21st Century Alchemy: Handling rejection

It's hard being rejected. But we can learn from it (photo: iStock) It's hard being rejected. But we can learn from it (photo: iStock)
February 28th, 2016 7:00 am| by David Parkins

The job seemed perfect and the interviews went well. Everyone you met was positive and you even started imagining what it would be like to work there. Then, they hired someone else.  AARGH!

For most job-seekers, rejection happens far more often than being hired, and dealing with rejected applications and unreturned phone calls never gets easier, no matter how often it occurs or how much work experience you have. In fact, being ‘overqualified’ can be more painful than being ‘underqualified.’

So how do you survive and learn from your rejections?

It personally hurts but it’s never personal – Never measure your professional worth by job interviews. Just because you didn’t get the position, doesn’t mean you weren’t qualified. The hiring process at many companies is often complex and rarely consistent. Also, there can be literally hundreds of applications for a single job. So it’s not just about a required skillset (resumé) or the right personality (interview), but how well candidates match up to the need or who applied first.

Have a Plan B mentality – Don’t pin all your hope on one job: believing that if you get it, then your life will be better. A healthier way to develop your career is to focus on your professional values, skills, and passions instead of a specific role or job. That way, there are many more opportunities to develop beyond one job, one company and one industry.

An interview will never validate you – Interviews (or jobs for that matter) are never a good place to seek validation, professionally or personally. Realise that most employers focus more on how you can help them rather than how they can help you. You need to be able to walk away from any job or interview with your self-esteem intact, and the best way to do that is self-validation.

Ask for feedback – While most employers rarely give feedback to unsuccessful applicants, there’s no harm in asking. While you might not like what you hear, at least you’ll have a better idea about why you were unsuccessful. Also, job hunting is never easy, especially if it takes a long time, so it’s important to have outside support during this process: someone you can share your thoughts and feelings with.

Accept reality – We don’t always get what we want and even if we did, life wouldn’t necessarily be better or easier. If you’re rejected, take a moment to recover, accept it and move on. Whether you like it or not, you weren’t right for the job. Like when relationships don’t work out, it’s often only in retrospect that you realise a ‘failure’ was best and that a rejection paved the way for a better opportunity. For all you know, you may have dodged a

Consider your strengths – Once rejected, it’s easy to blame yourself, find faults with your resume or even your personality. Don’t beat yourself up just because you’ve been rejected (even multiple applications). Try and focus on your strengths and identify opportunities that you’re passionate about – that passion will show through in interviews.

Stay positive – Finding a job requires persistence and resilience. Learn something from every experience along the journey and improve the skills you need. Remind yourself that rejection is part of the process, happens to everyone, and finding the right job is a numbers game. If you need it, write ‘NO’ 100 times on a piece of paper. Before you get to the 100th ‘NO’, you’ll most probably have the job you want.

Treat job-hunting as a job – Give yourself a job-seeking schedule with realistic daily goals and routines, but then follow it. Like with a regular job, you’ll need to take breaks and maintain a healthy work-life balance. So make to do things that help you recharge and relax (exercise, socialising, entertainment, hobbies etc).

Take a job-hunting vacation – If you’ve been job-hunting for a while, it may help to take a mini-retreat to reset and focus. So unplug from your computer and phone and get away for a weekend or a week. Even doing anything out of your normal routine for long enough can work wonders for clearing your mind. You’ll return renewed and ready to tackle your next application.

Questions & Answers

Force feeding
Q: At my job, we are required to take a lunch break, but I’d rather keep working and then go home early. Is it legal to require us to stop work, whether we want it or not? ~ Jakob
A: Depending on the labour laws of your country, employers can generally set the hours they want you to work, and the ‘no front or end-loading lunch breaks’ rule ensures they will be staffed from opening to closing. However, you may be entitled to additional pay if you end up working during that lunch

Career change
Q: After years of travelling, I’m ready to settle down and be career-focused … if only I knew what I wanted. I’ve earned two unrelated arts degrees and worked at several different jobs (babysitting, waitress etc) to make ends meet. But after months of rejections, I’m starting to think I’m unhirable. ~ Petra
A: You have several things to work on before your next job application. First, decide what you want to do. Second, figure out what you bring to potential employers and how those qualities will help them be more successful. Lastly, you need to show that you’re reliable. Companies will not invest in employees they feel won’t be around.

Missing Italy
Q: Last year I worked in Italy during my MBA and fell in love with the place. I’ve unsuccessfully applied for several jobs, but ended up working for my family. I wanted to work internationally, but our business is national, and even though I get a good salary for basically do nothing all day, this isn’t the life I wanted. I feel useless and underutilised. ~ Samuel
A: You’re missing obvious opportunities. Make yourself useful instead of resenting that you’re paid to do nothing. Ask for more work and responsibility and really get to know the company inside out. If there’s a possibility for international expansion, then you’ll be prepared to lead it.

Boss help
Q: Following a family tragedy, my boss’s performance and attendance has become erratic. Sometimes she’s focused, but other times she comes to work drunk. I can’t even remember the last time she was at work the whole week. She clearly needs help, but so do we. We’ve covered for her for a long time and we can’t take it anymore. ~ Anna
A: It’s tough but you realise that while your boss needs help, you can’t provide it; not only because it’s outside your job but because you’re unqualified. She needs support from management and HR but also professional counseling.


David Parkins - 21st Century Alchemy

21st Century Alchemy is a weekly Q&A column for career-minded professionals, entrepreneurs and small businesses written by David Parkins, a business (re)development specialist, company culture strategist, career coach, and IMCSA speaker (ep3.dk).

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