The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Wednesday January 26th

Column: Congratulations! We're unable to extend an offer to you at this time

Summer is just around the corner, and depending on your year, major and career of interest, the time for landing an internship may be rapidly approaching. It’s an unequivocally stressful process, especially at a university where balancing academics and extracurriculars can already be challenging enough. 

We’re encouraged to network with full-time employees, submit one-page resumes intended to summarize our entire lives and send follow-up "thank you" notes, which are usually forced and not genuine. 

I've always thought the entire process is particularly unnatural from start to finish. And unfortunately, you won’t find any tips on navigating the recruiting process from Seneca, Cicero or any of the other classics’ writings — a timeless refuge I often visit when I’m lost on how I should proceed. 

As my third year of college winds down and I reflect on my past experiences, I can’t tell what’s better: rejection or admission?

Of course, receiving an offer letter — especially during an uncertain pandemic-stricken job market — can lift an enormous burden off your shoulders. If it’s from the specific company or program you’ve been targeting, it’s even more exciting. 

But speaking from experience, I’ve found the joy emanating from any offer letter to be rather fleeting. Beyond the actual process of landing an internship, I think there’s something perverse about the entire conversation and how it’s addressed, by us and the public alike.

Growing up in an Asian household, success was often tied to numerical metrics or information that can be easily conveyed on paper. First, it was grades, then SAT scores, then college admissions — and now, the race for high-powered jobs at well-known companies. 

Each stage may bring a new batch of carrots, but the same set of obstacles. Who can memorize, shuffle and push increasingly complicated sets of often boring and irrelevant information?

The emotional toll of portraying success as a linear progression of test scores, college admissions and subsequent employment is well-documented. There’s no doubt that positioning high salaries as the pinnacle of post-graduate achievement will evoke disappointment somewhere along the line. And if you happen to be one of the courageous few who ultimately decides to pursue your passion, the risk of failure, financially or otherwise, rises exponentially.

I spoke earlier about the joy that may follow an offer letter. But what comes next? Orders from some corporate boss? Taxes? A gnarly 30-year mortgage? Eight percent 401k matches and four weeks of guaranteed paid time off?

I don’t know about you, but there’s absolutely nothing glamorous or exciting about any of that.

Looking back, I feel like I’ve been participating in a meaningless tournament with no end in sight.

Part of the problem with today’s internship grind is that we’ve been taught the opposite of what we should’ve been told. We’ve been conditioned to win competitions rather than search for what’s most fulfilling for us to do. 

The losers are the people who didn’t get into the right college, the prestigious company or the top graduate school. But when we compete too intensely, we end up focusing on all these unnatural tasks, losing sight of the bigger picture. 

Yes, competition has the potential to make us better internship candidates, but it comes at the harmful cost of hyper-focusing on the people we’re competing against. We don’t have to search too far to find examples of anguish in our lives onset by unhealthy spells of toxic comparison.

If you ever find yourself exhausted from prepping for coding assessments, case interviews, finance technicals or whatever the case may be, make sure to step back and ask yourself why you’re in college in the first place. A rejection letter could be the perfect invitation to search deeper within yourself and explore just how many exciting opportunities there may be.


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