3 min read

The Trick to Handling Job Rejections

Imagine a salesman who comes up to you and says, “Sir top quality doormats sir, two for 100 only.”

Imagine you walk by, taking a quick glance at the mats but largely ignoring him.

He follows you for a few more seconds, hoping you'll change your mind. You don't. He lets you go. Do you think the salesman is crushed by this rejection? Does he stand there, wondering if maybe he’s a bad salesman? Does he wonder if the doormats are any good?

The answer, at least if he’s a good salesman, is obviously not. He simply assumes you don’t need a doormat right now. That’s the easiest and most compelling explanation for why he didn’t make the sale.

When applying for jobs, I’m the salesperson. I’m selling my skills, my time and effort to companies who might want them. In this process, I’ve encountered a lot of companies who didn’t want me. In some cases, they wanted me until they looked closer and then they didn’t (I bungled an interview).

Each time I got rejected, my brain did not opt for the easiest and most compelling explanation: they just don’t need me right now. Instead, it chose to dwell on the question, ‘Am I worthy?’ This is why job searching is so excruciating - our brains are not like doormats. They’re not wired to accept rejection with numbness while supply looks for demand.

As customers walk away after looking at us, our brains feel hurt. They are tempted to ask, ‘Am I good? Do people think I’m good?’

Rejection isn't about worth

My therapist recently told me something recently:

Whether in careers or relationships, rejection is about fitment, not worth. If a company rejects you, that just means it’s not the right fit, and says nothing about your worth. Your job is to find the right fit.

I entered job-searching with the expectation that everyone will want me. After all, I’m talented, I have the skills, and I’m willing to work hard. I’ve realised, though, that that's not a good sales strategy. Good salespeople don’t focus on selling to everyone, but instead on spotting the right customer for their product.

The analogy is keeping me sane through this process. Recruiters are out in the market looking for what they want, and they get to take a good hard look at me and say, ‘nope’. When they do, I just have to move on to the next opportunity, like an unfeeling doormat.

Good salespeople don’t focus on selling to everyone, but instead on spotting the right customer for their product.

Being a product

The more abstract point here is that capitalism does absurd things to our brains. We’re treated like doormats on the market and we’re expected to be alright with that, but of course we’re not.

I’m allowing myself to feel sad about rejections. I remind myself, though, that this is just the market trying out its various permutations till it finds a match. All I have to do is show up for the ride.

I am inspired by the salesman. He lets you go, since you don’t want his doormat, and moves on to the next customer, and the next one after that. He approaches a hundred people in a crowded market with patience and diligence. He knows there’s someone out there who’s actually looking for his doormats.

After all that work, he finally finds his customer. Through sheer hard work, he made supply meet demand. A job well done.

📖 What to read this week

The Work You Do, The Person You Are | Toni Morrison
This is a nice short essay by American novelist Toni Morrison, where she talks about navigating our work and personal sense of self. Here are four lessons she puts down that might be valuable to remember:

1. Whatever the work is, do it well—not for the boss but for yourself.
2. You make the job; it doesn’t make you.
3. Your real life is with us, your family.
4. You are not the work you do; you are the person you are.
The Work You Do, the Person You Are
The pleasure of being necessary to my parents was profound. I was not like the children in folktales: burdensome mouths to feed.