After a few years of working paid retail jobs over the summer coupled with some unpaid internship experiences that weren’t my favorite, I decided that the best thing to prepare myself for graduation come senior year of college would be getting a paid internship this time around.
Since I knew exactly what type of internship I was looking for in January, I started researching and applying for positions that would not start until May. I ended up applying to 12 different roles, and I got rejected from all of them. However, I don’t call this process a total wash; here are some of the most important things I learned that you can take with you during your job or internship search.
1. Start the Job Search Early
What makes the internship application process a lot harder is when you’ve waited until the last minute. By hitting the ground running during the spring semester, I got to talk to classmates who’d held internships at places I wanted to work, discussed my options with professors and took advantage of other campus resources.
2. Don’t Be Picky
Maybe 12 was excessive, but I knew that I really wanted a good internship at the end of the day, one where I could learn a lot and walk out with great experiences and contacts. Thus, I made the realization I was totally willing and able to work an unpaid internship if it was in my desired field. Although nobody wants to do work for no pay, sometimes an unpaid internship will give you payoff in ways you wouldn’t expect.
So, I applied to 12 positions…and it led to 12 rejections, but before we get into what I learned specifically from those rejection emails, let’s move onto another important lesson I learned: Selling yourself.
3. You Sell Yourself Better Than Anybody Else
The time that I spent without an internship allowed me to realize how valuable my personality and skillset are to me personally. I think that when I was applying, I described myself confidently in my applications but did not buy into it myself. That was my number one mistake: If you don’t think you’re great, nobody else is going to think it for you. Have pride in your craft and your interests; find ways to let them shine and reach people beyond those who might receive your internship applications. You’d be surprised as to who will reach out to you when you let your passion shine through. I’ve worked at YouTube NYC Headquarters, met famous authors and now the voice of Siri even follows me on Twitter!
How did I get there? It sounds cliche, but once I realized that doing all the things I was “supposed to do” still didn’t enable me to get the results I wanted, I had to become inventive. I thought I had done enough to secure an internship, but there were other tools I was missing that hadn’t even dawned on me to use.
I got on business networking websites. I began attending networking events. I created social media specifically for business networking purposes. I had a photoshoot and got headshots and learned how to build a professional website with widgets and interactive links. I started sliding into DMs on Instagram and Twitter and tweeted at people I wanted to work with and for. I made an email account specifically for business and created my own unique brand.
All of these little steps added up over time; I just didn’t know this before I applied to those 12 fateful internships.
4. Every Career “No” Can Become a “Yes”
Before I applied to so many internships, I talked to everyone I knew…or at least I thought I did. I prepared months in advance and even had professors, advisors, family and friends look over resumes and cover letters. I applied to multiple positions at the same companies and had some “target” positions as well as “dream jobs.” I made sure I covered every base I could. Even so, come April, my email inbox was filled with rejections. When I e-mailed asking why my applications were not accepted or how I could improve, I was either met with no answer or an elusive response about “more qualified applicants.”
If there’s anything my internship rejections have taught me, it’s that you are going to hear the word “no” a lot. You have two choices: Become comfortable with it, or let it tear you down. I’m not saying to let it roll off your shoulders as if it doesn’t matter, but I am saying to let those rejections make your shoulders broad and strong. Find out ways to improve yourself, and make who you are marketable in its uniqueness.
You’re not always going to find work in the traditional way of submitting forms online, but you will be stuck to that method if you never give yourself the chance to reach the world in other ways. Whether it’s videos, photography or a blog, make a situation for yourself so that when things don’t work out, or you experience the worst case scenario and every place you apply to tells you no, you have other means of creating success.
To tell you the truth, some of the best career experiences I have had thus far have been from what I’ve created for myself. Give yourself, not the privilege, but the right to make your career life what you want it to be, no matter how many times you hear the word “no.”