by Brian DeChesare Comments (17)

Canceled Internships: What to Do If You Lose Your Summer Internship Because of the Coronavirus

Canceled Internships

We’re about two months into the current crisis, and in a stunning plot twist, most large banks have not canceled their investment banking internships.

Instead, many internships have become “virtual,” with delayed start dates, and a few banks have guaranteed full-time offers to interns.

Canceled internships have been more common among smaller tech companies and in sectors that have been severely impacted by the crisis, such as retail, hospitality, and entertainment.

That said, plenty of banking-related roles in the finance industry, ranging from FP&A at normal companies to commercial real estate, have been affected.

If your internship has been canceled, you’ve probably found a range of advice online:

  • “Complete online courses! What else can you do at home all day?”
  • “Find a remote job at another company!”
  • “Work on side projects and post them on Github.”
  • “Learn to code!”
  • “Delay your graduation and wait for an economic rebound.”

I don’t think these tips are particularly helpful because they don’t factor in your specific circumstances, such as your time until graduation, work experience, and career goals.

Before getting into the advice, it’s worth remembering why internships matter and what you lose by missing one:

Why Do Summer Internships Matter?

Internships in most industries, and especially in finance, matter for three main reasons:

  1. They let you win full-time return offers if you perform well enough.
  2. If you’re in your first or second year of undergrad, a solid internship gives you access to better internships in the future – and an idea of what you like and dislike.
  3. And finally, there’s the money. You won’t earn a fortune in an 8 or 10-week internship, but extra money always helps.

If you’re in your second-to-last year of university or an MBA program, the full-time return offer matters most because it’s far more difficult to win an offer outside of internships.

If you’re younger than that, benefit #2 matters most because first and second-year internships set you up for critical third-year internships.

The importance of benefit #3 varies, but it’s fair to say that money is not your main motivation in most cases.

Why “Delay Graduation,” “Take Online Courses,” and “Learn to Code” Are Not Real Answers

Delaying your graduation is usually a bad idea in a normal economic environment, and it’s an even worse idea now for several reasons:

  1. IB internship recruiting for next year is already underway since the process starts so early now – can you react quickly enough to apply and win an internship for next year?
  2. What if the economy is still bad, or even worse, by the time your internship next year takes place? Or what if banks reduce the number of internship slots?
  3. If universities are still offering only “virtual classes” into next year, do you or your family want to pay full tuition for that? What if your university doesn’t even survive the crisis? They seem to be dropping like flies

As for online classes: yes, they’re useful for learning specific technical skills (Excel, VBA, Photoshop, Python, etc.).

However, they are not replacements for real work experience.

No employer would look at an online course or certification and say, “Let’s give this person an interview rather than that other person who completed internships at Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley!”

So, you should think of online learning as a part-time activity.

As for the “learn to code” movement (meme?), yes, programming skills are useful-to-critical if you want to move into tech or quant funds or sales & trading-related roles.

In deal-based roles (IB/PE/CD), however, they’re less useful because the work doesn’t lend itself to automation in the same way.

It helps to know some VBA for formatting and data cleaning, but you should focus on the fundamentals first: Excel, accounting, the financial statements, valuation, etc.

Finally, online courses/certifications are, at best, a few words of a single bullet point on your resume.

And they don’t generate good “talking points” when networking or interviewing, especially if you’re a younger student.

You’d be better off learning some unusual skill or developing a hobby that sets you apart from the identical candidates with 3.9 GPAs and multiple finance internships.

If your internship has been canceled, then, you should pick a strategy based on the specific benefit of the internship that you are missing out on:

Canceled Internship Resulting in No Full-Time Return Offer: What to Do?

If you’re moving into your last year of undergrad (or a 2-year MBA degree), you’re not in a great position if your upcoming internship has been canceled.

But it’s also not the end of the world, especially if you’ve had solid work experience:

  • Still list the canceled internship on your resume. I don’t think it’s silly, and it’s important to note that you went through a competitive recruiting process and won an offer.
  • You are probably not going to win an IB or PE role right after graduating, so you’ll have to consider other options: audit or Big 4 roles that are less sensitive to deal activity, corporate finance jobs at “stable” companies, corporate banking, or a Master’s in Finance.

Sometimes you can get lucky with “last-minute IB recruiting,” but I don’t think it will work this year because of extreme hiring uncertainty and the inability to network in-person.

  • During the summer, improve your profile for full-time jobs you apply to.

For example, if you lack work experience (e.g., you’ve had only one real internship in your first few years of university), look for a “temp” or externship or remote role.

Yes, some companies are still actively hiring – you can see a list here:

A lot of these are in IT, but some are strategy/marketing/finance-related as well.

Even something like a “User Research” or “Sales” or “Operations” internship is much better than nothing at all.

You could also search for companies that are hiring on sites like Indeed and Glassdoor, look up people at those companies on LinkedIn, and then email them to ask about the roles.

