why didn’t I get a full-time offer after my internship?

A reader writes:

Something has been bothering me for the last few months. I worked at a financial company as an intern over the summer. My job dealt with computer programming, so my assignments were based on that and a big group project presentation at the end of the summer. I was assigned to a good manager. On the other hand, I had a mentor who was very blunt, treated me like I was mentally challenged at times, and talked down to me often in front of some of my peers. I worried that this would impact my work, so I asked to switch mentors. Unfortunately, I couldn’t switch mentors, so I stuck it out the best I could. It made me dread coming in to work for the first month.

At first I struggled to make a good impression in the first two or three weeks of the internship. After that, I greatly improved and my manager complimented my work from time to time. I was also invited out to eat one time with my team, which turned out to be better than I expected.

At the end of the internship, I was given an evaluation by my manager. She told me that I improved greatly, started good relationships with other members of the team, and was a good intern. But she also stated that I could improve in my web development skills since I had no prior knowledge of it before starting the internship. She also said that I met expectations, but needed to learn to exceed them and ask for more work. I believe this was because I’m not really the ambitious type of person who goes after roles like being the CEO of a company. I would be happy working a 9-5 job with headphones on and performing menial tasks. I found working in a financial company to be unrewarding and boring. She also said that I seemed to not be as passionate about the work I was doing during the first half of the internship, but that I improved a lot on that as well. She said I would be a great auditor since I’m detail-oriented.

Several weeks later, I received a call from one of the recruiters who told me that I didn’t get an offer because of lack of space within the IT department. A lot of other interns I talked to received full-time offers, though. I didn’t really want the job, but I feel disappointed in myself. I feel like I worked really hard even though I didn’t really like the internship. Even months later with another full-time offer in hand from a different company, it still bothers me. Several people from my last internship asked me if I got a full-time offer from the financial group, and I just told them I chose to go in a different direction with another company. I’m ashamed to admit that I am the only former intern (that I know of) that didn’t get an offer. This financial company was downsizing as well when I was interning there, but they still hired a sizeable amount of people to come back.

I tried asking the recruiter who I talked with throughout my internship to get feedback so I could do better with interviews. She stated that it’s against company policy since it could open up a lawsuit case, so I just didn’t ask anymore. I feel like I need more clarity, because I’m scared that I was really a crappy intern. I’m the kind of person who likes honest answers, and I’d just like to know why exactly I didn’t get this particular job and what I can do to get more offers in the future?

The thing is, you didn’t want this job offer. You didn’t really like the work, and you didn’t want the job. So this actually worked out pretty well.

The fact that you didn’t like the work much is probably directly related to why you didn’t get an offer from them. They’re not looking for people who find the work they do there “unrewarding and boring.” They’re looking for people who find it engaging and fulfilling and are motivated to be there. That’s not you, and that’s perfectly okay — but in light of that, it makes sense that they don’t want to bring you on full-time.

They’re looking for someone who goes beyond the minimum expectations, takes initiative to find more work, and shows ambition. You’ve said that don’t want that kind of job.

Overall, it sounds like they thought your work was fine, but that you don’t have the drive for this work that they’re looking for. That’s pretty much identical to your own self-assessment. So there’s no slight here! You both agree that it’s just not the right match.

There’s nothing shameful about not getting a full-time offer at the end of an internship, particularly when you wouldn’t have wanted the job anyway. That’s part of the point of internships — to figure out what kind of work you do and don’t want to do, and to learn more about what types of companies are and aren’t the right fit for you. By those measures, this sounds pretty successful (especially since you have an offer from somewhere else).

Or at least it will be a success if you reflect on what you learned here and figure out whether the things that make you happy or unhappy are aligned with the types of jobs you’re going after, and make sure you’re clear-eyed about the trade-offs you’ll be making. For example, if you go the “9-5 job with headphones on and performing menial tasks” route that you mentioned in your letter, that’s going to limit what you can earn and what kind of opportunities you have access to later on — which you might be totally fine with, but make sure you’ve thought it through before you decide. If you’re not okay with that, then it might mean coming to terms with the reality that you’ll need to push yourself to approach work with more initiative and drive. It’s up to you how to calculate all this and what trade-offs you’re willing to make.

But I don’t think you were a crappy intern. It sounds like you were an okay intern. You weren’t stellar because you and the job weren’t well-matched, not because you don’t have the potential to be stellar at something that fits you. And this is part of figuring out what that is.

{ 251 comments… read them below }

  1. Lil Fidget*

    I suffer from this same mindset in a lot of areas of my life – even when I don’t really want something and don’t think I put in my best effort, I still kind of … expect success. I blame it on my academic background, where achievement came pretty easily to me. I was very surprised at early failures in my life because I thought everything would be like school.

    It’s a good learning experience, OP – try to cultivate a growth mindset where setbacks are just signs to think deeper or work harder. I’m still learning this more than ten years after I graduated.

    1. Adlib*

      ” I was very surprised at early failures in my life because I thought everything would be like school.”

      Thank you! This was me, too.

      1. Carrie*

        Ditto. School came easily to me, and I’ve experienced a lot of self-doubt and discouragement as an adult because the working world isn’t the same. I dislike doing things that are challenging, and I feel disappointed in myself for that. I wish I had failed more and been better taught the value of hard work as a kid. Working hard and learning to overcome challenges is way more important than just floating along doing easy stuff.

        1. Lil Fidget*

          I think if you happen to be pretty good at memorization and you’re a clear writer, you can coast along pretty far through a lot of coursework. Unfortunately those skills are not super valuable outside of school, where things like EQ can play a much higher role in success.

          1. Sunshine on a cloudy day*

            Wow – you just summed up my entire school vs career struggle. I was a great student – b/c I was a clear writer and really good at memorizing to the test. And I totally coasted. Finally finangled myself into a clear career direction that plays on those strengths (to a certain degree – as well as identifying the parts I’m missing), but it was a much longer/windier/harder road than I (or anyone who knew me academically) would have guessed.

            The only thing I say I truly “learned” in college is how to figure out exactly what someone wants to hear and spit it right back out at them. Granted, I do believe this is a fairly valuable skill to have – I think it helps frame my communications in ways that are more effective than someone without this skill, but there’s also so much more that I’m missing. Particularly EQ. I labeled it “office politics” (with a sneer and eye role) for awhile, but I’m now seeing that’s a big part of what’s been holding me back and I’m actively trying to work on this.

            Anyway – for the OP. I really like one of the comments below about redefining what a successful internship looks like. This was unsuccessful in “school” terms – not getting an offer is the equivalent of failing despite putting in all the work to at the very least pass. However in “working world” terms this was a great success! You got hands on experience and valuable feedback – the end goal is to get an offer *at a company/for a role you want and would do well in*. Not just get an offer period.

            Also – want to commend you (OP) on your self-reflection and willingness to accept feedback. You might need to scale back your expectations on what sort of feedback is realistic to expect, but it’s good that you’re not writing this off as just a “personality clash” (though that may have been a portion of this, given your experience with the mentor) and are actively seeking out feedback. I think if you recalibrate those expectations, but keep that open-mind/genuine desire to improve – THAT will really help you in your career!

            Bottom line, I’d say – good luck! Try not to view this as failure (I know that’s easier said than done), but as valuable feedback that will help set you up for future/longer-term/ “work” success

          2. Turquoisecow*

            This is totally me. I had both a great memory and good writing skills. It wasn’t until I took college level courses that I really ever had to study. And that meant I didn’t have a clue HOW to study. Not that I lacked critical thinking skills to be able to make connections and come up with my own conclusions (like in history essays, for example), but the actual work of school was never necessary.

            1. twig*


              But seriously — it’s good to see other “did great in school” people who have had a harder time translating that to work-success.

              Add to that the pressure of being the “smart one” in the family — because I was a reader and knew how to “do” school “right.” It feels like they expected big things — but I’m an admin assistant making okay money, rather than — I don’t know — a fancy high paid degreed person doing “Important” work. (please note the “” around important — support work is important and keeps the wheels spinning)

            2. TardyTardis*

              Oh, yes, so true! I *bled* for that C on Zoology (though I was far more used to getting As, and in fact, I took history any time I wanted to make sure I had an A. To me, history is the National Enquirer on steroids). But it was really good for me to have that class my freshman year, it acquainted me with the concept of College Is Hard and Study Or Die.

          3. Donna Roberts*

            EQ is why B students often do such much better than their A peers (looking in the mirror). I wish that I had learned this lesson a long time ago.

            1. GG Two shoes*

              As a B student all through high school and college I truly agree with this. Many of my A friends are not nearly as motivated as me because they never had to be. I wasn’t a stellar student but I learned how to work hard and that has been, I think, a key to my success in young adulthood.

          4. Alton*

            Yep. I had a lot of classes where I could coast by by being a clear writer and being able so stretch the work I’d done far enough to make it look good (like writing a paper about a book I hadn’t finished).

            It’s harder to do that at work, and I’ve had to work to train myself out of that mentality.

            1. Alton*

              Another thing: semesters are a lot shorter than most jobs. If you coast by in a class, then depending on what type of class it is, you might get a blank slate next semester. No one will bother you about the books you skimmed, and you’ll never have to continue the projects you threw together. At work, some things will fall by the wayside, but others will catch up to you eventually (or hurt your reputation if people pick up on a pattern).

              1. Lil Fidget*

                This is so true! I hadn’t really thought of that, but yes. You’ll be in the same “class” for five straight years or more, working on some of the same assignments that whole time. Taking shortcuts only hurts yourself.

              2. Sealant*

                Everything is traceable. You can’t hide. Unless you are that power plant guy boss who was cashing cheques for 20 years and no one noticed he wasn’t there even at his 20th Work Anniversary.

          5. Pennalynn Lott*

            I’ll just tuck my story in here . . .

            In my 20’s, in my 2nd professional B2B sales job, some consultants from our main office flew in for an all-day session with us sales folks in the branch office to brainstorm about closing big deals and which prospects we should go after next. At the end of the day I, a newbie and the junior-most person in the room, stood up and thanked the consultants (and one manager) for coming and said, “This is the first time I’ve met a group of people who are as smart as I am.”

            IQ = Off the charts
            EQ = Zilch

            1. ECHM*

              @Sealant: Emotional quotient/emotional intelligence, which per Wikipedia is “the capability of individuals to recognize their own emotions and those of others, discern between different feelings and label them appropriately, use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior, and manage and/or adjust emotions to adapt to environments or achieve one’s goal(s).”

              1. Sealant*

                Ah I see. I never did great at school. I would say my GCSEs were bad and I probably have a higher EQ than IQ. I have always navigated the working world by analysing people like I did books (did a long distance degree in Literature) , so I know how manaeover around the environment. I am in Admin at the moment.

          6. selena81*

            good to see i’m not the only one having real problems translating academic succes into job succes.
            i feel the biggest problem is that i’m good at doing what i’m told amidst a group of other kids doing the same assignment, whereas work requires a lot more initiative and indepence.

        2. Mallory Janis Ian*

          Yes! I spent a lot of my young adult working life being bitterly disappointed that no-one was impressed with how I could do everything really well without working or studying. I thought everything was supposed to be naturally easy for me, and I was used to the role of humble-bragging show-off (fortunately I outgrew that). It was hard to changed from valuing being rewarded for my inherent traits than for my hard work. For awhile, I thought praise wasn’t worth much if I had to work for it; it was only valuable if it came to me naturally without my having to do anything. (Gee, I sound like a turd!)

        3. the gold digger*

          I tell my husband his parents did him a great disservice by not putting him in any kind of sports when he was a kid. Primo is very very smart and has always done well at academics and work. He had never failed in anything until he ran for public office. He had a really hard time with losing the election and part of it, I think, was that he had never learned how to deal with losing.

          My parents put uncoordinated, untalented me in soccer and swimming and boy did I learn about losing quickly. In addition, when I got to college, it was clear very soon that I was no longer the smartest kid in the class. It wasn’t fun, but now, of the two of us, I am the one who is very willing to risk new things because I can shrug failure off pretty easily.

          1. Ann Furthermore*

            My husband and I are experiencing the opposite with our daughter. She is a very, very gifted athlete. I say this because enough people who do not share any DNA with her have said enough versions of, “Holy crap! Look at that arm/swing/throw/hit/shot!” that I know it’s not just us being proud parents.

            She’s the QB on her flag football team, and they’ve never lost a game (40 wins and counting). They’ve won the league tournament 2 years in a row. Then we signed her up for basketball this fall and that team was undefeated and won the tournament as well. Her softball team loses a game here and there, but they’re pretty good too.

            My husband and I are at the point where we’d like to see one of those teams lose once in awhile so she can learn that everyone loses games, it’s not the end of the world, and as long as everyone played their hardest and tried their best, that’s the most important thing.

            She was getting a little conceited about it too. When her basketball team won a game by one basket, the girls on the other team were very upset, and some of them were crying. On the way home, she said she didn’t understand why they were crying, because it was just a game. My husband put her in her place and told her that it’s really tough to play your hardest and still lose a game, that she would have been upset too if her team had lost, and that it was unkind for her to be making fun of them. Then we got home and they were playing Horse out in the driveway, and he intentionally crushed her, and she of course got very upset and started crying. And then he reminded her of what she’d said earlier, and that it’s tough to play as hard as you can and still lose a game. He told me he felt like kind of an a-hole for doing that, but he said he was not going to put up with her making fun of kids on other teams she beats.

            We feel like bad parents for kind of hoping that she’ll lose more often, but it’s such a valuable lesson to learn.

            1. fort hiss*

              I wish you could get her to read a fantastic sports manga called “Teppu”! The main character coasts in every sport she plays. She’s so naturally talented that she can’t understand other people and often says unkind things, which leads to her being really isolated in high school. She ends up meeting someone who introduces her to MMA fighting, and she loses for the first time in ages. It’s a really interesting, complicated story, but also a fun sports story with good art. Too bad there’s no official English release…

          2. Anxa*

            I’m glad I got to fail at sports a lot as a kid, but I really regret spending middle school and high school starting homework at 9pm after a full afternoon of humiliation. It zapped my confidence and was a huge time-suck, pulling me away from my interests that could have helped guide my career to some degree as an adult. I remember being a kid an spending time doing what I liked doing for so much, but then team sports kind of destroyed that.

