It’s Time to Put Your Strengths to Work: Rejection and the Job Search

You are ready to leave your job.

You are successful in your current role, but you’re ready to take on more responsibilities.

Alternatively, you hate your job and wonder if you can stand one more Zoom meeting with that moron you call your boss located in another city and who keeps calling you Douglas, even though your name is David or Myrtle, when your name is Florence.

Or perhaps your relationship to your current employer is something in-between.

Whatever the case, you want a new job.

Be forewarned, you may be setting yourself up for rejection. This is most likely not your first dance with this fickle but seemingly finite partner. Whether overt or covert, rejection is something no one wants but almost all are forced to face. 

You are better prepared for rejection than you may think, because you’ve been dealing with it all your life.

Well, haven’t you?

Didn’t get picked first (or second) for kickball in 3rd grade.


Didn’t get the lead in the junior high musical.


Didn’t get picked for the Varsity Ping Pong team.


Team Captain/lead cheerleader turned down your invite to the prom.


You didn’t get into Harvard, Oxford, West Point, E.I.E.I.O. University.


Internship at Microsoft …


Management Trainee opening at Ford . . .


Audition for Jeopardy.


Miss America . . .


Whenever you compete for a singular prize, you are putting yourself forward for rejection. And if you are reading this, then I know, you have been rejected and you have survived.

My senior year in college, back when you received rejections on company letterhead, my class threw a rejection letter party. Every rejection letter was worth a beer. Most classmates passed the limits of sobriety long before their individual piles were winnowed down to the bottom. The walls of the pub were covered top to bottom with colorful corporate logos and similar statements advising how impressive we were, but not impressive enough to hire. Collective rejection.

Today, you are unlikely to receive a formal rejection letter. The communication is far more likely to come in the form of an email or actually. . .  in the form of nothing.

Rejection is especially likely in those times when you take initiative. A phone call from you answered with “We’ll get back to you.” or “HR will be in touch with you”. On rare occasions by the honest, “Buzz off!” and more frequently, just by the sound of the phone, Ring… Ring… Ring…  Or the unanswered email. Cowardice is frequently on displayed when it comes time to tell job candidates the truth.

So why did you get rejected for a job?

Perhaps there really is a better candidate.

Better? How?

First, they may actually come closer to meeting the job requirement than you do. They may be smarter, stronger, more clever, more diligent, just better.

The chemistry might have been better. Hiring is not an exact science. A company is looking for a person that meets a set of criteria. They tend to consider candidates who match most of those criteria. If several of them do, then the consideration turns to who does the hiring manager want to associate with every day? Who is she going to be able to tolerate in staff meetings, on Zoom calls, at the coffee station? By the way, that get this wrong all of the time. Like I said, it’s not exact.

The reality is you do not know the competition. The competition may be a Sigma Cum Laude from Stanford or someone who was the best pit crew chief in NASCAR or someone who has done the same work somewhere else.

Your competitors may offer some interest, history or experience that wasn’t in the job listing like fluency in Urdu or having owned their own business that impresses the hiring manager.

The competition may be the hiring manager’s next-door neighbor, his niece, last year’s star intern, a fellow alumnus, his chiropractor’s 2nd cousin’s Sunday school student. You have no idea what the competition has that isn’t in the job listing.

Before you get incensed about nepotism and connections, put yourself in the hiring manager’s or HR rep’s shoes. They are taking a chance when they hire someone. Prior knowledge of a candidate, even by a tenuous connection, can give her some greater confidence and serves as a form of vetting. Personal contacts, and a network are the best thing to have to open doors. People help people fill jobs with people. Expertise, competence, and enthusiasm are greatly enhanced by connection and proximity.

Sometimes job listings are fishing expeditions. It seems unlikely in the superheated job market that we have been experiencing but it remains possible that a company posted a job just to see who is out there.

Another alternative explanation is that there never was a job or by the time the interview process was over, there wasn’t a job. Organizations can take massive amounts of time to make decisions. They may believe that there is going to be a need to fill a position and then plans change. There was an article in the WSJ this week about companies rescinding job offers.

I was once rejected by a major corporation in the following fashion. I had a successful phone interview which led to an all-day in person interview. After 3 weeks, a call by me to the hiring manager produced the response “You should hear from HR”. Next day, I received a rejection email which included the statement not to respond to the email because it came from an unmonitored account.

Fast forward four years. I bump into one of the people who had interviewed me. She volunteered how impressed they had been. I thanked her and said that I had wondered about the rejection ever since. She looked at me dumbfounded and said, “Didn’t they tell you? We never filled that job.” Your rejection may not be your failure. It also indicates that some people don’t have the decency to tell you they aren’t going to hire you because it turns out there isn’t a job, because some people suck. Sorry, but true.

Don’t carry rejection around as if it were a death sentence. An HR rep shared with me his hiring process. Using Applicant Tracking Software (ATS) to screen resumes, he looked for at least 6 words he wanted to see out of a list of 8 to make a first cut. He acknowledged he most likely missed a lot of great candidates. However, what he needed was to hire one, not find every potential one. In the work world, at least through the hiring process, it IS all about them.

Rejection is part of a job search. Do not let fear of it become a hindrance to finding work that is rewarding, satisfying, and valued. There are many variables over which you have no control. Concentrate on the things that you can control. Remember to see what your uncle, neighbor, your mechanic’s cousin’s dog walker or alma mater can do to help you and what you can do to help yourself. Best of luck. You will find a better job.

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