Take Five: How to move beyond rejection

Written by
Sarah Trounce
Illustration by
Hannah Robinson

Rejection is a part of life – sadly it’s just not possible for everything to go your way all of the time. It can be painful but it’s also a necessary stopover on the journey to realising your goals. Many of us have at some point experienced rejection in our personal relationships. There are also times we might feel excluded or dismissed when searching for new opportunities – whether a place at university, a funding application, an internship, a new job, or a promotion. You might feel bewildered or deflated, wondering what you did wrong – but rejection is a common hurdle we all face. Rather than seeing it as a deadend, try to think of it as only a temporary glitch. In fact, every rejection is really the beginning of a new direction.

The creative industries are a natural place to learn how to handle rejection. Businesses (however established or renowned) are constantly competing for new work and new talent while striving to retain current clients and existing team members. Both employees and freelancers also regularly face the possibility of rejection as they pitch new ideas or projects on a daily basis. Giving, receiving and responding to feedback – whether negative or positive – is an essential part of any job.

The most important thing to understand is that rejection happens to everyone, no matter where you are in your life or career. There’s always the chance that you’ll face challenges when it comes to achieving what you want. But, although it might feel tough at first, rejection is actually a valuable opportunity to learn and grow. The trick to dealing with the sting is to acknowledge that it’s a universal experience (you’re not alone in feeling this way) and to remember that you will get past this. Time heals, and in the meanwhile, you can try to understand what was within and outside your control – and what you can take away to come back stronger. Below, we explore five steps to help you overcome rejection while searching for a new job or progressing your career. You’ll be moving forward again in no time!

What actually happened?

First, get some distance from the situation. Take your mind off that rejection email that just appeared in your inbox – or that meeting with your manager that didn’t go quite to plan. Allow yourself the time and space so you can look back and see the experience more clearly. You’ll likely have a little voice in your head saying all sorts of mean things about why you weren’t successful and why you’ll never be successful. Ignore that voice. You need to be truthful with yourself, set aside the pain you’re feeling, and separate the fact from the fiction.

The only way to achieve a clear understanding of what actually happened is to consider the experience objectively. Did you receive any specific feedback about why you weren’t successful? If you didn’t, can you ask for some? Good employers will respect candidates who ask for pointers on what they can do to improve and will likely take the time to formulate an honest and useful response. Maybe it would also be helpful to talk through the situation with someone neutral who will listen and support you while giving you a reasonable outside perspective. Alternatively, you could try writing down notes and using them for some quiet reflection.

What was outside of my control?

Sometimes we are rejected for reasons beyond our control. Were you made redundant because your employer was downsizing or closing up shop? If an interview or presentation didn’t go your way, did you have technology issues like a poor wifi connection or did the video call crash? Was the client or interviewer in a bad mood? If so, maybe there’s nothing you could have done to persuade them of your talent. Perhaps your potential employer was looking for somebody different all along. They may have had a fixed idea in their head about the personal qualities or style of portfolio they wanted to see and therefore, it was impossible for anyone else to measure up. Or maybe you didn’t have enough work experience for the role in question – at least not yet. Remember, you will be able to gain that experience over time and close the gap – so don’t give up!

What could I have done better?

Now that you’ve determined what was beyond your control, think about what was in your power to do differently – and how you can change or improve your outlook or behaviour in the future. Could you have undertaken more background research or written down a list of key talking points or questions to ask the person you were meeting? Could you have practised what you were going to say before an interview or presentation? Could you have rehearsed with a friend or colleague? Could you have been more open and curious – or more forthright about what you wanted? It’s hard to stay relaxed and positive when the stakes are high. Job applications, interviews and presentations can be nerve wracking – but preparation definitely helps.

Are there any new skills you can learn based on the feedback you received? Can you undertake some relevant training to expand your knowledge and craft – or track down a mentorship programme or community group to help grow your confidence? Don’t let this be a lonely experience – seek out people who are going through the same challenges as you as well as those who can help you bounce back.

What was positive about the experience?

Despite the pain of rejection, whenever possible, try to look for the silver lining. Applying for a new role or attending a job interview isn’t just about a short-term ‘yes’ or ‘no’. It’s all part of a long-term strategy to build and shape your career. Whenever you meet a new contact (whether you’re successful in landing a new role as a result or not), you’re actively growing your network and making useful connections. That job you applied for might not be the right opportunity at this very moment, but the hiring person might recommend you to someone else in the industry – or think of you if they’re recruiting for another role or another company in the future. So no experience is ever wasted.

What do I want to do next?

It’s helpful to remember that the job hunting process is as much about you finding a role that’s a good fit – and a company that you want to work with – as it is about an employer wanting to hire you. It’s a two-way street, so remember that you hold at least half of the power in any conversations you have about a new job or other opportunity. Now that you have some experience of rejection, it’s up to you to use what you’ve learned as you move forward. Does the company or role still appeal – or was it a mismatch on both sides? Do you need more information in order to fully understand why it didn’t work out? Even if you put it off before, you can always ask for that feedback now you’ve had a chance to cool off. It doesn’t matter if you received a ‘no’ this time, it’s still a great idea to send a follow-up email to underline how much you enjoyed meeting the team and that you'd like to stay in touch about other roles in the future. Keep an open mind, learn from your mistakes, and be kind to yourself.

Take Five

If You Could's Journal hosts a range of useful Guides to help you navigate key decisions at every stage of your career journey. Each Guide consists of 5 simple steps, alongside advice from professionals working across the creative industry. Read more from our Take Five collection here.

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