“It’s not you, it’s me: Managing internship rejection and maintaining motivation in the search”

“It’s not you, it’s me: Managing internship rejection and maintaining motivation in the search”

Rejection is the reality of every internship or job search, and it doesn't get easier after the first "thanks, but no thanks."

A few years ago, I was approached by a colleague of mine about an exciting role that bridged academic and student affairs. It was a bit of a reach for me, but I decided to apply for it because I thought it would be my dream job. I could aid students in leadership development, challenge them through experiential education, and teach a few courses. What more could I ask for?

I went ahead and applied for the position, and within a week I received the dreaded email informing me that another candidate was selected for the role. I was crushed, but I was not going to let that email deter me from finding another incredible opportunity. The frustration that accompanied that rejection email didn’t go away overnight, and it took a few days to fully get back on the wagon and jump back into the search. I am happy to report, however, that the search ended well for me, and I am so grateful for the opportunities that did work out in my favor. As I reflect on my professional career since graduation, I’m proud of the trajectory that my career has taken. Each experience that I’ve been involved in has helped me to sharpen my skill set and work toward my personal goal of feeling fulfillment and excitement in my professional career.

Keeping up the motivation to dominate the internship search can be incredibly tough, especially in the moment of rejection. Here are some ideas for managing the sting of being passed over for an internship, and some tips for self-care through the search. You can do this!


Denial, at first glance, is so disappointing. While it’s important to allow yourself to feel discouraged and frustrated in the moment, take some time to step away from the search process for personal reflection. While it can sting, review your application materials. If you were not offered a position after meeting with the internship provider, go over the interview and reflect on how you think you did.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What does my resume look like?
  • If I filled out a cover letter for this internship, was it a strong letter? Did I speak specifically to my skills and how they relate to the job description? Was I able to address why I wanted this internship? Did I speak to my knowledge about the industry and/or the company?
  • Did I interview well? How did I present myself and did I follow standard interview etiquette throughout the process?
  • Are my references providing me with a glowing recommendation, or something a little bit more neutral?

While not all of these questions may apply to you, it’s important to reflect on your search experience and start to identify areas for growth. Be sure to use your resources and visit your career services office as you are working through these questions, as well. We are here to help you!


While not moving ahead in the internship search can be frustrating, keep in mind that the search is truly a two-way street. You are being interviewed for the position, but you're also interviewing the company to determine if it's the right fit for you.

Sometimes, you may be a qualified applicant for an internship but the internship provider is seeking traits that are slightly different from your skill set. It is entirely possible that you've done everything you could to be a competitive applicant for an internship opportunity, and rejection in this case can be one of the toughest experiences that students face in the search. While it can be easy to let this sort of rejection deter you, don't get discouraged. Keep doing the best you can to be a strong applicant, and reflect on what you want to get out of an internship experience, as well.


Self-care has nearly become a buzzword in the world of higher education, but it is especially crucial to take care of yourself in the internship search process. Be sure to schedule “unstructured” time throughout the week to see family and friends, get lost in your favorite hobbies, or simply relax and process the search experience.

I own a bullet journal, and I’ve been able to build routine self-care into my schedule through daily and weekly planning, and I use “trackers” to gauge how well I’m taking care of myself and when I need to step back and recharge. It’s important to find an organizational and self-care method that works for you, just don’t forget about it! If you don’t recharge your batteries regularly, you won’t be able to present your best self at your interviews.

Go get ‘em, students! Keep your head up, take care of yourself, and don’t forget that rejection is often an avenue toward more exciting opportunities.

About the Author: 

Kimberly White is an academic advisor to pre-nursing students at the University Academic Success Center & Exploratory Advising at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. She also serves as a Professional Development Advisor to the Pi Beta Phi Fraternity for Women, Alabama Alpha chapter. She is a recent graduate of the HESA program at Boston College and resides in Birmingham, Alabama. You can find Kimberly on Twitter at @whiteoi, on LinkedIn, or on her blog (Leadership Development and Life in the Yellowhammer State).

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