Rejection sucks. There is no way around it.
Worse still, rejection is inevitable, especially if you’re looking for your first job in a new industry as a career changer, you’ll probably get a few “no’s” before you land your first “yes.”
Learn to cope with hearing “no.” Knowing and accepting that rejections is inevitable if you want to dare greatly in your job search is the first step to being prepared for not getting the job you want.
You are not alone. Everyone has been here before.
The 5 Stages of Rejection
I almost titled this blog post “How to embrace rejection,” but giving rejection a hug seems like a bit too cavalier. When I’m rejected, I go through the five stages of grief : denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and maybe acceptance in the end.
At first I feel shock and disbelief.
I think: I was so sure that I was going to get that job. How can this be?
Then I flounder in a sea of questions to myself or with the hiring manager, wondering if there could be other options.
I think: Well, what about trying this out another war? What if I showed you another case study or proposal using your feedback? What if I had worn lipstick and gotten a haircut? What if? What if? What if?
When it finally becomes real to me, I’m sad for the missed opportunity. I’m disappointed in myself. And I want to hide, stay at home all day, and read fiction where I can live in someone else’s skin for a few hours.
At its worst, I spiral into a black hole of negativity in my head: What did I do wrong? How can I prevent this next time? How long will it take to get to the next time? Will there even be a next time? Did I blow my one and only chance? Am I not worthy? Does anyone even like me?
Can I avoid rejection?
The only way to avoid rejection is to stay home and hide in your bed.
If you want to stretch yourself and progress, you’ll have to try for the next step. And trying means that there is a risk of falling.
Not getting what you want just means that you’ve been aiming high and taking risks, not going after what you’re sure to get. So if you want to grow, being rejected is part of the price to pay to get there.
There is a tip people give about crewing on sailboats: Don’t crew with the shiny boat, go for the boat with some dents and scratches. You don’t want to sail with people who stay docked. If you want to go sailing, your boat will show its wear. This is a good thing.
In addition to accepting the fact that you will not be getting every job for which you apply, getting perspective and taking action will help you move on once you have been passed over.
1. Don’t take business decisions personally.
As cliche as it sounds, don’t take this decision personally. This is not a judgment of who you are. This does not reflect on you as a person.
It’s usually more about finding the right fit rather than finding a good person.
Rejecting you is a business decision. You may be lucky to know the business reasons, but maybe you won’t know. Maybe the timing wasn’t right: they’re going through a culture change, and it’s not the right time to bring someone new into the team. Or maybe their last person in this role was too much like you, and they want to try someone very different. Or maybe the organizational setup isn’t right: they don’t have enough seniors to mentor juniors. Or maybe there is a sudden hiring freeze, because the funding didn’t come through as planned.
2. This is better than your worst-case scenario.
What’s your worst-case scenario? It’s probably not this. There could be worse situations than being rejected from a job. Picture your worst worst-case scenario. What would you do if you were in that case? Write down your plan. Now don’t you feel better?
What was the worst thing you’ve ever lived through? Maybe it was your last job? Well, you lived through that. You had a plan to get out of that, and you are doing it. So remember that you’ve triumphed over travails before. You can get over this too.
3. Compare yourself...to the right people.
I know I’m not supposed to compare myself to other people, as everyone has a different path and you never know what they’ve sacrificed to get there. As they say, don’t compare your inside to other people’s outsides.
But if you can’t help but compare like me, let’s get inspired through comparison rather than beaten down, ok?
For example, compare your rejection to Colonel Sanders’ rejections. At the age of 65, Colonel Sanders started the successful American fast food chain Kentucky Fried Chicken. Before getting his first “yes,” he was rejected by 1009 people who didn’t want to license his chicken recipe. Even though this story is a legend, I haven’t found how many years Colonel Sanders struggled. If we just say it was 3 years, this would mean he was rejected an average of 3x a day every single day for 3 years.
To me his perseverance and faith in his idea is pretty inspiring. Colonel Sanders challenges me to have the perspective that collecting rejections on your way to your first “yes” is a rite of passage to your dream. Keep on persisting, and you’ll get there.
4. This won’t matter in 10 years. Or you might even be grateful that you didn’t get the job, now or in the future.
No matter what “tragedy” happens, I ask myself if this will matter in 5 years or 10 years? If I don’t get the first job I apply for, and I get one 2 months later, will this really be a big deal in 5 years?
Maybe there is a silver lining to this. Maybe you can go on one more vacation before starting work or maybe now you DO have the time to move to a new apartment after all.
Who knows, maybe with enough time you will one day even be grateful that things happened this way? For example, imagine not getting the job at Enron: at the time it may really suck, but you’ll be grateful later, knowing now that the employees’ retirement funds went up in smoke. So be humble, because you don’t know the future. You might thank your lucky star for not getting what you want today.
