Internship Season: How to Deal with Rejection and Failure

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. No, I don’t mean the holiday season. I mean, internship application season. November marks the beginning of open season for coveted summer internships and with that, feelings of inadequacy, envy, and failure. It’s difficult to write a killer cover letter or crush an interview with feelings of self-doubt. So, how do you reassure yourself so you don’t self-sabotage? The key is to prepare, accept and reframe the situation.


Obtaining an internship starts far before you schedule an interview. If you’re reading this piece, you’re probably in PRSSA, which is a great start. This is not solely a plug, but a reminder that you can do something every day to get yourself one step closer to the job you want: meet visiting professionals for office hours, reach out to speakers on LinkedIn, attend resume workshops, connect with someone who had internship you want and ask them how they got there, etc. These activities are almost shoved down your throat in college, but for good reason. Maybe you don’t know anyone who works for a certain company, but maybe someone in your network does. This could get you from step A to E, whereas on your own, you have to go through steps A, B, C, D, and E. Bobcats want to help bobcats and that’s not just a saying. Also, don’t forget to do your research prior to writing a cover letter, updating your resume, or talking with the employer. Know what the company values, what kind of culture they have, and who their clients are. Beyond just showing that you care, it gives you great talking and writing points. If you have questions and answers prepared, and you know the company well, you will go into an interview feeling more confident than someone who didn’t prepare, and that can set you apart.


Anyone who works in the public relations field has a plethora of stories where something didn’t work out. Maybe an agency didn’t win the bid for a client, or maybe an ad campaign doesn’t have the intended effect on its target audience, or maybe the head of that company you work for never intended to work there at all, and it was their second choice. We live in a society where only our absolute successes are broadcasted to everyone around us. You don’t see that your peer who got a cool internship applied to 100 other ones, maybe interviewed for one or two, and just happened to click with that last company. Applying for internships is a game of chance. You will lose some of the swings you take, but if you never swing, you will definitely not win. Accept that our industry revolves around taking chances and yes, not succeeding 100% of the time. Additionally, no one is completely qualified for a position so don’t let job descriptions or required skills keep you from applying to an internship or job that you think you would be really good at. This is because odds are, whoever they take, doesn’t have all of those skills either. It’s not about being a perfect fit, but the right fit at the right time.


So you’ve done all the prep work and you feel pretty good about the interview, but you still get that unfortunate rejection email. It feels even worse knowing how much time and effort you put into that application process. In that moment, it’s hard not to feel as though you just aren’t good enough. But you have no idea what went into that decision. Maybe the employer went to another school and picked a candidate who went there as well. Maybe the employer thought that you were great, but another candidate would be a better fit for the company culture. This of course, doesn’t mean you are not talented, successful, intelligent, driven, or worthy of that position. The bottom line is that if you work hard, gain experience, and have a passion for the work that you do, someone will see it and want what you bring to the table. So this one didn’t work out? Chalk it up to a learning experience in writing or interviewing, and use that to fuel your ambition to go after the next opportunity.  

In summary, this time of year makes me want to give all of you a big hug and remind you of how amazingly talented you are. There are so many people throughout history who were told they weren’t good enough, they weren’t right, they wouldn’t be successful, and yet, they turned out to be game changers in their given industry: Walt Disney, Oprah Winfrey, Thomas Edison, Jim Carey, J.K. Rowling, The Beatles, Stephen King, and Albert Einstein, are all considered to be “famous failures.” They never gave up in the pursuit of what they wanted, and they used failure and rejection to motivate themselves to go after what they wanted in life. So, keep your head up PRSSA-baes, this is just a footnote in your story of success.

Olivia Ujlaki is a junior studying strategic communication and can be found on Twitter @OliviaUjlaki!

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