Building Skills and Exploring Careers Online

Author name
Jennifer Agor, Assistant Director, Duke Career Center

As the impact of this situation starts to sink in and you’re able to think beyond the immediate “What the heck is happening in the world?”, I imagine one of the first things you’ll be thinking about is your summer plan.  In light of the uncertainty of things right now, the advisers at the Career Center put together a list of things you can do to build skills, make good use of your free time and create quality experiences for yourself, even without a summer internship, program, or external research opportunity.

We have tried to cover a wide range of experiences and majors below.



  • Practice your coding skills with online programs like Leetcode and Hackerrank or texts like Cracking the Coding Interview by Gayle Laakmann McDowell. These resources help you practice (and learn) coding and will also help you prepare for interviews in the fall. 
  • Use Google’s Tech Dev Guide to grow your tech skills.  Walking through four separate paths of learning curated by Googlers and university faculty, you will find resources, practice problems and other ways to do some self-directed learning.
  • Learn how things work.  Build a computer, or take one apart and put it back together.  Learn how to troubleshoot issues.  Some of the foremost techies have said working at a HelpDesk was the most informative and important work they did in college.
  • Create an app or website to address a Duke community issue or a personal issue.  If you don’t know how to do this, take a LinkedIn Learning course (free to Duke students!) about Java, Python, website creation, and user experience.
  • LinkedIn Learning in general is a great tool—take a course on program management, agile, interactive office tools like Zoom, Slack, WebEx, or Excel and get prepared for your next role within an industry environment.
  • Reach out to local companies who might have app, database, or website needs and see if you can be of assistance.  Particularly at nonprofit organizations or start-ups, they may welcome the cheaper/free labor.
  • Work on early stage open source code where you can make a serious contribution to the project.  This looks great on a resume if you are able to show how you influenced and manipulated the code. Learn to document, especially so others can understand how to pick up from where you left off.
  • Clean up your Github (or create one!).  Make sure your history shows you working continuously on projects, not just one-off experiences that you rarely touch.  Make sure your projects work and that there are instructions for how to make it work that are easily understandable.
  • See if you can find work-arounds or holes in programs.  Often practicing hacker methods can make you effective in a cybersecurity role, as you can then anticipate how attacks might occur.
  • Check out co-lab opportunities for mentorship and learning.  Even if they don’t have a class for a program or skill, they offer opportunities to tutor and learn one on one.


  • If you have access to computer programs (and can potentially download many from Duke OIT), practice your design work in CAD or Solidworks.  Being able to show your experience with the design process, from inception to prototype, is critical. Learning to test, redesign and retest and being able to discuss these things in an interview can really help employers put your design skills into context.
  • Check out the Innovation & Entrepreneurship opportunities page and DukeList.  Often companies who need design work will post projects here to find students who can help.
  • Build something. Design furniture, a puzzle box, a musical instrument, or some other project easily created with wood or other things you can get at the hardware store. Draw out plans (maybe using design software), create a budget and materials list, then build whatever it is.


You are living through a historical moment in time.  Obviously, this doesn’t have to be what you write about, but if you need inspiration, think about ways to document your experience, as well as others’.

  • Blog writing is a great way to keep your written communication skills sharp and practice story telling. Think about your interests and brainstorm blog themes. Check out Duke’s access to WordPress to get started.
  • Write a book or short story on things you care about or topics of interest to express your creativity and have something to show for it.
  • Become a freelance writer and find opportunities to contribute to blog posts, web content, social posts, videos, white papers, presentations, and more. There are several websites that connect companies to freelance writers.
  • Create a personal website or online portfolio to show your experience and skills as well as illustrate your work using WordPress or Weebly.
  • Did you know you could publish articles on LinkedIn? Check the top of your home page news feed and select “write an article on LinkedIn.”


  • Create a documentary film about this unprecedented time in your life. 
  • Locate online teaching or tutoring programs to share your expertise and help students succeed toward their academic goals.
  • Etsy allows you to start your own entrepreneurial, creative project and get experience running a business and selling your products online.
  • Parker Dewey offers micro-internships where companies post short term project work that can be completed virtually. In 20-40 hours, usually within 1 week, you can gain industry experience AND get paid for your work.
  • Research a topic of interest and create a presentation or report to show your findings.  Perhaps interview people about how they are thinking about COVID-19, how the world is changing, and how day-to-day life might shift from this experience.
  • Create a business and work out a marketing plan, business plan, communication plan. People will still need lawn service and other routine tasks done.  Or maybe you can get creative and fill a niche—local brewery Bond Brothers has started a delivery truck and is partnering with local food trucks to combine beer and food delivery since the restaurant shut-down occurred—keeping both businesses working and providing a service to those who can’t/won’t go out.
  • Develop a Toolkit to meet a need. Maybe one of your local schools needs a toolkit for something you have a passion for (skill development, women in STEM, how to make best use of online learning, etc.)


  • Through LinkedIn Learning videos explore not only the foundations of business, but the many areas that fall under this category. What career areas or skills will you pursue further from these trainings?
  • Read, read, read. All business divisions have news outlets, journals, and magazines that provide up to date information for the industry. Interested in Marketing? Read Adweek. Interested in Finance/Consulting/Business? Read the Business section of the Wall Street Journal. Look for publications and blogs on professional association websites too.
  • Have you always had an idea for your own business? Interested in taking on a side hustle? Go for it! Use tools such as LinkedIn Learning and mentors to help you build a plan. If you approach these opportunities intentionally your list of developed skills will be strong.


  • Use this time to dive deep and practice case interviewingCase in Point by Marc P. Cosentino is the foremost handbook for case prep, and will give you test problems and walk you through the best ways to find solutions.  There are also numerous resources on firm websites and YouTube. Also, don’t forget to practice with your peers who are also working on this skill. Casing isn’t a solo activity so practice with others is important!
  • Do you have a particular skill that could help a local business? You can be a consultant! Reach out to local businesses to offer your knowledge for particular projects that they may not have the bandwidth of expertise for.


  • Learn Excel.  Can’t state this strongly enough.  Again, LinkedIn Learning is a great educating tool.  And if you haven’t already got Microsoft Office 365, you can download it from Duke OIT.
  • While you’re probably already familiar, the Duke Financial Economics Center resources are your best friend right now. Check through their extensive list of learning opportunities to really make yourself a strong candidate.
  • Learn about the variety of finance areas. There’s more than just investment banking and sales and trading.
  • Follow the market and stay up to date on everything that’s happening and what it means.  The market is doing extraordinary things, records are being set and/or broken. You can gain amazing knowledge that companies will expect you to have thoughts on when things go back to normal again.
  • Want to begin investing and understanding the markets? Consider if an investing app is a good choice for you. Look for ones that have a teaching component.


Do you just want to HELP? Think about how you might engage with various groups:

  • The local school districts
  • Church, synagogue, mosque, and other religiously affiliated organizations
  • Nonprofit organizations
  • Chamber of Commerce
  • Local organizations, associations
  • Alumni

When you’re asked in an interview about how you handled a tough situation, a time when you faced adversity, or directly, “How did you respond to the COVID-19 situation?,” you’ll have some amazing stories of stepping up, adapting, innovating and helping your fellow human beings.  How will you make the most of this time?