Mark Matcho/The New York Times

August 3, 2020

Virtual Escape Rooms and Happy Hours: Students Express Enthusiasm for Virtual Summer Internships 

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Not only did COVID-19 prematurely end the spring semester, but it also preemptively canceled many summer internships.

Eleven percent of students who had secured full-time employment and 23 percent of students who secured an internship had their offer rescinded, according to an April survey conducted by Handshake.

While many lost internships, others had the opportunity to perform their internships virtually. This transition to remote internships has been a trend at major firms in the financial services industry like Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase.

Among the many students across the U.S. adjusting to virtual internships are Justin Simms ’21, a business advisory intern at Ernst and Young, and Joshua Greenspan ’21, a real estate summer analyst at Paramount Group Inc.

Simms and Greenspan both said they were initially upset after finding out that their internships were delayed and completely virtual. Their internships now heavily rely on Microsoft Teams, a communication platform, to collaborate with coworkers and complete projects.

Despite changes to the timeline of his internship, Simms said he was satisfied with EY’s maintenance of a five-week internship, especially since so many other companies canceled their internships. Although shortened, Simms commended EY for its efforts to make the internship as “collaborative and social as possible.”

“I feel like people are more than willing to discuss their various experiences because it’s virtual, so it’s really easy to meet with people,” he said.

Similarly, Greenspan expressed positive sentiments regarding Paramount’s response to the crisis, saying that the company “was able to orient a really structured framework for an effective and impactful six-week program that provides a pluralistic and wide-ranging view of the commercial real estate industry.”

To further ease the online transition, both firms provided resources to conduct internships from home. EY sent Simms a laptop with accessories and Paramount sent Greenspan a Lenovo ThinkPad, which he said was a “great laptop for financial modeling.”

Although Simms was unable to meet as many people because he isn’t in the office, the move to a digital platform has opened up newer possibilities in networking. Simms said that the remote setting and use of technology for communication “allowed [him] to connect with people from across the country in a much easier fashion.”

At Paramount, digitization played a crucial role in facilitating communication within a team for projects and collaboration. Greenspan found that Microsoft Teams is “an extremely helpful application [that has] allowed for the effective and seamless work in teams among the leasing group.”

Paramount has also focused on the importance of building connections with coworkers. Greenspan said that Paramount has hosted several intern events, such as a virtual escape room and a virtual happy hour.

However, not all aspects of the job transitioned well online. While financial modeling tasks have not significantly changed, Greenspan said that COVID-19 has a major impact on the qualitative aspects of Paramount’s business, particularly salesmanship.

As an intern at a Real Estate Investment Trust, the inability to go on-site to show clients around and the lost in-person interactions meant that an aspect of relationship management and development has been behind. While Greenspan noted that “not being in the office negatively impacted [his] experience,” he admitted that overall he is still getting a fulfilling experience.

Simms also appreciated positive aspects of the remote experience, such as the ability to connect with other employees across the country.

“I think COVID-19 has impacted everything for sure,” Simms said. “But at the same time, there’s nothing more you can do than to work hard and put your best foot forward.”