Remember your first big letdown of your college experience? If it hasn’t happened yet, it will. So what do you do when your future internship and summer plans fall through? You don’t want to be that person who sits around at the beach all summer while your friends build up their resumes. Trust me, I’ve been in the situation when my plan A fell apart and had to quickly come up with plan B.
I did everything right. I set my sights on an internship that combined aspects of writing, marketing and public relations. The summer before, I began my dream internship search. I applied as soon as the application opened, connected with as many employees as I could without being creepy, made good impressions and studied the ins and outs of the companies until I felt like part of the team.
After all this planning, I set my sites on an internship at one of the most well-known companies in the world. I kept in contact with an employee for over a year and even made it to the second round of interviews.
But then everything fell apart.
My contact with the company emailed me personally to inform me that they couldn’t provide a position for me. It would’ve stung a lot less if it was just a generic “Thank you for your application, but we regret to inform you that we cannot offer you a position” email. Instead, I got a super personal email that said something like, “I’m so sorry. Not sure what really happened, but let’s keep in touch and we’ll be sure to get you in next summer.”
Though I thought I’d distinguished myself, I was just one person amongst hundreds of applicants. The company contact was even shocked herself about the results. She tried to encourage me to continue work with her personally to build up experience. I appreciated the sentiment, but felt more embarrassed than comforted. I felt like something was taken from me that I already had.
After getting rejected from something you thought you could call yours, endless thoughts of self-doubt float through your mind:
I’m not that special, I guess. I’m just a one page resume in a stack of 600.
Do I need to change my career path?
What did I do wrong?
Fortunately, I channeled the disappointment into something more productive. I searched with an even stronger passion for companies with openings in my desired field. Many companies also had an interview process in the spring, so I had plenty of time to reassess my goals and start the process all over again. When interviewed, I made sure to communicate my strength, passion and overall zest for the industry.
Instead of being just another voice on the other end of the phone, a flimsy resume, or a student who bragged about all her accomplishments, I was a person who knew her worth and all the things she could bring to the company. I forgot about the name and reputation of the company. I chose to focus on connecting with a group of like-minded individuals who understood my passion and were willing to foster my growth.
My summer internship took place at a small local company that focused on bringing news to the community. Instead of commuting two and a half hours into Manhattan, I spent more time near home helping the company cover summer events. One of my first assignments? To interview Tom Papa, a comedian who frequently works with Jerry Seinfeld and Amy Schumer. Though I felt like a bundle of nerves at first, the interview could not have been more relaxed. He was calling me from the car after he had picked his kids up from school. I could finally exhale.
The internship that once intimidated me became my comfort zone. My editor-in-chief treated me more as an employee and less as an intern. I flourished in the responsibility and nearly forgot about my let-downs just weeks prior.
While I had always dreamed of working in a big and well-known company, my plan B showed me how much I can flourish in a smaller company as well. The most gratifying moment during the summer internship was when I received a hand-written thank you note from a big business owner in Manhattan. She thanked me for writing such an effective article promoting her business. For me, I was just doing my job, but I quickly realized I was helping a lot of people.
So what’s the take-away?
When you apply for internships, set realistic expectations. Apply to your top choices, but also to companies with a less competitive applicant pool. When and if that moment comes where you don’t get into the dream program, remind yourself of all the incredibly significant achievements on your resume. A rejection doesn’t mean you’ll never make it in the industry or that you’re talentless. Be patient with yourself and know everything is a learning process, even if it’s not the ideal or expected opportunity.
You’re worth far more than you give yourself credit for. Plan ahead this internship application season. Send meaningful and personal emails and become genuinely passionate about the companies you’re looking to represent. But also know that not everything works out the way you think it will.
We are, after all, still only in college. We’ve got a lot more learning and living to do.