Due to the unexpected circumstances of COVID-19, some employers have had to cancel or alter their internship programs for this summer. Especially when an internship is designed as a recruitment pipeline program, there can be longer-term consequences for employers which are attempting to plan ahead for future hiring. Rescinding an offer—including an internship offer—can damage your company’s brand in students’ views. It can also have tangible, negative consequences for students, including loss of income, loss of the opportunity to build essential work experience, and in cases where students are required to complete an internship for their degree program, even a delay in graduation dates and extended college costs. How can you mitigate this damage and engage your top candidates—those who would have otherwise gone through your internship program this summer and potentially have been converted to new hires—if you have had to cancel your internship?
Help students understand why the offer was cancelled.
For some students, your summer internship might have been their first professional experience, or even their first true work experience. They may not have a context to compare what typical employer-employee relationships look like, and they may not understand the difficult decisions you have had to make when determining you had to cancel their summer internship. As much as possible, try to be transparent about the factors which made the internship impossible for your company to offer this summer and show empathy for students whose summer career development plans have been unexpectedly scuttled. Offering facts that entered into your decision, such as any guidance from local or state public health authorities, cancelled or postponed contracts or projects, or changes to company budgets can help students see why an internship is impossible at this time.
Compensate for losses.
Think about what the student has lost due to the canceled internship, including lost earnings, training experiences, and mentoring. Is there any way you can compensate the student for these losses? Can you offer some form of financial stipend? What if the student signed a lease for a summer rental in your company’s city, and now has to scramble to break that lease? What if the student resigned from another job, or turned down another internship to accept yours? Within your ability, compensating students for tangible or intangible losses will go a long distance towards salvaging your company brand and maintaining a relationship with the candidate, and protect your brand for future campus hiring.
Communicate, then communicate some more.
A personal message or a phone call from hiring managers discussing how you can proceed can help smooth over students’ disappointment. After this, consider a weekly or bi-weekly email outreach, short video communication (especially from a senior leader), or monthly phone call check-in.
Try one of these ideas to provide a “consolation prize.”
1. If you cannot offer a full internship, is there a way you could offer a brief, three to five day training program or immersion experience? If so, can you brand this experience so that it looks prestigious and can be added to a student’s resume?
2. Can you offer a shortened version of your summer program, or a “micro internship”? Are there short-term, defined projects that students could work on to expand their portfolios?
3. Is there a chance you could make your internship part-time during the fall semester?
4. Can you reasonably promise a full-time offer to candidates this fall, whose summer plans with you were canceled?
5. Are there ways you can create structured networking or career exploration opportunities by introducing the student to company leaders or others in your organization?
6. Is there a skills-based credential or certification you could pay for, to boost the students’ resumes?
7. Can you partner with a nonprofit organization that needs assistance this summer—perhaps one working in COVID-19 response efforts—to provide a summer volunteer experience to the students, perhaps also offering the student a stipend?
Nothing can replace a full summer of work experience, but think of what you could offer which would add value to a student’s resume and make them feel they have achieved something during a summer when much of the world is shut down.
Students’ summer plans may seem less critical than your current employees’ full-time jobs, but they are important and meaningful enough to be taken seriously. Designing an effective strategy that keeps students engaged, even excited, to stay in touch with the people at your company will go a long distance towards ensuring you preserve your company brand during this difficult time. Students who feel valued and appreciated, and who feel heard and understood when their plans are suddenly changed, will have a much more positive view of the company, and this will ensure a positive employer image for the long term.