Wall Street Internships Are Surviving the Pandemic’s Wrath

Some 22 million Americans filed for unemployment in the past month as businesses shut down to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. But internship programs, a key source of future employees for big companies, have proven surprisingly immune to the economic devastation.

While Wall Street’s biggest names have delayed, shortened or made virtual their paid summer programs, they have been reluctant to cancel them. Internships are deeply ingrained in the recruiting process for some industries, and the pandemic hasn’t changed that. Top among these are slots tied to finance and consulting.

“Investment banks are probably the best example,” said Martin Boehm, dean of IE Business School in Madrid. “I’m not aware of banks that would hire without a previous internship or extensive investment banking experience.” U.S. consulting firms are a close second—Boehm said the few companies that have canceled MBA internships are in travel, hospitality or transport. “Roughly 5% of upcoming internships have been canceled, and another 15% have said ‘Let’s see how the situation evolves.’”

For MBA candidates at the Yale School of Management, internship acceptance rates remain similar to those of 2019, said Abigail Kies, assistant dean for career development. “I’ve been pleasantly surprised. I think companies have learned from their mistakes. In some past downturns, there were more rescinds than we’re seeing now.” When business picked back up after the 2008 financial crisis, she said, companies were left to scramble for talent.

Consultant PWC plans to move ahead with its paid U.S. internship program for about 3,500 college and graduate students, starting in July. “Investing in our internship program is an essential part of developing our long-term talent pipeline,” said Rod Adams, the firm’s U.S. recruiting leader.

Also sticking with its program is Qualcomm Technologies Inc., which places 1,200 college and graduate students in internships. The company said more than half of its interns end up with full-time jobs. “Now is not the time to step off the gas,” said Vicki Mealer-Burke, chief diversity officer. “The main goal of our program is to assess interns for future full-time opportunities.”

A crucial factor allowing internship programs to weather the storm is their ability to quickly shift online. Companies with established programs that incorporate networking and keep interns busy off-site via remote access find it easier to keep the pump primed.

The University of Cincinnati, which places 7,000 interns per year, has seen only a 15-20% employer cancellation rate, mostly from engineering and construction companies where on-site access is critical, said Erik Alanson, director of computing and information technology co-op programs. GE Aviation and Cincinnati Insurance Cos. plan to bring on as many as 60 students each, while others including Tesla, Kroger and Great American Insurance have also maintained offers.