Canceled Internships: What to Do If You Lose Your Summer Internship Because of the Coronavirus
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.
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:
- They let you win full-time return offers if you perform well enough.
- 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.
- 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:
- 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?
- 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?
- 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.
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).
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