How to Handle Rejection

How to handle rejection croppedWhen you’re being custard-pied by recruiters on a regular basis, it’s tempting to hide under the duvet — or in the pub — forever. But Graduate Fog has a much better idea.

Writing applications is dull, researching for interviews is time-consuming – but being rejected for jobs is downright harsh. Unless you’re bullet-proof it’s 100% normal for the thumbs-down to hurt like hell. If you’ve ever opened a ‘Thanks but no thanks’ letter or received a ‘Sorry, you came second’ phone call and sat and sobbed like a little girl, you’re not alone.

Everybody knows that job hunting calls on graduates’ practical skills – but it’s rarely acknowledged that it’s emotionally brutal too. On bad days, it’s a blood sport. Unfortunately, there’s no way around it . Great applications – and certainly great interviews – mean investing and engaging in a personal, emotional way. In other words, to give it your best shot, you have to be able to visualise yourself actually doing that job, going to that office every day, saying good morning to those people, who will be colleagues. Having designed and committed to this vision of your future life, it’s no wonder it burns when the recruiter writes you a letter that starts, ‘Unfortunately…’  Or they don’t bother to write at all.

You’ll find more advice on coping with inevitable emotional kicking that comes with job hunting on the advice page How to Stay Motivated – but that isn’t actually what we want to discuss here. Why? Because we actually reckon that the most effective way for graduates to bounce back from rejection is to take charge and take action. The smartest graduates actually use rejection to gather clues about how to make their job hunt even more effective – thereby increasing their chances of not being rejected next time.

As much as your dear mum assures you your job hunt is “just a numbers game,” Graduate Fog believes that the harsh – and more useful – truth is that while you remain out of work, you should never stop doubting the effectiveness of your job-hunting strategies. Until you land a job, you should constantly be asking yourself “What could I be doing differently that might yield better results?” There is always more you can do to increase your chances. Accept this and you free yourself to start trying new, more effective strategies – and stop repeating the mistakes that were wasting your time and energy.


*DISCLAIMER: Because we haven’t got all day, the following advice assumes you’re a smart candidate, that your CV is clear, concise and typo-free and that you’re not doing anything weird like making jokes in your application form or attaching naked photos of yourself to your covering letter.

THEORY #1 You’re casting your net too wide
When jobs are scarce, graduates panic. More applications across more industries = a higher chance of getting a job, right? Wrong. First, if you’re firing off dozens of applications, you probably aren’t doing any properly. Employers know a ‘scattergun’ candidate when they see one. Secondly, if you’re applying for jobs across several different industries, you won’t benefit from the full effects of accumulating deeper understanding with every application you write (and every interview you attend). Picking one industry and becoming and expert in it usually leads to better results than spreading yourself too thin.

THEORY #2 You’re not casting your net wide enough
That’s right — the opposite of the point above can also be a sticking point. There are two ways graduates fail to keep their net wide enough. The first is simply by not applying to enough jobs — instead, taking too long over each application or spending hours tinkering with your CV when it’s already great. The second is by choosing a field that is extremely narrow — and being unwilling to consider alternative ‘sideways’ routes in.

THEORY #3 You need to try some new strategies
Different methods succeed in different industries. If the ones you’re using aren’t working, change tack. For example, if you’re only applying for advertised vacancies, your time might be better spent sending speculative applications (contacting a company directly, even when you haven’t seen a vacancy advertised) or building your network of contacts (more on this to come) and asking them to keep an eye out for jobs for you. What are the Smart job hunting stratgies?

IF IT'S NOT WORKING, STOP DOING IT You may find new strategies are much more effective

IF IT’S NOT WORKING, STOP DOING IT You may find new strategies are much more effective

THEORY #4 You need to consider temporary or ‘contract’ work
I know it, you know it, we all know it — you want a permanent job. You’re gasping for a guaranteed monthly pay cheque. However, approaching employers saying you’re after permanent work narrows your chances considerably. Why? Because to them, it’s like proposing marriage on a first date. The motto of most employers right now is ‘Playing it safe’ — and hiring an unknown graduate on a permanent basis is a giant risk. Try a softer approach. Ask to come in to meet them or suggest you help out on a temporary or casual basis.

THEORY #5 You’re chasing a job in a declining industry
I cover this in more detail in Facing the Recession and The New World of Work but the basic idea is to ask yourself (and others) whether the industry you’ve chosen is competitive — or declining. Starting your career is no longer about picking a job from a list of a industries and just getting on with it. Industries have a limited lifespan. The relative health of yours will depend on all sorts of social, economic and political factors. I’m not telling you to abandon your ‘dream’ — but do look at your options objectively. Is there another — growing — industry where your skills would be more in demand, both now and in the next few years?

THEORY #6 You need more contacts
The fact you’re asking me — not someone working in the area you’ve chosen — what you’re doing ‘wrong’ suggests you need more contacts. There’s a myth that contacts are something you’re either born with (“Daddy’s friend got me the interview”) or you’re not. But anybody can build a network of contacts — from scratch. If you know nobody, work the room at an industry event. Ask if you can meet them another time for coffee. Then ask if they know of anybody looking for extra help at the moment (Remember — don’t ask for a permanent job!) What’s the worst that can happen — they say they don’t? Just ask them to bear you in mind if they do hear of anything — and keep in touch with them via email so they don’t forget you. Repeat with 30 more people and Ta-dah! You have a network of contacts.

DON'T GO IT ALONE! Build a network of people who will tip you off about vacancies that fewer people know about

DON’T GO IT ALONE! Build a network of people who will tip you off about vacancies that fewer people know about

THEORY #7 You need more experience
Ouch — the phrase that no graduate wants to hear. But the fact is that employers have always wanted to see experience on a graduate’s CV, as well as an impressive degree. Although it can feel like it’s just to humiliate you, they actually have their reasons. Hiring someone new is a big risk — and getting it wrong is an expensive mistake. Candidates with experience show they already understand a bit about the industry and the job and have worked in this kind of workplace before, so they aren’t completely ‘green’.

*Anything we’ve missed on this subject?
Email Graduate Fog here and we’ll weave some extra info into this section for you.