Picture the summer before senior year. This summer, you should go off and intern with IBM, Johnson & Johnson or JP Morgan. It’s time to get your foot into corporate America. That’s how our society views success. Right?
I applied to over a hundred internships only to receive less than a dozen rejection emails.
They should tell you in high school, especially in those where college is a default, what it takes to succeed in college—the degrees that actually help you and what you need to do in addition to your undergraduate studies that will actually land you a job.
I went into college undecided. Everyone basically told me to or else I was bound for failure. I dabbled in different classes like economic development and sociology for two years until my college forced me to declare a major. I mean it makes sense. You can’t just waste money with no direction. I went to my advisor and told him I still felt so lost; I had no idea what I wanted to do. He recommended advertising. And I said, “Sure, let’s go with it.”
After a year of communication classes, I started to get the ropes of what the field entails, kind of. I found the College of Communications at Penn State offers a ton of resources for students. Not only do they advise students but they also hold various career fairs only for communication students, recognize dozens of clubs and even provide internship advisors. Internships seemed like a big deal in this field.
But no one told me landing an internship would feel as hard as landing a job. After three years of college it still felt nearly impossible to get even an unpaid position. Without internships, a college education might mean nothing to an employer.
How do I get experience if I need experience to get experience?
You need at least three hardcore experiences, like real-life writing and editing, creative development, communications or whatever else, to get a decent salary job post-grad. You have to find time and money to maneuver those opportunities into your undergraduate career. Not to mention, many of these opportunities come without a single paycheck.
If your family can’t afford to help you through college, how could you possibly take on an opportunity that pays $0? This gives wealthier families more room to succeed. The less wealthy must pass up opportunities or settle because they need to afford rent, tuition, food, insurance and the list goes on forever.
My resume looked okay, nothing crazy considering I declared my major late. I had a few relevant experiences. I interned with Penn State Athletics, held executive board positions in clubs and orgs, worked as a market researcher, and included the rest of my work history. But apparently, it wasn’t enough.
I went to every resume and cover letter workshop PSU offered. I met with my advisors and custom internship advisor not once but twice only to have her give me a stack of 80 papers of companies that may give me an opportunity.
Not only did I apply to these stacks of papers, I Googled internship opportunities. Every. Single. Day. LinkedIn, Indeed and Google Jobs became my best friends. I sat in class disregarding the lecturer as I applied to five jobs in a 50-minute period. Any time between classes, I researched opportunities. I wanted to be the person on Facebook to announce their once-in-a-lifetime opportunity with a company like Disney.
I went to the career fairs, even the one Penn State held in New York City. I responded to the College of Communications listserv emails, tailoring and sending each verified resume to every relevant opportunity. I applied to bigger companies like PVH, Amazon and BBC, shooting my shot, plus every small PR and advertising agency I could find.
I liked to think I was trying my best, doing the right thing.
Some people are set up for success, grown with the resources, support and confidence while others must work harder for it. I feel that firsthand. I am the first college graduate in my family coming from a background where financial success wasn’t valued or considered. I needed these opportunities more than the person next to me.
Who knew my parents needed to know people for me to become something great? I thought I could do it on my own, make something of myself from very little to start. Yet each and every time I chase an opportunity, it runs even further away from me.
The internship search took over my entire life. Literally.
I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t think, my focus was no longer on school work, because how would that help me get an opportunity? They didn’t actually care about my grades or time-consuming consuming class projects.
I spent nine months applying to new opportunities. Maybe I set the bar too high, chasing experiences never in my reach. But I also applied to smaller more remote opportunities. Nothing worked. The end of the spring semester started to creep up and no one wanted to give me a chance.
I was going to end up the loser student staying in her hometown working a loser job while everyone else went off to live in New York City.
Did I fail? Or was success never even on the radar? I wish I could make up excuses because of my failure. But I’m so confused at how I failed when I tried so hard.
I shifted my search, looking up every local company in town. Considering my hometown isn’t all that big, I ended up emailing and calling each one that seemed remotely relevant. If some small company in town didn’t think I was worth it, I needed to reconsider this field.
I called every media company in town and asked if they wanted interns. And I scored interviews with these smaller opportunities. I bounced around interviews for a week going to a local online marketing firm, a media broadcasting company and a center for local creatives group. Finally, someone actually considered me a person with something to offer.
I ended up taking on three different opportunities. No, it wasn’t a position working for The New York Times. But it counted as experience. I learned something new in each environment. This not only built my resume but also my skills sets. The ego was surely damaged but it slowly rebuilt itself.
I want to become successful by following my own definition of success. I want unhindered success free of commercial ideas of what achievement actually is. New York City doesn’t define success. Corporate America doesn’t define success. These industrial ideas don’t generate happiness.
Success isn’t defined if I have Deloitte on my resumé. Success is measured by happiness and doing what you love and making a positive difference in the world, society and your community. Success doesn’t need to include involving yourself in the degrading aspects of capitalistic gain and America’s twisted view of accomplishment.
So did I really “fail”?