The general rule is that big companies are even safer than usual in this environment, whether you’re in tech, finance, or any other industry (with some exceptions, such as Restructuring at the elite boutiques).

If you cannot line up any temp/externship/remote role, a good “Plan B” might be to offer freelance financial modeling or other services.

Yes, we published an article about this strategy last year, and all the tips there still apply.

Freelancing still counts as work experience, which makes it more useful on your resume than pure independent study.

And since you won’t have a “boss,” you can easily spin your tasks into sounding more impressive.

People in technology often recommend completing side projects, such as simple apps or other tools that you develop and then post on Github.

But if you’ve had solid internships or other work experience, no one will care much about these projects.

And in finance, it’s tough to “complete side projects” unless you go to the quant / S&T route.

These points address the “lack of work experience” problem, but if you have some other issue, such as low grades or a lack of interesting hobbies, you could also address those:

  • If you have a low GPA, study for and complete a standardized test, such as the GMAT or GRE… assuming testing centers eventually re-open.
  • Pick up a hobby that you can develop at home, such as gardening, board games, cooking, podcasting, origami, etc. Anything to set you apart is better than nothing.

Canceled Internship Resulting in Lack of Solid Experience as a First or Second-Year University Student: What to Do?

If you’re in this second category, then you can still follow many of the tips above.

The difference is that losing an internship matters less at this stage because you have time to make up for it later.

You’ll just have to find off-cycle school-year internships at boutique banks and PE/VC firms, assuming things return to “somewhat normal” by the end of this year.

The ironic part is that you may not be affected if you’re a second-year student currently recruiting for 2021 internships: you couldn’t have possibly completed your 2020 internship yet, regardless of whether it’s canceled or still on.

However, not all banks recruit so far in advance, so it could still be useful to find something by using the tips above (The “Actively hiring” list, Indeed, LinkedIn, etc.).

If you’re a first-year student, it’s probably not realistic to find a “real” summer internship ASAP in this environment.

In this case, the “Plan B” options above, such as freelancing, side projects, and online learning, could be more helpful.

Even working on stock pitches or deal/company analyses could be useful – you’ll need them for future networking and interviews anyway, so why not learn the skills and do them now?

Canceled Internships: Summary Recommendations

To summarize, if your internship has been canceled:

  • Yes, still list the canceled internship on your resume.
  • Look at the list of companies actively hiring, search job sites, and do some networking to find roles that might still be open at this late stage.
  • If you’re a year away from graduation, you’re probably not going to win your ideal full-time job, so think about alternatives in other industries (Big 4, corporate finance, or corporate banking rather than IB), or a Master’s in Finance program.
  • Also, use the time to fix or improve weaker parts of your profile, such as lower grades or a lack of “interesting” hobbies.
  • If you can’t find a real temp role or internship, join a freelancing site and look for Excel/accounting/finance/programming/copywriting/other work there.
  • If you’re a younger student, side projects (such as ones for quant research or other coding ideas), new skills, and analyses of stocks/companies/deals can be helpful…
  • …but they’re less useful if you’re closer to graduation (the same goes for online courses – good for learning, but not a replacement for work experience).

Any questions?

M&I - Brian

About the Author

Brian DeChesare is the Founder of Mergers & Inquisitions and Breaking Into Wall Street. In his spare time, he enjoys memorizing obscure Excel functions, editing resumes, obsessing over TV shows, traveling like a drug dealer, and defeating Sauron.

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  1. Hi Brian,

    I’m in my third year and I originally had a Big 4 Audit internship in the summer. Do you think I should list this cancelled internship and how should I list it? Just like a normal internship or do I put cancelled somewhere?

    1. Yes, it’s worth listing, maybe just use a line to describe it and then write (Cancelled Due to Firm-Wide Policy) or something after it.

  2. Hi Brian, I really appreciated your response to my last posts. As I mentioned previously, I am starting my masters at Durham for MSc Management Finance. I have been told I can start either in September 2020 or Jan 2021. I’m curious as to how best to spend my time up until then? I have one internship at PwC (audit) and I did some work experience for a small wealth management company (could ‘bankify’ this). My undergrad I got a 2:1 (economics) so I’d be looking to go for a distinction in my masters to boost my grades. I have some contacts I can reach out to about some work experience now (next 3-6 months) within finance (PWM, banking) however if that goes south I’m wondering if it would be worth doing the CFA now and preparing for a Dec 2020 exam (leads nicely into Jan 2021 masters start, offered this due to COVID). I believe my overall profile is good with extracurricular and I am confident at interviews, so I think developing some hard skills now might be the best route (and networking) – during my masters I’d apply for IB, Asset management, Big 4 etc. Any advice on how best to use these next few (3-6 months) would be great, thanks!

    1. I would go for work experience first. Even something like freelancing at a company or doing temp work related to accounting/finance is fine. If you really cannot find anything for the next 3-6 months, then you could study for the CFA if you feel you’re fine in all the other areas.