5. You don’t want the first job for which you apply; you want the one best job for you.
There isn’t just one right opportunity out there for you. There are millions of jobs out there that could be right for you. And you only want ONE job. So if the hiring managers don’t want you 100%, it’s better that you stick it out for a company that does. Your time will come when you match yourself to the right role, right company, at the right time.
Keep your eyes on the prize. Focus on getting what you want: your first tech job. Even if part of you still has to deal with the loss and disappointment of rejection, keep going towards your dreams. That is the only way you’ll get there.
Because what’s the alternative? Are you going to let one rejection deter you from your dream and define your future? Are you going to let one setback throw you off course from your dream? (I have, and that sucked. I wasted so much time until I was ready to get back in the game again.)
It’s how you deal with setbacks that show who you are, so deal with rejection like a professional, mature adult.
After getting some perspective, take action.
It’s good to take time to acknowledge your thoughts and feelings, but not to the point where you spiral down into a well of hopelessness and loserdom forever. Take action to move on.
6. Forgive everyone, including yourself, to move on.
It may be hard to admit, but are you resentful or angry at anyone? Ie, the people who didn’t hire you? They’re trying to do their best too.
Or maybe you are mad at yourself for not preparing well enough? It happens to me all the time. Sometimes I don’t prepare as well as I could have:
- I didn’t write an outline, I just winged it.
- I didn’t take notes when I researched the company online.
- I didn’t talk to people who work there.
- I didn’t practice interview with friends...more than once...to get their honest feedback.
- I didn’t give myself enough time to prepare.
There could be a myriad of reasons why I didn’t go all in. Maybe this wasn’t a dream job, so I prioritized another opportunity over this one. Maybe I thought I wasn’t good enough for this role.
Brainstorm and write down the things for which you’re grateful to all the people you blame for this rejection. If you’re daring, send this list to them. Or, if you are grateful to yourself for pursuing your dreams, hang this list on the wall where you can see it.
Let this gratitude list help you forgive so that you can move on.
7. Learn something from this.
When someone says no, the easiest thing to do is walk away. But you won’t learn anything from that.
Ask why you weren’t hired. They may or may not tell you. If they do tell you, discern if it’s just HR pretty talk or if it’s something useful for your next job application. If it’s something you think they got wrong, you can address what’s missing.
You can also ask yourself why you think it didn’t work out. Figure out what could have been better so that you don't duplicate the problem in your next moves.
In the end, though, you don’t need to know with certainty why, because there are no wrong steps. Every step is the right step, because you’re going to learn more about yourself and your new industry. If you’re learning, you’re growing.
8. Measure your efforts, not your accomplishments.
If you measure yourself primarily by the number of job offers you get, you will never feel good about yourself. You cannot control hiring managers, budgets, or the company’s performance in its chosen industry. Those things are out of your control. Don’t measure yourself by things that make you feel bad, because feeling bad is not a good place from which to change careers...or do anything else for that matter.
Instead, measure yourself by actions you take that only you control. For example, measure how many emails you have sent to your network or the number of times you have practiced your salary negotiation conversation.
Measuring your accomplishments can feel good, but don’t make it your primary metric. Accomplishments will come naturally once you make the effort, and so if you measure your efforts, you will soon have accomplishments to measure too.
9. Have a full pipeline of other opportunities.
Having a full pipeline of other opportunities is the most important action step of preparing for rejection, other than knowing that you need to be prepared to hear “no.”
If this is your only egg in the proverbial basket, it will hurt a lot more than if this is just one of many opportunities.
So even before you get rejected, make sure your pipeline is filled with 2-3 other opportunities on which you can focus in case this one didn’t work out. You don’t necessarily have to be talking to these companies already; just knowing that other companies exist where you might be happy may be enough.
Seeing all the other opportunities out there will get you excited about where you might end up rather than focusing solely on this one particular rejection.
10. Take care of yourself.
Rejection is hard, so be especially gentle with yourself. Get some more sleep than usual. Move your body. Take a shower and wear nice clothes. Maybe even brush your hair. I like to buy myself tulips and make a brunch date with a good friend.
(I feel like this should be a no-brainer, as everyone should be doing this all the time. But I’m really writing this advice for myself, and I know that when I’m lying facedown in the arena, I need to be reminded that I DO deserve a lot of kindness and compassion before rushing out into the field to rumble again.)
Whenever you are rejected during your job hunt (or for anything else for that matter!), get some perspective by seeing it from the business’s point of view, from a longer time frame, compared to your worst worst-case scenario, and reminding yourself that you only need one job in the midst of thousands of opportunities.
After seeing where this rejection really fits in the big picture, take action. Forgive the ones who seem to be your enemies; learn from them instead to make them your mentors. Measure yourself by your efforts, not your accomplishments. Go all in with a full pipeline of opportunities. Take care of yourself, but trust in your resilience.
Be brave. Put yourself out there again, and get into the arena again.