Learning from the struggle to find an internship

By KELVIN QIAN | April 4, 2019

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 COURTESY OF ALPHA STOCK IMAGES / CC BY-SA 3.0

Qian felt stressed as he competed for various internship opportunities.

Let me tell you a few facts about myself. I am a junior studying Computer Science at Hopkins who sometimes writes for The News-Letter, and as of this writing I don’t have an internship.

It isn’t for a lack of trying. I’ve submitted 50-plus applications; usually companies ignore them or reply with cookie-cutter rejection emails. I went to two career fairs on campus last fall where I scored an on-site interview with a major health IT company, only to be passed over. I bombed Facebook’s coding interview on the spot. I passed three coding interviews for another tech giant, only to be stuck in limbo for two months without finding a team to work with.

I feared that this would happen. I had hoped that I could get the internship question out of the way so I could focus on my academics and social life, but instead it seems that my worst nightmare has come to pass. It doesn’t help that lots of people make internships sound like the end-all and be-all. While I see this attitude most commonly on websites like Reddit, my parents also share it; they say that my current struggle is proof that I should’ve gone into medicine instead.

Searching for a job is not easy. One of the hardest parts is dealing with an emotional soup of sadness, jealousy and self-loathing. “I’ve done everything right,” I thought. “I go to a top 10 school! I chose a ‘good’ major, programmed for years and took all those classes!” Putting aside how well all that translates into real-world success, it doesn’t feel good to do all of this and hear from the corporate world that you’re apparently still not good enough.

Yet while this has been a painful journey, it has also been a teachable one. For one, it has led me to improve myself in obvious ways, such as improving my coding skills and interviewing abilities. But it has also led me to engage in more subtle measures of personal growth.

Experiencing failure after failure has hammered in the value of finding my own measure of success. Perhaps “success” is making everyone around me happy, or finding passion for what I do regardless of the “status” it brings. This is easier said than done, especially when our school and our society are so competitive. Yet the alternative is losing all of our sense of self-worth whenever we don’t achieve our goals.

Internship hunting has also forced me to take initiative. It’s easy to do the bare minimum, like submitting a resume online and hoping for results. It is not so easy to overcome your innate nervousness and go the extra mile, whether it’s emailing companies directly, messaging people on LinkedIn or seeking out networking events. It’s especially useful with smaller companies, as it is easier to create a personal connection with them.

Last week I went to a meetup where I talked to students who interned at three different startups last summer. And I plan to go to the TCO-hosted Hatch conference this Sunday, in the hopes of being able to meet with local startups and find even more summer opportunities.

But even with these extra efforts, I might not get an internship (nor research for that matter). If so, I will have to figure out my next steps and create my own summer opportunities, whether it’s working on a personal project or taking a gap summer to figure out my life. 

But failure is not predestined; I may get an offer when I least expect it. The hard part is keeping up the job search so that I can seize the next opportunity that comes along, whether it appears next week or next month. Either way, life goes on; what matters is how we make the most of it.

If you are in a similar situation, remember that you are not alone. It can be hard to remember that, and it can be hard to remember that you’re not a failure in our hyper-competitive world. So I wrote this article to give all of you still going through that struggle a voice and to hopefully give you all some encouragement and a sense of inspiration.

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