As we battle a silent assailant in the global COVID-19 health pandemic, our world has entered into a forced pause. The surging global death toll continues to breed fear and uncertainty. As the virus ravages communities like an invisible wildfire, it also raises concerns about the continued impact on the economy. With new work-from-home policies and travel bans in place, is this the new normal?
College students are one of many groups directly impacted by this new reality. Undergraduate students have been faced with college shutdowns, graduation ceremonies that have been indefinitely rescheduled or cancelled, and a drastically altered job market. Students who were once excited about their summer internships are now worried. Some interns received notifications that their programs have been moved online or are in jeopardy. Other internship programs have been cancelled altogether. Students are left asking the question, “what now?”
Many college students are feeling lost and overwhelmed. This is also a devastating blow for those students who needed money over the summer to pay down their loans or support their families. While MBA students are also finding it challenging to secure internships, undergraduates do not have the luxury of leveraging their previous full-time work experience to get a foot in the door. College students rely on internships as their first step towards building their careers.
To any college students feeling disappointed, all is not lost. This is the time to pivot quickly and pave a new path. Whether you are a college freshman, a graduating senior, or somewhere in between, do not waste this time. Doing something is always better than doing nothing. You can use this time for personal reflection, growth, and innovation. Times of crisis can create opportunities to enhance your career skillset while also serving your community in need. This is a call to action!
Here are 7 tips to help you continue building a bridge towards a successful career:
- Shift Your Mindset & Pivot Quickly – Losing a summer internship is extremely frustrating. However, it is not your fault and it is also not in your control. You can only control how quickly you pivot to be productive. Start by writing down all your strengths and skills. Next, make a list of the skills you want to build as you start your career. Use these two lists to guide your time as you reinforce your strengths, work on an area of improvement, or build a new skillset.
- Strengthen & Build Your Network – Create or enhance your LinkedIn profile and expand your network. Reconnect with teachers, coaches, and family friends and also contact alumni in careers of interest. This is a unique situation where many people are working from home and may have more time and flexibility to provide career advice.
- Build Your Foundation with Industry-Specific Training and Certifications – Having identified skills you want to strengthen, select and enroll in industry training and certification programs. These courses can help you build your career foundation and potentially improve your GPA. To help reduce your expenses, find free online resources or apply for grants.
- Conduct Research or Lab Work with a Professor – Work with a professor in a field that supports your career goals. Your school registrar or career services office can help you earn course credit or a potential stipend. Working with a professor in person or remotely is a great way to dive into career-specific topics, enhance your skillset and further expand your network. If you build a strong relationship with your professor, you may also be able to request a letter of recommendation and seek career advice.
- Identify & Contact Companies that are Ramping Up – Identify industries that are expanding quickly in this uncertain environment. A few examples include telemedicine, video conferencing, online educational and streaming platforms, digital marketing, cybersecurity, subscription and delivery services, and social networking platforms. Find out if any of these companies have internships or part-time employment opportunities available. Your college experience may also provide a competitive advantage! As consumers of social media as well as educational and online streaming platforms, you may bring unique insights and expertise.
- Volunteer or Work at a Nonprofit Organization –Nonprofit organizations provide crucial services and supplies to communities in need, especially in times of crisis. Build your career skills while helping people. For example, you can improve the organization’s website, build a social media campaign, expand service programs, build partnerships, raise awareness, or analyze their financials. To help with your expenses if needed, apply for school, local or federal grants.
- Launch Your Own Project & Build Your Leadership Toolkit – If internship opportunities are not working out, make your own! Contact local summer camps or create an online course or YouTube channel to teach younger students. Become an entrepreneur by solving a problem you or people in your community are facing. Turn your passion into action by launching your own service project. For example, you can raise funds to donate backpacks to students in need before the new school year, raise awareness about the hazards of smoking and vaping, virtually connect with elderly or sick people who are feeling lonely in isolation, or send canned food or hygiene products (soap, shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, toothpaste) to veterans and local shelters.
Service is one of the best training grounds for developing your leadership skills. It is a low-risk way to practice public speaking, fundraising, teamwork and organizing virtual or in-person events. Even if you help one person in your community, your project is a success. You can work with friends or partner with organizations to enhance your leadership and teamwork skills, expand the reach of your project to help more people, and have fun.
Launching your own service project can also help you build resilience and compassion. Ananya Singh, a rising junior at Mount Holyoke College and President of the Global Youth H.E.L.P. Inc. College Chapter explains, “My service work has taught me to put the needs of others before my own. In this time of uncertainty, the leadership skills I have gained through service have given me the confidence to keep working to get my foot in the door and build my career.” Remember, you are never too young to lead!
Global Youth H.E.L.P Inc. (“GYH”) is a nonprofit organization that trains young people to turn their passion into action and become leaders in their communities through service. Meghan Pasricha is the Co-Founder & CEO of GYH and is a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Business School. To learn more, visit www.globalyouthhelp.org and www.facebook.com/gyhelp and @globalyouthhelp