            I wanted to be ‘well-rounded’ and a team-player but it was a disaster. Instead I wish I did more solo sports, so I wouldn’t be so stressed out all of the time about bringing down the team.

            1. Ann Furthermore*

              It’s hard for kids to be so overextended. They need time to not only do homework but to also just be kids and have down time too. Our rule is no more than 2 activities at any one time. My daughter does tae kwon do all the time so there’s that plus one other team sport. Right now it’s recreational leagues so practice is only one night a week, so it’s manageable. Last year we tried doing 2 team sports at once and it was such a cluster we vowed never again. You’re always having to miss a practice, or there are games that conflict, and you end up feeling like you’re half-assing it all over the place.

        4. AdviceSeeker*

          This is 100% me as well. The disliking things that are challenging and then feeling disappointed in myself for it particularly strikes a chord. Do you have any advice or suggestions for how to deal with those feelings? I’ve had a rough couple of months at work and it feels like I’m failing at everything lately. I’m really struggling with a lot of that self-doubt and discouragement you mentioned right now, and I honestly think my performance is getting worse rather than better because of it. I’m to the point where I’m considering quitting because I’m afraid I’ll otherwise be fired and don’t know if I could handle that. I think I would be better-suited for a job without so much responsibility. But also am just not sure if it’s my current situation that has me feeling so down on myself, and I don’t especially want to take a pay cut for a job like that. Kind of rambling here, and not really sure what I’m looking for, but it is reassuring to see I’m not alone in my feelings. Anyone who is happy in their current work situation have suggestions for how I can get there?

          1. What do I put here?*

            This could be a good question to post in the Friday open thread: I’m sure you’d get a lot of helpful comments, and your question would probably be seen by more people that way.

          2. MeowThai*

            Therapy. I cannot stress enough how wonderful therapy has been, and I had been feeling a lot of the same things you are mentioning in your comment. Talk to a professional because they can absolutely give you tools to get yourself through these kinds of times in life.

      2. Queen of the File*

        Me too. I’ll add that when I first failed, I didn’t even recognize the feeling of rejection. I thought the situation must have been miscalculated at some point because (this is awful) even though I acknowledged I had not performed that well, I had never experienced not succeeding before. So I too looked for explanations or faults on the other party’s side to make the lingering bad feeling go away. I didn’t get that I was feeling a normal emotion over a normal situation and that nobody else needed to be involved for me to process it.

        1. Lil Fidget*

          ZOMG flash back to so many of my similar friends and family, the first time they got fired or didn’t ace the SATs. They thought it was a mistake or the test was wrong or some other external factor *even when* they acknowledged that they hadn’t performed at their best.

        2. College Career Counselor*

          This is a great example of fixed mindset thinking (vs. Growth Mindset), where you value what you are good at as a measure of your intelligence/worth (and you actively avoid those areas where you struggle, possibly looking to assign blame/responsibility to others). Growth Mindset is where you view difficult tasks/subjects as an opportunity to learn and improve your skills. (See Carol Dweck’s book Mindset for more info). The basic premise is that human nature is to avoid emotional difficulty/pain/fear that comes with failure. But, if we can work through those (very natural) feelings, we can learn and develop beyond our previously held beliefs.

          My tendency is to be a fixed mindset person (what you are born with is largely what you’re capable of), so it was a real shock to my system to fail. But, that failure has pushed me to extend myself professionally over the last few years and, if I’m being honest, I’m actually better at what I do now (not to mention much more versatile) as a result of having worked through a pretty major professional setback. I have had more and more significant achievements in the five years since that experience than I had in the five years prior.

          1. Bigglesworth*

            My husband is actually going through this book right now. He was hospitalized around Thanksgiving for anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation. He’s home now, but still has a long way to go. That being said – as part of the “homework” his psychiatrist gave home, he has to read “Mindset”. It’s really opened his eyes to how the way he processes the world with a fixed mindset feeds into his anxiety and depression. He’s found the book helpful.

        3. Mallory Janis Ian*

          I remember that I didn’t look to blame anyone or anything outside myself, but I felt such an intense feeling of shame and rejection. I thought I wasn’t all I was supposedly cracked up to be and my feeling of self-worth was damaged. I hid that I felt that way (because shame) and pretended that I was okay, but I wasn’t.

          1. Queen of the File*

            I feel you! Shame was what I came to (and wallowed in, honestly) after I looked so hard elsewhere for the fault in the situation and could realistically only find my own failings. It was actually pretty unhinging to try to figure out what to base my value on once I realized the demands of life at age 27 had surpassed my that’s-really-amazing-for-a-ten-year-old talents :)

            Looks like my next reading will be ‘Mindset’!

      3. John*

        I was the same, except that parents and teachers warned me constantly that I wouldn’t be able to get by on ability forever. Constantly — and I studiously(!) ignored them. It took losing a job in difficult circumstances (partly through company downsizing, but I made myself a prime candidate to be a victim of downsizing) to get any sense of drive. I’m very glad it happened, eventually.

      4. Koko*

        I have ADD that wasn’t diagnosed until years after I’d dropped out of grad school. Up til that point I had a “successful” academic career – which, if you looked beneath the surface, involved me rarely doing any homework, doing the little homework I did turn in the night before/morning of it being due, and not studying for tests at all.

        At a young age I was diverted into a gifted/accelerated program because I wouldn’t stop talking and drawing and daydreaming when I got bored. Fortunately I had enough curiosity about the world that once they put me in more interesting classes I at least paid attention, and for me “paying attention to lecture” + “short focused burst of work fueled by impending deadline adrenaline” = A papers written at the last minute and As on tests without studying, right on up through college. It even got me As in my coursework at grad school. But that skillset wasn’t sufficient to be able to conduct original research, write a thesis, revise it many times, and defend it.

        Years later my ADD was diagnosed and in my early 30s I had to learn all these cognitive tricks for organizing work and staying focused and not losing track of things or putting things off that I had just…never learned or used before. Medication helped, too, but it was so much more than that. My psychiatrist told me that ADD is very commonly missed in gifted females, because the usual flags that make a teacher send a kid for evaluation is hyperactivity and getting bad grades, and young girls with ADD are more likely to be quietly inattentive instead of noticeably hyperactive, and to work harder to conceal their symptoms because there’s more expectation placed on girls to be good students, e.g. the last-minute work I was churning out to stay just this side of my teacher’s good graces.

    2. K.*

      Yeah, I think a lot of people who are good at school struggle with this, myself included – there’s a sort of learned expectation that “my work = success,” and that’s just not going to be true all of the time. (I’ve seen this happen a lot with my high-achieving friends in bad relationships – they think if they just work really hard at the relationship, it’ll become good, even if they are fundamentally incompatible with a person.) This intern and internship seemed like a clear mismatch – everything in the letter says “this is not for you, OP,” and that’s fine! You have another job; focus on that job and push this one out of your mind.

      1. Lil Fidget*

        I’ve heard it’s common with people who are tagged as “gifted” or “high achievers” in early life, as you come to believe that’s a fundamental trait and don’t always learn how to work hard and persevere at something. Supposedly it’s better to recognize a child’s effort rather than complimenting them for being smart.

        1. Snark*

          I say this very much not to toot my own horn, but as someone whose language and analytical skills developed early and conspicuously, this is something I have struggled with and continue to. It was very hard to grapple with the fact that, yes, despite the fact that I have gifts and talents, I’m also an ordinary-ass dude in most respects and conspicuously not great at several important life skills, and as a result I’m comfortably successful and good at what I do, not a rock star.

          1. Lil Fidget*

            Also often times “gifted” just means you reached benchmarks ahead of your peer group (or the expected age of achievement). But it’s not always a straight line to infinity. By the time you graduate college you may find that most people have caught up with you, and you’ve more or less leveled off.

            1. Ron McDon*

              So true! My eldest son was gifted and talented all through primary school, coasted through most of secondary school, but struggled when he got to GCSE age (14/15). He was used to doing the bare minimum and getting As, so when he had to work hard and put in effort he really struggled.

              He is now doing A levels but still struggling; we are never sure if he just isn’t putting in enough effort, or if he genuinely is no longer as ‘clever’ as he was when he was younger. We’re in a difficult position, because we don’t know whether to tell him he should be working harder and getting better grades, or if he is truly getting the best grades he’s capable of.

              My niece (aged 8) is also gifted/talented, and I keep telling my sister to make sure they praise hard work and perseverance rather than ‘cleverness’.

              Had I known then what I know now, I would have studied growth mindset a lot earlier!

                1. Katriona*

                  I used to work for a youth-oriented nonprofit and actually attended a presentation on growth mindset where you could just see the lightbulbs going off in everyone’s heads as the concept was explained. I’m glad to see the concept is becoming more widespread because almost everyone in the room felt it explained some part of their own struggles.

                  OP, if you’re interested in learning more about this concept you can check out the work of Carol Dweck.

            2. Snark*

              Precisely. These days, in my 30s? I’m a good writer. Occasionally, people are nice enough to tell me so. But I’m not the 5 year old who could deliver a detailed, thesis-driven, 10-minute lecture, off the cuff, about the scientitific debate over what color dinosaurs were. I got here early. I been here a while. But now I have plenty of company, and that’s just as it should be.

              1. Jesca*

                See, I only recently found out that my IQ is in the gifted range! I had no idea my entire life. I also recently found out that the school was requesting that I put in separate advanced classes at 11 years old – a plan that would have graduated my already awakward ass years earlier. But, since NO ONE told, I always really just thought people just slacked off and had no drive. All my life I have worked extraordinarily hard to get where I am today at such a young age. Academics always came really easy to me, but so did a lot of things in the work world too. I just happened to be really ambitious as well. But now I think it might have been because I wasn’t raised with the idea that I was gifted. It has come up in my research of adults considered “gifted” per IQ testing, but it was not something I related to. Now I think I understand why. I always felt like I wasn’t enough and had to prove myself.

                Interestingly enough, look up the struggles of gifted female students and gifted female adults. Pretty much, at least in years past, it was OK not to even tell girls that they tested gifted – and honestly if someone maybe would have just told me, I wouldn’t have always felt like something was wrong with me when I was compared to my peers. I know that sounds odd, but when things seem obvious to you but not to anyone else, you do start to think that something is wrong with you!!

                1. Snark*

                  Interesting double-edged sword – it sucks that they didn’t tell you you were gifted, and that was probably gendered, but it sounds like on balance, you ended up with a fundamentally healthier concept of yourself than “the gifted one who’s SO talented” and you whipped on yourself harder as a result.

                2. Robin Sparkles*

                  Add me to the pile of people who can relate to what you just said. But unlike you- I was marked as “gifted” (quoted because I didn’t actually get an official assessment or anything like some folks did ) early on. It took ages for me to feel like I was part of my peer group -and that was because I attended a magnet HS for gifted students. That was the best decision because I was now average and it really helped with my confidence knowing I was normal instead of different.

                3. Alex the Alchemist*

                  Replying in agreement in experience with Jesca and Robin Sparkles. I was marked as “gifted” early on, and even skipped kindergarten due to my reading skills (and my mom actually being willing to teach me how to read extremely young). However, since I lived in a very poor, rural area, the schools never got the proper funding to do “gifted” programs or have special schools or anything like that, so I was always stuck kind of taking what I could get. I was always kind of behind socially since everyone always knew how young I was compared to everyone else and that made a divide even though a year doesn’t seem like that much in retrospect. I always tried to prove myself worthy of having skipped a grade, even though that was a decision made by my parents and not me.

                  Now I’m in my first year of seminary at 21, and while I still feel like I have to prove myself all over again sometimes, I’m finally at a place where I feel like that “gifted child”-ness doesn’t matter as much. It means I carry some anxiety over grades, but it’s more of a fun fact to my friends when talking about our pasts rather than the entirety of my being, as parents and teachers would lead me to believe growing up.

                4. Jesca*

                  It is a double-edged sword. I mean IQ is based solely on intellect (cognitive function based on logic mostly), but the issue is that if you don’t know that you can see patterns where others don’t or can analyze much more rapidly whereas others need to see more, you can grow really frustrated whereas you believe others are just purposely being difficult or obtuse. I was lucky enough to have a manager point this out to me. I was growing increasingly frustrated on a project because my team, in my mind, was not functioning fast enough to get remediated processes completed and were not setting them up with the analytics properly. SO back to the OP here, it is good to learn early where you excel and where you do not and what you like to do and what you do not. I am at an advantage due to birth in the field that I work in – basically i could behave any way I want and still retain a job because its so niche but so vital to most companies that they cannot afford to lose me – those are the skills I excel at. But at the same time, an employer may not want to lose me, but if I don’t work on my EQ skills, no one on a team will want to cooperate! This was something I wish I would have known years ago. It probably would have been better for me to be in a position where I can do a lot more behind the scenes work without much interaction. I think I would have been happier in a role like that!

                5. boo*

                  I think I lucked out or had very clever parents (or lucked out by having clever parents). A lot of academic stuff came easily to me, but I always had intense extracurricular activities that were essentially as important as school to me. One was something that I really loved, but did not have a natural gift for, and the other was the kind of thing you’re always supposed to be striving to be better at-competing against yourself, kind of thing.

                  When I got to college and ran into a lot of kids who had always been the smartest kid in the class, it… became clear how important it had been for me to understand early on that there will always be someone smarter, or better at whatever.

                  I think if you haven’t run into that by the time you’re an adult it can be an almost existential threat to discover. If you’ve built your self-identity around being The Most Smart, then learning otherwise is a blow to the whole system.

