Internship during the corona pandemic: ‘It is difficult to feel what it’s like through a screen’

Doing an internship has been made much more difficult by the corona pandemic. The number of places has plummeted, and many internships are being done at home.

With a shrinking supply and cancelled internships, students are competing to get a place. (Photo: Tim van der Kuip/ Unsplash)

Many internships have been cancelled since the outbreak of the coronavirus. There was no work, the risk of becoming infected was too high, or the national borders were closed. Rieneke van Noort (Civil Engineering & Geosciences) has a relevant story to tell about this. Just when all the details of her internship at Royal HaskoningDHV in Vietnam were arranged, China reported the first infections with the coronavirus. While the virus spread around the rest of the world, she became more and more unsettled. “I was supposed to start in August, but it quickly became clear that Vietnam was implementing a very strict visa policy. Hardly anyone was allowed to enter the country, and certainly not interns.”

The decision to cancel the internship was postponed until the very last minute. “So much was still uncertain, no one knew if I would be welcome in six months’ time or not.”
She weighed her options: do nothing for a few months or look for a new internship? That was an easy choice to make. “Sitting still is the worst thing that can happen to students,” she explained. She sent out around ten application letters and received a response from just one company. They were not looking for someone. That was logical, she felt. “Companies have other things to worry about these days.”

The research conducted by the career website confirmed that the number of internship positions had decreased drastically since the corona crisis began. From November 2020 through March 2021, the number of places has halved compared with the same period the year before. 

How to improve your chances of finding an internship

  • Do not stick to just one sector. Look where there are opportunities.
  • Expand your network (online and offline): Participate in e-house days, go on virtual coffee dates and watch company webinars. 
  • Work on your personal development, and during an intake interview, ensure that you have an excellent answer to the question of what you did while sitting at home.

Preetha Vijayan (Electrical Engineering, Mathematics and Computer Science) was lucky. When her internship at Philips was cancelled – the project was stopped because of the corona crisis – she arranged another internship within three weeks, also at Philips.

And Rieneke ultimately did succeed. She remembered the offer mentioned by a guest lecturer during an earlier lecture. “He explained that Van Oord was looking for graduates. I thought, well, they are probably also looking for interns.” She sent them an e-mail and that’s how she found an internship after all.

With a shrinking supply and cancelled internships, students are competing to get a place. What can you do to improve your chances of securing an internship? “Start looking right from the beginning of the academic year,” explained Krzysztof Baran (Electrical Engineering, Mathematics and Computer Science) from experience. “I had great difficulty between 2019 to 2020 to find an internship position. Often I made it to the last round, only to miss out. That was so frustrating.”

Krzysztof was meant to start working at KLM, but then the coronavirus broke out. At the last moment, he landed a summer internship at the Delft software company TOPdesk. “I was thrilled when I got accepted. After the summer of 2020, TOPdesk was impressed and even offered to help with my bachelor thesis.”

Application tips

  • Rieneke: “With personal connections, it is easier to arrange an internship.”
  • Preetha: “Connect with people inside the company to get a good idea of the work and the personnel beforehand.”
  • Preetha: “”Send the hiring manager a request to connect on LinkedIn and write that you have just applied for a place there. That takes courage, but it does make you stand out.”
  • Krzysztof: “Companies, namely Amazon, have certain values, and they search for candidates with these traits. Research them and prepare your answers to possible questions as it can be difficult to come up with something on the spot.”
  • Victor: “Companies are asking applicants to do personality tests more often. Do not underestimate this, your soft skills are extremely important.”

Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google (FAANG)
During his search, Krzysztof learned that it is crucial to do something that you enjoy. “An internship is not just an addition to your CV. It is also a possibility to develop yourself.”

His fellow student, Victor Wernet, shared this opinion. They had both set their sights on an internship at one of the ‘big five’: Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix or Google (Microsoft can be the sixth). And Victor did ultimately succeed in this dream. He is doing an internship at Amazon and is also working this summer at Facebook. Krzysztof also succeeded and will do his internship at Amazon this summer as well. But both emphasized that they had to work hard to get to these places. “We sent out innumerable applications, attended interviews and received many rejections.”

But they learned from those experiences. Together they analyzed their failed applications. Why were they rejected, and how could they improve? Victor said, “It began with our CVs. Companies get so many applications that they use software to select suitable candidates. Your CV must be good enough to beat the algorithm.”

Krzysztof added, “In the IT-sector, it is important to restrict your CV to one page at most, and with the fewest white lines, otherwise it looks as if you are trying to fill the space. Photos are also not advised as they usually take up too much space and could possibly influence the recruiters’ judgement on their initial screening.”

Improve your CV

  • Preetha: “Use the same keywords in your application/CV as in the vacancy text. Many of the larger companies use software to scan CVs. You can have a fantastic CV, but if it doesn’t have those magic words, you may not even make it through the first round.”
  • Preetha: “Keep your LinkedIn profile up to date. After every block, revise your list of subjects and state what study projects you worked on: what was your role and what did you learn from it?”
  • Krzysztof: “Make sure that your CV does not exceed one page and have as few white lines as possible.”
  • Krzysztof: “Make sure that a person reading your CV can extract all necessary information from it in one to two minutes. Ask your friends or fellow students to read it and test this out.”
  • Victor: “Have your CV checked by someone within the company or a recruiter in that sector.”
  • Victor: “Share your experiences with fellow students who are equally motivated to find a great internship. You can learn a lot from each other.”
  • Do you have any questions about your CV? Krzysztof and Victor would be happy to help.

Corona factor
Rieneke, Preetha, Krzysztof and Victor ultimately found an internship during the corona pandemic. Due to the corona measures, almost everyone worked from home, and only Krzysztof could go to the office once in a while.
For Preetha, who was meant to do an internship in Eindhoven, that took some getting used to. But ultimately, she primarily found benefits from working at home. “I really liked the flexibility, and my learning curve was constant. I did not miss out on acquiring knowledge, but it was disappointing not to get to know the company very well nor to meet my supervisor ‘in the flesh’.”

The remote internship will have consequences for her diploma, she added. “An internship is only recognised if you have worked at least eight weeks on site, and I haven’t met that condition.” On her diploma it will state ‘extra project’ instead of ‘internship’.
But she does not regret her choice. “The project was so interesting, and I learned so much, I would not have wanted to miss it.”

Victor feels the same. “It is so amazing to work with such talented people that working at home hardly detracts from the experience.”

Rieneke takes a different view. “The experience was a lot different because I worked entirely from home. I was lucky that I had a good supervisor and got to talk to many different people for my work. This allowed me to get to know the company well, but do take the corona factor into account when making your decision. It is difficult to feel what it’s like through a screen.”

News editor Marjolein van der Veldt

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