Dealing constructively with rejection is an important part of almost any job hunt, but especially when you’re making a career change. When you switch industries or take on a role that doesn’t quite fit with your previous experience, you have to be prepared for some pushback.
According to psychologist Guy Winch, “the same areas of the brain become activated when we experience rejection as when we experience physical pain.” Indeed, the responses are so similar that over-the-counter painkillers have proven effective in lessening the emotional impact of rejection in controlled experiments.
That said, don’t reach for the paracetamol just yet. If you want to conquer your fear of rejection and change careers successfully, you’ll need to focus on your mindset. Here are some valuable lessons I’ve learned about rejection during my own professional journey. Maybe they’ll help you, too:
1. Ask for Feedback and Use It to Your Advantage
Sometimes, your application will be met by an automated rejection email with no reply-to address. That is of no use to you. Trash the email immediately and put it out of your mind.
However, in instances where you can actually talk to a person on the other end, take the opportunity to ask for honest feedback and be open to receiving it. When you have insider knowledge about why you didn’t advance, you can address the issue to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
Whether it’s a poorly presented resume, a lack of experience, or an interview question you mishandled, almost any problem a recruiter or hiring manager can highlight will be helpful to your future success, as long as you’re not defensive about it.
2. Wait Before Replying to a Rejection Email
This will give you the distance and perspective you need to compose a measured response, which will reflect positively on you if you apply with the same company in the future.
I once sat through a particularly tense interview where there was a slight language barrier between the assistant hiring manager and myself. I was struggling to find common ground, but I saw her open up a bit when I spoke about my struggle with perfectionism. So, I expanded on the topic when she asked me to tell her about a weakness.
A few days later, I got a rejection email from my recruiter. He told me the interviewer had named my tendency to become “easily distracted” by minutiae as a concern. I was stunned. That wasn’t at all what I had said during the interview! Writing back almost immediately, I was polite but made it clear the interviewer had misunderstood me.
It was hard to make peace with being disqualified because of a misinterpretation, but once I did, I regretted that email to my recruiter. Had I given myself a day or two to think things through, I might’ve sent a more strategic response. Instead, I got defensive and forgot to ask him about other openings.
3. Spot the Blessings in Disguise
My friend Cindy loves to spot the blessings in disguise, no matter the situation. Your house could fall to pieces while you slept, and she’d still find a way to spin it into a blessing. “That wasn’t the house for you,” she might say. “This was your way out.”
It took me a long time, but eventually I came to understand Cindy’s point of view, which has helped me stay centered in times of both personal and professional disappointment. I now see my fumbled answer to the weakness question as proof positive that blessings in disguise exist. It stopped me from getting a position I was never actually enthusiastic about to begin with, and which I certainly wouldn’t want today.
When you’re absolutely committed to a career change, the right opportunity will come to you — even if you have to change direction halfway or make a mistake during an interview to find it. As for the rejection letters, go-nowhere phone calls, and unreceptive hiring managers you’ll encounter along the way? All blessings, constantly rerouting you toward better things.
4. Watch Out for Micro-Rejections in Your Personal Life
Sometimes, the greatest resistance you come up against during a career change isn’t from recruiters or employers but from the people whose support you were counting on most. A close friend at work may feel threatened by your abandoning the herd and consequently ignore the topic altogether. A family member may respond with a dismissive chuckle if you say you’re going back to school for your dream degree.
They may seem benign, but repeated micro-rejections like these can do real damage over time. If there is a person in your life who is prone to this kind of behavior, you probably already know who they are. Perhaps this is the moment to reevaluate just what information you want to share with them going forward. Besides, as you focus your energies on revamping your resume, job hunting, and preparing for interviews, you’ll find you won’t have time for people who aren’t prepared to support you.
Not receiving the encouragement you expected from people whose input you value is disheartening, but it need not be discouraging. In fact, persevering in spite of another’s lack of belief or backing is a common theme of success stories. If you’re truly committed to your career change, you have to get confident and secure enough in own your ideas that other people’s hang-ups don’t slow you down.