What Can a Job Rejection Teach You?

How many job rejections does a candidate receive before getting one offer? I just read a stat online that only 10% of job applicants even make it to the interview stage. Self-reported numbers range from 5-100 applications for every one offer received. That’s a lot of job rejection.

Rejection is a challenge.

Veronica Purcell

Well, as you might have guessed from the topic, today I got some disappointing (though not unexpected) news that I wasn’t selected for an interview for a job I applied for. In some ways it’s worse than not hearing anything back at all, particularly at the pre-interview stage – my basic stats weren’t even enough to land me an interview!?

First, Don’t Take It Personally

The first thing to remember is that the rejection might have nothing to do with you, personally. It’s not a measure of your value, it doesn’t mean “you’re not good enough.”

Maybe they decided to hire a personal connection. Maybe they decided not to hire anyone at all. Maybe they decided to only look at the first 10 applicants and you were too slow to apply. Maybe a literal NASA astronaut applied for the job and, come on, no one can compete with an astronaut.

The point is, we usually don’t know the whole situation, so sitting around feeling bad, telling yourself “it’s because I’m not good enough and now I’ll never find a job” is actually not just really mean but really unfair.

It’s common to have mental scripts that we tell ourselves that often run along these lines, but they’re not helpful, if anything they usually are aimed at trying to make us give up and stop putting ourselves out there.

Think about it, getting rejected sucks. We hate it. The lizard part of our brains that evolved to keep us safe hates that feeling and will do anything to avoid feeling it again. So it encourages us to tell ourselves things to minimize that feeling (i.e. to get us to stop trying so we can stop feeling icky). If you stop applying for jobs you won’t ever get rejected again! But that’s rarely an actual choice that will pan out well for most of us.

The solution? Rewrite that script. When our lizard brain so helpfully suggests “You didn’t get that job because you suck” you can pipe up with “I wasn’t chosen for the job, but that doesn’t mean anything about whether I would have actually been good at it, actually.” When it says “You’ll never get chosen” you can confidently correct it with “I don’t know what the future holds, but sometimes it takes a while and a lot of rejection to get where you want to be.”

Figure out what your inner lizard is telling you and rewrite it, remembering you don’t know all the facts and you can’t take it personally.

On the Other Hand, Improve Yourself!

Remember where I said “don’t take it personally and maybe it had nothing to do with you?” Well that’s true, but it’s also true that no matter how good you are, you can always be better! No matter how great your resume is, it could still be polished a bit more, your portfolio could always be improved, etc.

To put it another way one really constructive way to bounce back from job rejection is to take it as a sign that the application materials aren’t up to snuff and work on improving them in ways that don’t involve lying.

That’s right, take that “no” and use it to light a fire under your butt!

I’ve decided that for me that means:

  1. Working on my LinkedIn profile, which wasn’t actually updated in 4 years (oops)
  2. Taking a new, professional but not too professional, photo for my LinkedIn and other social media
  3. Starting my website back up. I can put my resume on there as well as portfolio pieces (if any) to make me stand out from the crowd.
  4. Re-designing and re-wording my resume to more accurately reflect my accomplishments.
  5. Taking classes and certifications that prove that I know how to learn (and like to learn) and that I’m motivated to succeed.
  6. Putting myself back on social media to improve my practical knowledge with it – even if I’ve taken a lot of courses on using it for business, flexing those muscles on a personal account might be a good idea.
  7. Expanding and polishing a portfolio

Should you Lie on Your Resume?

A quick word about honesty…

I’m one of those ruthlessly honest people who tends to only apply to jobs if their stats 100% match the job ad, so I’ve usually had better success at actually landing an interview than that 10% number I quoted earlier. On the flip side this means that I’m less experienced at getting over job rejection from a potential employer than the Average Joe who applies to everything and anything and develops thick skin from the experience.

Besides the fact that “honesty” is the best policy in general, I have usually settled on the side of not wanting to waste mine (and the employer’s) time with applying to things that I know from the outset aren’t a good fit – though I probably err on the side of not applying to things that I know I could do just because I’m afraid my qualifications on paper might not fully support that to someone who doesn’t know me.

In fact there have been a couple times where, even though I fully matched the qualifications asked for, I didn’t make the first round of interviews – then after the employer interviewed everyone who “on paper” seemed like a good match, they gave me call to interview at which point they realized that I was great for the job. So I get that it seems like “everyone else” must be padding their resumes, so maybe you should do it too because “they expect you to lie a little”?

I know some people out there lie because they figure they can be trained and figure it out on the job. Despite the fact that I’m actually a great learner, I don’t believe in this at all.

I would never want to risk getting a job where I was in over my head. What if word got out that you’re a liar or even just incompetent? In a lot of industries everyone knows everyone and one bad experience could easily prevent you from getting hired again in the future.

If you want a job you’re not qualified for on paper, try to show that you can do it rather than lie and say you’ve already done it or have a degree you don’t. You can get certifications, free trainings, watch videos, create a portfolio, take an internship, volunteer…

That’s my two cents. Be honest.

Rejection Still Hurts Though

As far as getting over the emotional sting of the rejection, the most helpful thing for me has been to think of it as a growth opportunity. This rejection is what is spurring me to improve myself and therefore is actually a great thing. The more we rewrite our mental scripts (by brute force when necessary) and tell ourselves that something is good even when we are experiencing a negative emotion, the more easily we will think this positive thought in the future and the more likely the negative emotions won’t actually feel all that negative.

What do you think? How many times were you rejected before you got your current job?