About a year ago, in the midst of job recruiting season, I wrote a post comparing applying to college to applying to jobs. It’s job recruiting season again, but this year, I escaped from the cycle by accepting a return offer.
Obviously, it’s nice to be on the other side of things, where you’re done with the process and don’t have to run the gauntlet of actually getting an internship or a job. But as somebody who is now removed from the process, I wanted to talk about how applying to jobs was literally the hardest experience of my MIT career, and how I dealt very poorly with the failures that I inevitably experienced during application season.
Unless you were the most OP high school senior alive, then you probably received rejection letters from some subset of the colleges that you applied to. The ‘perfect applicant’ doesn’t exist, and the college application process itself definitely isn’t perfect. You might have felt discouraged about some of those rejections, especially if they were from your dream school. That’s totally okay. In fact, the point of this post is mostly to advise you that learning how to deal with those feelings in a healthy way is an honest-to-god life skill.
Those of you who applied to MIT had to write an essay about how you dealt with a significant challenge for your application – or perhaps you’re in the middle of writing yours for this season of applications. I don’t know what you guys wrote about, but I wrote about something relatively trivial in the scope of things. I was really into competitive math in high school, and [competitive math lingo incoming] after two years of making the AIME, the AMC top 1%, or Math Prize for Girls in various combinations, I totally bombed the last AMC I ever took my junior year, and didn’t make any of the above. This was really hard for me to deal with because – as you’ll learn in this post – I deal with failure really poorly. Even though this is an objectively minor challenge to have to overcome, it was literally the worst thing that had ever happened to me at that point in my life because as an overachieving high school student, I didn’t really fail very hard at anything.
During the college app season, I did receive a few rejections that I was disappointed about. But I was lucky enough to get into MIT, if that wasn't obvious , so I never really took any of those failures to heart, even though I was minorly salty about a few of them. Full disclosure: I got admitted into MIT and my safety school, and got rejected from Harvard, Stanford, and Trinity College at the University of Cambridge. And yes, none of these were really rejections to be salty about. It’s REALLY HARD to get into all of those schools.
Flash forward to actually being an MIT student. As I’ve mentioned in many, many blog posts, I am a solidly average, if not below average, MIT student. This is a fact that I still struggle with, even though I know that deep down, being an MIT student at all is something that I should be proud of. But watching people complain about their ‘trash’ GPAs of 4.5/5.0 and above, and watching my friends get straight As for multiple semesters in a row, has sort of worn down on my self esteem over the years. But this is something that I’ve more or less learned to deal with due to being exposed to it for over three years now. Coming into my own at MIT has helped me deal with this particular drain on my self esteem.
So what is this post about, you might be wondering? Well, let me tell you what has hit my self esteem harder than it’s been hit in my literal entire life: JOBS.
Everybody knows that job recruiting season is, in a word, awful. Getting a job is sort of like a 12 unit class all by itself, and it’s really stressful, as I talked about in my previous jobs post.
I was like, REALLY lucky - I was applying to MISTI Japan pretty seriously and just sort of shot an application at PlayStation for the heck of it; also, my interview was on 6.004 material, and I happened to be in the Intro to Caches lecture ON THE DAY of my interview when they asked about caches to get into the only company I applied to seriously in sophomore year, and I had a job offer in hand by mid-November. I didn’t really struggle with the jobs process at all as a sophomore, and didn’t really experience the Course 6 gauntlet in its true form.
I mentioned in my jobs post last year that I was really stressed about not having a job yet, because it was December and most of the big Course 6 companies were wrapping up with their recruiting. This meant that a lot of juniors – my peers at the time – already had jobs, and were already starting to talk about getting housing for the summer and what they were excited about. This was the first time I sort of felt the (partly self imagined) peer pressure of not having a job. I had been safe from it sophomore year, but junior year, I put a lot of stress on myself for not having a job offer in hand.
Let’s pause for a second to unpack that.
- It’s definitely not true that every junior at MIT was employed for the summer except for me, but a lot of the juniors I hang out with on a regular basis were already employed by November and December. This still doesn’t mean that I should have been constantly comparing myself to them. This is not a healthy mindset.
- The companies I really wanted to work for were *not* big tech companies and therefore had slightly later recruiting timelines than Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and the like. So it was definitely illogical for me to be feeling stressed in December at all.
I always thought that I wasn’t very susceptible to peer pressure, but I definitely learned otherwise. And the worst part is that nobody was pressuring me to get a job – I have an amazing UROP that I and did work on it unpaid regardless, despite having an internship, because I'm addicted to my UROP over the summer. But I was literally just conjuring up all of this stress because deep inside, I had this notion that being employable was what made MIT students special compared to everybody else. Everybody always says that having MIT on your resume opens up so many doors, and makes getting a job easier. I staked my entire self esteem on the idea of getting a job because I thought, illogically and irrationally, that getting employed was what me a worthy MIT student. I literally only wanted to get a job to be able to say that I got a job.
Here are some ways in which this toxic mindset tangibly affected my life:
- Undervaluing the UROP experience. I think that this is something a lot of MIT students do, and I am clearly no exception. I think we have a toxic mindset that UROPing over the summer is *inferior* to getting a job in some way. This probably stems from the fact that getting a UROP is technically less competitive than getting a job. Does this actually matter? No, not in the slightest. Being able to UROP at MIT over the summer is a privilege that I think we as MIT students don’t think about enough. And to personally attack myself, thinking that getting a job over the summer made me better than if I UROPed over the summer is stupid. Although I genuinely wanted to spend a summer in a city that wasn’t Cambridge because I did and had a great time, by the way and also wished to make more money than a it pays minimum wage, and once you subtract housing from the picture, you do almost break even... telling myself that UROPing over the summer wasn’t enough was really dumb.
