I was rejected from every summer internship I applied for (haha)

Welcome to failure. Embrace it.

I am writing this article anonymously to protect future job prospects (if I have any).

Having applied to a stack of finance or consulting-related summer internships programs in the last few months, I recently received my 20th or so rejection. While I was invited to several online interviews, psychometric tests and an attendee of several assessment centres, I have ultimately, utterly, failed.

I think I am realistic enough to own my deficiencies – perhaps I am not the best networker, my degree is quite qualitative, and whilst I am a generally positive person, I struggle to be fake in summoning enthusiasm. I also realised that my LinkedIn profile was pretty woeful (rookie mistake – I know).

Nonetheless, I have it on good authority that I am an excellent candidate. I maintain a high WAM in a well-respected and demanding degree, I have very impressive extracurricular and volunteering experience, and I’d like to think I have a pretty personable nature. I get along with everyone and have a sense of humour, plus a formidable work ethic.

I’m not in need of validation as to my ability or prospects, and I am not writing this piece to find any. I am writing this piece to point out what a bloody farce current recruitment processes are (and maybe offer some dubious guidance).

I will admit to having a spreadsheet saved on my desktop labelled ‘YOUR FUTURE’.

If you’re nonchalant about your future, I’m sorry to tell you, but you should be afraid. If you are like how I used to be, and snigger at the kids living in the libraries before semester even begins and attending those damn networking events, I suggest reconsidering. In the HR world, there is no absolution for the arrogant.

Only the painfully positive panderers survive the cut-throat world of second-round interviews. I will admit to having a spreadsheet saved on my desktop labelled ‘YOUR FUTURE’, with my log-in details to every company worth a dime, but nothing could have prepared me for the cataclysmic train wreck that is HR and recruitment techniques.

If you intend to follow the standard graduate job track in a big institutional or investment bank, consulting firm or ‘Big 4’ corporation, the chances are that you need a summer internship on your resume before you finish university. Either that, or daddy needs to be partner (see the ‘Subtle Private School Traits’ Facebook group for verification).

To obtain this summer internship, do not think it is enough to have high grades, a good attitude, and a ‘life changing’ volunteering experience in a South-East Asian primary school. Firms are looking for a certain profile of candidate, and you don’t really know what it is.

To illustrate, one recruiter at AT Kearney said I should have had more experience with case studies…after having being advised not to prepare for the assessment. Another firm mentioned that they prefer to hire candidates with previous internship experience… yet the vast majority of internships only accept penultimate students.

One may ask how we are expected to obtain experience if the benchmark is so unattainable?? And, of course, much has to do with marketing – I’ve watched some candidates successfully distort the truth, selling their ‘skills’ which they acquired at their parent’s firms, or turning work experience at some ‘boutique’ establishment into a substantive professional exploit.

When I’m failing at a puzzle game that requires me to build a waterpark in under 55 seconds, I can’t help but wonder what this has to do with proving my intellect or critical ability.

The biggest farce of the recruitment world is psychometric testing, and everyone knows it. When firms are receiving 1000+ applications, and are outsourcing the culling process to HR agencies, these tests are an easy and efficient solution.

But when I’m failing at a puzzle game that requires me to build a waterpark in under 55 seconds, I can’t help but wonder what this has to do with proving my intellect or critical ability. I don’t mean to be judgmental about this, but I find it pretty ironic that those who succeed at these tests usually cheat by recruiting a mathematically-minded mate or family member to collude with.

The threat of being ‘re-tested’ in a supervised assessment centre fools no one. It was a particularly hard slap in the face when I applied for a government internship (which I rather imperiously thought I was overqualified for), and was automatically rejected after timing out on a high pressure game requiring me to recognise grammar and spelling mistakes. I am a stickler for grammar! I scoff at misplaced apostrophes!

I was so fed up at one point that I sent a strongly worded email to the CEO of Unilever at 1am (which bounced), that included the following:

“The games that I played do not reflect my analytical or quantitative abilities, or my personable qualities, or my formidable work ethic. They misrepresent themselves, as applicants are initially told ‘there are no right answers’, and they act as a simplistic and ineffectual culling process. I question why Unilever would not go to more effort to ensure that they are advancing the most high quality candidates… I felt the need to give some feedback to the CEO and CFO of a brand that really represents quality products – something that should extend to it’s people.”

(In retrospect, this was probably not one of my better moments.)

One of the internships I applied to specified that they were looking to promote diversity – and I felt like I excelled on the assessment day, but did feel a bit out of place being one of only two Caucasians in the room.

Obviously, I understand the company’s prerogative to hire based on considerations of different cultural experiences and backgrounds, but being rejected sort of felt like when you think a guy really likes you, and then only messages you at 2am. In a bunch of ways, summer internships are the trampy embodiments of HR recruitment processes – leading you on, making you invest in their ‘company values’, and then screwing you over once you’ve envisaged yourself being hired.

At another assessment centre, I was interviewed twice about a hypothetical case study. Again, I felt somewhat deceived by the process. We were told that there was no ‘correct’ approach to the case, that they were just looking to see how we ordered our reasoning.

I felt I gave a logically ordered explanation, but the partner kept interjecting – asking about ‘buckets’; what ‘buckets’ I would put each issue ‘tree’ in and what ‘pools’ connected the sub-issues in each ‘bucket’. Needless to say, despite only receiving positive feedback in the second assessment where I repeated the same analysis, the more senior partner personally called me the next day to reject me.

Recruitment, in the final analysis, is such an arbitrary and subjective process that much seems to depend on whether your particular way of expressing yourself, or personality type, or just your background, aligns with that of the interviewer’s. It isn’t surprising, therefore, that teams tend to hire clones of themselves, despite all their vows of making headway with diversity, and finding ‘well-rounded’ applicants.

At the end of the day, a lot has to do with random luck – but the more you apply, the luckier you tend to be.

At the end of the day, a lot has to do with random luck – but the more you apply, the luckier you tend to be.

As much as I am jaded by this whole, unbelievably exhausting experience and have, admittedly, shed a tear or two over my numerous rejections, and the amount of time and effort I’ve poured into both my studies over the years and these job applications, I am not ready to admit defeat (and also, cannot afford to).

Nobody knows of, or counts, your failures (unless you publish an article accounting for them). It only takes one win to sweep all the rejections under a very plush rug, and all those rejections probably have something to do with you finally getting somewhere – if you’re resilient enough to learn from them.

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