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No Internship, No Problem: What Three HR Reps Absolutely Want to See on Your Resume from Summer 2020

Molly Povich  |  June 23, 2020

Those who have a productive summer via volunteering or a retail job will find their resumes moved to the top of the stack... Neflix bingers, not so much.

You’re in college. For a while the thought: What am I going to do this summer? nagged at you. Perhaps you had a helicopter parent clipped to your ear, asking you repeatedly what your plans would be. You finally — amidst the storm of exams and obligations —  got your sh*t together. You sent in applications, did interviews, and prayed to the Internship Gods. And it worked out in your favor; you snagged… something! 

But then, COVID-19 waltzed hellaciously into our lives, your internship got canceled. Now, you worry your resume won’t have what it needs to advance you where you want to go.

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There are enough reasons to be depressed right now. I’m not here to tell you that what you should be thinking about to the exclusion of all else is stacking your resumé. But I am here to help with the questions, including, “What on earth do I do with myself right now?” and “How do I use this new surplus of time?” The following answers are things that — according to three HR representatives — will naturally make you more marketable to future employers.

Even if the world feels out of control right now, you are in control of yourself and what you do with your time. What you do with this time can work to your advantage or disadvantage. “The situation going on around us is no excuse not to be productive or make good use of your time,” says Daphne Calderon, Senior HR Business Partner for CNN. “Students need to get very creative, proactive, and thoughtful about what they are doing and what they want to do in the future. It’s up to you to keep yourself busy and active.” 

Here are the best ways to do just that.


“There’s work you can do to help your community. It may not be a formal job or internship, but now more than ever there are so many ways to do something good,” says Calderon. Lynne Tapper, VP of Human Resources for Global IT at Colgate-Palmolive, recommends mobilizing a hobby for this purpose. Perhaps you’ve become a vigorous baker during quarantine. How can you take that hobby to the next level? Maybe you bake for healthcare workers, or to raise money for bail funds. 

READ MORE: My Summer Internship Was Cancelled. What Next? 


You can always find a way to learn new skills, says Calderon. Check out online courses through platforms like Coursera. Look into what universities are offering (Yale’s most popular class — The Science of Well-Being — is now available online, free!). Fill your brain to make it stronger; prospective employers will see you’re curious and that you continue to seek knowledge and expertise, even in a crisis.


“Think about launching something from scratch,” advises Calderon. It could be small. It could be something you do on the side. But if you can relate it to what you want to do in your future, that’s eye-catching. “The fact that you’re doing something towards your end professional goals speaks positively towards your hunger to solidify your skills in the field you want to ultimately land.”


Reading is such an easy form of self-enrichment. When else are you going to have all this time to educate yourself on anything you want? “Even if it’s not your passion, reading gives you so much perspective on what’s happening out there,” says Calderon. If you don’t know where to start, plenty of publications have put out lists of their top quarantine reads for this summer — a quick Google search will offer enough suggestions to last you through many months. 


“Even if you don’t have a job right now, something you can proactively do is network. You do this with the goal of either nurturing existing relationships or acquiring new relationship connections,” explains Calderon.

Also, don’t forget that this could be a great time to do informational interviews, all of which will likely be digital during this time, but still helpful. If you’re interested in someone’s career, reach out and introduce yourself and let them know you’re interested in what they do. Ask if they have time for a 20 minute conversation. Even if they’re not hiring now, if something opens up in the future, they’ll be more likely to keep you in mind since you’ve already established a connection with them. 


“If you don’t have a mentor, this is a good time to find one,” says Calderon. A mentor is ideally someone who has experience in your areas of professional interest who can guide you on your path. Relationships take time to foster, and if there’s one thing you have now, it’s time. 


Maybe the only gig you’re able to get is something unrelated to your current big-picture career aspirations. Maybe a retail job takes the place of that fancy internship program you had in mind. But don’t turn your nose down at it, says Tapper. “It still shows you’re industrious and doing something with your time.” 

Every job provides experience. “There are a lot of skills that can be transferable. It doesn’t have to be working in an office. There are so many other opportunities out there that show those competencies we would normally look for in an entry-level hire,” says Rebecca Fisher, an HR business partner for Axa XL. “For some of those jobs available in this new pandemic environment, try to think: what are the transferable skills involved?”  

What employers look for will be evolving. “Because of the pandemic, certain jobs are just never going to be able to come back in the same way. So people will have to think more creatively how to transfer the skills they learned in other industries to new industries,” explains Fisher. 

There are many unique circumstances, and employers understand this. “There will be a lot of people who didn’t do anything with their summer because it wasn’t possible for them,” says Tapper. Maybe you can’t work because you have to help parents with child care, or care for a sick relative. “Even things like that people should put on their resume. If you had real responsibilities at home that were not typical because of the pandemic, that can and should be represented on your resume — described in a way that shows what competencies you had to exhibit and what skills you learned.” Even “nothing” could be something, says Tapper.

“It’s more about the story that you tell rather than what’s really on paper,” asserts Calderon. And there’s a good story to be gleaned from every active way you spend your time. Figure out how to tell it.


So what if you just do… nothing? (Netflix bingers, we’re looking at you!) 

“If you’re sitting around and not contributing to all the need during this time…you’re going to be lower on the list of candidates that will be relevant next year when some of these roles open up again,” remarks Fisher. “If I saw nothing on a resume from this summer, I might leave that resume aside because that looks like it could be someone not hungry or eager enough to do something proactive during this time,” says Calderon.

That said, Tapper believes employers will be realistic and acknowledge that this summer was, well, a wash. Fisher and Calderon concur. “We’re all aware of the current realities… so I think we would certainly be looking through a more empathetic and understanding lens,” assures Calderon. You won’t necessarily be penalized for not having done much. “But for those who manage to make something of this time, that’s a plus for those people,” says Tapper.

Pandemic aside, you should always be thinking: How am I going to make myself stand out from other candidates? “Now more than ever you need to put in extra effort. But even pre-pandemic I would have said the same thing: You always need to find a way to stand out and differentiate yourself from others,” states Calderon. “I think people who are eager, hungry, and want to succeed… they always find a way. This need not necessarily be a job, but it’s finding something and telling a story that will resonate, make sense, and be compelling for your future employer.”

“It sounds corny, but try to have a positive attitude. Being able to show how you demonstrated resilience or were able to build resilience in a very challenging situation would also stand out to a prospective employer,” encourages Tapper. The overarching message seems to be: We get it, it’s hard. But this summer  —  if you’re able show us where your strength lies. Show us what you can do right now, because there are opportunities out there and there are opportunities you can create for yourself.  


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