#CareerChat – Dealing with Rejection

1-rejectionDear Dr A 

Thank you for attending the interview for the above position. Regretfully I am now writing to inform you that, on this occasion, you have been unsuccessful.  I would like to take the opportunity to thank you for your interest in working for our organisation. We appreciate the time and care that you have given in submitting your application and attending the interview, and would be happy to receive a further application from you for any future suitable vacancy. I wish you every success in the future. 

Yours sincerely,


It could come by letter, email or face to face but the emotions you experience are the same. It feels like some of the air has been let out of your lungs leaving you feeling like a deflated balloon. If you live long enough, work hard enough and take enough risks, at some point(s) in your career journey, you will experience rejection. In the last few years, especially since the recession, the employment market has been particularly difficult with new graduates bearing the brunt of it. We cannot count the number of times we have read in the newspapers or watched on television where new graduates discuss their inability to get a job despite incredible effort.  I (Amara)  heard about a lady who applied for over a hundred jobs and was not called to a single interview! Technology has made applying for jobs so much easier, however, this comes with the  increased chance of being rejected.

Rejection does not just apply to employment – it could be a manuscript you submitted to a journal or editor, an application you made to your first choice University or a grant application to fund your great big idea. Regardless of where it comes from, rejection can severely dent confidence as we often tend to equate it with failing and being a failure. However, rejection does not have to be such a negative thing. It can actually become a useful learning tool in our personal and professional development journey. So, when you face rejection, what can you do differently?

Keep things in perspective – You may have failed at something but that does not make you a ‘failure’. An interview result is not an indication of your personal worth. No one likes to experience rejection. The rejection letter you see above was one I (Amara) received  and remember how bad I felt when I read it.  I had been excited to make it to the last 4 out of about 100 applicants to be interviewed. The interview had gone really well (in my opinion) but a few days later, I found out I didn’t get the job. After a few days of reflecting, I chose to see the whole process as a positive not negative experience. No, I did not get the job but I had made it to the last 4 out of 100. The top 5%. This meant that there was something about my CV, covering letter, personal statement and application form that had appealed to the employer. Maybe I just wasn’t a right fit for them. Maybe they made a mistake! Interviewers are human after all. Choose to see being invited to an interview as a plus, regardless of whether you get a job or not, at least, they like you on paper! When you experience rejection, try and think objectively. Choose to see failure as an event and not an identity. 

To thyself be true – This calls for some ‘reflection-on-action.’ Think over your application process again? If you have applied for 100 jobs without a single response, then in our opinion there is a problem somewhere. Are you using the ‘scatter-gun’ approach to your job search? Is there a mismatch between your skills profile and the jobs you are applying for? Do both your CV and personal statement match the person-specification in the advertisement or are you just sending the same documents to everyone? Are there any technical or subject specific skills you lack that could improve your chances at success? Did you follow the journal submission instructions to the letter? Does your manuscript fit the scope of the journal where you submitted it? Do you meet the entry requirements to get on the course you have applied for?

Deal with the issues – When it is difficult to know where things are going wrong, seek expert help. A careers adviser can look at your CV and provide information that can be the difference between getting a job or not. A mentor who is knowledgeable of a field that you are trying to get into can provide invaluable advice or know someone who knows someone who needs someone? Do you find yourself really nervous at interviews? So do most people!  Just try to avoid letting your nerves get the upper hand. This might sound like cliché but Practice does make perfect.  If your CV has looked the same for the last 2 years, is there a course that can help you update your skills profile?

Embrace feedback – When you do receive feedback, please remember it is not personal (at least most of the time!). If someone, has in good faith, taken their time to provide that information, see it as them investing in you. They most likely would not do it, if they did not see something positive in you or your work that needs improvement to make it better. Feedback can be difficult to take but if you can be dispassionate about it, you will find it is essential for your personal development. When you find yourself in a situation where you have not done as well as you hoped, seek feedback. Send a follow up email after an interview when you did not get the job. You will learn and grow from it.

Never give up – You never know how close you are to that Yes! Read the biography of any successful person you admire and you will undoubtedly find a rejection story among its pages. A colleague who evaluates grant applications for the EU shared that sometimes the difference between ‘accept’ and ‘reject’ can be 1 or 2 marks out of 100. She has had to reject a grant application that scored 95 out of 100, simply because another one scored 97! Another colleague had a manuscript rejected four times but finally got her work published in an international journal. The biggest surprise was that it got published in the journal she had sent it to in the first place! Each time she got a rejection letter, she improved her manuscript based on the feedback and submitted it again. She had enough self-belief in her research not to be put off by a few stumbling blocks. Be that way about yourself too. Have enough self-belief in what your skills can bring to an organisation or what your big idea can bring to the world. Be persistent and tenacious. You just never know.

aa-headshotAbout our writer – After completing a PhD in Microbiology, Amara is building her career in academia. She is grateful for every opportunity to teach and mentor a new generation of scientists, undertake research and develop international partnerships. She believes in the combined power of education and productive relationships in building successful careers. Stay connected on Twitter – @amaratweets

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#UniAdvice – So you didn’t get a Desmond? How to ‘fail forward’

Are you a Damien, Billy, Desmond or Thora? Although I’m a Damien, I have friends, family and students who didn’t quite make a Desmond.  Now before you think I may have lost my marbles, I recently found out that these names are used to describe degree classifications based on rhyming slang of the surnames of some famous people. Are you a Damien (Hirst – 1st), Billy (Gunn – 2:1), Desmond (Tutu – 2:2) or a Thora (Thora Hird – 3rd)?  While preparing our previous article on graduate employment, we touched on the point of degree classification and would like to go into further detail here.

