Greg de la Cruz works at NCR Corp's R&D center in the Philippines. He is interested in economic history and current world financial affairs.
My Experience With Failure
Waiting to receive an email from any of the companies you applied to can be very purgatory-like. Not that I know what purgatory is actually like, but you get the feelings I’m trying to describe here—anxiety, dread, obsession (of refreshing your inbox), helplessness, unsettledness—and much more, possibly even some positive emotions mixed in there, such as excitement and hope.
Just one email notification from one of the company’s representatives, usually the recruiter, and you’re on your feet! If you happen to be at your office desk and see that pop-up on your phone, you’ll probably try to go on a fake restroom break, which in this case is called for (let’s start making this excuse valid). You open the email, notice the vague subject, scan the message, and within less than a minute you figure out that you didn’t get the job.
It stings. However, you try to reread the email to see if there’s any silver lining to it, but then you realize that there isn’t. You’ve just experienced a job rejection. And it’s probably not your first one, especially if you have been applying for jobs as long as I have.
I’m no beginner to getting rejected on job applications. In fact, I’d consider myself seasoned enough to speak on behalf of people who’ve been in the workforce long enough to know that failure is simply part of the process. And when it does happen to you, take the time to process it. Don’t always resort to “hacking” the emotions you feel by staying too positive about it.
Whitney Goodman in Toxic Positivity says that positive thinking “denies the heart its authentic, genuine feelings.” She adds: “Not only does it have the potential to rob you of real and deeper connection which is ultimately necessary to living a passionate and compassionate life; but it even has the potential to cut you off from reality itself.”
If I were to change one thing from all my brushes with job rejection, it’s to be less positive whenever I get rejected. Most guides you’ll find online will tell you to “keep thinking positive.” I get that it’s important to be optimistic and have a level head when it comes to failure, but it’s equally, if not more important to be human, first and foremost.
Having been employed under four different companies in the last decade, job searching and job rejection are both no longer novel to me. The story of my latest job search cycle which was a few years ago was that I applied the strategy of getting my resume out there (see Strategy No. 6 below). I can’t remember a time when I had taken so many interviews (and also rejected a few, having gained more information about the company and the role).
I, too, fell into an obsessive cycle of refreshing my email inbox every few hours, to sometimes never getting any email that day despite having sent my application to 20 different companies the day before.
It wasn’t like I was aiming for whatever company was hiring on job boards—I had to be picky, also. But as you can guess, I was rejected more often than I was given the job. How should we deal with job rejection that doesn’t leave us in an endless spiral?
Dealing With Rejection and Not Taking It Personally
Learning to process, react, and bounce back from rejection is a key element to the entire jobhunting process. The disadvantage of having it too easy and getting too lucky in applications is that you hardly get to experience the frustration of job-seeking.
Because of the heavy competition among applicants and the unrealistic expectations from hiring managers, finding a job in modern society couldn’t be harder. Couple that with automated hiring systems that filter out resumes that don’t contain the right keywords, then you have yourself a system that requires too much work from applicants to even get considered for an initial interview.
That’s why—and you will hear this a lot—don’t take job rejection personally. That said, you wouldn’t want to ignore those rejection emails (if they’re kind enough to send any) because they’ll be valuable to learn from on what you can improve—whether it’s rewriting your resume, looking for a better fit, or maybe acquiring new skills. You should take time to process the rejection, but as time goes on, you’ll eventually build a more resilient mind.
7 Strategies to Bounce Back From Job Rejection
Sometimes all it takes is a change of strategy for you to rebound from a job hunt. These are not new strategies that haven’t been recommended by those who specialize in recruiting talent.
I can only speak from experience and from what I learned directly from people I know. However, don’t be too quick to dismiss these strategies to bounce back from failing to land that coveted position— here are 7 of my personal favorites, which I hope can have a positive impact on your job search.
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1. Try a New Industry
Perhaps you tried applying for a higher-paying job within your field of expertise but unfortunately struck out due to any of the following reasons: you were underqualified, they picked someone more qualified, or they didn’t think you were ready to take on the role (and I’m just rattling off some possible reasons—most likely, they won’t even mention the real reason you didn’t get the job). Trying to climb a higher-level version of your job, albeit marginal, may not be the best route to take.
You could choose to follow the path of those in the restaurant and hospitality business early in the Covid-19 pandemic. In an April 2021 episode of the CNBC Make It show “Millennial Money,” a chef from New York who had worked for a decade trying to make ends meet in the food industry but had lost her job because of Covid shifted gears and pivoted to tech.
It’s not easy to land any tech job, but she didn’t have to start from scratch, either. She leveraged her knowledge and experience from her years as a chef to become a UX Designer for a company that features food. Sure, she invested in an expensive 3-month boot camp, but her previous job experience did not go to waste—and she got paid way more in her new job (plus the capability to work remotely).
Maybe that promotion from another company just wasn’t meant for you—and all you really needed was to enter a new industry to get paid more.
