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“Don’t be afraid to let rejection steer you in a different direction,” says LSA student Evan Hall. “My experiences that came from rejection were the most valuable and formative experiences.”
Internship rejection can be difficult to navigate. Whether you were ghosted by your dream employer, or received a dreaded “we regret to inform you” email after a third-round interview, hearing “no” after submitting an application or doing an interview is inevitable and a universal experience.
This month, we spoke with international transfer student, Ziying Peng, and Hub Coach, Nathan Brown, to learn more about firsthand experiences with internship rejection, tips on how to navigate through it, and how the Hub supports LSA students in finding success during their career exploration journeys.
Ziying Peng, an LSA senior, transferred to U-M during her junior year. Over the past few years, she explains that she has “probably applied for more than 100 internships”, seeking out opportunities in order to gain professional experience in finance and economics. However, as an international student, it can be difficult to secure an internship, as some employers do not sponsor international workers or accept CPT letters.
After submitting countless applications and receiving numerous rejections, Ziying still managed to secure experiential learning opportunities. Throughout her undergrad career thus far, she has held four internship positions that have significantly contributed to her professional growth. So, we asked her: how did you maintain hope after all of the rejection? Ziying shared her best practices and pieces of advice for perseverance.
1. GIVE YOURSELF GRACE
Nobody likes being rejected, but it’s important to acknowledge your feelings, remind yourself of the value you can offer employers, and stay positive. Many students may feel sad or frustrated by rejection, and that is normal, especially when you were hoping for something to work out and those hopes created expectations. However, even in those situations, Ziying is intentional about following up with employers for, one, feedback and suggestions on interviews and applications that can be beneficial for other interviews and opportunities, and two, maintaining a positive relationship with employers who might be amenable to hiring her in the future.
One approach to maintaining connections with employers after an interview is to express your gratitude for their time. Like Ziying said, it’s also a perfect time to ask for feedback. Perhaps you’ll find that you need to strengthen your application materials or practice your response to certain interview questions. Ziying says she has people in her network who even use spreadsheets to track the internships they’ve applied for, their application statuses, and any feedback they’ve received from each employer for their future reference.
As a Financial Mathematics and Risk Management major, Ziying says her busy schedule and school work barely allows her time to dwell on most of the rejection letters she has received.
“Sometimes, I’d feel very confident after an interview and still get rejected,” Ziying says. “But, you can’t let rejection get to you, especially when you’ve done everything you could possibly do.”
Handling rejection with ease and grace is a crucial step in finding success.
"You can’t let rejection get to you, especially when you’ve done everything you could possibly do.”
2. YOU ARE NOT ALONE
“Rejection is part of a successful internship search. It’s a trial and error process,” says Nathan.
As a Career Exploration Coach, Nathan frequently helps students search for internship and job opportunities, and shares advice on how to overcome the unavoidable experience of rejection. He has spoken to many students who have faced rejection. He always ensures them that being rejected does not mean you’re a “bad applicant” or a “bad student.” Employers may simply be looking for a candidate who has a significant amount of experience or fits very specific criteria.
Ziying clarifies that rejection may not be due to a lack of skills, but may be due to values and cultural fit. She explains that she ran into this scenario after applying for a position with a trading company.
“The employer was looking for a candidate who was a bit more assertive with their approach to work,” Ziying says. “And I realized that my personality did not necessarily align with this [value].”
You may feel sad, confused or stressed after being rejected, but you are not alone in this journey. When you log onto social media and are bombarded with “I’m excited to announce I’ve accepted a new position” posts, remember that people typically only share their wins. The people who are celebrating their new roles were likely reflecting on rejection weeks earlier. So, don’t take it personally – rejection is totally normal. In fact, recent research shows that of current job seekers, successful applicants applied for an average of 10 to 15 jobs and received between six and 10 rejections before securing a position. And, that data represents those applying for full-time positions. Since the start of the pandemic, internships have become even more hypercompetitive. This information should not discourage you, but rather encourage you, reinforcing the idea that internship rejection isn’t unique and you’re not alone in this journey.
Despite the frequency of or reason behind your rejection, as an LSA student, you have a community to lean on for support. From Hub Coaches and your peers, to a large online network of alums and mentors to connect with via platforms like LSA Connect, the LSA community is available to offer constructive feedback, aspirational advice, and networking opportunities as you continue your search.
"Rejection is part of a successful internship search. It’s a trial and error process."
3. DEVELOPING RESILIENCE
“Sometimes, you won’t get the first, second or third opportunity, but you have to trust the process,” Nathan says. “You’ll develop a sense of resilience and the strength to bounce back.”
We know it’s a cliché–when one door closes, another opens–but, it definitely holds true when applying for internships. Nathan says that resilience is simply just a change in your point of view. Don’t perceive rejection as failure, but as redirection. Although it can be challenging, rejection can make you cognizant of what you truly want, so don’t be afraid to let it steer you in a different direction. This way of thinking makes it much easier to navigate “no''s throughout your internship search and learning to pivot will be highly impactful to your growth.
Even after one door closes and another opens, Ziying says you may need to “seek a window instead.” The process of securing an internship won’t always be easy, but if you persevere, you could find an alternative route to achieve your goals.
Nathan’s advice to students? “Continue to reflect on the transferable, technical and soft skills you’ve learned at LSA, then make a list. Use this list to propel yourself forward!”
You are capable of achieving your goals, and oftentimes, opportunities that emerge from rejection bring forth the most valuable and formative experiences.
“Sometimes, you won’t get the first, second or third opportunity, but you have to trust the process. You’ll develop a sense of resilience and the strength to bounce back.”
If you receive that rejection letter from your dream employer, don’t fret: continue to fail forward. Handle rejection with grace, remember that you’re not alone, and continue pushing forward towards your goals. Acceptance is obviously much easier than rejection, but, as Nathan says: “get comfortable with feeling uncomfortable.” This is critical to your professional growth.
If you’re looking for support, schedule an appointment with a Hub Coach during any point in your internship search journey. Nathan, along with the rest of our Hub Coaches, will help mitigate your fears, ease feelings of defeat, and ultimately prepare you for success.