Preparing for careers amid canceled internships

Published Jul 16, 2020

From making the most out of interviews to building in-demand skills to understanding how to list a canceled internship on a resume, more than 250 college students are preparing for careers with the inaugural NRF Foundation and AEO Inc. Retail Industry Summer Experience.

The program brings together industry professionals from AEO, Designer Brands, Gap Inc., Levi’s, Meijer and URBN with undergraduates for several hours of webinars each week, helping students explore career paths and understand more about roles and companies that interest them – discoveries that usually happen during internships.

“We are proud to spearhead the Retail Industry Summer Experience, in partnership with the NRF Foundation and in collaboration with other respected companies in our industry, and to bring this program to life,” AEO Inc. Executive Vice President and General Counsel Stacy Siegal says. “We are excited to be working together to facilitate a truly unique learning experience for this next generation of leaders.”

Here are a few of the key takeaways so far:

Your internship was canceled because of the pandemic. Go ahead and list it on your resume.

Industry professionals recommend including your internship that was canceled because of the pandemic on your resume.

“I would list your internship, and then segue into the alternative virtual experience that you opted into,” Designer Brands Talent Acquisition Manager Ashley Straley says. “You would be able to walk any interviewer through that journey and what happened, and they would understand that.”

URBN Associate Recruiter Kristin Summers says she’s a “huge proponent of adding the internship that you were slated to have this summer” to your resume, and to write that it was affected by COVID-19.

“If you were one of 100 people selected for a program, but maybe 6,000 people applied, that’s a lot of people that you were up against,” says Summers, who recommends quantifying your accomplishments on your resumes, and using numbers to illustrate impact.

What to do when you feel like you didn’t “seal the deal” in an interview.

“The interview process is not a one-way process,” Levi’s President and CEO Chip Bergh says. “It’s a two-way process.”

It’s a concept that Abby Vernon, now the merchandising vice president for AEO Inc.’s Aerie, used to her advantage for a position with a retailer early on in her career.

“I could just tell that I didn’t seal the deal in the interview,” Vernon says.

Instead of walking away with the feeling of uncertainty, she told the recruiter she wanted to leave the conversation feeling like they were on the same page. She was sure she wanted the role, and so she asked the recruiter where she was hesitant.  

“Where are you on the fence? What questions can I answer that might make you feel more confident in this?” Vernon recalls asking the recruiter.  

The recruiter said to her: you just did.

“I think being bold and courageous actually did close the deal in that way. So try it, if it feels natural,” Vernon advises.

Want to work in sustainability? Don’t worry about the job title.

“No matter how you touch product, there are sustainability decisions you can make at every step of the way,” Gap’s Senior Manager for Sustainability Una Hrnjak says.

The keys to a career in sustainability are the skills to communicate, analyze and understand the numbers.  

“It’s basic math, but you need to know it well, and you need to know the importance of it,” UBRN’s Free People Director of Sustainability Julie Verdugo says. “If there isn’t a business case for sustainability, then there isn’t an opportunity to implement it.”

Meijer Director of Environmental Compliance and Sustainability Erik Petrovskis shared the need for people who can communicate and analyze.

“I have to deal with vendors continuously calling with the greatest widget,” Petrovskis says. “We have to evaluate those on our own.”

As the Retail Industry Summer Experience continues, students will dive into how to build the skills they need for a technology career in retail (without having to change their major), participate in additional professional development sessions and connect with more company recruiters.

This summer program is one of many educational offerings from the NRF Foundation, including the NRF Foundation Student Challenge business case competition, a perfect opportunity for undergraduates to get real-world experience. Undergraduates are forming teams now to act as entrepreneurs and pitch a set of products to Nordstrom, Target, The Home Depot or Qurate Retail Group. The deadline for submissions is Oct. 15

As NRF’s nonprofit 501(c)(3), everything the NRF Foundation does helps people do better for themselves, their families and their communities. Learn more about our impact here.

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