I can tell you from firsthand experience: you can still get a job without an internship. However, you do have some work to do:
Create a portfolio
Now is the time to take what you’ve learned so far and show it off. Whether it’s on GitHub, your own website or blogging platform, or an online drive, start organizing your projects, skills, and accomplishments. Put some of your assignments on there. If you did work at a previous internship that you can’t share, recreate it with open source data or write about it.
Internships are a great way to get your foot in the door at a company or get future references. While you won’t be working side-by-side with those in your field, you should still be networking. Reach out with specific questions about things you could have learned on the job:
- What’s the culture like (at this company, in this field)?
- How did you get your start?
- What’s a typical day like, and how has that changed if you now work from home?
- How has the industry changed over the last 5 years? Where do you see it going next?
Tweak your resume
Every field has different recommendations for resume formatting, and you’ve likely been updating it regularly, but now is a great time to get feedback from peers or other professionals. When I’m looking at a resume for a college student or recent graduate, I expect to see:
- Education on top. Highlight relevant courses and put your expected graduation date. GPA isn’t usually necessary.
- Work experience next. If you’ve had a prior internship, list out some of your projects or accomplishments. No need to put every part-time job you’ve had, but do list a couple to show that you’ve had responsibilities in the past.
- Skills near the bottom. If you’re listing out technical skills like coding, list the languages/platforms and your skill level or how you’ve used them in the past. It’s completely fine to be a beginner: companies want realistic expectations of where you are in your development.
Find ways to fill in the gaps
Maybe you’ve learned a little Python in school, but you were hoping to refine your skills during your internship. Or you think you’re a good public speaker, but you wanted to try that out over the summer.
Now’s the time to get as much out of your summer as you can. If you have a summer job, keep track of how you’ve handled stress or dealt with irritating customers. Use your free time to read, practice skills, and document your work. You’ve just finished your resume, so find ways to fill in the gaps where your resume is weakest.
At the end of all of this, when you’re starting to interview for jobs again, you do have an excuse for not having an internship this summer. We’re dealing with an unprecedented situation and employers are going to be understanding. However, instead of explaining that COVID-19 cancelled your internship, I hope you can talk about how you took advantage of your time and are more prepared than ever.