2. Find Ways to Move Laterally
Similar to the first strategy, maybe going “up” isn’t the appropriate nor timely decision for you. Maybe you can find some other interesting roles within your company within your job level that are easier to apply for than you realize.
Especially if you work for a large organization, looking for ways to move laterally instead of looking outside makes sense. There are opportunities for the taking as an insider, and you’re already a step ahead of most outsiders.
A word of caution when trying to move laterally: give all due respect to your current boss. Based on learnings from organizations I’ve been on, bosses can get irritated or may feel insulted when you catch them off guard and find out from someone else that you’re applying internally for another hiring manager.
You may not necessarily be friends nor in good speaking terms, but friendliness is not the most important thing—it’s respect. When it comes down to it, you have all the right to apply wherever and whenever, but as a respectful subordinate, try to at least give your boss a hint that you’re planning to move laterally (all the while hoping that your plan won’t be sabotaged).
3. Ask for a Change in Your Job
If you’re exhausted from the jobhunting and the worn out from too many rejections, it doesn’t hurt to try and approach your boss for a change in your job. Even if you can’t find any other interesting opportunities inside your company (especially if you work for a small one), you can still shake things up and stop being miserable.
Misery is common for workers who just can’t find a way out of their jobs. Instead of forcing your way out of your current job, you can try to ask for a change in your job. Maybe the problem lies with your work schedule? Maybe it’s the workload, which turns out can be shared with other team members? Maybe it’s your boss’s or co-worker’s attitude?
You’ll be surprised by how willing people are to listen to your suggestions (this is assuming that you work in a place where openness is encouraged).
4. Take on a Similar Part-Time Job
Maybe you didn’t land your coveted job because although the recruiter or hiring manager was impressed with your credentials—you just didn’t have enough experience in the specific role that you were applying for. If you have some luxury of time, looking for a part-time job that’s similar to the job you applied for can be a good option for you.
The part-time job likely won’t pay well (if it pays anything at all), but you’re not in it for the money, anyway. Approach your part-time job as if it was a post-graduate course that you had to invest some time and effort on, even if the return won’t manifest itself immediately.
From personal experience, it’s almost equally difficult to land any part-time job if you don’t have any experience in that field. And so, it sometimes feels like the chicken-and-egg thing with almost every job opening—you want to land a job in order to gain experience, but they’re only taking people with experience. As I’ve mentioned earlier, the job search is a frustrating process.
5. Join Professional Organizations
As recommended by Indeed.com, which is a reliable source for employment advice, joining a professional organization is one of many job searching strategies that work. Joining a professional organization "will present opportunities for you to learn, expand upon your current skill set, and network with those working within the industry."
I'm a proponent of the idea that networking events work to every job seeker's advantage. According to Adam Grant, who is an authority when it comes to organizational psychology, "weak ties" are key to expanding your reach towards jobs you never knew were available or even existed.
Joining professional organizations and putting yourself in a position to expand your network will increase your number of weak ties. You don't have to join a professional organization completely relevant to your field of expertise—some groups are open to newcomers and complete beginners, especially to people from other fields who can bring their unique perspectives.
6. Get Your Resume Out There
For Strategy No. 6, and I don’t advise you to always resort to this— get your resume out there. Be careful of sharing your data everywhere. Assume that your personal information can and will be used the wrong way, especially on things that you never consented to. This is the reason why you should also be selective in giving out your resume. Just because it’s out there doesn’t mean it will only generate you benefit.
Also, be more strategic when it comes to sending out your resume. I took the wrong route earlier in my career and applied to too many companies. Yes—there is indeed a thing called over-applying, and it’s when you invest your time, attention, energy, and resources in job applications that just aren’t the fit for you.
I know it’s important to be flexible when it comes to whatever jobs are available, but it’s equally important to balance being open with being intentional about your job search.
Most, if not all, online job boards have a filter function. Make the most out of that filter function, apply to jobs that “fit” your criteria, make a list of all the jobs you applied to, and from that list, do what you can to eliminate the least appealing jobs.
You may have already put your resume out there, but if you can narrow your search further and defragment your attention by focusing on fewer applications, this will really, really help.
7. Use a Headhunter
Last resort— but probably one of the most effective and time-saving strategies—hire a headhunter. Don’t expect to be better than those who are true experts in the recruiting business.
They’re likely to have known more applicants in a single week than you’ve ever met in your life. To use a headhunter means that you will ultimately pay them a fee, whether that’s before or after you land a position.
I understand and sympathize if you’re on the brink of giving up on the job hunt—so it makes total sense to leave most of the process up to someone else.
Rebuilding Your Confidence and Acknowledging Factors Beyond Your Control
Experiencing rejection after rejection, your confidence will take a hit. Your self-esteem can suffer horribly, and this may start affecting your job performance and even your life. As you go through a challenging time, remember to remind yourself that you still have a shot at getting that job you covet and that you do have some skills that you can be proud of.
At the end of the day, there are many factors beyond your control that could have contributed more to your failed job hunt than you give credit for. Keep it in perspective, never stop trying, and learn from your mistakes. Job rejection happens to the best of us.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2022 Greg de la Cruz