                  I think even if you’re clearly the next Mozart, or Stephen Hawking, it’s not helpful to point that out to a kid. What are they supposed to do with that information? Just stick a gold star on her latest symphony and ask her to paint a watercolor of how her new theory of time makes her feel.

              2. Stormy*

                I did this both mentally and physically. I was “gifted” and “tall” when I was eleven. Being that same level of intelligence and that same height is not particularly noteworthy in my forties.

            3. Alternative Person*

              Yeah, I was always ahead but I was somewhat lucky in I figured out the need for hard work before things started going downhill, helped by some great teachers. My brother crashed and burned hard (for his relative ability) in high school, not helped by the teachers he got, and never really recovered. Things worked out in the end, but yeah.

            4. Temperance*

              I was a gifted kid in elementary school. High school was a real challenge for me because I could no longer just get As without trying.

            5. Rusty Shackelford*

              Also often times “gifted” just means you reached benchmarks ahead of your peer group (or the expected age of achievement).

              Yep. I showed up in first grade reading at a 6th grade level, and my teacher called me a “genius.” But by the time I graduated from high school, I was simply “smart,” and definitely not the smartest kid in my class.

              1. Helena*

                Depends on the pool of candidates too! I was miles ahead of the rest of my (tiny, village, 20 students) school class.

                Went to med school -> not so bright amongst 400 other bright kids.

            6. SheLooksFamiliar*

              Sometimes I wonder if I got As because I did exceptional work, or because I was seen as an A student. Circular logic, I know…I tested into high school and college at advanced levels, and I saw the test scores. Yeah, I was pretty bright at the time but now, it’s anyone’s guess. But get this:

              My sister needed a book report for a book I’d read in Advanced Humanities – she was in a bind so I gave her my report to copy. My A paper – which had things like ‘Great insight!’ and ‘Interesting tie to Plato’s Republic’ written in the margins – got a C. Which, oddly enough, was her average grade in that class.

              This was back in the 70s so the theory and practice of education were different, but I still wonder.

              1. Lil Fidget*

                I think it’s very true. I was a nice, cooperative kid. I don’t think teachers saw me as someone who might be struggling or need extra help in things, and I didn’t see myself that way either – I was the one who got As.

              2. Long Time Reader First Time Poster*

                Ha! This reminded me — I got into an argument with my best friend when we were in 11th grade. She said that Mrs. Smith. used to just look at my name at the top of the paper, and write A+ on it without even reading it. I told her that no, I was writing A+ papers. I offered to write a paper for a mutual friend who had a C average, and when he got it back it had a big A+ on it from Mrs. Smith. I felt so justified!

            7. MM*

              I went through something like this at about 14-15, but in a weird way. I’m an only child and my parents used to have people over a lot/take me out with them a lot to the theater, dinner engagements, and what have you, so I was used to hanging out around adults. I was very precocious in certain ways–especially verbally–so I was, by all accounts, a remarkably sophisticated adult conversationalist for a lot of my childhood and adolescence. Eventually, as I got older, the mismatch between how I carried myself around adults and my age became smaller because I was growing into my personality (if that makes sense), so I started getting a lot less amazement and compliments for what a precocious little girl I was. This sent me into a conflicted identity crisis. On the one hand I felt like I was somehow getting dumber (even though I actually did understand what was happening), and I missed the positive attention; but on the other hand I’d felt for years like I was sort of being trotted out to do a party trick, and it was nice not to feel so “onstage” anymore. The whole thing kind of worked itself out after a year or two, but it was a very strange feeling.

              1. Lissa*

                Ooh this is really relatable for me too – I used to be that weird kid who has no friends her age but adults just love. As I got older I stopped getting praise for being “super smart little girl” and did end up learning to socialize with my own peer group, but at a really slow rate.

          1. Snark*

            It was especially tragic for one of my neighbors. This kid, at age 10, was a genuine athletic prodigy – talented at basically anything that involved a ball. In high school, he got national attention. In college? Hit the wall, flunked out, got heavy into drugs and alcohol, committed suicide.

    3. Annabelle*

      I’m a lot like this too. I was able to sort of coast through school with success because it came naturally to me. Realizing that the professional world operates differently was a big wake up call.

      1. Snark*

        Frankly, I think a lot of my teachers were so gratified to work with a standout performer (in some areas…) that they let me get away with slacking on things like getting stuff in on time and coloring inside the lines.

        1. Anxa*

          Funny, I had such the reverse experience!

          This may be conversial, but I think “genius” and “giftedness” is somewhat gendered. I think people are more likely to accept a disorganized male student who is a quick and deep thinker, whereas female academic success often comes with expectations of being well prepared, meticulous, and thorough.

          I was a really bright kid but lost my academic confidence when school transitioned from learning skills to discipline skills. I have a lot of ADHD tendencies and while I wanted so badly to be a good student, I was chronically forgetting HW, etc. But since I was otherwise very competent it was considered a discipline issue mostly, which gave me a (really embarrassing) kind of too cool for school phase. I still had mostly honor roll grades, but I could have done a lot better in high school. I was probably depressed throughout college and did terribly, and haven’t been able to recover since.

          I remember being in a group project once and I was the only girl and so I was expected to write up the classwork and my classmate looked at my handwriting and said, “Oh, I thought you were supposed to be smart.”

          Teachers I think were trying to whip me into shape, but didn’t realize that I wasn’t just being lazy. I remember being so resentful of being held to such high standards that I felt like nothing would ever be good enough.

      2. AnotherJill*

        I taught students in several college classes like this. Very bright, skated through high school on sheer memory powers, last minute work, and charm and then try to do the same thing in college and fail miserably. Some finally get that wake up call and some don’t but it always seems to be a hard fall while they figure it out.

    4. Shirley Keeldar*

      To tag on with the comments about shifting from school to work—one of the things about school is that you’re supposed to be good at everything. You’re supposed to strive for As in English, history, biology, alegebra, all of it. And then you get out into the work world and you’re supposed to specialize, to find out what you’re really good at and what suits you and focus on that. It can be a hard transition, especially if you were in fact good at pulling in those As. You can feel like a failure if you’re not excelling at everything about being an employee. But the great thing is, you don’t HAVE to excel at all of it anymore, and you’re not likely to do so. It’s okay if you’re (say) me and you you’d be terrible at sales to just…not sell things. And not be sad when somebody says you’re not a good salesperson because yep, you’re not. You’re good at other things.

      1. Lil Fidget*

        This is a good point. I also note that it’s different in the European (and others? I only know Great Britain) system, where students are often “tracked” earlier based on the outcome of big tests that are conducted at certain points. I’m not sure I would have preferred that system but it is probably an issue specific to our system of schooling.

        1. Yami Bakura*

          From what I’ve seen, at least from European professors and students working in the sciences, schoolwork is challenging there, but the emphasis on conceptual understanding is much greater than in the U.S. You can slip up on an algebraic operation or numerical calculation and still get almost full credit, but by God, if you don’t outline your concepts fully and correctly, and reason properly, and justify your reasoning, you’re screwed. In the U.S. it’s the exact opposite IME.

          (Many American students, used to working under and benefiting from, the European system think that this is unfair B.S. I personally found it refreshing, because I’m better at conceptual stuff than little teeny details.)

          So I think, in addition to your point (although I can’t assess the effects of tracking specifically that well), the fact that education for giftedly-tracked people is of a different flavor factors in as well. You really have to *think* about what you’re doing, and do so strenuously and rigorously, rather than pull out a cookbook formula over and over again.

          1. Typhon Worker Bee*

            ooh, yes, this was me – I’d do lines upon lines of complex algebra with no problem at all, then get the wrong answer by putting 3 x 2 = 5 on the final line. I had a teacher who thought I was the bees knees (being the only girl taking advanced maths helped with that) – she’d always say “I knew what you meant, it was just a silly slip at the end” and give me full credit even though I was only supposed to get a partial credit for that kind of answer (this was in the UK). She retired about 6 months before we took our final exams and her replacement was not so lenient with me. I bristled at the time, but it was incredibly good for me! I probably wouldn’t have got that A if I’d had the original teacher all the way through.

    5. SheLooksFamiliar*

      ‘I suffer from this same mindset in a lot of areas of my life – even when I don’t really want something and don’t think I put in my best effort, I still kind of … expect success.’

      Yep. I’ve had many friends and colleagues who interviewed for jobs that didn’t excite them, and weren’t good fits for their skills or interests. When they didn’t get the job, they were genuinely surprised and even hurt. I asked why they were upset they didn’t get an offer for a job they didn’t even want, and sometimes they admited they weren’t sure. More often than not, they just expected success, as you said.

      Still, I try to be understanding because old habits die hard. My parents drilled it into me that I was to produce straight As no matter what subject, and I mostly met those expectations. It’s 30+ years post college, and I still have moments of, ‘Wait, why didn’t I get the nod? I’m an achiever!’ True, but not the right one for the project at hand.

      1. Lil Fidget*

        As a consequence of this, I notice that I often don’t really celebrate successes. Successes are just the baseline of what I expect, so when I *do* get the job or the bonus or whatever, it’s just like *nod nod, as expected* and right on to the next thing. It’s not a great way to be, I’m working on it.

        1. Jessica*

          Exactly. I always figured a B student would be happy if they got an A and sad if they got an F, but I had a 4.0 GPA which meant there was no happiness available. I’d have been distraught over a B, but if an A elicited any emotion at all it’d just be relief that my foot hadn’t slipped on the tightrope.
          That’s also how I came to feed on praise. That A at the top of the paper isn’t exciting if it’s what you always get (or if it’s the minimum that seems remotely acceptable), but what you can actually feel good about is the nice comment the teacher wrote.

    6. Elizabeth H.*

      I’m interested and a little surprised that so many people are saying that they coasted through school without much effort. I was good at school but I never, ever felt like I coasted through it! I would study for tests, agonize over papers (I’m good at writing, but I hate writing), meet with teachers for extra help, I studied for the SATs, all of that. In high school, there were a few teachers/subjects that weren’t good and I didn’t work as hard in those classes and consequently didn’t do as well. This happened in college too; I worked really hard, studied a lot, did all the reading for all of my classes (rare in the types of classes I took), went to office hours, put a ton of effort into writing papers, and I was successful. I also took an advanced math class (as someone without any type of strong math background) and worked so much harder than I ever had at a class – that was one of my favorite experiences that I’m the most proud of. I don’t know anyone else in real life who feels like school is automatically easy if you’re smart? I was really lucky to go to an excellent public school so wondering if it is difference between opportunity to take advanced classes with challenging teachers – again I was really lucky to have had that experience – and same with college.

      1. Annabelle*

        I don’t think succeeding in school is necessarily even about being smart. Because, while I was labeled “gifted”, I wouldn’t say I was remarkably smarter than the B students in my class. I think it’s about really specific skills that only really benefit you in a school setting.

        For example, I have a photographic memory and I’m a good writer. Neither of those things are testaments to my work ethic or really even my intelligence, but they helped me get through school (until college, at least) with pretty minimal effort.

        1. Lil Fidget*

          Yes, I had a very good short term memory (at the time! I seem to have overloaded it or lost it by now). Also, I was a good test-taker. It wasn’t that I was so smart, I just had (quote) a very particular set of skills. I could parrot things back / figure out what the teacher was “really” asking. Guess how much that’s worth nowadays in the real world.

          1. Elizabeth H.*

            Don’t you think that having a very good memory and being able to quickly intuit the most significant piece of relevant information from a general message are what people think of as being “smart”? These skills are incredibly useful and relevant in the “real world” and in the workplace.

            1. Lil Fidget*

              Well, in school, there was set number of possible answers and one was “right.” And the authority figure (the teacher) already knew which one was “right.” In fact they would tell me at the outset, in black and white, which was the “right” information. (Then later they’d try to trick me on the test, but I wasn’t easily fooled). So my only job was literally to retain something. That has just never translated to the working world for me at all. It relates to fposte’s comment about dealing with ambiguity, and then the whole world of EQ.

              1. Lil Fidget*

                Now being a good writer, yes, that is still valuable in the working world. But I do first need to understand … what I’m writing … about :P

            2. Jo*

              Yes, these are incredibly useful skills that I unfortunately lack. My memory is terrible and my recall is even worse. Beyond that, I don’t think well on my feet/under pressure so every time I’m asked a question my mind promptly goes blank and I have nothing to say.

              If I’m given time to prepare something and memorise all relevant statistics/numbers/facts I’m fine, but off-the-cuff questions terrify me because I can never answer them. This leads to everyone I interact with essentially walking away from every interaction with me thinking I’m an idiot.

              I have not yet figured out a way to fix this or a work-around that covers every possible scenario. Sigh.

              Do not underestimate how much these abilities have helped you, Lil Fidget! You’re so lucky; I would kill for the normal capacity for this, much less your enhanced ability to do these things.

        2. boo*

          I agree with Annabelle-it’s less about being smart than having specific skills that make doing all the work you describe easier. For example-I read really fast, which has nothing to do with my intellect (I know many people far more brilliant than I who read slowly). But it does mean that doing all the reading for all my classes took less time than it might otherwise have, and that it didn’t really feel like much work to me.

          So that’s one thing that has nothing to do with how smart someone is, but that had a huge impact on how hard I perceived school to be.

          I also wouldn’t say I coasted through school-I liked academics and I think there’s a sort of “you get out what you put in” aspect to it, it’s not like just because some things come easily you have to put in the minimum effort, if that makes sense. (I also had a similar experience to yours, Elizabeth H., with advanced math-it remains a high point in my college career.)

        3. Risha*

          I had excellent SATs because they mostly tested you on vocabulary and basic math, which happened to be my best skills. If they had tested me on my knowledge of history and science, the results would have been drastically different.

