Handling Internship Rejection Like a Pro

handling internship rejection

Internship rejection is pretty much inevitable. Most people will experience it at least once if they are putting themselves out there. You just don’t hear people talk about the rejections as much as they do the wins. It’s kind of like dating, you win some and you learn some.

Personally, you see me share my awesome internships with the Chicago Bulls, Priority Sports & Entertainment and Ohio State. But did you know I was also rejected when seeking internship opportunities with the US Olympic Training Center, the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Cleveland Browns and the Gatorade Sports Science Institute? Yep, sure was.

Fear of rejection is a big reason people don’t go after the internships they want in the first place. But life isn’t very fun or rewarding if you are living in fear. Take a moment to pause and think about how many missed opportunities you’ve probably had in your life because you were too afraid to act. Now remember that and use it the next time you start to chicken out.

On the other hand, maybe you aren’t one of the people living in fear of rejection. Maybe you applied for the internship on time, had the perfect cover letter and even knew someone within the company who put in a good word. Well despite all of that, and even despite having connections, sometimes things just aren’t meant to be.

Because you are likely to experience internship rejection at some point, I’m sharing my personal advice for how you can handle it like a pro.

Always be gracious

First things first, reply to the employer the same day you hear from them. Yes, they just gave you a “Sorry, not this time.”, but thank them again for their time and the opportunity to apply. If you’d be interested in future opportunities with the company, let them know that you’d love to be considered.

You never know what could happen next. They may have an intern drop out and you are the next person on their list. Or, the person you interviewed with may move on to a different company and think of you for an internship opportunity there. Bottom line, don’t burn any bridges and stay in touch with people you meet along the way.

Ask for feedback

Sometimes the reason you don’t get an internship is pretty straight forward. For instance, maybe someone else had an edge on you because they had a referral from within the company. This happens, and the same scenario could be flipped to work in your favor someday, so shake it off for now.

However, it’s possible you didn’t get the internship this time around because you were lacking specific skills. These could be hard or soft skills, and in both cases it’s important to understand what they are so that you can work on improving them. I encourage you to ask for feedback. When you reply to thank the company for their time, ask if they have any constructive feedback for you. You may not want to hear it, but you’ll have a big advantage once you know what you need to work on.

Move on to the next one

Just play Jay-Z’s song a few times, and then move on to the next one. You’re not always going to win on the first try. That’s OK. You’re going to learn from this and you’ll come out stronger on the other side.

Don’t waste time in pursuing your next opportunity. The longer you wait, the less your chances of securing an internship. As best practice, even if you just had an interview with your first choice, keep applying and interviewing for other internship opportunities. Having a pipeline is smart and a good way to ensure you have options should you need them.

It’s competitive out there. Overall, stay positive and don’t let one internship rejection kill your pursuit. I also happen to know that some of the best things can happen as a result of internship rejection. If you are familiar with my intern hustle story, then you’ll know I applied for an internship with a sports performance facility in Santa Barbara, CA called P3. Well I never got the internship, but my resume did stand out. I ended up getting a full-time job offer (before graduating college) from one of P3’s co-founders, to run business operations for his new company in the SF Bay Area. The rest is history.

Handling Internship Rejection Like a Pro

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