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This Isn't Your Father's Internship. Virtual Opportunities Available This Fall and Summer

By Keith Morelli

Woman at laptop

TAMPA (January 7, 2021) -- Not long ago, business college students interned at the office, working shoulder to shoulder with professionals, participating in face-to-face meetings, networking in person, learning how to work within a team and generally preparing themselves for careers that mirror their internships.

That changed 10 months ago. A vast of majority of students participating in internships with corporations now work the 9-to-5 shift in front of computer screens at their dining room tables. Zoom or Microsoft Teams host their meetings, networking is online and their fellow team members appear in tiny squares on a monitor.

The reason: A raging pandemic that has killed more than 350,000 Americans locked down much of the nation’s commerce and stalled in-person recruiting for business-major interns.

Still, the Muma College of Business program that places business students into internships is going strong after a summer where internships dwindled.

“There currently are 1,500 internships posted for the spring and summer of 2021 for business students,” said Pavla Ozkul, director of employer relations and study abroad in the college’s Collier Student Success Center. “There was a large decline in internships over the summer of 2020, in which companies, in order to save their full-time employees, eliminated internship positions. Now we see those spots beginning to open back up.”

Internships, though transformed from what they were in the spring, are still out there, she said.

“For a qualified student, it is not hard (to land an internship) if they are willing to look outside of their pre-selective top firms,” she said. “For example, some of the top accounting firms scaled down their intern numbers, but there are still some non-accounting firms offering paid internships for accounting students.”

The result is a much more competitive process, she said, though there still are plenty of opportunities available.

“Students just need to put a bit more effort in the job searching process,” Ozkul said.

A Different Kind of Internship

Alyssa England just landed a virtual internship with NBCUniversal, and though she won’t be headed to New York to learn about the sports and entertainment business, she is eager to start in January.

“If it wasn’t virtual, I wouldn’t have it,” she said. “So for me, it’s not an ‘even though it’s virtual,’ it’s an ‘I’m extremely grateful this is a virtual internship, because I don’t know if I could move to New York right now to do this in person.’

“I am currently working in USF’s Athletics Department and I love it,” she said, “but this virtual NBCUniversal internship will be my first professional experience in the entertainment industry. I’ve been working on-campus in front of a computer for an entire semester now and one of the things I miss most is being able to read body language.

“I love public speaking, and it’s been difficult adjusting from public speaking in person to virtual public speaking,” she said. “I’m extremely comfortable speaking publically, but moving to virtual operations has presented new challenges that I didn’t recognize were challenges. I’m becoming more confident with virtual public speaking, but I really miss in-person public speaking.”

This month, begins her virtual journey.

“I originally saw the experience as an opportunity to learn and grow,” she said. “Never in my wildest dreams did I expect to end up there. I thought NBCUniversal was so big, and I felt so small. I am just a college student trying to make the brightest future for myself after graduation.

“It’s not that I didn’t think I was good enough, but I just assumed there were more qualified candidates applying,” she said. “That is one of the biggest things I have learned throughout this whole process – don’t sell yourself short, and always shoot your shot. What’s the worst that can happen?”

Virtual Internships: Pros and Cons.

Lost is the team building, immediate supervision when challenges are presented, a sense of belonging to a company’s culture, the social aspect, technology issues, even noise and distractions, Ozkul said.

What is gained?

“Some students prefer virtual, given they’ve gotten used to virtual classes,” she said. “Some had issues with transportation in the past so now that plays to their advantage. Saving money on commuting, meals, business outfits, flexible scheduling, less distractions, feeling more comfortable in a home environment and feeling safer by not being exposed to COVID-19.”

Students edged out of the intern market for the time being should concentrate on learning basic career skills, she said, such as sharpening professional greetings in emails, email etiquette, creating quality resumes, mounting effective job searches and polishing interview skills for when those opportunities arise.

“If they do not work on these skills as a student, it will be extremely hard for them to get an internship given we have fewer opportunities now and the job market is more competitive,” she said. “We have great students and I believe they all are able to compete for top jobs across the country.”

The pandemic may have permanently altered the way many businesses do business, she said, and that likely will have an impact on college internships.

“Some companies found out that shifting some or all portions of internship virtually will save lots of money from campus recruiting, traveling, office space, training, technology, etc.,” she said. “Several campus recruiting teams have been dissolved since all recruiting is done virtually. Virtual recruiting is not ideal, but for the most part, it is effective.”

She said the future of virtual recruiting is hosting small, boutique-style events rather than large virtual career fairs. With online recruiting, she said, students still need to get the personal touch with the company and that is possible with one-on-one virtual event.

Ozkul said that once the COVID-19 vaccine is administered and business gets back to somewhat normal a return to what internships were like prior to the pandemic might also return. Well, sort of.

“Overall the nature of internships have been changed and what was considered unusual (virtual internships, no hands-on experience) is becoming a norm,” she said. “Students gain more experience as they study online and are able to transfer those skills to a virtual work environment.

“In the end, I believe companies will offer two versions of internships, one to extroverted students, preferring to work in person, and one to introverted students, preferring to work online, to get the best candidate for their company and their culture.”