As a job seeker, one of the most exciting moments you can experience is being invited in for an interview. An interview invitation feels like the culmination of hours of preparation and years of experience, and being asked to meet for a potential job offer feels like recognition for all you have to offer the work force.
It is a fresh possibility, one that likely causes you to start honing your life path and making plans. Will you need to move? You start looking at new apartments. What will your title be? You imagine your new business cards and updated LinkedIn profile. You get genuinely excited about what is to come.
Now, how does that same moment feel after the third, the fifth, the 10th interview goes by without your landing a job? How does it feel to be asked in for an interview when you've been going on them for weeks, months and maybe even years? There is a lot of information out there on how to nail a job interview, but no one really likes to talk about what happens when you don't.
Green job seekers, including those fresh out of graduate school and those looking to switch fields, know how tricky the job market is and how time-consuming actually getting and starting a new job can be, especially in the field of higher education. I know it, too. It can be so disheartening, especially when you are being asked to interview … and then nothing happens. It truly can feel like all of those wonderful qualities and experiences you have to offer don't matter. It can feel like the people you are interviewing with just plain don't like you. And having those feelings over and over through interview after interview can be devastating. The cycle of the excitement of an interview invitation and the sadness of a rejection is hard anyway, but when it becomes the norm?
Even the most lionhearted among us might consider throwing in the towel at that point.
So how do you keep the faith through all of the noes and stick it out until you get a yes? How do you keep negativity at bay and stay fresh and focused while it feels like nothing will pan out?
The answer isn't as simple as a cutesy blog listicle. Truthfully, when you're in the depths of a seemingly fruitless job search, when you are trying as hard as you possibly can and are seeing your only positive results stop cold, it's hard to do anything but roll your eyes at a list that, in nine different ways, basically tells you to just keep trying. The best way to handle (and work through) an apparently endless string of rejection is to figure out the best way to accept, address and navigate your emotions, as well as all the good and bad outcomes you experience. This is the key to staying focused and preventing burnout, while hopefully learning from the process of repeat rejection.
Accept. Before you can do anything else, you have to accept what is happening in your life. Maybe you're trying to shift careers, and you thought it would be easier because of your years of transferable experience. Maybe, like I was not too long ago, you're freshly out of grad school, ready to get paid for the work you've been doing for free. Our circumstances are all different, and we all face challenges. If you truly feel that you are on the path you're meant to be on -- or, more pragmatically, if you really want to be doing what you are trying to do -- stick it out. If you aren't sure? Do a little soul-searching. The stress, pain and confusion of rejection and a drawn-out job search are devastating and only you can decide if, truthfully, it's worth it or not.
Address. After you've accepted your current situation, it's time to deal with it. In my own experience, that meant taking a logical approach to my job search and the rejection I kept facing. It is so easy -- way too easy, actually -- to get emotional and take job rejection personally. But being turned down for a job is rarely personal.
I've certainly gone on a couple interviews where I knew right away I wasn't a good fit. In those cases, you are likely anticipating a no, or maybe you even reject them (which is a valid action in certain situations, but that's a conversation for another day). What hurts is when you put your all into preparing for an interview for a position you are really excited about, nail the interview and still don't get picked.
When this happens, you must keep in mind the number of applicants that go for the same position. Of course, that varies by position, field, company and so on, but unless you get extremely lucky, the competition will be fierce. That's simply the nature of searching for employment.
Repeat rejections can be devastating, but you need to address the situation pragmatically. When you hear a no (or worse, never hear back at all), ask yourself a few questions:
- Did you do your best? If so, accept that someone else was a better fit and move on. If not? Begin thinking about what you can do better in your next opportunity and create an action plan to help you prepare.
- What type of first impression did/do you make? If you're not sure, or if you know you could be a bit more professional, approachable or personable when you first meet new people, begin making changes for your next interview. I'm not at all suggesting completely changing who you are. However, think about the way you appear to others when they first meet you. Are you happy with that first impression? If not, what can you do to more comfortably be yourself the first time you meet someone?
- Were you completely prepared? I've gone on plenty of interviews before which I studied the company, the mission and the department and practiced every interview question I could think of and still got asked something that stumped me. Frankly, those situations suck. If that is the case, though, you can be assured that you did all you could to prepare. While getting ready for an interview, just don't forget to anticipate having to think on your toes.
If you're happy with your answers to these questions, and you know you did your best both before and during the interview, you must accept that someone else was just a better fit.
Navigate, learn and keep moving forward. How is all this related to preventing burnout? It's easy to want to give up when you do prepare for every interview that comes your way but never get a yes. I've been there; I know exactly how frustrating it is.
In the heart of my own job search, I was going on at least an interview a week at colleges and universities all over Southern California. I had to navigate and manage the excitement of a new opportunity with the sadness of a rejection. I had no choice but to approach my situation logically, lest I get totally bogged down in emotion. I became very intentional and methodical with my planning and preparation:
- With rejection came that initial gut-jerking sadness, but I quickly turned that into action using the questions in the previous section. If I determined that I could have done something better, I planned and physically wrote out a better method for my next interview. If I truly felt like I had done my best, I recognized that someone else had done better, mourned the lost opportunity and moved on.
- I reached out to friends, family and mentors for good vibes, encouragement and assistance. I used to be the type of person who suffers in silence. I didn't like the idea of relying on my circle in bad times, or more specifically, in times when I felt ashamed of myself and my situation. But then I realized that I had literally nothing to be ashamed about. The job search process is difficult and ongoing and stressful and weird. I was doing the best I could. With that realization, I opened up about my struggles to a couple of my mentors, who were able to give me assurance and excellent advice. I let my family and close friends know how scared I was, and I got nothing but positivity, support and encouragement.
- I allowed myself to feel excited about another opportunity. I began approaching each interview invitation as a possibility. While I felt desperate for a job (both to begin the career I was and am passionate about but also because I was living on a shoestring off my savings and work as a substitute teacher), I began looking at each interview as an option.
- I began branching out and thinking outside the box I had placed around my life and career goals. I started being more intentional with where I was applying and interviewing. For example, I knew that moving into the heart of Los Angeles from my relatively affordable suburb wasn't the best idea, but moving to Bakersfield, while not ideal, could provide me the opportunity to live cheaper and save money.
Your job search may feel desperate and scary, but thinking about it creatively helps take some of the edge off. Your job search can and should be experimental. That may sound ridiculous when you're at a time in your life when your need for a paycheck outweighs your desire for a job you love in your field, or when you are trying to switch fields entirely. However, trial and effort are so important, and you need to let yourself try new things to find what suits you. Maybe you've been facing multiple rejections because you'd be better suited in a different region or department. Shake up your thinking to open more doors!
As humans, we don't really like to talk about rejection. Rejection is a part of life, though. Every job seeker will, at one point or another, be told no. Job seekers may even face a cycle of rejection that can derail their entire hunt. My hope is that you take these tips and resist giving up or giving in. It wasn't long ago that I was in one of these situations, and my own drawn-out process allowed me to end up in the position I am in today. The cycle of rejection I endured and all of the noes I heard led me to the opportunity I am so grateful that I took.
Even in a sea of noes, all it takes is one yes.
Keep the faith.