Of all the advice I’ve been given over the years, I often think about one in particular, especially when I’m applying for something new: “Let the committee reject you.” It sounds kind of negative at first – the word “reject” is in there pretty prominently – but if you think a little more about what it means, it’s pretty encouraging.
Often, when I would think about applying to something – an internship, a club, grad school – one of this first things that came to mind was doubt. “There are so many more qualified people than me.” “Everyone else has an inside connection.” “Everybody else has advantage X, Y, and Z.” By doubting yourself, you basically reject your own application before the thing you’re applying to ever has a chance to read it.
The truth is, you never really know what they’re looking for. The worst possible outcome is that it may not be you, and you go on to apply for the next thing. However, you might be surprised. Now I have a personal story in which I have surprised myself, as it was because I didn’t reject myself before I sent in my application.
Each October, the general call for summer interns at the State Department comes out. As a student of international studies, it’s pretty much a given that you apply, because it’s the holy grail of summer internships, and who knows? You very well might get it. At first, I disagreed with this notion, because I didn’t really want to spend time writing an application for which I thought I was going to get rejected. How could some random sophomore with no inside connections to the State Department and extremely minimal experience be chosen over the thousands of other enthusiastic IS majors from around the country?
I ended up applying on the last day before the deadline. It turns out the application didn’t take that long – although the fact that they forgot our infamous “S” in JohnSSSSSS Hopkins University irked me a bit. When it came down to the essay, I just wrote about what I was interested in. I wrote about how I think Americans should be keeping an eye on Italian politics – I think there’s a lot to be seen there as Europe is growing and changing, possibly in a direction away from the European Union. As someone whose family has strong Italian roots, I also think it is massively important that the US maintain its strong friendly relations with Italy.
I sent my application out into the void and it was then radio silence. In fact, there were no emails indicating any sort of process for how they looked at applications, who saw them, or when they would respond, and following the confirmation that my application was received, I heard nothing. After a while, I sort of forgot about even sending it out. Between midterms and final papers and Thanksgiving and life, I said I would put off applying to any other internships until Intersession (which is a pretty common strategy tbh).
However, in early December – December 9th, I think – I checked my email, as one does. As I was clicking the delete button on the many emails from Sephora and Forever 21 (#InboxZeroLife), I noticed some important-looking subject lines from email addresses. They said things like “Summer Internship Opportunity” and “State Department” and “US Consulate.” Turns out I had four offers from various US offices in Italy: the US Mission to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome, the Consulates in Florence and Milan, and, finally, the US Embassy in Rome.
I was overwhelmed, and I collapsed onto the floor. I ended up calling each of the offices and asking what each job entailed, and ultimately decided on the Embassy in Rome, where I will be working in the Public Affairs section. So, yes, I will be back in Italy this summer!!
Moral of the story, folks, is that you let the committee reject you. Don’t limit yourself based on some perceived notion of your competition or your experience or what you think they are looking for. You very well might be perfect for the job they are looking to fill. Talk about your interests and what you want to do. Often, your passion for a subject is just what they are looking for. By no means is success inevitable, but neither is rejection. Be your best enthusiastic self, and typically, people will respond well to it.