Career Transitions

Turning chaos into careers.

Rejection: The Hell in the Hallway

Is your reaction to rejection helping or hurting you?

I once saw a church sign announcing a sermon entitled Hell in the Hallway. Intrigued, I asked the minister what she meant by that.

"You know how they‘re always saying ‘when God closes one door, He opens another one'? Well, no one ever talks about the hell in the hallway while you're waiting for that other door to open."

If you've lost your job, you're likely in that hallway. And worse yet, you're papering it with rejection letters.


Job searching makes us feel vulnerable. We're not used to being on the asking end of things. We're used to being in control, and we only have so much control in the process.

We can't control rejection. We can only control our reaction to it. So try not to label your reaction as good or bad but rather: does it move you forward?

Will the way you're responding to this situation help or hurt you in the long run?

What helps? Here are 4 tips:

1.Humor. College students get rejection letters all the time. I once asked a school newspaper to run a rejection letter contest to see who could get the worst rejection letter.

Find a Therapist

Search for a mental health professional near you.

One student (an Economics major with a 4.0 average) got a rejection postcard. A postcard. It read, "Thank you for applying but we found qualified applicants." Ouch.

But my favorite was the student who received a lovely letter from a local bank that thanked him for his excellent application. They greatly enjoyed meeting him. They were impressed with his responses to interview questions. But they simply didn't have an opening at the present time. So what's wrong with that? He hadn't interviewed for a job at that bank. He had no idea how they got his name. We decided that if he could be rejected by a company he didn't even apply to, he was the king of rejections. 

2. Perspective. Employers make business decisions. They are not personal. When you're looking at a stack of 150 resumes and you can only interview 3 people, believe me, the decisions are not personal.

  • Refuse to be overwhelmed. In fact, practice being underwhelmed. If you act like every rejection letter is a catastrophe it will become that.
  • Focus on the future- what's next?
  • Refuse to wallow in self-pity. You'll drain your energy and spirit.
  • And above all, chocolate always improves your perspective.

3. Buddying up with friends.  Get to know some artists, writers, actors, etc. They deal with rejection every day. And the next day they're at the audition, writing on their laptops, getting out the paintbrushes, etc. (Clicking on the word rejection will take you to Joanne Mattera's excellent blog posting on the subject.)

4. Learning. What can you learn from the process? Have you asked your friends to read and edit your resume and cover letter? A missed typo could be spelling doom for you. Are you following the employer's directions? Did you include the writing sample requested? Are your references saying nice things about you?

One of my favorite visual images for the job search process is in the classic book What Color Is Your Parachute -- it's a page with the word NO written hundreds of times-until the very last word on the very last line which says YES. It doesn't matter how many no's you get: all you need is that one yes. And it doesn't even have to be the "perfect" yes. Most jobs don't start out perfect: we craft them into perfect. But that's another column coming soon...

(Photo credit:  http://www.jeffkramer.com. From Flickr.com)

Katharine Brooks, Ed.D., is the Executive Director of the Office of Personal and Career Development at Wake Forest University. She is the author of You Majored in What?

more...

Subscribe to Career Transitions

Current Issue

Love & Lust

Who says marriage is where desire goes to die?