3 things I learned from getting rejected from an internship

Me, trying to get an internship this semester.

Getting a job is hard.

Especially when you’re a current college student, new grad, or anyone with little to no work experience.

Things can seem really hopeless after you’ve put in so many hours to make yourself better. You’ve done what everyone has told you.

You’ve attended hundreds of

  • career workshops
  • networking events
  • internship panels

… yet, you still can’t find an employer who will recognize your talent.

It feels like the world is against you, and it will be that much easier to blame “the economy” or complain about how all employers need to spend more than 30 seconds looking at your resume and that they suck and aren’t giving you a fair shot.

Your friends may even be getting their fancy paid internships at Google or Facebook or Deloitte, and you’re just struggling to get an unpaid one.

After enough denials, you might even start to think it’s a problem with you internally.

I understand; I’ve been there and it sucks.

But throughout every denial, I’ve grown hungrier, and more eager to prove to myself that those other companies missed out on someone freaking valuable. As the chip on my shoulder grew heavier, I started to figure out ways that I can improve my interview skills, relationship-building skills, and be somebody that companies couldn’t deny.

Over this past spring semester, I was denied consistently from over 20 different places. Many places I would get straight up denials; others I would never hear back from.

But I think there’s something to learn from each of them.

That’s why I decided to do a full breakdown of one of my applications — that I didn’t learn I was rejected from until a month later — in order to reflect on it.

Step-by-step, I’m going to breakdown every email, to show you

  • how soon you should send the first email after meeting
  • what kind of message I wrote
  • why I wrote what I wrote

At the end of this, you’ll also understand what I learned from the whole experience and how you can use these lessons to your own advantage in the job search.

Backstory: So I met one of the co-founders of this company at a school job fair at USC. I showed excitement at the idea of working for them, but in truth, I was not authentic with them: I really just wanted to get a job. Any job. That’s why I couldn’t answer one question about the industry that I would have known had I actually been interested.

I sent the first email to establish a relationship.

Here, I sent a follow-up email immediately the day I met him because I wanted to show my punctuality as a professional and that I had been paying attention during our talk.

… and 9 days later comes a reply. We set up a meeting.

March 18, the Interview

I walked in about 10 minutes early to the interview. I see that the co-founder is not there, just another employee. So I chat with the employee to get a good feel for what the company culture is like and what his background is; turns out he also went to USC.

Eventually the co-founder comes to the office and interviews me.

He apologized for his lateness and told me about how he’s stressed out about conducting more interviews for new hires and how the company is relocating. I took note of that. We end up going through a structured interview process, and I’m nervous but trying my best to sound like the ideal candidate. I thought I made a good impression, so I shook his hand, and then left.

I follow up around 3 days later.

I sent this email in an attempt to help him schedule his interviews.

I tried to offer value here without making it obvious I wanted to hear back about the application. Maybe it gets lost in the shuffle of emails and he never sees it.

After a dead silence for one month, I decided to send a follow-up in order to update him on what I was working on to show that I was staying active.

Notice the date, April 22. It was a long month of silence.

I thought this showed clear desire to be involved and showed my proactiveness. But it was a little too late. Here’s the email that came after:

This almost came immediately after I sent the last email. Good stuff.

I was stunned. Disappointed. Pissed. This lasted for about an hour.

But then I realized that this may not have been the best fit for me, especially since I wasn’t ready with my interview skills, and they couldn’t see me being their potential partner.

So what can be learned from this?

  1. You should expect to be following up all of the time. Professionals are busy, and you have to put in the extra effort to make things happen or else they won’t. If an employer responds immediately, consider that a blessing.
  2. Always reply to an email within 24 hours. It shows professionalism and respect to the other person’s time.
  3. Try a different route if the way you’ve been applying isn’t working. A lot of students’ only source of career advice comes only from people in academia. Seek employment advice from the professional world; learn new things, and try them again.

It’s a painful learning process, but that’s what it takes in today’s world. Keep it going, and learn more about the process. You never know who might take notice.

Originally published at www.theevanle.com on May 19, 2016.

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