      1. Thank you!

  3. Hi Brian,

    Thanks for the article! Sorry for the long comment, I’m a third-year student, and I have a deal strategy internship currently (with the possibility of conversion). The role seems to be more geared towards strategy consulting, but I didn’t apply to any of the MBB consulting roles because I was looking to break into finance roles (incl. areas like corporate banking). I did a few banking front-office interviews but ultimately I wasn’t able to get anything. I did a Corp Dev internship with some deals last summer, but I don’t have prior banking experience myself. However, because I really couldn’t land anything in finance so I took this offer.

    I read some of your other articles too, and I think they’ve led me to start second-guessing my decision, since my ultimate goal is to move into a more finance-related role, not consulting, and from what I’ve been reading it’s going to be pretty challenging especially if it’s not MBB. I’m still kicking myself for not finding your site sooner, but I’ve been making some changes to my CV based on the sample format you uploaded previously and continually improving my Excel skills.

    I know you’ve strongly advised against delaying graduation, but it seems like it will be very challenging for me to land a finance role through FT recruiting because I would still have no banking experience on my CV even by graduation. I was wondering if you might have any advice if my end goal is still to get into finance. Thanks so much!

    P.S. I’m not based in North America so some of the terms I used here might be a bit different.

    1. I think it really depends on why you did not receive offers from the front-office banking interviews. If it’s something you can easily fix, then delaying graduation might make sense. Otherwise, just aim for a full-time role in corporate banking or something similar and then move into IB later.

  4. Hey Brian, do you think Citi’s decision to offer all interns FT offers means that other banks also have capacity to give full-time offers at normal rates (80-90%)? Also, do you have any advice for how to be a top virtual intern? I think my group might be giving less return offers this year

    1. No, I don’t think so. Banks rarely have the capacity to give all interns full-time offers, especially with massive economic uncertainty. So I doubt that every bank will give offers to 90% of interns, though some may do that. Others will be closer to 50% or whatever their normal range is.

      There are remote intern tips here:

  5. Avatar
    Samuel W

    Hi Brian, thanks for the great article as always. Just one question. How do you perceive Citi’s decision on handling FT offers to all interns that meet the “minimum criteria”? Do you think it means a guaranteed offer as long as you do your work or is it just like any other year that you have to outperform other interns in order to have a chance? Thanks!

    1. It probably means that all interns who avoid doing something stupid or inappropriate will receive offers. So, maybe 90%, but not necessarily 100%.

  6. This is not related to your post specifically, but I have followed your “predictions” here for a while and they seemed to be quite accurate (guess this is the reason you get paid). Anyhow,we are two months into the pandemic, what is your predictions about how/when the economy is going to recover and when will things go back to normal?

    1. Thanks, though I’m not sure how accurate I’ve been (I expected most banks to cancel internships rather than doing them virtually, but you could argue that their “virtual” setup is actually similar to cancellation).

      In short, I think it’s going to take years and years for the economy to recover. Businesses, especially small ones, can’t just “switch on” – even in states that have reopened, hardly anyone is going outside to buy things. Also, people don’t even want to go back to work because unemployment benefits are sometimes higher than their previous wages.

      So, we’re looking at some fundamental changes rather than a short blip. A second wave of infections also seems very likely based on past respiratory diseases. I don’t think the unemployment rate will drop below 10% for at least 2-3 years. Professional services jobs might still be fine, but not other parts of the economy.

  7. Hey Brian thank you for the comprehensive article. If you’re a first-year student, will you be penalized for not having a finance-related internship given the COVID-19 situation?

    1. Thanks. No, I don’t think you’ll be penalized given that hardly anyone will have a solid summer internship this year. You just need to get at least 1 internship before recruiting starts toward the end of your second year.

      1. Hi Brian, just wanted to follow up on this response (for some context, I’m a 1st year and have an IT Developer internship currently).

        Assuming you’re talking about procuring off-cycle internships occurring during fall semester, what sorts of roles would you say are both feasible, given the uncertainty of hiring freezes, and adequate for IB recruiting coming out of an IT internship?

        Actually obtaining such roles is rather dependent on individual circumstances and connections, but I think it would help to get your input on what to potentially focus on.

        Tangentially, how would you advise the IT internship be incorporated into the personal story (generically).

        Thanks and stay safe!

        1. I think you can still potentially win off-cycle roles at boutique IB, PE, and VC firms because they’ll still need help with tasks even if everyone is working remotely. And you just need something that looks related to finance or client work to have a reasonable chance at IB roles. The main problem is that these smaller firms may be reluctant to hire an intern who’s working remotely the whole time, so you might have to be more creative, e.g., maybe find a brand-new one who just needs help ASAP and doesn’t care about your qualifications as long as you can save them time

          For the IT internship, just say that you wanted to gain experience in Industry X, but realized that you wanted to do client/sales work instead of being responsible for technical implementations, so you were drawn to the other role instead.

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