        4. Becca*

          Yeah, I actually was tested for the gifted program in 4th grade and (as I understand it) I didn’t pass by the at the time standards but I passed by the previous standards that my classmates already in it had passed, so I was let in, but on the edge.
          But I definitely skated through school easily. A couple failures in the elementary gifted program with things I’ve always been very bad at, but that never came up again in school. A couple low grades in middle school because I had no tolerance fore reading logs (did much better with book reports) and one because I lost basically all of my math assignments because of the infrequent turn-in schedule. Not enough to teach me work ethic.
          Then there was high school. I managed to graduate and even get mostly good grades even though I showed up so infrequently I had to go to court for truancy. I tested well and because I tested well I had a lot of teachers willing to give me some slack. Not all of them, but enough. I think this is where I really learned to live with failure, but I wish I’d gotten better help for my depression instead. The failures here hurt the most not because trying my best finally wasn’t enough but because I had no idea why I couldn’t bring myself to try in the first place.
          I still have a bit of a hard time when things don’t come naturally to me and still struggle with the idea that I should be doing great things by now from the way people talked when I was growing up, but for the most part I’ve made my peace with it. I know what I want and I’m working toward it. That’s more valuable to me than awards and accolades.

      2. Book Lover*

        I went to one of the best high schools in the state and one of the best universities in the country, followed by one of the best medical schools (for whatever value you give to the typical lists). I didn’t have to study until I took an organic chemistry class in university (and that seriously sucked and did not go well). I didn’t study for any standardized testing from the PSAT to the MCAT.

        That isn’t a brag and I don’t know that it served me well. I learned how to study, eventually, from watching a hardworking (and brilliant) friend in medical school. I’ll admit though that I haven’t bothered to study as such ever since – I keep up to date on medical advances, but I don’t ‘study’. I still did exceptionally well on the boards. Some people just test well.

        I don’t think anyone is saying you’re not smart if you did have study. But I don’t think people are misrepresenting their experiences, either.

      3. Anonanonanonanonanon*

        I think being smart and succeeding at school are two totally separate things. Intelligence is not a measure of what one knows. It is a measure of the ease with which one learns/understands new things. School, mostly, isn’t trying to judge your intelligence. It’s trying to judge how knowledgeable you are. Almost anyone can study their asses off and learn the material for a class, and therefore get a solid grade. That’s doing well in school. Some people can read the material once, listen to lecture (if applicable) and then turn in their assignments/take the test at the end and do well. The person who basically just showed up, listened, read what they were told to read, and got an A in an AP class (and who still remembers all of that stuff years later) is probably more intelligent than the person who showed up, listened, made themselves notes, read and re-read, participated in a study group, did flashcards, and just generally put a ton of effort into knowing the stuff and also got an A in the same AP class (but who would not have without having done all those extra things and may or may not recall any of it once the class is over).
        In the end, does it really matter? If your goal was to be knowledgeable about the subject and you got there, is that enough?
        Knowing who is “smarter” is useful in the context of “I need someone who can learn this really quickly”, but if you’re just dealing with two people who both already know a certain thing, who is smarter probably doesn’t matter. I do agree with others though who pointed out that as high IQ young children they’d get frustrated with peers for not understanding something right away that they found very obvious. I think that’s the primary context in which it’s useful for a person to know they’re “smarter”. To not lash out at others. I read a really fascinating article once on child prodigies and how their lives sort of tanked once they were no longer prodigies. “Genius” is usually measured in relation to one’s peer group, so if you’re reading and doing math at a 6th grade level in 1st grade, you’re a genius. But if by 10th grade you’re doing everything at a 10th grade level, you’re not. And it’s very very common for most advanced elementary aged kids to level off by high school. And then once you hit college a bunch more level off so that in relation to their peer group (nationally, not just dependent on the school), they’re no longer “advanced”. For some children who were especially advanced at an especially young age, wrapping their brains around that can be a very weird and difficult struggle. It’s not necessarily about opportunity. You could take the same 100 kids in any gifted elementary school, all testing at similarly advanced levels at age 6, and a huge chunk of them, by the time they’re 11 will be much closer to the average 11 year old. There isn’t a good way to tell which five-years-advanced 6 year old will continue to be 5 years advanced throughout school and who won’t.

        1. Lil Fidget*

          “In the end, does it really matter? If your goal was to be knowledgeable about the subject and you got there, is that enough?”

          I think the issue is, at some point everybody is going to run into something they struggle with. What are you going to do then. If you’ve always coasted and now you can’t coast, have you developed any skills or resilience?

          1. Anonanonanonanonanon*

            Sure, but that’s a separate issue. That’s what I’m saying: intelligence does not require skills or resilience. People with high intelligence will find it easier to develop new skills, one of which may or may not be resilience, but having high intelligence does not automatically mean one has any particular skill or piece of knowledge. That’s why it’s not necessarily better or more important to be the smartest person in the room. You can have IQ up the wazzoo and still not know stuff, including how to deal with something that is actually challenging when you’ve not been challenged in 10+ years.

        2. TL -*

          See I always think of intelligence as the ability to apply and contextualize information. I know tons of people who can show up late, glance through the material, and pass the test. They’re not any more intelligent than the people who study hard, they’re just better at memorizing and retaining information. Which is great, but what can you do with that information? That’s the question.

          1. Anonanonanonanonanon*

            Now you’re learning towards Bloom’s taxonomy, which gets into how well you know something, and different levels of that. “Memorize and retain” is very low level knowledge. “Apply and contextualize” is higher. But that deals with having (or not having) knowledge of a particular subject, not a person’s capacity for knowing. The way it’s always been presented to me is IQ is about capacity, not subject matter expertise.

          2. soon 2be former fed*

            There are many different kinds of intelligence, and the strict focus on intelligence as academic ability is unfortunate.

    7. Smithy*

      In addition to achievement coming differently – there’s also this idea of “winning through losing”. It sounds like the OP did not want this job, but rather the company’s rejection is the part that hurt.

      Lots of young people don’t necessarily have lots of options professionally post college – so this company’s intern to hire program may feel like they need to do lots of work to assess fit. So if someone was doing fine work, but looked miserable as an intern – that would matter.

      I didn’t get into law school and at the time it was embarrassing. Now the fact that I only applied to one law school and wasn’t remotely clear on what I wanted from law school might have been an indication I didn’t really want to go – but at the time it was just embarrassment of not getting in. Ultimately it was the best thing that could have happened. I was not in a good place to be in school for anything and later it became clear I did not want to be any kind of a lawyer.

      1. SweetTooth*

        Same for me! Except dental school. I was embarrassed to tell people I was wait listed, even though I didn’t really apply elsewhere and didn’t even want to be a dentist any more. This whole idea of expecting success because I was the one applying really messed with my perception of the world. I ended up taking a longer, slower path to finding out what I wanted to do, which involved a lot of work and disappointments but which ultimately is a good fit for me.

        It’s really hard OP. I definitely understand feeling rejected, but they want people working for them who want to be there. It’s not a formality or “diploma” of an internship – they want to hire people who will be good employees. They don’t want to hire someone who doesn’t even like the work. What if you had gotten an offer – would you have felt obligated to accept? I probably would have because of not wanting them to retroactively think I was bad at the job, which would only have prolonged the unhappiness. It’s ok that they recognized it wasn’t a good fit, just like you did.

        1. Safetykats*

          Yes. The biggest advantage of hiring out of an intern program is only partly that you’ve had a chance to teach the interns a little about your work and your company – and a whole lot about having had the chance to assess whether they will be a good fit for the organization. Someone who isn’t enthusiastic about the work is not a good fit. And since most companies only get so many hires per year – and you say they were actually downsizing at the time – it’s just not smart to waste a hire on someone who doesn’t seem like they will be a happy, productive member of the team. Normally we would rather leave a position empty than fill it with someone who doesn’t seem like they will work out.

          And if you’re not happy, it’s not going to work out – for you or for the company. So while it’s obviously nicer to be wanted, it’s good to realize that goes both ways.

    8. Wendy Darling*

      I used to be like that… then applying for like 200 jobs I didn’t get beat it out of me.

      I definitely don’t *recommend* that method, but it does work.

    9. Diamond*

      Man, I love this whole thread. This is all exactly me. I was easily the top student in my primary school and in the top 10 in high school, and I still did pretty good in uni (despite having an identity crisis over not being ‘the smart one’ any more). But I’ve never liked to do anything that I’m not immediately good at and requires the slightest bit of effort. I hate that I’m so mentally lazy but I’m not really sure how to change it (plus, that would require effort, ha). I did learn a language and an instrument for a while but haven’t kept them up since I clearly wasn’t going to become fluent/a virtuoso :( I feel like I could do so much in life if I just tried, but I can’t! It’s hard to discuss this in the offline world since it comes across as a humble-brag.

      Academics never came as easily to my husband, but he will work hard and consistently at something until he achieves it. I think it’s amazing, and he’s so much better equipped for life. His growth is off the charts whereas I’ve kind of flatlined since primary school!

    10. OP*

      Thank you for your advice. I think I was too hard on myself and glad I’m not the only one that feels this way.

  2. Dawn*

    “You weren’t stellar because you and the job weren’t well-matched, not because you don’t have the potential to be stellar at something that fits you.”

    OP, I cannot emphasize enough how ABSOLUTELY FINE that is- it’s a fantastic thing to learn what you are and aren’t well-matched to as early as possible in your career. I had to do a lot of bumbling around for years early on in my career because I didn’t seek out internships when I was in school and I didn’t do any self-reflection as to what jobs would be best suited for me and which would play to my strengths. Be thankful for this feedback, think about it and how it fits into the broader context of what you want from your life, recognize what you learned while in this internship, and adjust your plans accordingly!

  3. fposte*

    OP, it also strikes me as possible, from the way you describe this, that you’re not comfortable with ambiguity; you want to know for sure what exactly the calculus was for the internship. But tolerance of ambiguity is a really, really useful skill, because you rarely know for certain why anything with another human happened the way it did, and it’s usually not appropriate to push to pin things down further.

    So I would expand slightly upon Alison’s answer to say that you got good information, more than most rejected jobseekers get, and that I would encourage you to find that sufficient. There’s not information here that would allow you to failure-proof yourself because there’s no such thing as that information; there was, however, enough information to suggest that you were, as Alison states, not an amazing match for this position, and that’s good enough to be moving on with.

    1. Snark*

      This is incredibly wise and thoughtful, and I second your encouragement to OP to find their answer in the large quantity of very specific and informative feedback they got. OP….you were already>/i> given all the reasons exactly why you didn’t get this job. You list them for us yourself. You were told, in a slightly but not particularly ambiguous way, that you a) lacked specific skills they’d be looking for, b) lacked drive and ambition they were looking for and c) were better suited for other roles. That is it, my friend.

      1. Jen S. 2.0*

        Moreover, you, OP, gave the most valuable information possible in your assessment of the situation. You didn’t like the work, found it unrewarding, didn’t really see yourself working there, et cetera, et cetera. I promise you, your employers knew all of that as well.

        Thus, you have all of the information you need to piece together why you weren’t hired; you just need to apply the information to this situation. It’s like you’re saying, “Well, yeah, I didn’t like it much and wasn’t great at it, and I think everyone kind of knew it, but … why on earth should that have stood in my way?”

        We often comment here on how job searching and dating have parallels, and this is one of those moments. If you had gone on some dates with a basically nice person, but the relationship was lukewarm, and you knew it didn’t really have a future because you wanted different things, why would it be odd if they DIDN’T ask you to marry them? “Well, yeah, I was kinda meh on him because we didn’t have much in common or anything to talk about, and I knew he wanted to move to Finland next year and I don’t want to leave here, and he doesn’t want kids and I do, so we’d been limping along for a minute because I just hadn’t done the deed on the breakup … but how DARE he not propose to me?” Doesn’t make you a bad person or a terrible girlfriend (note that I do not know OP’s gender). Doesn’t mean you’ll suck at every relationship from here on out. It just means that wasn’t your person. Every person is not going to be your person, and rightly so. Every job is not your job, and that doesn’t mean anything is wrong with you.

        1. OP*

          Thank you for your advice. You’re right about everything. I didn’t really see it that way while I was interning there, because I was trying so hard to avoid failure and strive for perfection. Deep down, I believe I knew the job wasn’t for me. Nevertheless, I just felt odd when the other interns were excited about the work they were doing and I couldn’t understand why. I tried to fit into an area I wasn’t meant to be in, and I guess it worked out for the best. I’ve done several internships, and it has definitely felt like dating. In this case, I guess it wasn’t meant to be like you stated.

    2. ArtK*

      Very well said! I’d like to expand a bit, if I may.

      There is a very strong bias in our culture(s) towards “success,” with success being defined as “getting the result I expected.” We hear inane platitudes like “failure is not an option.” The fact is that failure (as in “I didn’t get the result I expected”) is as important than success, or even more so. As many have pointed out, OP, your internship gave you a lot of very useful information.

      It’s always a good idea to have in mind what your goals are, and if those goals are really appropriate. It sounds like you went into this internship with the goal of getting a job offer. That’s not the goal of an internship at all — it’s a nice result, but not why you should do internships. The goal of an internship should be to learn about the business, about business norms and about what’s right for you.

      Finally, some words of advice from a very wise person:

      “Success is peace of mind, which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to do your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.” — John Wooden

      Good luck in your future endeavors!

      1. OP*

        Thank you, ArtK! Your advice is very insightful, and it has made me realize I missed the importance of doing multiple internships — to find out what’s right for you.

    3. working abroad*

      “Tolerance of ambiguity is a really, really useful skill, because you rarely know for certain why anything with another human happened the way it did, and it’s usually not appropriate to push to pin things down further.”

      I really needed to hear this today, and am tucking it away for future use. Thanks so much!

    4. NW Mossy*

      This is so, so, so important to realize, as is the corollary that outcomes often have multiple causes and it may not be possible or even desirable to identify and resolve all of them.

      1. Lil Fidget*

        This is the number one thing I see our entry level employees struggle with. They really think I have the answers and that I’m keeping them a secret. The truth is that the processes we need don’t exist and have to be created every time, and you don’t really know if you did it “right” except years later, if it ultimately worked.

