Boris Tsang/Sun Photography Editor

Students line up to speak to recruiters at a career fair at Barton Hall on Sept. 6, 2018. Amid coronavirus fallout, scores of internship programs have been cancelled, though the pains have not been equally felt across industries.

April 26, 2020

Why COVID-19 May Have a Greater Impact on Some Students’ Careers Than Others’

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In just two months, the U.S. economy has been impacted so severely by COVID-19 that many economists are now comparing the current situation to the Great Depression. As of mid-April, unemployment claims have exceeded 22 million.

The state of the job market has become a concern for many students at Cornell who are facing internship cancellations and deferrals. However, students with certain majors who are pursuing their area of studies’ related fields — namely tech and finance —  may have fewer worries than others.

Josh Thomas ’20, an incoming sales and trading analyst at JP Morgan, already received a confirmation that he will keep his full-time position starting this summer. According to Thomas, several financial firms have been transparent and encouraging in their intent to honor their commitment to full-time analysts and incoming interns.

He said, “There are certain banks that are offering the full-time job before the internship program even begins, which I am sure takes pressure off of those interns. Interns for banks are essential in one sense considering a majority of the analyst class were former interns. Also, these banks face high turnover among first and second year analysts which makes honoring the commitment that much more important. Granted, it is also fair to say that these are unprecedented times and it’s hard to predict exactly will happen in the next few months.”

Thomas’ experience is largely representative of other analysts and summer interns throughout the financial sector.

Last week, Citigroup announced that it will keep, but delay its internship program; moreover, the company will offer most of its incoming summer intern class full-time positions after they graduate. Goldman Sachs also will retain its summer internship program in person for now — though the incoming intern class will start later  — while Morgan Stanley plans to make its summer internship completely virtual.

While Thomas received communications early on that his full-time role seems to be safe, students considering roles outside of finance may face a different situation — especially those pursuing a career in the humanities.

Victoria Harris ’22 originally planned to teach English in Japan this summer, but her internship was ultimately canceled. She expressed worry that a lack of experience this summer will have a ripple effect on her future career prospects.

“I’ll be concerned about having a lack of experience when it comes to applying to jobs and other future endeavors,” she said.

The majority of humanities majors end up going to graduate school, which often spikes in popularity during economic downturns as a way to avoid unemployment while staying productive.

But Harris remains optimistic that future employers will overlook any resume gaps this summer.

“A lot of other people also are lacking the experience from this specific year. So I don’t think it’s necessarily that bad, but it is definitely something to be a little worried about,” she said.

The travel and hospitality industry has been decimated during the pandemic, prompting most airlines and hotel companies — including Delta, JetBlue, Hilton and Marriott — to axe their summer internship programs.

Airlines project a $250 billion loss in revenue, while travel bans and stay-at-home measures have contributed to bringing down room revenue of hotels by $13 billion since mid-February, when the outbreak first began escalating.

Restaurants and hotels have experienced the largest declines in employment, with a projected 4 million layoffs and furloughs during the lockdown period — almost half of the entire industry’s workforce.

Certain industries where working from home is easier — including software development and banking — have been somewhat resistant to the lockdown as employment continues at home. Most major tech companies have moved their internships online. However, others such as Airbnb and Glassdoor have outright canceled their summer internships, and Booz Allen Hamilton canceled its coveted Summer Games program.

Engineers working outside of software development may have tougher luck with their summer plans. Ethan Liu ’22 received word in early April that his mechanical engineering internship at Sensata had been canceled.

“Anything that can’t be done remotely was probably canceled,” Liu said.

Many major firms such as Boeing have halted all hiring, including for engineering positions since the work cannot be done remotely.

During an uncertain time for the job market, no one knows how the post-pandemic economy will play out. But that doesn’t mean every student’s career will endure a major setback: Much of the widespread layoffs are concentrated among workers in the food and retail industry, and students with private university educations typically graduate into higher paying roles on average.

Thomas, who has a more optimistic outlook, believes Cornellians have the access and opportunity to find their way during this crisis.

“That’s the type of attitude I think that comes with Cornell — that you’ll figure it out,” he said. “You have this anticipation of what life will look like after college, but as long as you surround yourself with the right people, you’re bound to to be successful.”