7-failureSo you didn’t make a Desmond. You’ve spent 3, 4 or more years at University working towards a degree and now you’ve finished not even with a 2nd lower (Let my people go…lol) but with a third class degree. Before the doom and gloom sets in, be encouraged that there can be success after a third. Not that there will be but that there can be. Whether it happens or not is really up to you. I worked very hard for my degree and I make no apologies for it. I recognised early in my studies that it would be important for me to excel academically to achieve the career goals I had set for myself and that was my motivation. I am mighty proud I did because it was and still is a tremendous achievement. However, for a number of reasons, not everyone does. As a teacher, I am disappointed to see some of my students finish with a third but I realise this this is far from the end of their story.

This article isn’t about sugarcoating the issue in ‘motivational speak.’ If you have finished with a third, it means you have in essence failed at Higher Education. You have failed to meet most of the assessment criteria set in the subjects you have studied. You cannot prove to have a good knowledge of a discipline you have been studying for a number of years. If you have studied in the UK, more often than not you are in debt to the tune of some thousands of pounds. What this article is saying is that while you may have failed at University, you haven’t failed at life.

Lewis Carrol, most famously known for penning ‘Alice in Wonderland’ was an English writer, mathematician and Anglican cleric. Carol Vorderman is a maths whizz and is best known for co-hosting popular programme ‘Countdown.’ Gani Fawehinmi was a human and civil rights lawyer who was also a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN). All three completed their first degrees with a 3rd. All three ‘failed forward’ from that and became very successful in their chosen careers.

Be honest with yourself – Why did you finish with a third? As University lecturers, we teach all types of students. We observe some students who genuinely struggle academically and may have made the wrong course choice. We note those who are just indifferent. University is just the next place to go after completing A Levels and it is sort of what is expected of them. These students just want to coast through the next few years until they have to make a decision on what to do with their lives. Some students have a life changing experience (death of a loved one, accident, mental health issue) occur during their studies that they never really recover from. Reflecting on your answer to the question of Why? can help you decide what to do next and will be useful for interview preparation because you may have to discuss this so be prepared. If you truly believe you have made the wrong course choice, spend time finding out what you are good at. Utilise the Careers Service in your University and if you don’t have one, find a professional in that area to discuss with.

How much does it matter? – It depends on what you want to do next. If you want to progress into a postgraduate degree, teach or get onto a graduate scheme at a top firm then yes it really does matter. If you want to write a best selling novel, work in art/design or create the next Facebook, then maybe not. What do you want to do next? Has University taught you that you don’t want to be an employee but an entrepreneur? Please read our article on identifying your skills and create a list of your skills and abilities. Compare your list with the skill set required in your preferred role(s) and identify where your skills come short. Identify the gaps and search for training opportunities to fill them e.g. professional exams. Remember that your transferable skills are marketable across sectors!

Be proactive – In today’s job market, a first or 2:1 is not an assurance of immediate employment. Beyond academic abilities, employers are looking for particular skills, competencies and attributes. While studies indicate that more employers now ask for a 2:1 as minimum, this is because more and more students are now finishing with 2:1’s. I have two friends who finished with firsts who could not get a graduate job for months after completing their degree. The first worked as a care assistant and the other as a waitress. They are both now in graduate employment. During her interview, my friend’s boss was so impressed that she hadn’t turned her nose down on waitressing because he too worked as a waiter when he finished Uni and was job hunting 30 years before! Do not be too proud to ‘stoop to conquer.’ In my experience, small and medium size companies are more willing to overlook degree classification than bigger companies.

It is always harder to climb the mountain when starting from the bottom but the view is the same when you get to the top, regardless of where you started.

A young friend of mine recently finished with a third and is now working in a small firm where he is getting hands on training and enjoying it. In two years time, he will be able to take professional exams and will be more marketable. A Financial Director of an asset management firm told me ‘When it comes down to it, I will always offer a job to the candidate who is most hungry for it.’ A third may start you off on the wrong foot but nothing stops you from re-balancing and putting your best foot forward. Failing forward means realising the difference between failing at something and being a failure. One is an event, the other is an attitude or way of life.

aa-headshotAbout our writer – After completing a PhD in Microbiology, Amara is building her career in academia, teaching and supporting a new generation of scientists as well as undertaking research. Amara believes in the combined power of education and developing productive relationships as essential tools for building successful careers. She tweets @amaratweets.

If you enjoyed reading this article, please share and subscribe to our network! If you have an article you would like to share with our readers, please get in touch – info@aspiringprofessionalshub.com.

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