Morgan Broadus’s final summer as a Virginia Tech student was stacking up to be one of her best yet.

The architecture major had secured an internship with an architecture firm in Richmond, Virginia. She was looking forward to gaining more experience for a future career in the field.

But COVID-19 changed her plans. The pandemic forced the company to cancel her internship. The news left Broadus searching for new summer opportunities to develop professional skills and make money.

She is not alone.

Across the nation, new graduates entering the job market and current students seeking internships are feeling the effects of COVID-19. Faced with an uncertain business environment, many companies no longer are hiring. Others are reducing hours or eliminating internships indefinitely.

“There’s no doubt that this has turned the employment world upside down and inside out,” said Donna Ratcliffe, director of Career and Professional Development at Virginia Tech. “But it is not doomsday. It is just a pause. A lot of companies are pausing right now to consider what they can do and what they can’t do.”

There also is more competition for jobs, said Jennifer Tortora, director of career services and employer relations for the Pamplin College of Business.

“Graduates are not only competing with peers but those in the workforce who now find themselves unemployed due to the large number of layoffs,” she said.

The hospitality industry is among the hardest hit, as well as many other jobs that require direct customer interaction, mostly because they are difficult or impossible to move to a virtual working environment, Tortora said.

So far, less than 5 percent of companies have rescinded full-time job offers for Pamplin students, though many businesses are delaying start dates for these positions, she said. The pandemic mostly has impacted internships.

Career and Professional Development, along with Pamplin and other colleges throughout the university, are working to help Virginia Tech students weather this uncertain time. Many are offering students virtual appointments with career advisors to discuss potential options and advice.

Ratcliffe’s office also created a frequently asked questions hub on its website with information and tips for students as they navigate employment during the pandemic.

Pamplin hosted a workshop series this semester to help students search for jobs and interview for positions virtually, as well as providing tips on working successfully in a virtual environment.

“It will be very important that students are capable of excelling in a remote work environment moving forward,” Tortora said.

Still, communication is key right now for students who already were talking with employers about jobs or internships, Ratcliffe said.

“Students would want to circle back to anyone who made an offer they haven't heard from,” Ratcliffe said. “They also want to make sure it is a COVID-19 healthy environment if they actually do go into the workplace.” 

Some students may still move forward with a job or internship, but most are finding that the opportunities come with significant changes as a result of the pandemic.

Drew Roberson-Gouge, a Virginia Tech senior studying accounting & information systems and mathematics, will move to California this summer for a remote internship with KPMG, an accounting firm. His internship changed to a remote opportunity and his hours were cut in half as a result of COVID-19.
Drew Roberson-Gouge, a Virginia Tech senior studying accounting and information systems and mathematics, will move to California this summer for a remote internship with KPMG, an accounting firm. His internship changed to a remote opportunity, and his hours were cut in half as a result of COVID-19. Photo courtesy of Drew Roberson-Gouge

Take Drew Roberson-Gouge, a Virginia Tech senior studying accounting and information systems and mathematics who landed a summer internship in California with KPMG, an accounting firm. During spring break just before the outbreak began to affect travel and shut down businesses, Roberson-Gouge and his friends flew to California to look for housing.

“I was able to find an apartment the day we got the email about online classes” for the rest of the spring semester at Virginia Tech, he said. “We [Roberson-Gouge and his friend] realized this was serious.” 

Due to COVID-19, KPMG transitioned Roberson-Gouge’s internship to a remote opportunity and reduced his hours, a decrease from 40 to 20 hours a week. Also, rather than auditing, his internship now will focus on career development and tax consulting. 

Roberson-Gouge said he is disappointed, but he still plans to relocate to California in June for the remote internship because he already signed an apartment lease. Plus, he has been accepted into KPMG’s master of accounting with data and analytics program, which partners with Virginia Tech’s Pamplin College of Business. He will continue to work for the company after completing the graduate program.

Despite the many job and internship changes, there are ways for students to spend their summers developing work-related skills and improving their resumes.

Students should list internship offers on their resumes even if opportunities were canceled due to COVID-19, Ratcliffe said.

“No one is going to hold it against students if they don’t have internships this summer,” she said, explaining that several companies have stated this to her. “What companies will ask is how the student invested their time during the summer.”

University career professionals advise students to spend time learning or expanding their skills in a specific interest or career area and list that on their resume as well.

“Do not give up,” Tortora said. “Take advantage of all opportunities to enhance your skill sets. Look into industry certifications, virtual experiences, networking opportunities, and advanced education that can add to your resume.”

Pamplin students also can use the college’s virtual resource center to begin preparing to apply for jobs in the fall, she said.

Additionally, Career and Professional Development is creating summer options for Virginia Tech students to continue learning and thriving this summer. These opportunities will be posted on the office’s website after May 18.

Along with career-related experience, students could consider volunteer work or take on a project for which they are passionate, such as photography, Ratcliffe said.

“Getting experience, any experience, can build skills,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be career-related. Career-ready skills, such as communications, teamwork, problem solving, project management, customer service, digital, and leadership, can be developed in any part-time job, volunteering, remote project work, LinkedIn Learning videos, and the like.”

And though it is difficult to find a job right now, it is not impossible, she said. There are postings updated daily on Handshake, a job website for college students.

Meanwhile, Broadus, who is from Charlottesville, Virginia, is looking at the bright side as she makes new summer plans. She is exploring internship opportunities at Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C., architecture firms. She also is looking for other kinds of jobs, such as working as a nanny or a lifeguard.

“I know I have my family, friends, and health,” said Broadus. “The job market will bounce back, and we will all get through this together.”

By Haley Cummings and Jenny Kincaid Boone