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I’m sure we have all been there. We see a position online that is a PERFECT fit and has everything we’re looking for when it comes to daily tasks and learning opportunities. We spend time to tailor our resume, write a cover letter when it isn’t needed and submit the application. We have taken the necessary steps that everyone tells us to do to stand out and wait. A few weeks go by and we wonder if we are ever going to hear back. 

After months of waiting, we are told they decided to select another applicant for the job. We wonder what we could have done differently and make those changes the next time around, and again, we are turned down. Or maybe we get an interview, but never hear back after that. We have no idea what went wrong and no clue how to do better the next time. We start to blame ourselves and beat ourselves up because it feels as if we aren’t good enough for any position. Well, I’m here to tell you that we are wrong. 

Reminder! Rejection hurts, but it doesn’t have to hold us back.

No one tells us how to navigate rejection, both in our love lives and in our careers. It’s something that people just expect us to be okay with but the truth is that rejections can be disappointing and even discouraging. While that may be the case, it is also a very natural and common experience for almost everyone and as such, needs to be addressed and talked about.

Just a few months ago, I applied to a big-name company for an internship that I wanted so badly. I took multiple hours out of my day to talk to people, attend their events, tailor my resume, write a cover letter and even get a recommendation sent to the recruiter. A few weeks pass and I finally get an interview. 

Now, let’s fast forward to the actual interview. I prepared days before meeting with the recruiter and I was so confident about landing the role. But after the interview, it was the last time I heard from the company. Over the next few weeks, I saw other students announcing the new position that they got at this same company over LinkedIn, and I put two and two together. Unfortunately, to this day, I have no idea what was wrong with my application and what I could’ve fixed to increase my chances.

So, let’s talk about this.

Professional Rejection: What is it and how does it affect us? 

Have you ever felt a small pain in your chest whenever you know you’ve just been rejected? Well, there’s a reason for this. 

The main reason we take rejection personally is that it triggers the part of our brain that is activated when we feel physical pain. Our bodies literally take rejection personally. This is because of our “need to belong”. When we have been rejected, we have been denied the opportunity to belong within a group (Ma, 2013). In this case, that group is the company we want to work with.

Knowing this, we can better respond to rejection and understand that it is not something that we choose to take personally. It is a part of how we function. 

Types of Rejections

Now, there are two different kinds of rejection in the professional world- the formal and informal. I have, in fact, experienced both types of rejection and I will share with you what happened and how to react to both.

Formal rejection

The appropriate way that most companies choose to reject someone is to send them an email (or if you are very lucky, they call!) and inform them of their decision. For many companies, they will have an online applicant portal for you to check on the status of your application. If they stay on top of it, you can see where they are in the interview process. Eventually, whether or not you have received an interview, they will send you an email explaining that you have not been chosen. Most of the time, the format of this email is an automated template and should not be taken personally.

This is what should be the most popular way that applicants are notified, but from personal experience, it is the least likely. 

Informal rejection or “ghosting”

I’m sure we have all been ghosted by someone in our lives and I am here to share that that doesn’t stop when it comes to the professional world. Most of the time, the online applicant portal will not be updated in a timely manner and you may never hear from the company again. In fact, I know someone who didn’t receive a formal rejection email until almost 2 years after starting her current position. 

Whether you have been formally or informally rejected by a company, the feelings we all have are the same and both cases should be handled similarly. Continue reading to learn how to make the most of your rejection!

How to Make the Most of Being Rejected

Give yourself time to process

Just like anything we look forward to that does not happen, we need time to process. Like I mentioned earlier, our bodies take this very personally and we need the time to think through it all and come to terms with the situation. If you find venting out a good way to deal with this, you can share your frustrations and disappointment with a friend or confidant. Once you’re able t express how you feel, remember to not dwell on this one moment. A rejection shouldn’t have to be the end of the road but rather, a temporary setback you can overcome!

Don’t take it personally

This is hard to say after I have just told you that our bodies take things personally whether or not we like it, but we do have control over the thoughts we have post-rejection. It is important that you don’t take either form of rejection too personally. There were most likely lots of applicants and one of them just happened to be a better fit for this particular position. This does not mean the company had a particular issue with you. Remember, if there are hundreds of applicants for a single job opening, the chances of getting a rejection are pretty high, even if you’re extremely qualified. Refuse to let your worth be defined by rejection, you are so much more than that!

Don’t compare yourself to others 

Reminder! Getting rejected can build resilience and help you grow and apply the lessons you learn to future setbacks.

I would be lying if I said I hadn’t done this. After seeing everyone posting their new internships at this company, I couldn’t help but compare my profile with theirs. I wondered what was so special about them that I didn’t have, and that is one of the worst ways to handle rejection! Instead, we should be happy for others and remind ourselves, once again, that this was not a personal matter. Plus, if we could read the minds of hiring managers/recruiters, your Career and Professional Development team would be out of jobs!

One thing you can do is to reach out to the applicant who was given the role and see if they have any tips as to what to focus on between now and the next time you apply. Obviously, this person is doing something that the company likes, so maybe focus on those skills and see how you can strengthen and leverage them in the future.

Focus on the bigger picture

Ask yourself if this was really the perfect job for you. Ask yourself what you truly want and if you feel that this job was everything you wanted and more, then trust that there was a reason it didn’t work out. Trust that this door was closed so something greater can follow.  I know this is easier said than done, but career has a funny way of working out sometimes. With hard work and perseverance, you will find a door that opens for you, and it is likely to be 10x better than the first door you thought was everything you wanted.

Make it a learning opportunity

Take this opportunity to focus on the skills and qualities that make you stand out. Do some research on your industry and really understand what you need to learn during this time. Although the rejection may have stung, turn that pain into drive and better your skillset so you can get that job next time! Keep rejection in a proper perspective by asking, “What can I learn from this?” You can make it into an opportunity to move forward with more resilience.

Don’t give up! 

It is SO important that you don’t give up during this time. Make sure you stay connected with the company and don’t burn the bridge. You can reach out to them so they know to look out for you next time and from there, make a plan on how you want to tackle the next few months. Looking for a job/internship is not always easy, so don’t give up now.

How to Reduce Stress After Being Rejected

Looking for jobs and applying to jobs is honestly a job within itself. This process can be extremely overwhelming, especially if you are being ghosted without any directions as to how to improve your skills and move forward. I feel it is important to address this and want to share how you can ease the stress that comes with the job search and being rejected in the process. 

Make a plan

Set goals and deadlines. Decide what times of what days you are going to dedicate your time to searching for jobs, applying to jobs, networking, updating your resume, etc. By doing so, the job search won’t be so daunting, and you’ll know that you are setting the appropriate time to thoroughly do your research and put your best foot forward. 

Give yourself breaks

Like I mentioned earlier, looking for jobs is a job within itself and it can be really easy to get burnt out. Make sure you are patient with yourself and are giving yourself necessary breaks from the process. Spend some time outside, hang out with friends, cook a nice meal for yourself- do anything that gets your mind off of the job hunt. You can even try to include some stress relief practices like meditation in your breaks. 

Be understanding

Be understanding towards yourself. Understand that this is a journey, and it doesn’t come right away. Also, know that rejection is inevitable and the best thing you can do is to stay positive and celebrate your successes along the way. If you are spending your time focusing on the negatives that have happened, it is only fair to dedicate some time to celebrate what you have accomplished so far and the talents you have as you move along.  

In the meantime, know that there is no direct formula for job searching. That’s what keeps it interesting. Try new things, reach out to new people, and know that your worth is not reliant on the job or internship you have.