- Looking for a job can feel crushing to self-esteem.
- Psychology tools can help you cope better and maintain your motivation.
- Pain is always a part of growth. It’s uncomfortable, yet so rewarding in the end.
Looking for work is stressful. Facing layoffs or getting rejected after several interviews hurts. It’s hard to remain optimistic and motivated after multiple rejections. Many develop symptoms of anxiety, depression, and physical complaints (Linn, M.W. et al., 1985). After completing that third or fourth interview, your hope for an offer naturally rises. Some companies ghost applicants, leaving them confused and uncertain.
I decided to ask an expert how he coped with rejection. I talked with Daniel Seddiqui, the man USA Today called “the most rejected person in America” because he was rejected after 5,000 phone calls, 18,000 emails, and 120 interviews (read more about him here). Eventually, he landed a volunteer position at Northwestern University coaching women's cross country. I asked him which rejection was the most difficult and how he kept going.
"When I was 25 years old, I applied for an accountant position for the Stanford University tennis program,” Daniel said. “This was a dream job because I grew up five miles from the campus and had always aspired to be a part of the institution. As a competitive athlete throughout high school, I hoped to be recruited to Stanford athletics. Although I was not accepted into the university, I still dreamed of working there one day. I had accounting experience with a strong passion for collegiate athletics. The job seemed perfect. I lived in Chicago then and was a volunteer coach at Northwestern University. I flew back to the Bay Area for the initial interview. The search committee loved my enthusiasm and educational background, so I was asked to come back for another interview. I was fortunate to make the 3rd and final round of interviews. After the interview, the head coach of the tennis team handed me his business card and I stuck it on the outside of my wallet. The opportunity seemed promising. Two weeks later, they told me I was the runner-up and appreciated my time.”
It can feel crushing to be so close to fulfilling a lifelong dream only to suffer the closed door of rejection. I asked Daniel how he coped after the loss of that opportunity.
“I stayed in Chicago and then accepted another opportunity in Virginia. That inspired me to work 50 jobs in 50 states, which I turned into a best-selling book. If I got that Stanford job, I wouldn't have become an author or an entrepreneur," he explained. "Getting rejected was a blessing in disguise. To this day, I have the card the head coach gave me in the same place on the outside of my wallet. It reminds me that everything happens for a reason. I look at that card as a symbol of acceptance. So, whenever I get a rejection, it gives me direction. As ironic as it sounds, rejections have opened doors (elsewhere). If I take the fear of rejection out of the equation, my world opens up.”
Daniel developed several coping skills born from the pain of rejection. Psychology research in resilience offers some valuable tools for job seekers as well. Here are five ways to cope with job rejection:
Find the pearl
In every agitating or painful experience, we can find a pearl of wisdom if we look for it. Like an oyster turning an irritating grain of sand into a gem, we can find something from every rejection to help us improve our skills, expand our perspective, and increase our chances for later success. Cognitive psychologists recognize that all our thoughts are interpretations of experience, not the absolute truth. When we reframe events as positive or neutral, we change our emotional response. When Daniel looked at rejection as providing him direction, he reframed the disappointment as something of value. Now he had a new direction. That simple reframe changed his emotional experience of rejection. It helped him keep moving forward.
Looking for a job can feel like a punishing experience. We look at the prize, getting the job, as the reward for all the work. Instead, providing ample rewards for all your job-hunting efforts is best. Apply for a job, then give yourself a break to have fun. Go through your 4th interview, then take a friend to dinner to celebrate your effort. Tell yourself you will get a present after preparing for a lengthy interview. Rewarding yourself for effort, not outcome, helps you maintain motivation and momentum.
Try something new
Job hunting is tedious and laborious. Completing lengthy online applications can take hours. Rewriting your resume can feel torturous. Studies show that seeking outside help can widen your perspective and improve results. Research job search strategies, interview skills, and goal-setting tips. Seek support from others for encouragement and fresh approaches. Trying something new generates a bit of healthy hope to spur you forward (Liu, S. et al. 2014).
Consider "the mustard effect"
Master writing coach Marni Freedman shared a story from her career as a Hollywood writer. The casting department advocated for a talented actor they knew could play a role brilliantly. The director went to lunch and spilled mustard on his new tie right before he was to audition the brilliant actor. Irritated and distracted, he passed on the talented actor. The casting director coined the term “the mustard effect” to explain why talented people sometimes don’t get the job. Extraordinary candidates often do not get picked for reasons unrelated to qualifications or how well they perform in the interview. Sometimes it’s not about you at all. Don’t take it personally. It’s just the mustard effect.
Grieve with positive intention
Let yourself curl in a ball and cry if you get sucker-punched by rejection. It’s normal to feel all the feelings of distress. Recognize that grief is a healthy and normal emotion. It will pass. Aim your intention at self-care, not self-destruction. Getting rejected shakes our self-esteem. You can learn and grow from your job-hunting experiences. After each disappointment, do something kind for yourself. Eat well, exercise, sleep, make love, socialize, and play. It’s just another day. Tomorrow offers hope for success.
Pain is always a part of growth. It’s uncomfortable, yet so rewarding in the end. Allow yourself to seek, learn, adapt, and grow from each disappointment and rejection. Every successful person has been there too.
Linn MW, Sandifer R, Stein S. Effects of unemployment on mental and physical health. Am J Public Health. 1985 May;75(5):502-6. doi: 10.2105/ajph.75.5.502. PMID: 3985238; PMCID: PMC1646287.