At the beginning of this academic year, I had high hopes for my career. I was starting my final year of university and I knew that an exciting job would be there waiting for me after graduation. I was eager and ambitious. And, just a few months later, I now realise I was also very naïve. It’s not that I thought it was going to be easy, but I was sure that at least one job offer would come winging its way to me. Surely students with work experience, knowledge, great academic records and passion would be able to get the graduate role of their dreams, right? Well, yes and no.
It’s amazing how job rejections can make you change your whole outlook on life, yourself and your career. My first one was not too bad; I hadn’t progressed to interview stage, so I remained distant from the company. The next few were harder. Although they were also rejections before interviews, the number of them worried me. And then the final bunch of rejections I received; heartbreaking. I had been through first, second and final rounds. I had had the time to fall in love with the companies I visited and saw myself working with the people I met. Receiving those rejections made me feel like I would never get a job and that my career hopes and dreams were unattainable.
And then my outlook changed. What was the point, I thought, in losing all my confidence? Yes, I was being faced with all my flaws and weaknesses, yes, it was looking likely that I was going to have to take a gap year after graduation, and yes, my career seemed to be veering from the plan I had formulated years ago. But so what? Wouldn’t knowing my flaws and weaknesses be a benefit to me in the long run? Surely a gap year could be productive and enjoyable? And while plans are good to have, can’t they always be adapted and bettered? Learning to make the most from job rejections has been difficult, but now armed with a positive new attitude and lots of experience, I know that I am better prepared for whatever comes my way. The three most important lessons I have learnt are:
1) Do not feel down about yourself
It is important to identify your weaknesses, and job rejections help with this. However, they can also make you forget your strengths, which can be dangerous. Look over feedback and analyse what was bad about your performance, but make sure you look at the positives as well as the negatives so that you can go into your next career-related activities with renewed confidence. Of course the competition will be tough. No matter how creative, knowledgeable and passionate I thought I was, my job search made me realise that there are plenty of people out there like me, all after the same jobs. But what I took from this was that I was searching for jobs within the right industry and at the right level. I also realised that although I was competing with others, I was also competing with myself. It’s about being the best you can be; it’s about learning and adapting and growing in skill and confidence.
2) Rejection is great for reassessing career goals
Look at those rejections in a positive light. Mine have helped me decide what industries and companies I’d like to be involved with and have made me more flexible about my career goals. Try to reassess your motivations for your application after each rejection; what did you like about the company, the role, the industry? This will help you to decide what your next career moves will be. Another tip is that it is just as important to reject as it is to be rejected. Job applications are as much about making sure you’re making the right choices as they are about securing a job, and as I realised what industries I would enjoy working in the most, I started feeling more confident about rejecting interviews for companies in sectors that might not be so suitable for me.
3) Turn a gap year into a productive experience
There are plenty of benefits to gain from a gap year after graduation. A gap year offers time to prepare for each application and interview and opens up opportunities for internships and work experience. The danger of a gap year is of having nothing to show for it. I believe that good things don’t come to those who wait; they come to those who persevere. Pushing on with more career-related activities can be difficult after past rejections, but I find that any time I start to feel downhearted and losing motivation, I make myself remember all the positive things from my job search and feel more confident about the future.
At the beginning of this article, I said that I had high hopes for my career at the start of this academic year. I still do. My dreams and ambitions for my working life have not changed significantly. What has changed is my approach to achieving those goals. It certainly won’t be as easy as I thought, nor will it necessarily be according to the plan I’ve had in my mind. But as I move forward with a pile of job rejections behind me, I am feeling strangely excited and optimistic about the future. As long as I keep in mind everything I have learnt from my first round of applications, I am sure that my second round next year will be my final round, and that my career dreams will still be firmly within my grasp. For those of you in a similar position to mine, I hope that you too can feel excited about your future careers and won’t let those job rejections stop you from eventually getting the offer you are seeking.