By Carly Rogers

During what should have been a celebratory time for the class of 2020, we have instead been struggling to come to terms with the current situation surrounding COVID-19. In addition to the fear and anxiety surrounding the novel coronavirus, students must also handle their emotions regarding postponed graduations, rushed goodbyes with friends and peers and rescinded job offers.

This summer is going to look very different for young professionals: according to Pay Our Interns, an estimated one million internships will be canceled this summer as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. This is an incredibly disappointing consequence of the pandemic, as many students rely on summer internships for income and experience.

This time has been very difficult for me; I know I am a phenomenal candidate, so receiving no responses from companies and programs I had applied to just weeks before the outbreak struck has been disheartening. In addition, my internship at Edelman has been canceled and now I am lacking a summer position and a potential full-time offer. Fortunately, I recently spoke with my mentor and he inspired me not lose hope during my job hunt and to stay flexible while searching for other opportunities.

That being said, here are some tips and professional development substitutes for summer internships canceled due to COVID-19.

Before losing hope because of your rescinded offer(s), send a thank you email to those who had interviewed you. Now is not the time to forget your manners—what if the company need someone fulfill that position in the future? You might be one of the first people they contact, so don’t jeopardize your future by failing to follow proper business etiquette.

I have also heard others asking their programs if they can commit to a later date once the virus subsides and the company gains more clarity on the situation. I haven’t tried this, but honestly, it wouldn’t hurt! The worst they can say is no, but at least you showed initiative and interest in the opportunity to work for them in the future.

Alternatively, you can ask if they need unpaid help, which could help you secure full-time employment later. This option won’t work for everyone, but if you have time and can afford it, offering to “intern” part-time for 10-15 hours per week still gives you the chance to get your foot in the door and prove you are competent in your abilities. If anything, you could earn a great letter of recommendation for the future. If they don’t have enough work for an intern, other companies have been forced to lay off employees and would appreciate some free assistance.

Next, look for remote job or internship listings. While these positions are unlikely to be doing what you had wanted with your dream company, at least you will be earning some income and experience. Many organizations in the healthcare and nonprofit sectors are currently hiring! Personally, this is what I will be doing once I move home. I plan to use my free time to apply to other jobs and prepare for my next big move when the chaos subsides and I receive an offer. There’s always a silver lining, right?

If you don’t plan to move home like me and will instead remain in your college town, search if your university has internships or jobs available. You probably already have connections that you can use to your advantage! In addition, your professors may be looking for a research assistant. It probably won’t pay well, but it’ll look good on your resume.

If you feel confident in your abilities, try helping a small business with media outreach, branding, social media or another area that they seem to be struggling with. This could be your dad’s friend’s family-owned business or one you found while scanning Facebook and Google. Ideally, it will give you a chance to create deliverables for a client, and who wouldn’t want free help? Later, you could turn this into a side hustle for money or for practicing consultations.

If doing work assignments for a company isn’t possible, then create your own! You can write a research plan, a campaign proposal or a communications plan to supplement your portfolio. Don’t just listen to my three suggestions— create something else or practice your graphic design or video editing skills. The choice is yours, so get creative!

Taking free online courses is another way to utilize your time. I want to turn my weaknesses into strengths, so I am using Coursera and other massive open online courses (MOOC) providers to hone my current abilities and learn new things (I’m looking at you, Microsoft Office Shortcuts and Social Media Marketing). If you are a student, I suggest you take advantage of LinkedIn Learning’s thousands of educational videos. Either search your university’s website to see if there is a link to activate your account or try a month-long free trial of LinkedIn Premium to access the resources. Google Analytics, HubSpot, Adobe Creative Suite, Hootsuite and many others offer free or cheap courses that often come with accredited certifications that you receive after passing a final exam. If you’re still in college, you can take a summer class online to pass the time and fulfill any remaining graduation requirements.

Other things you could do including giving your LinkedIn profile a makeover or creating a personal website for your portfolio or blog. Take it from me, consolidating your work and developing a strong personal brand will help you immensely! In addition, it’s helpful to continue writing to sharpen your skills and produce original content. If writing isn’t your thing, try creating a YouTube channel. Regardless what you create, ensure you are publishing or posting quality content with a clear target audience in mind.

All in all, I believe job recruiters will be more lenient about what we had accomplished during this time under the current circumstances, but that doesn’t mean you should accept defeat! Continue to prepare yourself for a post-COVID world by being creative and taking advantage of untraditional opportunities. Those who show perseverance and resilience in the face of adversity will see tremendous growth during this time and will be rewarded with success in the future.

As a final word of advice, make sure you take care of yourself. Allow yourself to go through the stages of grief—while it may sound silly, it helps to recognize what you are feeling after losing your highly anticipated graduation or a great job position. After all, it is a loss and should be treated as such.

If forcing yourself to be productive is overwhelming, know that you are doing your best and that this period in our lives will eventually pass. Doing the things that make you happy is more important than ever and is more than enough. Be gentle with yourself and instead use this time to focus on what brings you joy.

Best of luck to you all and stay safe and healthy!

Carly Rogers is a recent graduate of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications with a B.S. in Public Relations and a minor in Communication Studies. She interned at BCW Global in New York last summer and was intended to intern at Edelman in its Corporate & Public Affairs department this summer. Follow her on Twitter @Carly_A_Rogers or view her website at carlyrogers.com and check out her blog where this post and others provide outstanding insights and tips for individuals beginning their PR careers.