- Not being able to go on LinkedIn for literal months. Does this sound dumb? That’s because it is! I was so caught up in my own negative feelings about not having a job that I literally wasn’t able to go on LinkedIn for months because it would just make me feel inferior. If you’re thinking: “There’s a lot to unpack there”, then you’re totally right. My self esteem is pretty bad and I need to work on it.
- Getting really sad when my friends talked about job offers. Even though I should have been really happy for my friends and all the amazing offers they received for the summer, deep down, it made me feel really shitty. Yes, this is toxic. And yes, I did unintentionally make at least one person feel bad for talking about their summer offer around me because I would clearly get really sad when they did. And YES, this is terrible and toxic. Don’t be like me.
- Crying for like, actual days. Last IAP, there were three companies left that I was interviewing for. When I got rejected from the first two, I probably spent actually 10 hours in total just crying about those rejections. I skipped classes, obligations, and activities just because I was that upset. This was bad for a multitude of reasons, the most important one being that this is not a healthy way to deal with failure.
None of these were healthy ways to deal with failure. I acknowledge this and encourage everybody reading this to really take that to heart. These were not healthy ways to deal with failure. And to be honest, I don’t think I ever really learned healthy ways to deal with failure earlier on in my life because as I mentioned before, none of my shortcomings were ever very significant. And in the scope of things, getting rejected from jobs isn’t very significant either.
Ever since actually getting a job and having my depression towards the whole process subside, I’ve been thinking about healthy ways I could approach my failures. Then I saw this post on LinkedIn, and both the description of the post and the actual implementation of the idea were really good.
This is absolutely the mindset I should have taken towards all of my rejections. I learned a lot from those rejections – and I know people say that a lot, but I actually did. I’ve learned that coding interviews are just about as much practice and exposure as they are about actually knowing the concepts, and the reason I was so bad at them was because I missed an entire year of practice during sophomore year. I didn’t have the experience of applying and interviewing and getting rejected from jobs during sophomore year because I got into the first job I applied to. And I missed out on all of that practice. But after my experience with job recruiting junior year, I know exactly how to prepare and interview for jobs in the future. And sure, I’ll probably still get rejected from a bunch of places, but it’s the practice I gained from interviewing that really counts. Learning how to interview, practicing coding questions, working on your soft skills, and writing cover letters are all skills that I gained from the many companies that I applied to that rejected me anyways.
To all the MIT students going through the job hunt right now: good luck, and remember that getting a job isn’t the end-all-be-all of the MIT experience. You’ve learned a ton just by being a student here, and have probably grown immensely as a person and as a member of whatever field you’re pursuing. Getting a job takes practice and some amount of luck because no system is actually meritocratic. You’ll learn just as much from your applications as you will from your rejections.
To all the high school seniors reading this: if you’re like 99% of the population, you’ll probably get some college rejections in the next few months. If you feel sad about it, try to think about what you gained from just the process of applying to those places. Did you write some bomb essays that helped you learn a lot about yourself? Did you particularly enjoy your interview? Did you enjoy touring said college? All of those are things that you could have gained from the experience of applying at all.
So, finally: here’s my rejection resume from last year. I got rejected from every single one of these companies, but I learned a lot from just applying to them.
Quick applied and never heard back:
- The Climate Corporation
Actually applied and never heard back:
- This one was kind of strange because they contacted me for a coffee chat and told me to apply but then never got back to me after I applied, lol. It's probably because my GPA was too low :P
Rejected after coding challenge:
- Roblox SWE and PM
- Flatiron Health
Rejected before final round:
- I actually got a final round interview for Microsoft, but they never flew me out...
Rejected after final round:
- Lark Health
- I was shocked to have gotten an onsite for this program at all tbh, it's super competitive and I literally didn't know anything
- Google typically has two software screens, neither of which are very difficult, but I totally bombed the first one and did great on the second one, which meant I got a third chance to redeem myself. I failed it though lol
- MIT, if that wasn't obvious back to text ↑
- like, REALLY lucky - I was applying to MISTI Japan pretty seriously and just sort of shot an application at PlayStation for the heck of it; also, my interview was on 6.004 material, and I happened to be in the Intro to Caches lecture ON THE DAY of my interview when they asked about caches back to text ↑
- and did work on it unpaid regardless, despite having an internship, because I'm addicted to my UROP back to text ↑
- and had a great time, by the way back to text ↑
- it pays minimum wage, and once you subtract housing from the picture, you do almost break even... back to text ↑
- This one was kind of strange because they contacted me for a coffee chat and told me to apply but then never got back to me after I applied, lol. It's probably because my GPA was too low :P back to text ↑
- I actually got a final round interview for Microsoft, but they never flew me out... back to text ↑
- I was shocked to have gotten an onsite for this program at all tbh, it's super competitive and I literally didn't know anything back to text ↑
- Google typically has two software screens, neither of which are very difficult, but I totally bombed the first one and did great on the second one, which meant I got a third chance to redeem myself. I failed it though lol back to text ↑