  4. Anon Anon*

    I think many times interns seem to think the internship failed if it didn’t result in a full-time job offer. The reality is an internship is to help determine if you like the work and if that type of organization would be a good fit. It’s better to find that out during an internship than spend the first 5-10 years of your working life bouncing between jobs because nothing is a good fit.

    1. hayling*

      So true! I learned a lot in my internships — including the fact that they were not a good fit for me!

      1. Anon Anon*

        I bounced around several jobs for the first 5-7 years of my career. I didn’t know what was a good fit, and what I wanted to do. While it wasn’t the end of the world, and I landed on my feet, I do look back on that time and see a lot of wasted time. I would have much rather learned those lessons during various internships when there is less at stake.

    2. Lil Fidget*

      Although TBH I do wonder, if *literally every* other intern got an offer other than OP, if they’re slightly downplaying the negative feedback they received. Unless the interns were all pulled from a selective pool.

      1. Anon Anon*

        That could be a possibility. And, I think it’s easy to downplay negative feedback (and judging by the letter there was a quite a lot of it), when you don’t care about the job. The feedback provided by the employer was good and could be really useful, so I hope that the LW has taken it to heart, even if that particular position or industry isn’t a good fit.

        1. Snark*

          Yeah, it sounds like it was kindly and thoughtfully delivered, but the feedback OP received was not neutral – it was negative, and very explicitly steered them towards other roles.

        2. Lil Fidget*

          It’s also possible OP is being a little black and white (I have this issue myself) and not literally *every* other intern got an offer (“Well, not Dimmock, but he’s an idiot. Okay and not Sheila but she can barely do her coat up. And obviously nobody’s going to hire ole Pinky. But all the other *good* people got offers and I should have been in that group!”).

          When people cross-examine me it usually turns out that my “every / always / never” statements are more about my own lens than reality.

          1. fposte*

            She just says “a lot of the other interns I talked to,” so it sounds like not everybody did. However, I also suspect that self-selection operates with a lot of people in finance internships, so that a lot of the other interns are there because they know they *do* like this kind of work.

            1. fposte*

              Oh, I missed a line later on. But it’s interesting that that phraseology suggests the math may be slightly more complicated than it’s feeling like to the OP.

        1. Lil Fidget*

          True, could be either or both. I was let go as an intern without much of a heads up – they were clearly unhappy with me (for good reasons!) but didn’t let me know.

        2. FTW*

          If it was worded as it was in the letter, that is pretty explicit to me.

          Companies like financial services tend to have cultures of people that go the extra mile. This extends to support staff as well. At my company the support staff is equally likely to work after hours and to be over-achievers as a client serving professional are.

          I think the feedback was clear, but it was not perceived as significant as it was.

      2. Anony*

        I don’t think that they are downplaying the negative feedback so much as not understanding the implications of the feedback. They did not want the job. The company knew that they didn’t want the job. So the fact that they were not offered the job makes perfect sense. However, they don’t seem to realize that the company knowing that they don’t want the job would result in not being offered the job.

        1. Jen S. 2.0*

          This. Companies do not hand out job offers to unwilling candidates just to spare their feelings.

    3. ThatGirl*

      Very true. And in retrospect, I wish I had gotten a bit more out of my various internships — 16-18 years later I can see where I failed. But I also learned what I wasn’t interested in, or good at, and that was valuable.

    4. Anxa*

      I think for a lot of people who have had some career success, an internship seems like a really low stakes way to fail at something of having a learning experience. But as someone who really hasn’t had that kind of success, it can feel like everything around graduation and the immediate period after feels so important because it’s very hard to be entry-level with limited experience as the months and years go by.

      I wish I would have spent the last 5-10 years bouncing around full-time jobs I wasn’t particularly good at instead of trying to find ‘a good fit.’ Fortunately I should be an outlier, but I can certainly understand wanting to have the option.

      1. Anxa*

        (my post- post-bac program internship was especially frustrating because I had people coming up to me asking if I’d heard of any openings or made any progress… it was for a county government position and it was like…well, if YOU aren’t going to hire me, who do you think will? and I mean there were other counties, but there was only so far i could commute until I actually had the position and maybe 2 jobs opened up within an hour’s drive in the 18 months I was checking postings weekly)

        They seemed so disappointed for me, but at times I felt like they were disappointed IN me sometimes. It was oddly humiliating.

        1. Lil Fidget*

          This is a good point, it’s easy for us, as more-or-less successful people in mid-career, to feel comfortable saying that failing at an internship is actually positive. It’s a good reminder that the stakes feel a lot higher when you’re actually IN that situation and the train is leaving the station with all your friends on board, and you don’t have much else to recommend you.

  5. LKW*

    I’m sure you were professional throughout your internship but I am also sure those who made recommendations to hire/not hire saw your ambivalence and lack of enthusiasm. Assume that experienced people can detect general satisfaction or dissatisfaction. Most also have a general sense of whether someone is a good fit with the company. It sounds like you weren’t, by your own admission. Job offers aren’t given out to make you feel good about your self or feel worthwhile. Offers are made because there is work to be done and they’ve found someone with the right combination of skills to do the work.

    1. Artemesia*

      This. Would you hire you? Offers get made to interns who are viewed as excellent and committed. Time servers who don’t want to go above and beyond are not viewed as ‘excellent’ even if they do what they are asked to do and minimally accomplish what the internship was designed to accomplish. This was a bad fit and it showed — to you and to them. Of course they wouldn’t want to make the commitment of a full time job.

    2. Jen S. 2.0*

      Much like the people who write in here saying, “I don’t understand why they didn’t call me for a second interview. I mean, I was good; I had the basic qualifications and was fine in the first round, and I guess I would have taken the job if offered. What did I do wrong?” Alison is constantly noting that most companies are not looking for good and basic and fine and sure-I’ll-settle-for-this. They want great and ideal, plus a little extra, in candidates who would be thrilled to be there. OP could see her colleagues who were much more ideally suited for the roles, but is confused about why they did not choose the okay-but-not-great one.

  6. EA*

    I think it would be helpful to reframe things a little in your mind.

    When you are in school, it is important to succeed, generally in all your classes. You know, make As. In work, it is not important to succeed in every type of job. It is important to determine which type of jobs you will succeed at, and direct your career towards those. You don’t need to feel bad you can’t be a start at all possible jobs. You just need to find what you can be a star at. When people struggle at their job, I often think that if they could be successful at another job more well suited to them, instead of just like they suck.

    When you start your new job, I would try and take some of the feedback into consideration. Most managers are going to want you to show initiative ask for more work. I would try and do this, even if you don’t want to. I also think you need to show a small amount of interest in the work, even if you are faking it. I don’t believe this is exactly right, but you should say you are enjoying the work even if it is a lie.

    1. Minerva McGonagall*

      Yes! The way I talk about it, is that everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes you need to work on improving a weakness, but, in most cases, it is actually OK to say: I’m better at X than Y. In fact, it’s unlikely I’ll ever be more than average at Y. So I’m going to look for jobs that have lots of X and little or no Y.

    2. X Ray Specter*

      “When you are in school, it is important to succeed, generally in all your classes.”

      This so much. The first time I ran into trouble at school was my junior year math class. I got a C. I was an absolute wreck and bawled in class when that report card got handed out. I wish my parents would have just been able to look at that grade and say, “Hey, well, you did average at it. Maybe math isn’t your thing.” (It very much is not). But instead, it was viewed as a failure. Rather than being happy that I was good at English and good at Spanish or whatever, they wanted me to be good AT SCHOOL, which meant being good at everything. It’s carried over in my adult years too. If I attempt something and I’m terrible at it, I’m absolutely devastated and consider myself worthless, even though I am good at many other things.

      1. Lil Fidget*

        FWIW I’m trying to change this about myself now (any failure seems absolutely paralyzing) by deliberately forcing myself to try things I’m not going to be good at, and trying to be okay with that. For me, that’s dancing – I am a disaster – and playing an instrument, something I never learned. I have to very consciously do it and think, “I’m not going to be good at this, but that’s okay, I’m learning a new skill, you don’t have to be the best in the class at this, failure is fine, you’re not trying to go pro here you’re just trying to learn something.”

        It’s humbling, and amazing that I still find myself scanning for signs of aptitude and talent even when I deliberately chose activities I have no aptitude and talent for :(

        1. X Ray Specter*

          I tried this with running. I did the Couch to 5K program and eventually did run a 5K, but I had to stop afterwards. I had too much time alone in my own head to think about how terrible I was at running. It really affected my mental health. I stuck it out and finished, but I wish I hadn’t. In the end, I can’t look back at what I did and feel good that I went out on a limb and tried something, I just think about how much MORE misery it piled on me.

          1. Erin*

            I had the opposite effect with running. In high school I was very overweight and I couldn’t run a quarter mile. Now at 31 I’m in great shape. I can run a 10k twice a week. It makes me feel good about how far I’ve come. And that the only person I have to compete with is myself.

      2. I flunked English and I’m ok with that*

        OMG yes! I got called into the counselor’s office at school in 10th grade, out of class mind you. Where my counselor, who I had never seen before, wanted to discuss why my grade in AP chemistry had fallen from an A in the first grading period to a B in the second. She asked me this and I replied that if she had dug a tiny bit deeper she would see that my grade had actually changed from a 93.5 (minimum for an A) to a 93.4 (maximum for a B), further she had just pulled me out of this class she was so concerned about where we were preparing for the AP exams so I had now lost class time (we happened to be doing an experiment that day) which I would have to make up, and that I expected she probably had students assigned to her who were actually failing or in danger of failing who could have benefited from being called to her office far more. Then I got up and walked out. The fact that my parent’s attitude about grades was always did you try your best and could we have supported you better probably made a heavy contribution to this. I made straight A’s in high school except for the B’s in English, I hated english class, I struggled, I worked really hard but my parents were always ok with that because it wasn’t my thing, give me math science or history and I was totally engrossed. My mother even enrolled in my single required English class in college (small summer school class) so she could help me but the teacher would know that what I turned in was actually my work not hers.

        1. Anxa*

          Math was never my best subject. I got a B in math in middle school and it horrified me, but I kept on keeping on and got high Bs and As throughout high school. It was still usually my lowest A scores. I was on the fast-track but not in honors. So I was done with all the reqs by junior year.

          Senior year I signed up for AP calc because there was only one regular calc class and there was a schedule conflict. I have a high B (low 90s) and my guidance counselor okayed it.

          Over the summer, another counselor pulled me out. My math teacher wouldn’t recommend me for an override. I went from Fall of Junior year to Spring of Freshman year with no math, as a science major.

          I had to take extra study halls instead. What was the worst that would have happened? I would have lowered their precious AP scores averages? Gotten a C in math? Gotten an education? I already had applied to college, already had the graduation requirements, and my college acceptances and standardized testing scored only bolstered the school’s averages. I feel robbed, still, all these years later.

      3. OP*

        I can relate to this as well. I’m actually a pretty good student with As and Bs in most of my courses in college. But there was always one course each year that just didn’t come naturally to me. I constantly beat myself up about it and had to work twice as hard to get a passing grade compared to other naturally gifted students in that particular class. I’m a perfectionist and I believe I know what I need to work on, but I so focused on trying to be perfect that I miss the entire big picture.

        1. Jen S. 2.0*

          I also really want to caution you about assuming others are naturally gifted when it seems like you are having to work harder. They very often are working just as hard; either you don’t see it, and/or they just downplay it because THEIR perfectionist tendencies demand that everything look like a cinch in public, no matter how wildly they wrestled with it at home.

          I had a roommate in college who skipped classes all the time, but was an excellent student. Anyone in her classes would have thought it was witchcraft the way she only showed up for exams and got As. But I saw that she got up every morning at 5 am and buried herself in her books, and went to office hours so much that she practically got one-on-one lectures from her professors. She read every word, studied hard, and got all of the needed information … just not in class.

          I also know a young lady who recently graduated from college after 7 years of being a full-time student, several of them on academic probation. She and her friends would all go out all the time and party and drink and smoke (…et cetera) and she saw them all stumble home and pass out and sleep in the middle of the day, and she figured everyone was doing about as well as she was. She was **shocked** when her friends were all graduating on time with honors and she wasn’t even scraping by. CLEARLY they were getting their schoolwork in, in a way she was not. (And indeed — they would take naps, get up and study in the morning, drag themselves to class even if they were tired or hung over, nap in the afternoon, go somewhere quiet to power through their work before going out to party, and so forth. She saw the partying, but never realized how efficient they were about getting their work in before the party. She just thought it was magic, or that they must not be doing well.)

          All of that said … all of us have things that don’t come naturally to us. No one is perfect at everything. I write well, but I’m a grown woman who sometimes counts on her fingers. I don’t beat myself up about it. Instead, I write for a living, and hire an accountant to do my taxes! Problem solved!!!

  7. Don't Blame Me*

    This sounds like a successful internship to me! You figured out you didn’t really like the work you were doing and weren’t a great fit for the company/industry. They realized the same thing and didn’t extend an offer to you. Win/win!

    What would you have done if you had gotten an offer? Would you have felt comfortable turning it down, or would you have felt like you needed to accept and then been miserable until you found something else?

    1. LQ*

      Strongly agree. Learning that it wasn’t a good fit sounds like success on both ends. Learning that something that might feel like a failure can be a success because you learned something, you grew, you didn’t fall into a job you hated, whatever it is…that is a huge and tremendously important lesson. (I’m struggling with it right now. I’m failing SO HARD, but that is exactly what is needed, to be identifying all these problems and if it can’t be done with me then it can’t be done by us so we need to find another way to do it. It looks and feels like failure which is I think what you are seeing. But it is actually a success. Finding ways to frame things like that is really helpful. Even just doing menial things.)

