How I turned devastating rejection into sweet success: my lessons, thoughts, and advice for job seekers.
This is the story of my one and half year search for my first internship — my fall, my struggle, and my rise.
In 2015, I was rejected for a sales internship at a rising startup in South Korea. Two years later, I was sitting in on their board meeting.
Well before the interview was scheduled, I had already prepared my pitch to their CMO. I developed a customer acquisition strategy, found out which areas where their target users frequented and ran a survey to understand their needs and pain points.
When I presented my research and how I’d pitch the startup’s service to potential customers, my interviewer immediately invited me to meet the founding team a week later. The following week’s interview went well, if not better. The team told me to send them my research and the slide deck I made, we chatted about their industry and market, and then the CEO took showed me around the office after the interview. Once the brief tour concluded, he shook my hand then informed me that he to meet with his investors. All seemed set for me to join them.
Lesson 1: Don’t post anything related to your internship results before you’ve received your contract.
A week later the startup sent me an unexpected email. As soon as I saw the classic sentence “Thank you for your interest in our company”, my heart began to sink. The rejection wouldn’t have been as bad had I not posted about it prematurely on social media. That was the first lesson I learned, and boy was it embarrassing.
Lesson 2: Don’t be cocky. (Not sure if I’ve fully learned this)
To make it worse, because I was so confident that I’d be accepted, I didn’t apply for any other opportunities. I went all-in on the turn, and the river busted me.
Lesson 3: The one thing nobody can take away from you is your grind and hustle.
So at this point, I was disillusioned with myself. Am I not good enough? How am I going to find an internship? If I can’t find an internship, how on earth will I get a job when I graduate? I allowed myself to sulk for a grand total of two days, then I picked myself up and started back on the grind.
The day I received the rejection email, I was at the International Consultancy Network(ICON) conference in Chicago. My team was about to present our final deliverables to our client, and when we weren’t working on our slides, I was networking every second. My efforts paid off when one of the deans at the conference invited me to visit his university for the spring semester.
Lesson 4: You can’t do everything on your own, and that’s fine.
For 6 months, I ended up honing my skills in consulting and finance at Long Island University C.W Post. By the end of my stay, I had added three consulting projects and experience at a student investment fund to my resume. It was a tough 6 months and I would not have survived had it not been for the support of my family and friends. Huge thanks to my parents, and of course to Emil, Adam, Chris, Bobby, Nav Jo, Robert, Sheko, Emily, Said, Per, Burhan and the rest of the LIU-iQ and LIU-iF crew. Much love to you all.
Lesson 5: Your story is your greatest strength — make sure your resume, cover letter, and interview express it.
A few months after I departed New York, I found myself interviewing for an internship at an early-stage tech VC/Accelerator. It was extremely competitive. I was the only applicant who didn’t have an internship and wasn’t a university graduate. As luck would have it, I managed to pass the online application round, and I was invited to meet with the firm’s managing partners in Seoul.
As I prepared for the interview, I looked up the firm’s portfolio and found that the startup that rejected me long ago was actually one of their first investments.
I felt like karma was on my side. The interview day arrived and the firm’s managing partner glanced at my resume and said, “Tell me about yourself”.
I looked at him with a smile and said, “It all started when one of your portfolio companies rejected my job application…”.
Lesson 6: Be magnanimous.
I was hired after the interview. It wasn’t a formal offer, but one of the partners walked me to the door and said congratulations. Suffice to say, there were no premature posts on Facebook this time.
The very first week I started my internship, I was assigned to represent my firm at the startup’s board meeting.
I walked into the board room with my assistant manager, spoke to the other board members and then finally made my way to the CEO. We looked at each other, smiled, shook hands, and then the meeting started and we went straight to business.
As I boarded the train back home, I reflected on how the dots all connected, and for the first time in my life, felt grateful that I failed. Had I not, I would never have had a chip on my shoulder to spur me on.
“…for the first time in my life, felt grateful that I failed. Had I not, I would never have had a chip on my shoulder to spur me on.”
I later found out that he spoke highly of me to the partners at my company after the board meeting. It never pays to be petty.
I am an intern at Sunbo Angel Partners, a venture capital/accelerator in Korea that invests in technology startups. Get in touch with me through LinkedIn or through email (email@example.com)!