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Job Seeking: How to Overcome Rejection in an Increasingly Competitive World

Everyone has faced rejection at some point in their lives, especially in the professional world: whether it be from your top university, numerous internships, graduate jobs, or even being laid off. As the world becomes increasingly competitive, it’s becoming ever more important to be able to deal with these rejections in the most constructive and productive way. But what way is that?

It’s easy to feel put down by rejection and questions may revolve in your mind. Is this the right job for me? Am I qualified/skilled enough for this? I’ve put so much time into this specific skill, but still can’t get a job in the industry - what do I do now? These are all questions of self-doubt that come along with rejection; it’s natural to have an emotional response when you are made to feel vocationally inadequate. But I'm here to help. Think of this as a brief guide, running through mistakes that people (including me, numerous times) have made, to ensure you are in the best position moving forward:

1. Employer feedback

Imagine you are back to your teenage years, revising for your A-levels and completing practice papers before the real exams. Now imagine completing these practise papers but having no idea if you’ve got the answers right or wrong. Chances are you’re going to keep getting the same answers right and the same answers wrong, right? This runs in parallel with employee feedback: completing an interview, getting rejected and not obtaining feedback creates the same cyclic loop. It is critical for your learning that you understand what you have done wrong – there have been many times where I myself have received a rejection and just left it, without seeking any feedback at all. It's very unconstructive: anti-constructive even. Maybe you were a good fit for the job, but they weren’t impressed with your interview skills; maybe they wanted more experience in the related field. You will never know if you don’t ask. It is worth sending an email to the HR department asking where and what you can improve on. Or further, email your interviewers and ask for their assessment of your qualities. This is the first step to building a constructive response to rejection: learning from the mistakes you have made and how to get better.

2. Staying connected

Networking is a broad and intimidating phrase, but rather straightforward in action. I would define networking as interacting with industry professionals to better your understanding of their role and the sector as a whole. It’s as simple as that. It can provide you with key information that you can use when looking for jobs. But what does networking look like, and how do you do it effectively?

The first step is to put yourself out there: find people who are in the roles you want, whether it be through friends, family or tools such as LinkedIn, and reach out to them. Again, it’s as easy as that. Don’t be afraid to send blind messages – they are just people, and the majority will be willing to help out. Also, professionals love to talk about themselves and what they do: many of them cherish the opportunity to do so.

Now that you’ve organised a few calls, the next step is to come prepared. You should have some questions ready – not only about the role but also about them in particular. How did they get into the role? What path did their careers take? What advice do they have for you in the position you are in? Having a personalised approach rather than questioning generically will instil a better and more memorable conversation. Learning about their experiences can also help provide you with potential career paths – did they work at a smaller company before joining their current firm? Did their work experience in a related role allow them to climb the ladder? Being exposed to other people’s career trajectories is extremely useful in sculpting your own.

Lastly, in each call, ask if they know anyone else you can talk to. This can help build a rapport and a profile for yourself, whilst broadening your network. Imagine turning up for an interview at a firm and you’ve already talked to multiple team members: this will stand you in much stronger stead for getting the job. 

3. Build the skills

Now that you’ve got your employee feedback and you know the areas you need to work on, and you’ve networked to build your knowledge of the industry and the job-specific skills required, now is the time to build those skills. Whether by doing an online course, part-time volunteering in a related field or finding a job that gives you a stepping stone into your target industry. There are thousands of cheap online courses (shoutout to Udemy) that cover basically every skillset out there. You might also find that, through this process, that you don’t actually enjoy the work you thought you wanted to do. This is a positive discovery – part of the process of job searching is understanding what you do and don't enjoy. Being rejected from a job can be a blessing in disguise since it could lead you to other avenues which suit you better.

4. Keep your options open

As a student especially, it is easy to become tunnel-visioned on a particular set of jobs – maybe it’s what your friends are applying to, or the positions to which people give high prestige. But there are thousands of different sectors out there. Just because you didn’t get that “prestigious” internship it doesn’t mean all hope is lost. Just because you didn’t get your “dream job” doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to get there eventually through a different path. Stay diverse and open to changes – investigate a broader variety of work, explore things you find interesting, and you will find more opportunities become available to you.

With these things in mind, you should be in a strong position to brush off that rejection and move forward constructively. By remaining active and determined, learning from mistakes and developing the necessary skills, when the time comes you will be ready to grab the opportunity with both hands.

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