    2. Djuna*

      Great questions, and here’s another quandary: OP may want menial work that can be done wearing headphones (presumably without engaging their brain too much), but they also don’t want work that’s boring and unrewarding.
      It may be purely my own take that rote work like that is boring and unrewarding, almost by definition, but I’d suggest OP spend some time parsing out how the two things differ for them. If nothing else it will help prevent them not knowing what they really *don’t* want until they’re stuck with it.

      1. Product person*

        “It may be purely my own take that rote work like that is boring and unrewarding, almost by definition, but I’d suggest OP spend some time parsing out how the two things differ for them. If nothing else it will help prevent them not knowing what they really *don’t* want until they’re stuck with it.”

        I was thinking the exact same thing.

  8. AdAgencyChick*

    They probably picked up on the fact that you weren’t enthused by the work.

    Also, based on what I hear from my friends in the finance industry, they expect you to be ready and willing to work beaucoup hours early in your career. As a former hedge-fund analyst put it to me once, “early in your career you don’t know anything, and literally your only value to me is your willingness to work around the clock.” That’s pretty blunt, but she was expressing what she sees as a common attitude in the industry, and I believe her. So they probably also picked up on OP’s wish for a more 9-5 existence and concluded it wouldn’t be a fit.

    1. MilkMoon (UK)*

      I had a short stint in a financial company – four weeks in the manager/director pulled me aside and said “You seem like a 9-5 kind of girl(! I was thirty…) and this isn’t a 9-5 kind of job”. I was disgusted tbh, but I’d decided categorically that it wasn’t the place for me after the first day anyway and left after five months so ..!

      1. Ragazzoverde*

        That’s what I’ve always hated about financial services, the attitude that it’s not “9-5” kind of work when it perfectly easily could be if everyone just calmed down, the pressure comes from the competition and the expectations that clients have built up as a result of the race to the bottom among service providers, but it’s often all pretty unessecary at the end of the day

        1. Lil Fidget*

          Hehe I remember thinking the exact same thing about working in a restaurant. “There’s no actual emergency here! If we all just calmed down, we could probably deliver the food just as quickly and without all the yelling!”

          1. MilkMoon (UK)*

            I’ve thought this in plenty of places too – I can’t stand environments where everyone thinks being ‘stressed’ and running around like a headless chicken demonstrates hard work or passion or something?!

        2. MilkMoon (UK)*

          Yes, the thing for me as well is that I have some socialist leanings and already have a problem with the concept of ‘work’ as it has become etc, so he couldn’t have been saying this crap to a worse person! I only took the job because the entry-level salary was the best offer on the table at the time.

  9. [insert witty user name here]*

    OP – it sounds like you’re saying one thing but feeling another. You say you want a headphones-on job doing menial tasks, but it feels like you want acknowledgement that you’re great at what you do. It sounds like your manager at the internship acknowledged that you’re *good* at what you *do*, but for that role, at that company, in order for someone to be *GREAT*, they want someone more ambitious and proactive (which isn’t what you say you want to do). So don’t take it as a slight – you checked their boxes for acceptable work – which it sounds like is OK by you. So let it be OK! Don’t let it bother you! But to get some peace for yourself, you need to decide if just being OK is actually what you want or if you want to be that overachiever. Both are needed in the workforce, but make peace with which one you actually want to be.

    1. a Gen X manager*

      Totally agree, witty.
      The two statements “I would be happy working a 9-5 job with headphones on and performing menial tasks. I found working in a financial company to be unrewarding and boring. ” totally conflict with each other and suggests that OP doesn’t have as much clarity about what they prefer as they think they do today – so there is an opportunity for OP to explore what this means and to reflect on and tease out the they’re own truth and any assumptions they are making in each of those statements to better fine tune what OP wants in the next job.

      1. Clever Name*

        This jumped out at me too. I think the definition of menial tasks pretty much equates to “unrewarding and boring”. I’m thinking that you think you like menial tasks but really don’t, or the tasks that you like you think are menial but in actuality aren’t. It might be good for you to pay attention to that and get some clarity on the types of tasks you like as you progress in your career. Since your internship manager said you’d be a good auditor, I’m going to guess you like things that some folks find tedious (like data analysis) that you are labeling as menial. Menial tasks are often tedious, but not all tedious tasks can be considered menial. :)

        1. Lil Fidget*

          When I say things like that, I find it means I’m afraid to care a lot about something or I’m afraid to try. It’s definitely not a love of spreadsheets.

    2. OP*

      I understand where you’re coming from. What I wrote about wanting a 9-5 job doing menial tasks is partially correct. However, I found that I had no interest in the finance/banking industry after I did the internship. The work wasn’t as inspiring to me because it didn’t feel like I was really helping anyone or using my skills for something I was passionate about. I found that I am interested in aerospace or scientific jobs, because I have always enjoyed utilizing science or investigating a variety of topics in some way. I think that as long as I was working in that industry — low-paying or high-paying job — I would be a lot happier. I would be happy, because I feel that that type of work would be making a small difference. If it was possible to find a 9-5 job that made you feel like you were making a difference but could also have a life outside of it, I think it would be ideal.

  10. Parse*

    Take this as a great learning opportunity (which is what internships are!). You said yourself that you’re not really the ambitious type, but the feedback you received said that they would have wanted to see you go above and beyond.

    OP, you do great work and people want to see more of it. This is a good thing! It takes practice, but try to work on looking for more opportunities. I’m the same way where I’m happy being 9-5. But this doesn’t mean that I’m not ambitious. I want to do the best work possible between those hours.

  11. Snark*

    Alison is such a nice person. Truly, she approached this in a gentle and lovely way that in no way resembled a clue-by-four to the back of the head.

    *hefts clue-by-four, spits on ground, tees up*

    Allow me to quote you, my dude/ette:

    “I could improve in my web development skills…. I met expectations, but needed to learn to exceed them and ask for more work…. I’m not really the ambitious type of person….I would be happy working a 9-5 job with headphones on and performing menial tasks…I found working in a financial company to be unrewarding and boring….I seemed to not be as passionate about the work I was doing during the first half of the internship, but that I improved a lot on that as well. She said I would be a great auditor since I’m detail-oriented…I didn’t really want the job”

    All these are things you yourself included in your letter to Alison. I’m not putting anything in your mouth. You were not a good fit for the job, you lacked specific skills necessary to perform at a high level in this job, you underperformed at the beginning, you have minimal ambition or passion to perform at a high level in a position like this, and – this is important – you didn’t want the job to begin with.

    So….why on Earth would they make you a job offer, my friend?

    A job offer at the end of a middlin’ internship isn’t a reward or a vote of confidence or “hey, you improved a lot and worked hard.” It isn’t a consolation prize. You don’t make a job offer to someone you don’t expect to take it just to give them a little confidence boost. You extend a job offer to someone who’d be good at the job, wants the job, and would kick ass at the job. That ain’t you. You didn’t get the job because, brutally frankly, you weren’t a standout performer and they couldn’t see you performing highly in the position. Were you a crappy intern? No. But “well, they weren’t crap!” is not a reasonable justification for hiring someone. And “well, I wasn’t crappy” not a good reason to expect an offer.

    1. Snark*

      And here’s an ice pack for the clue-by-four bruise: the fact that you were not a good fit for this job and consequently had no reason to expect an offer doesn’t mean that you’re not a great fit for another job. There’s jobs that need a proactive, independent, energetic go-getter, and there’s jobs that need a reliable, productive plugger who slugs away day in and out without complaint. Somewhere out there is a manager going, “I just need someone who can stick in some earbuds and reliably crank out Thing all day, I don’t need some wannabe rock star, I just need a reliable plugger.” And that person would love to make you an offer. Go find that job, rather than pining for the ego validation of an offer for a job you didn’t want from a manager who didn’t want you.

      1. Dovahkiin*

        So much this: “I just need someone who can stick in some earbuds and reliably crank out Thing all day, I don’t need some wannabe rock star, I just need a reliable plugger.”
        I hire developers and yeah, it’s awesome to have some rockstar visionary shooting star types on the team, but I also need people who are happy to work on the band crew and do what they can to support the rockstar. Both types are valuable to a team.

      2. Snark*

        But! Your stated ambition? To put the earbuds in and work alone without interruption? That is a type of job that is earned. That is something your employers let you do because you have shown yourself capable of that. I would not let someone who had not impressed me with their ambition, not necessarily in the form of “I want to be CEO” but in the form of curiosity, improvement of performance and process, excellence, and discipline, anywhere NEAR such a job. So if you’re looking to do such a thing, you still need to be engaged, curious, and passionate enough to demonstrate you’re a good fit for that kind of role.

    2. Lil Fidget*

      I do think this is probably a more … academic perspective, too. If you worked hard in class and you improved over the year, you would reasonably expect to get a passing grade. And your teachers are there to support and encourage you in your improvement and reward you accordingly. But … the work world doesn’t have the same perspective. They want to use you for what you’re good for – for them (and they compensate you for this, of course – in money, not emotional support). I remember this being a rocky transition for me around the time I graduated undergrad.

      1. Mary*

        >>you would reasonably expect to get a passing grade

        Oh, that’s a really good way to put it! OP, a job offer is not a passing grade!

    3. Snark*

      And, further….hey did not come right out and say “these are the reasons we are not extending an offer to you,” but they did give you a large quantity of specific feedback that you were not a good fit for the role, and that should really have been enough to shape your expectations here. Requesting more feedback either comes off as a demand for reassurance and validation, which is not a reasonable expectation of an employer, or as obtuse to a perplexing, if not vexing, degree. Do not request more of them than they’ve already given you; it was enough. And no is, as always, a complete answer.

      1. Robin Sparkles*

        Yes agreeing completely- trying to put my finger on what was wrong with her reaching out for more feedback and getting that answer about liability. It’s because she received feedback -and frankly- that was far more than many other interns get oftentimes. I know it was hard to hear some of that OP but it was honest and frankly- not at all unkind. In fact, the feedback helps push you towards a better fit faster. Don’t feel burned by this or take it as a rejection. This is moving you one step closer towards succeeding in a role that suits you.

  12. Boredatwork*

    OP – If your “mentor” didn’t like you, it’s very likely that you did not receive an offer based solely on this person’s opinion. I have seen time and time again where there’s a group of interns and one person starts being hyper critical about one of them. Unless someone had an equally strong and vocal positive opinion, its easier to just say fine, we pass on Fergus. This is 100% horrible but when you’re hiring a dozen+ kids and have work to do outside of hiring it’s just easier to let the jerk win.

    1. Triumphant Fox*

      I would also say that your request to switch mentors may have been a red flag. Even if your demeanor during the first month (and possibly throughout the internship) didn’t signal that you were unhappy with the job – because how could it not when you were so miserable and weren’t performing as well as you would have liked – your request to switch mentors made it clear that you were unhappy. This isn’t to say that you should stick with a manager/mentor who creates an unsafe space for you, but we don’t usually get to choose our managers and requesting a different one may have been an early sign that this wasn’t going to work.

      1. Snark*

        And, if nothing else, it was an interpersonal conflict that other mentors didn’t have with their mentees.

        1. Triumphant Fox*

          It’s also unclear if that mentor would play a significant role in the position post-hiring. If so, why create drama? I definitely wouldn’t hire someone a valued member of my staff actively had a problem with – why invite that into the workplace?

          1. Boredatwork*

            Completely agree – the only criteria we ever judged interns on was basically if they could function within an office structure. Having this much of a problem with someone who was assigned to help you is a red flag.

            OP – I’m not saying you are not a delightful and wonderful person/employee. Sometimes personalities clash or you get THE JERK as a mentor. You learned a really valuable lesson in office politics.

    2. C.*

      If OP was enthusiastic about the job and really wanted it, I might believe this, but I don’t think it took any outside intervention from the former mentor to derail the offer.

  13. Shiara*

    Hey LW. I just want to second (or nth by the time this comment goes through) Allison’s point that it’s totally okay not to get an offer after interning. It can feel pretty weird, especially since you know that a lot of other interns did get offers, because we like to have people pick us, even when we don’t want to pick them. But you have an offer with another company, and can absolutely say “oh, I learned this wasn’t the right fit for me, so I went in a different direction with company X” when people ask. Even if you say “It wasn’t the best fit, and we both knew that” you don’t have to tell them that everyone else got an offer. (And likely not everyone else did. Also lack of space could very easily have been legitimate, even if they did make other people offers. They may have decided to make the top X interns offers, and then if a few of those declined the offer, they also might have made offers to some of the runner ups offers too, just later)

    I do think you might want to sit and think a bit about whether “I would be happy working a 9-5 job with headphones on and performing menial tasks.” is really true. Especially since your immediate next sentence is “I found working in a financial company to be unrewarding and boring.” You may want to think about what specifically it was about working for a financial company that was unrewarding and boring for you? Would you have been happy doing the same work for a company with different goals? Would a financial company with different kinds of projects and hierarchy been more interesting for you? You won’t necessarily know the answers now, and that’s totally okay! But it’s something to think about and learn more about yourself as you move forward in your career.

    Another thing you may want to think about is that, while it’s okay to be someone who just wants their paycheck and to work 9-5, there are people who are going to pass over you for those who demonstrate more passion for the work. More passion doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be ambitious and want to be CEO. In my role, it mostly means being proactive about trying to research best practices, and double checking we’re using the right tools and technologies for the projects we have, not just doing what we’re most comfortable with because that’s what we know and how we did it last time.

    1. Lil Fidget*

      “we like to have people pick us, even when we don’t want to pick them”

      … aaand that sums up my life of internet dating.

      1. RVA Cat*

        This. I’m guessing the letter writer has my own history of always being on the honor roll but picked last for dodgeball.

        1. Kate 2*

          Wow, I’m getting flashbacks to high school here . . . and middle school . . . and elementary school. Somehow your one sentence sums up all my life experiences until college.

