How to Stop Taking Rejection Personally from The Vault’s contributor, Natalie Fisher was originally published on Firsthand.
We all know that dreaded email: “Thank you for your time, but we’re unable to extend you an offer …” We also all know the internal dialogue that immediately follows an email telling us we didn’t get the job: I didn’t perform well enough in the interview, I wasn’t good enough, I didn’t sell myself strongly enough, I should have shown up differently, I should have been more of this, less of that, and I don’t have the required experience. To be sure, the list of things we tell ourselves we could’ve and should’ve done differently is long.
Often, this internal dialogue comes from wanting to be a good student, wanting to get things right all the time. From a young age, we thought, I didn’t get an A, therefore I did it wrong, I’m a failure, and that’s bad and shameful. This is normal, and this way of thinking might’ve served us well in the past to get the results we wanted as a student. However, for job searching and for achieving career goals in the real world, we need a different perspective with which to look at rejection.
To that end, below are three different mindsets that will go a long way toward dealing with rejection in a healthy, helpful, productive manner.
The scientist mindset
Scientists create hypotheses, test them, then take the results of their tests to their next experiment—in the case of the job search, that experiment is the next interview. For scientists, each interview is just preparation for the next one after that. And when scientists get a rejection message, their thinking might look something like: Hmm that’s very interesting, my hypothesis was that I’d done well and answered their questions thoroughly. Scientists then dig in and get curious about what they could have missed.
They think back to the events of the interview and to the problems and needs that the organization had and how they communicated their skills to fit those needs. They ask themselves questions to find out if there were things they forgot to mention. They ask themselves if they could have more clearly communicated their abilities and commitment to solving the employers’ problems. They think back to how they connected to their interviewers. Did they miss chances to connect on a more personal level?
Scientists constantly keep an open mind, questioning and evaluating along the way, until they feel they gain insight into their own performance. Then they prepare for the next interview.
The artist mindset
Artists know they’re unique and original, and they live for their originality—they’re proud of it and wouldn’t change it for the world. On the job search, artists know that they have unique personalities, attitudes, and points of view that they’ll bring to certain roles, teams, and organizations. And when artists face rejection, they don’t automatically assume that their work (their resumes, skills, experience, interviewing style) is bad—because there’s no right or wrong way to create art; it’s an expression of a unique person, and people have strong reactions to even the best art. People might love it or hate it, and that’s often the point.
So, when artists don’t get the job, their internal dialogue might sound like this: The company didn’t appreciate or know how to value my unique traits and skills. And that’s okay. While artists might consider improving upon their art, they might not—because that would mean trying to become something they’re not.
Artists stand proudly in their uniqueness, understanding that not everyone will appreciate their “art.” They understand that unique, original job candidates will not be universally appreciated.
The monk mindset
Monks are committed to their paths and see rejection as something placed in their paths to learn from. To monks, each rejection is a clear lesson to be learned from, and monks’ work is to find out what each lesson is and what’s to be learned.
Monks aren’t affected by the ups and downs of processes that lead to larger goals. Monks aren’t “in it” for immediate gratification—they’re not after the cookie, they’re not looking for validation. Instead, they’re looking for the deeper meaning in everything that happens. If they don’t get the job or even told that their interview stories weren’t strong enough, monks will take the mindset of: This is something I’m supposed to learn from. This obstacle has been put in my path so I can become better, recommit, and master this process on a deeper level.
Monks are always asking themselves: What can I learn from this experience that will serve the goal I’m dedicated to reaching?
A final note
When you’re out there job searching, interviewing, and advancing your career, your mission is to get out of student mode—it no longer helps you—and instead get into the mindset of a scientist, artist, or monk. Using one or more of these mindsets will help you deal with rejection productively—and get you closer to reaching your goals.