It was the spring semester of my junior year, and my fellow classmates, including myself, were all starting to apply for summer internships. The Electrical Engineering Department at my university was sponsoring a job fair and I was both nervous and excited. This would be the first time I’d have direct contact with "the real world," as up until that point, my engineering "career" had only existed in the classroom and in labs. The day of the fair, I put on my first suit (purchased just for an occasion like that) and printed out copies of my resume. When I arrived, there were lines at all of the booths, so I randomly chose one company that interested me and stood in line with my classmates.
When it was my turn to talk to the recruiter, he glanced at my resume and then looked me over. He started with a harmless question, "What interests you about electrical engineering?" My answer was basic and inconsequential, but what occurred next is what motivates me to this day. The recruiter proceeded to ask a string of very complex questions on an upper level subject and then belittled me because I didn’t know the answers. When I pointed out that I wasn’t scheduled to take that class until my senior year, he ignored me and very slowly began to explain basic engineering principles. At this point, I realized I was in a no-win scenario. The rest of the interview was a blur, as I spent most of my time concentrating on maintaining my composure. The only exchange I do remember centered on where I saw myself in 10-15 years. I answered that I eventually wanted to work in management. His response was quick and demeaning, "Why don’t you just switch to business? It’s probably more appropriate for you."
I was mortified. My very first "interview" had gone horribly and I came away feeling that maybe I had chosen the wrong field of study. I retreated quickly to the bathroom, where I called my mother and tearfully told her the whole story. She listened carefully and once I finished, argued against every negative comment the recruiter had made to me. She also told me not to give up, that I was a great student with good grades, and any company would be happy to have me. Once I calmed down, I went to find the classmates who had been in line with me. They all commented on the recruiter’s behavior, and how unfair he was during my interview versus the other interviews he gave. I felt better, but the situation still struck a nerve. I had always had a fear of failure; that I would never be good enough or smart enough. In that moment, I realized I had a choice: I could take what he said and let it feed my internal dark voice or I could turn it around and use it to drive me.
I chose the latter.
I am now the lead of complex multi-disciplinary engineering projects at a top defense firm. I have achieved this by pushing through the tough times and by always striving to be the best that I can be. I’ve learned to always be prepared and to never be afraid to stick up for myself. As awful as that interview was, it helped me make the choice to always challenge myself, try new opportunities, and above all, turn doubt and fear into perseverance and success.