          1. Snark*

            Me three, except I leveled up by wanting to be picked by people who wanted me to pick them but not picking them because I didn’t think they wanted me to pick them, but they gave me that impression because they wanted me to pick them and were pissed that I was so obtuse as to not pick up on the clue-by-four that they wanted me to pick them. And now here I am, damn near 20 years later, still pissed at myself that I didn’t just ask Chrissy on a date, dammit

            I am an awkward person.

            1. RVA Cat*

              If only there’d been a Captain Awkward blog back in the 90s my teen and college years would have been soooo much easier!

    2. OP*

      I agree with what you said, and it gave a much better perspective to consider for the future. Thanks Shiara.

  14. Higher Ed Database Dork*

    Re: “I’m not really the ambitious type of person who goes after roles like being the CEO of a company.”

    I would also encourage you to reframe your thinking about what ambition and exceeding expectations are. I don’t want to be a CEO. I don’t even want to be a manager. The thought of managing others stresses me out. But I do want to be a high-level individual contributor. I have a career path in mind that does not involve any kind of management (sometimes it can in certain companies, but often it doesn’t need to), and I need to have some ambition and make sure I am exceeding my manager’s expectations in order to get there. Ambition can manifest in many different ways. I’m also the type who prefers to work by myself and I don’t mind doing things other consider menial, but as I get older, I want to have more opportunities to learn – and more income – so I’ve picked a path that works for me, and that I’m excited about.

    Like Alison and others have said, take this experience as an opportunity to examine what you really want to do, short and long term, and think about what would best fit you. It’s not a failure to not get a job that wouldn’t be a good fit.

    1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      I was like you, LW. I did not even know what I wanted to do when I finished college. I had an awful internship, didn’t want to do that. Saw what my friends/classmates were doing. No interest in that. Then I found MY JOB. (Caveat. It took a couple years and a couple “not me at all” jobs to find it.*) I like doing what I do at my job. I like doing it really well. I like challenging myself to do better…at my job.
      It is not a stepping stone. It is the top of my hill. And it is a bitchin hilltop.

      *It didn’t actually exist until a couple years after I graduated. True story. Hang in there.

      1. Higher Ed Database Dork*

        Mine didn’t appear until about 7-8 years after I graduated and tried to enter a couple of different industries. It can definitely take a while, and sometimes I felt like all my prior experience was just wasted years….but not the case! Now that I’ve found my place, all my experience is a benefit in various ways.

    2. Robin Sparkles*

      Yes want to add to this. You do not have to be a CEO or VP to be considered a leader -if that is what you want. I am what is referred to as an individual contributor in a leadership role. That means no direct reports but viewed as the same level as director/management. I am recognized for my expertise in a certain area. And frankly, you may not want that. Some people love being the front-line staff and that’s great because no industry can function without them! You will figure out overtime what you love doing and the fastest way to get closer to your goal is to frequently “fail” at things. I use fail but it’s not has negative as that- it’s more about not excelling at somethings and excelling/loving others.

    3. Snark*

      And, not to beat up on OP more than warranted, but did they really give the employer the impression that they had even the ambition to be a high-level individual contributor? I don’t think they did. Not wanting to reach the C-suite isn’t a killer, but not particularly wanting to kick ass at your current role sure is.

    4. Djuna*

      This is really important. I describe myself as unambitious sometimes, because people around me are often very trajectory and title-focused whereas I’m extremely happy where I am.

      But, where I am is a pretty rare position where I’m valued enough as an individual contributor to get offered or brought in on projects that align perfectly with my interests. To get here, I had to show I cared about these things, was willing to learn, and prove I could be trusted with larger projects and all the interpersonal and cross-departmental stuff that comes with them. In other words, I had to work both hard and smart – which does take drive.

  15. Carrie*

    Sometimes a door closing can be a blessing. It sounds like it was in this case. You didn’t have to wrestle with a decision about whether to take a job there. Move forward confidently and don’t worry about the past!

  16. Murphy*

    OP, it also sounds like you got really good feedback from your internship manager. (I mean good as in thorough and useful, though a good deal of it was also positive.) I think the lessons there might help answer your question.

    1. DCompliance*

      I agree. Your manager gave you the feedback you need. I don’t think you need the additional feedback from the recruiter. You should assume the feedback from your manager is why you did not get the job.

  17. Tara*

    >>For example, if you go the “9-5 job with headphones on and performing menial tasks” route that you mentioned in your letter, that’s going to limit what you can earn and what kind of opportunities you have access to later on

    Just a thought on this bit. If he’s in the IT/computer programming field, this might not be precisely true. I mean, obviously you will still have to build relationships with your coworkers and be a pleasant person in order to get good positions but there isn’t anything in the letter that leads me to believe he’s adverse to talking to people in a way that will stray into rudeness territory (he went to lunch with coworkers when invited and had a good time). I would definitely suggest to OP that he continue to work on his development skills if he wants a job where he can do that kind of thing and still be really successful. I have a lot of software development friends and most are make 6 figures or near that much (and I live in Canada, where developers aren’t making as much as in the US). If OP is living in/willing to move to a hub city for developers (San Fransisco, Seattle, etc.) he’s golden.

    1. Shiara*

      IT/Computer programming is a huge field that varies wildly in salaries and kinds of work expected. Software development is not really a “9-5 job with headphones on and performing menial tasks” ticket to a 6 figure salary. (and it’s worth noting that when you live in a hub city for developers, that 6 figure salary goes less far than a 5 figure salary somewhere cheaper).

      Someone who meets expectations but does not exceed them and who thinks asking for more work = being ambitious and wanting to be CEO someday is unlikely to land the kind of computer programming job that comes with a 6 figure salary, and they are also unlikely to enjoy it if they somehow did.

      1. Lil Fidget*

        I’ve also heard that the desk-based coding type jobs that used to be more profitable are now at the highest risk of being exported overseas where companies can pay less.

        1. NW Mossy*

          This. A lot of work that used to be done by humans, especially in financial services, is increasingly being automated or moved to parts of the world where labor is cheaper. I’m in the industry, and when I hear the word “menial,” I mentally translate that to “that task/job can be done by automation and probably will be just as soon as someone prioritizes paying a developer to write the code to do it.”

        2. GovSysadmin*

          It depends. I think a lot of the types of jobs that the OP seems to want (the 9-to-5 with headphones in working on menial tasks) are the sort of coding jobs that could be exported overseas – for instance, if there’s a pretty well defined function or requirement that just needs someone to write out the code without thinking about it too much. What is much harder to export, however, are the team leads, the designers, the subject matter experts, and the people who make those decisions about what code needs to be written, determining how to make the code secure and efficient, and coming up with the best solution to a given problem. If you can become one of those people, you will have a LOT more job security.

          It’s been brought up before, but there are a lot of roles between “churn out code” entry-level programmer and wanting to be a manager / CEO. I’m an individual contributor with no direct reports, but I’ve become one of the most senior people in my department by becoming a subject matter expert on a number of technologies, understanding how they all work, and coming up with solutions for problems that balance things like meeting all the requirements, security, and ease of use.

          You’re early in your career, OP, so maybe now is the time for a more defined job, but I do encourage you to step back and think about where you want to go long term.

    2. Lil Fidget*

      True, s/he might be able to explore jobs that have this mindset and pay well. But in my experience, most higher level jobs in the US aren’t compatible with a strict 9-5 mindset. YMMV.

    3. Kendra Graham*

      I worked at a software company, and I think you could do the “9-5 job with headphones on” part and earn money just fine if you upped your programming skills. On the outside, my job didn’t look different from that of the senior developers, but they were doing trickier assignments than I was.

  18. Mary*

    >> She also said that I met expectations, but needed to learn to exceed them and ask for more work. I believe this was because I’m not really the ambitious type of person who goes after roles like being the CEO of a company

    No, OP, it was probably because you found the work “unrewarding and boring”!

    Her comment doesn’t mean that she wanted you to be some kind of super-positive “where do I want to be in five years’ time? On the other side of this desk! *cheesy grin*” type person. It’s probably exactly the thing that you’ve identified here. If you’d been interested in the work, it would have shown: you’d have asked more questions; followed things up; taken more in in meetings and made the links between that and your own work; chatted to people to find out what they do – all sorts of things. And I don’t mean, “here is a list of things you should do in the future to impress a boss”: I mean, “if it’s important to you to impress your bosses, try and find the work where that kind of thing comes naturally because, you know, you’re enthusiastic about it.”

    But equally, it’s OK if it’s not important to you. If you want a nine-to-five that uses little emotional energy and pays the bills, but your passions are the stuff you do from five-to-nine, that’s a great thing to know about yourself. If you want a job which is nine-to-five and leaves you plenty of time and energy outside work but also engages you and challenges you when you are at work, that’s a good thing to know too. I think the reason this is bothering you is because you’re still ambivalent about what you want out of work and your career. Maybe spend some time thinking about your priorities and how they stack up against each other, so you can make informed decisions?

    1. Snark*

      Yep. And having worked with several interns and entry-level hires who put in sufficient effort to be productive but who found the work boring and unrewarding: believe me, OP, they could tell. They knew damn well you were bored out of your tree and merely giving it the old college try. The college try was appreciated, but they weren’t going to extend an offer to a bored, unfulfilled intern when it sounds like they had their pick of those who were actually engaged.

  19. Erin*

    Yep, they probably picked up on the lack of enthusiasm, despite you’re doing your job fairly well and making lots of great improvements. Most jobs want people who want to be there, and will ideally stay for a few years. It sounds like if you’d gotten this job you might have been job hunting fairly soon anyway.

    I understand why you’re annoyed/embarrassed by not getting the offer, but try to move on from that and put it out of your mind. It sounds like it was a good experience wherein you learned some new skills, learned some stuff about what you want and don’t want in a job, and you even now have experience under your belt dealing with a difficult person at work.

  20. Rusty Shackelford*

    OP, it sounds like their feelings toward you were the same as your feelings toward them, i.e., “This would work if there were no better options.”

  21. Wannabe Disney Princess*

    This sounds like a conversation I had with a friend several years ago. She had never, until entering the working world, really experienced rejection. (Unlike me who happens to be besties with Rejection. Whoo.) And, yeah. Learning that lesson the first time? It is ROUGH. It’s hard to be told that even though we improved that it wasn’t enough. Especially if our previous experience tells us otherwise.

    1. TootsNYC*

      also, there’s a difference in the work world–there’s a job, and only one person can have it.

      It’s not like grades; everybody gets a grade. Or moving up to the next class (matriculating, right?); everybody moves from sophomore to junior.

      It’s more like “trying out for the musical.” There are only so many roles, and you choose the people who are best and most interested. Just because you were in drama class doesn’t mean you’ll get a role.

      (then again, at some schools, everybody gets a part, because they make the chorus big enough to accommodate everyone. But, this isn’t school)

      1. Lissa*

        This thread just made it click for me why it can hurt more to be rejected for friendship than for a second date. Most people are looking for just one romantic partner, and even those who are poly or open to more still have a limit on how may is practical. But theoretically there’s always room for more friends! (of course this isn’t always true but I’m talking about the emotional reaction) So if someone is like, you’re nice but I can tell you’re not compatible with me for dating it’s like, OK that makes sense they are looking for That One Person. But rejecting me as a friend feels waaaay more hurtful, because it’s “obviously” about me as a person lacking or being terrible in some way.

  22. JustaTech*

    OP you say ” I’m ashamed to admit that I am the only former intern (that I know of) that didn’t get an offer.” Right there you’ve said the important thing: That you know of! The interns who have told you about their offers got one and took it. But you haven’t heard from the *other* interns who didn’t get offers (or didn’t take them). You’re not getting the full picture. That isn’t surprising, people rarely want to share things that don’t look good. But it can make it look like everyone but you is succeeding when that isn’t the case.

    Have you tried reaching out to the other interns who haven’t said anything about an offer from this company? It might be a good reality check.

    1. Lil Fidget*

      Good point, people who didn’t get the offer probably aren’t talking about it. It reminds me of the quote they use about social media: “Don’t compare your insides to everybody else’s outsides.”

    2. TootsNYC*

      also–in my field, almost NO intern got a job offer at the end of it.

      it was an internship, not a try-out.

    3. OP*

      A lot of the interns who received offers decided to take another full time offer somewhere else. Other interns that I’v heard about didn’t receive offers as well, mostly because their particular departments/specialties were being downsized. But yeah, rejection always sucks. After reading these comments, though, I can see that I’m probably better off not working there. Thanks for the advice JustaTech.

  23. Kendra Graham*

    This sounds a lot like my internship experience last year! I was doing front-end web development for a smallish software company, but I already had a lot of programming experience and my mentor wasn’t a problem. I took the exact opposite lesson out of it – you said you’d be “happy working a 9-5 job with headphones on and performing menial tasks.” I learned that I could tolerate that kind of thing if I needed to, but that I had to work harder for the rest of my school and maybe add more school so that I’d have options besides run-of-the-mill programming.

  24. Bookworm*

    In the end, it sounds like you didn’t stand out to them. You were an extra pair of hands, did the work that was handed to you but didn’t ask for more, didn’t “wow” them in a way the other interns did, etc.

    It happens. Since you weren’t too enthusiastic about the work in the first place this might be more of a learning experience as to how to handle yourself in the workplace in the future, how to handle a mentor (or someone similar) who treats you in such a manner, etc.

    I’ve been there. I was once told after an internship of 6 months they weren’t going to hire me because I was too slow and too sloppy (and like you, I had come into that particular internship without the requisite skills and had been taught as we went along). It was immensely frustrating because I had made the effort to ask for feedback and was always told it was fine (literally, they gave me no other feedback that would tell me what I needed to improve upon or if I needed to learn other skills). I confronted the manager as he told me this and he admitted that this (not giving constructive feedback) was a problem.

