where you’re in the same room with someone for 10 hours a day,” Shabe said.

But the loss of in-person internships didn’t depress hiring. Online or in-person, students who completed positions this year received job offers at about the same rate as in previous years, VanDerziel said. And he said companies’ conversion rates jumped about 10 percent, meaning more students accepted the offers than usual, perhaps due to anxiety about finding other options during COVID-19.

So far in 2021, about 81 percent of companies plan on hybrid or remote internships. VanDerziel predicted at least a few will stay virtual after the pandemic.

And for Shabe, whose workdays in investment banking sometimes ended at 4 a.m., remote work provided one other perk apart from networking: the Zoom dress code. “For such long hours, it was nice to wear sweatpants instead of a suit every day,” she said.

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