Sometimes, rejection forces you to see things about yourself — the ugly, insecure, weak parts you normally try to improve but not to focus on.
The biggest career lessons I’ve learned was through rejection, and lots of it. My 20something, thin-skinned self would’ve hated talking about rejection because it highlights failures and inadequacies, but today’s me has learned to do a shoulder shrug and move on.
No matter how badly you want the job, there are things that you just can’t control. Here are my top three takeaways.
1. Torturing myself over why I didn’t get the job. Instead, ask for feedback.
Maybe I just didn’t have the experience they were looking for. Maybe they didn’t like my outfit, maybe I said I liked koalas but the company really likes kangaroos. The point is, I will never truly know why they decided to choose someone else.
I would replay the interview in my head to try and pick apart possible shortcomings. The problem with this is that it’s hard to see things from another person’s point of view if I’m having a monologue.
This kind of negativity just made me feel bad about myself.
The way I face rejection now, is to take a productive standpoint and figure out what I could’ve done better. Was there anything to learn? Did I get any feedback from the other party? If not, could I? There’s no harm in asking for professional feedback on the conversation. Learning these reasons helps me better prepare for future meetings I have with potential clients.
There were very nice companies who offered to give me the reasons why I wasn’t chosen. However, I regret that I didn’t say yes, because at the time, I felt like it was pouring salt on the open wound. I told you I didn’t handle rejection well.
If a company offers this to you, always say yes.
2. Take accountability and stop blaming.
Not that long ago, a bright and shiny position at Google opened up. I knew Google took referrals pretty seriously, so my friend who was a 10-year veteran at Google referred me and I was in.
I knew the hiring process at Google was the equivalent to getting a mortgage — long, complicated and hazy, but working at a tech giant like Google was sort of on my bucket list. (Let me add here that this is the wrong reason to want to work at a company.)
The powers that be handed me a writing exercise, and after a few rounds of answering questions and turning in assignments, I was told that they decided not to move forward with my candidacy.
Following this rejection, I felt a flood of emotions, mostly sadness, but after that wore off, the conversations in my head started. “Their writing instructions weren’t clear! I didn’t know what I was supposed to do! Did they want a sassy tone to show off my writing chops? But Google’s tone isn’t sassy! Not fair!” Oh woe is me. Instead of shoulder shrugging this and being thankful for the opportunity, albeit short, I wallowed in self-pity and even embarrassment.
I look back on this now, and realize I was applying for all the wrong reasons. Bucket list job? C’mon. I wanted bragging rights, to be able to nonchalantly tell people “Yup, I work at Google.” But the more important lesson is that I learned not to blame or be bitter because of a rejection. I did the best I could, given the generic instructions, and this was the outcome. I didn’t get it, ok, that means I need to move on.
3. Your happiness won’t result from being at your dream job.
Back in the day, I worked in TV production and thought it would complete my life. I thought it would be interesting to tell people I work in TV (I was living in LA at the time, not sure why I thought that was unique), and of course they always asked what famous people I encountered. I thought TV production would be as awesome as what you see on TV!
What I didn’t know was how much behind-the-scenes work it takes for a successful production, and how cut-throat and competitive the industry really is. I also misjudged the hours I’d work (at one point I was working 70 hours+) and mistakenly decided that the travel involved with my production schedule would be “fun.” Not only was I wrong about how brutally hard it is to be in entertainment, I realized it wasn’t bringing me the joy and satisfaction that I thought it would.
I’m not saying I’m adverse to hard work. Trust me, I put in long hours, worked hard and met incredible people along the way, but my view of happiness was all wrong. I relied on an external factor (my job) to somehow make me happy.
Your job can bring you joy, but it’s how you build that reality to ensure that it does. I was guilty of not doing more to make it my dream job. I just sat back and put things on autopilot and somehow thought the happiness gods would miraculously make the job amazing. Whether I ended up working for Google, or for Anderson Cooper, my expectations were unrealistic.
Although my days of being interviewed as an employee is over (for now at least), I’m happy to say I’m inching closer to my dream job. But it’s still a work in progress…