    It was extremely upsetting since this meant I had to leave this off my resume but in retrospect it was a blessing: I did learn skills along the way that I use now, it taught me I HATE HATE HATE the open office setup (it was a pure open office with no barriers except for the conference rooms, the kitchen, etc.), and it also taught me what to look for in potential managers and/or how sometimes I should push for extra feedback. The org also went under a re-organization not long after I left and I think all but 4 people moved on within 2 years after my time there (we only had like 12 people in our subgroup anyway). They won an award a few years back but only after the rebranding and new name, etc. So it might have been for the best then, just as this might be better for you. Good luck.

    1. Lil Fidget*

      I also think that “good enough” may be sufficient for some things, but it’s not often sufficient to get a job offer – they usually go for the *best possible person* and they want the fit to be spectacular, the experience to be spot on, not a single red flag or doubt. Now OP says most other interns got an offer, so perhaps that’s not relevant here, but it was something I was surprised to learn when I first started out. If I met all the qualifications and had a good track record, I thought it would be pretty straightforward to get an offer. Nope!

    2. OP*

      Thanks for the advice Bookworm. You’re most likely right. Next time, I think I should work faster to improve my skills on the job and show passion about the work I’m doing like you stated. I guess everyone learns a hard lesson at least once in their life.

  25. Stormy*

    OP, please note that there are layers of skills in the workplace that you will increasingly improve upon as you gain more experience. Your letter implies that you put your nose to the grindstone and buckled down to improve during your internship–and that’s amazing. The next level is to consider whether in doing so, you appeared put out or aggravated about the work. That may have put the employer off.

    It isn’t pleasant (or particularly fair) to consider that you have to appear to enjoy something you have to slog through, but often that’s the case. It’s basically another branch of the “fake it ’til you make it” tree.

    1. TassieTiger*

      Stormy, I like this! Would you be open to chatting about the concept and practical applications of “layers” in the next open thread?

    2. OP*

      Thanks Stormy. I understand what you mean, and you’re right. I tried really hard to improve during the second half of the internship. I’ll take it as a learning experience.

  26. Former Retail Manager*

    My daughter is 17 and a senior who will be graduating this May. She is experiencing a lot of anxiety about the future, choosing a major, etc. I’ve encouraged her to spend a couple of years (or more, that’s okay with me) at a community college taking different classes, learning about different fields, doing shadowing and internships because what you don’t want to do/aren’t good at is just as important as what you are good at. I speak from personal experience there and I’m sooooo glad that I took some time, took a step back, and admitted that what I thought I wanted to do for so long just wasn’t a good fit.

    Don’t look at it as a failure, but as a learning experience and the fact that you have learned that this type of position/industry isn’t for you. Now take that information and use to help you decide where you do want to be and what job you could do that you would enjoy. Best of luck!

  27. Bea*

    I understand being new to business why this hurts and feels so personal to you.

    Each job you will have will be different and the leadership will have different expectations of what they’re looking for as a fit.

    I recently found the first boss who didn’t think I was an impressive unicorn who is willing and ready to do whatever is necessary to make the business shine. I’m still shaking off that huge emotional setback. I have had to remind myself someone’s opinion of me is theirs to have and sometimes it just means we’re not destined to be a team.

    You’ll understand their decision a lot more the longer you’re working. I promise that what I knew and felt Job 1 and Job 2 was based on insecurity and uncertainty. Now well advanced in my career I think about a bad time back then and go “I wasn’t good at that at all, of course they were unimpressed and grouchy when I effed up XYZ.”

  28. LAI*

    OP, I’ve been in your shoes. I once applied for a job that I thought I wanted – I’d been in my role for several years, it was a step up, everyone seemed to be expecting me to apply for it. The interview really didn’t go well though, and I didn’t end up getting the job. It stung at first because I was an internal candidate and people knew me well. But in retrospect, it wasn’t the right fit for me and they knew that. I think I subconsciously knew it too – the reason the interview didn’t go well is because I didn’t prepare for it the way I normally would. I didn’t think through my answers in advance or prepare thoughtful questions to ask like I would have for a job I really wanted. Anyway, that was a few years ago and I’ve since gained a lot more confidence in knowing what skills I do have and what kind of job I am well suited for. At the time, I felt embarrassed about not getting the job but now I have no problem telling people that I didn’t get it because it wasn’t the right fit.

    1. OP*

      Thanks for sharing your story LAI. It gives me hope that I can find a great career path as well. I’m just glad I’m not alone in finding the right career.

  29. Serin*

    I wanted to respond to the theme of I have no ambition to become president of the company; I want to keep my head down and do my job and be left alone.

    School and entertainment media give us a really one-dimensional image of ambition: you get this picture of someone who views life as a 24/7 competition and can’t want anything without wanting to climb to the very top.

    In the real workplace, there are a lot of ways to excel. You can want to learn everything you can about some slice of your work, or you can want to meet everyone at your location and know what all of them do and how everything fits together. You can want to be the person that people bring new problems to, or the person who’s best at helping newcomers get situated, or the person who never lets a mistake get past them.

    But it’s very risky not to aspire to anything but wearing headphones and doing menial tasks (presumably defined and assigned by someone else) because jobs don’t stay the same.

    So at a minimum you have to be able to approach your job with curiosity. How does it connect with the jobs of your co-workers? How will it be affected by changes in the field? How might new technology influence it? How are people in other companies/other fields solving similar problems?

    When it comes to your career, you don’t have to always be looking for a big win, but you have to stay awake. If the field you’re in doesn’t give you enough energy to be curious, you’re in the wrong field.

    1. OP*

      Thanks for the advice Serin. I’m still young and have a lot to learn about what I want out of a career. I think I’ll sooner or later figure out what it means to be ambitious in the right role when I get older.

  30. Nonny-Nonny*

    When I was doing my senior internship for my undergrad, I was working with teenagers. I ended up loving it, I went above and beyond on projects, I worked extra hours as needed, and just really threw myself head-first into my internship. I just really, really loved it.

    I worked with another intern. She didn’t love it. She met all the requirements, was generally a nice person and a fine intern. She just wasn’t thrilled with the work. By the end of the semester, she determimed she didn’t really want to work with teenagers and would prefer geriatrics. I was offered a full-time job. She wasn’t, and she was okay with that. She didn’t want one.

    Employers can tell when you’re just hitting the minimum, and that’s not what they generally want. It’s fine if you didn’t like that work place, or type of work. It sounds lile there’s no bad blood between you and your internship. They’d probably provide you a nice reference. All fine things. Put that down to experience, take the skills you learned, and move forward to your next job.

    Also, you don’t have to have CEO-level goals to be motivated to do well in your work place. You can want to just do good work for the sake of doing well in your workplace. You can have the goal of being a good employee and the drive to be great wherever you are, without dreams of major promotions. And hey, if you’re the kind of person who just wants to have a job that funds your hobbies and weekends, that’s okay too.

    1. OP*

      Thank you for your advice Nonny. It really helps, and I’m just glad I’m not alone in feeling this way. You’e also right about employers noticing when you aren’t happy doing the work you’re given. In some way, it always shows. Sometimes it may take a job position that you find unfulfilling to see that you belong somewhere else.

  31. TootsNYC*

    I want to address this:

    she also said that I met expectations, but needed to learn to exceed them and ask for more work. I believe this was because I’m not really the ambitious type of person who goes after roles like being the CEO of a company.

    I want to talk about ambition, and learning to exceed expectations:

    Those have nothing to do with trying to be the CEO of a company.
    They have to do with the internal drive to do a good job, to excel.

    George Washington once said of Alexander Hamilton:

    …his ambition is an admirable one—the kind which prompts a man to excel at everything he attempts.

    So the message was, they want to hire people who are more ambitious.
    Which means: people who invest the mental energy to learn how the people they interact with do their jobs, and why.
    People who try to always be better on the next project than on the last, or who invest the mental energy to experiment with streamlining the process they do all the time, for example.

    Please don’t make the assumption that all ambition must lead to the CEO’s office.

  32. Simpleton*

    I actually think the OP sealed his/her fate when they requested a new mentor early in the internship. Fair or not, when you’re at the bottom of the ladder and your personnel issues cause you to request a personnel change or reorganization, then what would a company expect when you’ve moved beyond intern? A constant problem that will require more overtures in the future. No thanks.

  33. TootsNYC*

    “School and entertainment media give us a really one-dimensional image of ambition: you get this picture of someone who views life as a 24/7 competition and can’t want anything without wanting to climb to the very top.”

    Harry Potter also gave us a very twisted view of ambition in the Slytherins.

    Remember that the Sorting Hat almost put Harry in Slytherin–why?

    “…and a nice thirst to prove yourself, now that’s interesting…”

    I am very ambitious. I want to achieve something. In fact, it’s sometimes a downside, because when I was told by a high school teacher that the homework was essentially just busywork, I didn’t do it.
    I want to do things that make a difference somehow. They don’t have to be big and impressive to the outside world, they just have to make a difference somewhere.

    And, I want to feel proud of myself and what I’ve done.

    That’s ambition. And “going beyond.” And “asking for more work.”

    As an intern, you reallywere expected to be “thirsty” for knowledge about the company, the work world, your industry, etc. So doing what was expected of you–as an intern–was really performing subpar.

    1. TL -*

      Also, the Gryffindors were ambitious, at least as much as the Slytherins were. Hermione was certainly ambitions; Ron was, to a certain extent; Harry certainly was; Fred and George were; Percy certainly was; Neville was (though he bumbled, he was always trying harder to better himself and ended leading a freaking rag-tag army); the Creevy brothers were very ambitious about their attitudes towards Harry. And Dobby was (and I certainly think Dobby is at least an honorary Gryffindor.)

      There’s a tendancy to think of ambition as cut-throat competitive, be better than everyone else to prove that you’re better than they are. But it can also be the drive to succeed at your own chosen path; not to show the world you’re the best but to achieve things that you think are important and worthwhile.

  34. Irene Adler*

    OP wrote: “I had a mentor who was very blunt, treated me like I was mentally challenged at times, and talked down to me often in front of some of my peers.”

    Makes me wonder why this person is mentoring.

    1. Snark*

      I’m not saying it was justified….but I’ve known a number of SMEs who’d be perfectly appropriate to mentor an ambitious, eager, interested intern, but who’d be hard pressed not to adopt that kind of tone dealing with a mentee who, in their view, was unskilled, visibly bored and disengaged, not active in asking for more work and guidance, and not performing.

    2. Bea*

      There was a teacher growing up who was a grouchy foul woman to just about everyone. However she managed to be a good mentor for certain people that clicked with her no nonsense no warmth kind of personality.

      I also agree with Snark, it could be they shut down when they were handed someone who needed so much work and didn’t seem to want to be there.

      I wonder how much of the perception of the mentors personality is being internalized by a person so burnt on the internship even after its over and they’ve moved to another company.

    3. Tiger Snake*

      It may simply have been a bad match all around.

      I’m actually picturing the mentor as one of those guys who wants to get straight to the point, and themselves likes it when they’re told explicitly the bit they got wrong. (Especially if there’s also a difference between teaching and learning styles here, and the mentor is thinking “You should have already know this because it was in the resources I gave you”, while the intern is thinking “You haven’t taught me any of this so why are you upset I don’t know it)
      Its also really frustrating and demotivating to try and teach someone who just plain isn’t interested, so some of it could be that the mentor was also unhappy because this situation was making them miserable as well.

  35. Sunshine Brite*

    Omg, did my self from a decade ago go and write AAM? I was that intern. I was that intern that didn’t get an offer. Eventually I did find something I enjoy doing that I get overwhelmingly positive feedback on as it fits my skills and I try hard. It wasn’t my first idea. Or even my third. It was where I found myself drawn to at the right time in the right situation. Every now and then I wonder if I could do something differently to make more money but I often land in offshoots of my current field when daydreaming.

  36. Tiger Snake*

    OP, I think it might help to remember that the goal of an internship is not to get full-time work (despite the correlation between the two). The goal of the internship is to walk away with knowledge and experience that you wouldn’t have been able to gain in school.

    If you get, say, 2/3rds of the way through your internship and find yourself thinking “I really like the work I’m doing, and the culture of this office, I think I’d be really happy doing this here long term.“, then that’s where’d you go to your manager, mentor, and other people you’ve worked with to determine whether that’s possible and what you can do to make it/improve your chances of it happening.

    But if that doesn’t happen, you’ve still achieved what the internship was set out to do:
    – You’ve developed real-world experience to leverage in job interviews and in future jobs
    – You’ve identified areas that you need to improve upon, and areas of particular strength for you
    – You’ve starting identifying what type of work you’ll realistically enjoy doing long term and can target when trying to find job opportunities (and what kind of work you won’t enjoy, so that you can suss it out in job interviews and cross it off the list as ‘this isn’t a good fit, I shouldn’t pursue this further’)
    – You’ve started to build your network of people you know in the industry

    That said, I would like to point out that “needed to learn to exceed them and ask for more work” doesn’t always mean “you need to be looking for how to become CEO“. There’s an entire realm there, and I think you’ve jumped to the very highest end. Being able to take initiative for work, and to see ‘this extra bit would also help and is within the scope of our work, so I’ll do that while I’m here’ really is expected and par for the course in IT development. That sort of level of work is not about being ambitious, but about how the field works, and trying to make sure that a good product is actually produced at the end.

    So if there’s feedback that you should reflect more on, I would suggest looking at that. As an intern, I imagine what your manager meant was more along the lines of “When you’ve completed your tasks, don’t sit there and wait for me to come and check up on you. Work more on coming to me to ask for more work, or taking initiative to look on the task board if there’s anything you can do and then come to me to ask if you can do That Thing” and maybe “ Also try talking to your other senior coworkers if they’re doing anything you can help with when you’ve done your original work.” (The second one can actually be really important; it gets you exposed to all sorts of work that your manager otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity to get you involved with.)

  37. Tacos are Tasty*

    I can’t get past the part where they’re making long term staff redundant yet bringing on swathes of interns (presumbly to take their place at a lower rate of pay).

    What a disgusting company. You dodged a bullet if that is their idea of valuing staff.

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