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The Broken Internship

The crazy story of how I lost and found my career.

Photo by Jilbert Ebrahimi

“Trust the plan, even when you don’t understand it”.

That’s what our parents used to tell us when we would face adversity at any point during our lives. Whether they believed in God, karma or any other supernatural force, you were always told that there is a plan for every curve ball that happens in life.

I never really believed it until my very first internship.

I was overjoyed to have secured a summer internship with PwC (one of the Big Accounting Firms). During that first week, the company provided its safeguarding assets training to new recruits. They emphasized the importance of safeguarding our computers since as auditors, we carried confidential client information.

Don’t lose the computer…

Seemed like pretty straightforward advice…

However, this didn’t stop me from leaving my computer bag inside my car at a bowling alley, in a sketchy street in Puerto Rico, less than a week removed from that initial training.

That week a couple of us newbies decided to head over to the local bowling alley since the Firm had a couple of teams that competed in the CPA Bowling league.

The master plan was to connect with professionals from the company in order to improve my chances of securing that elusive full-time position. The plan was actually working, as I was networking with experienced colleagues and close to midnight, I was the last recruit standing.

Little did I know, upon leaving the alley, that I would find my car window broken and my computer bag was vanished!

Sh*t.

I remember thinking, “this was probably the worst thing that could ever happen to an intern”!

First week on the job and I already had lost a brand new computer— costing the company almost $1,000—but more importantly, throwing away my reputation as a responsible adult.

Why did this happen?

Why me?

It didn’t matter if I felt it was bad luck, wrong place at the wrong time, or just plain stupidity on my part, there I was, staring at that empty broken window with little hope, thinking I had just blown my opportunity of getting hired in the midst of the Great Recession back in 2009.

Four weeks later, upon completion of the internship, I was called into the HR Manager’s office where she explained that “due to the current economic conditions they couldn’t hire me at that time”.

Yeah right, thanks for sparing my feelings!

I didn’t know it then, but that experience would single-handily change my life.

Even when I wanted to blame everyone else for what had happened I knew that I had to grow up and accept responsibility for what had transpired that summer.

Bottom line was that I had to become a better version of myself in order to be able to change the perception that I was both irresponsible and immature.

Ironically, I had to do all this and stay strong since I had just been chosen as President of the Accounting Student Association BEFORE becoming the Poster-Child for what NOT to do if you wanted to succeed in your internship! 

This meant staying positive and maintaining a good attitude even when promoting the firm that had just “let me go”, as that they were one of the main sponsors for the association.

I lost track of how many times I had to explain to my friends, family, and the rest of the student body why I was still looking for employment. Embarrassing to say the least!

However, as the new semester started, I took the leadership position very seriously, planning over 10 career workshops, increasing membership by 15% to a record number of over 230 students (a record at the time) and collaborating on the first-ever full-fledged “Mock Interviews” where over 20 recruiters from top employers in and out of the island, came to the University to interview candidates on a practice setting and then provide instant feedback to them before the official recruiting process began.

Still, even after these accomplishments piled up, throughout that year I still carried the dark cloud of rejection over my head, as I was asked repeatedly about my failed internship experience during the job hunting process. So much so, that I was rarely called back for a second round of interview after each, painful, explanation.

Heck, it was 2009, which meant that there weren’t that many opportunities available! So after culminating the job hunting process without another internship or full-time offer, I started to realize that I would probably have to either pursue a graduate degree or change careers if I wanted to have fresh start.

Then as my last semester rolled around and I had just about given up, the firm that had actually chosen not to hire me asked me a favor to promote a national community service project competition on campus. It called for student leaders to join together to design a proposal for a community service activity, that if chosen, would receive funding of up to $5,000 to execute the event.

I kept thinking:

Are they really serious?

Why should I help them out?

Had I stayed bitter or angry like I initially felt, I would have probably turned them down or referred them to another student. Who knows how different my life would be right now?

However, I eventually looked at it as an opportunity to prove my worth to them after making such a terrible first impression. I took on the challenge of putting together a team of leaders outside of the accounting background, and eventually, we developed a proposal centered on improving education by providing a career-day/leadership camp to students in middle school, who per statistics, showed had the highest drop-out rate in the island in our public school system.

Fortunately, our proposal was one of the 24 proposals selected for sponsorship by the firm from across the nation that year!

Not only was the project a rewarding experience, as it provided high school students with scarce resources and guidance in Puerto Rico a chance to meet role-models from the community through our career day/leadership camp, but we also used the funds to provide school materials they desperately needed.

And wouldn’t you know, an initiative that started out as a community project that would hopefully change the perception that I had created, subsequently led to a full-time job offer from the company in my hometown office. An opportunity that I never expected after so many pitfalls along the way.

I lasted four years working with the firm, where I made life-long friendships with former colleagues. It also provided the perfect launching pad for all of my current media projects.

Even Today, when something good happens to me, I can’t help but think back to that unforgettable summer night where an empty broken window taught me the value of accepting one’s shortcomings, resiliency, and the continuous pursuit of self-improvement.

I’m confident I wouldn’t be the person I am today if it not for that character building year.

How about you? Do you have similar stories to share? Please let me know in the comments section below!

*Post originally posted in raulpalaciospr.com on May 14, 2014.

If you enjoyed this post and speak some Spanish, you can subscribe aquí to receive my monthly newsletter with my Spanish columns & interviews from top performers in Puerto Rico.

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