Rejection is an integral part of any job search process, so every job seeker must be prepared. The following are a dozen ways to deal with rejection:
1. Understand that the vast majority of employment inquiries—whether you are looking for a position as a senior partner or a junior associate—end in rejection. Remember that, despite how many “no’s” you receive, it only takes one “yes”, the right one, for your career to proceed towards success.
2. Don’t take it personally. Whether or not to hire any particular candidate is a business decision, not a personal one, although personality fit can be a factor. The employer is looking for the candidate best able to perform the job as well as being a “fit” with the culture of the firm. A rejection for a particular position does not reflect upon your worth, or necessarily upon your capabilities as a lawyer. There may have been a candidate whose experience was a more precise fit. It could be that the firm lost a client or settled a major case, so it no longer needs to fill that position. Or, there could be a potential client conflict. Or, your billing rates do not fit in with the firm’s fee schedule.
3. Accept the responsibility that is yours—and only what is yours. Many of the circumstances that lead to job search rejection are out of your control. Like the serenity prayer, change the things that you can, accept those circumstances that you cannot change, and hope for the wisdom to know the difference. Job hunting has enough stress without beating yourself up for circumstances beyond your control.
4. Learn from the experience. Ask the potential employer for feedback. Evaluate each step of the process thus far with that specific prospective employer, and in your search as a whole. Look for ways to improve your approach. Do a “post mortem” with a trusted and knowledgeable friend and with your recruiter, if you are using one. If you see a recurring pattern, get help such as a resume make-over or interview technique polishing with a professional.
5. Keep your perspective and do not catastrophize. Remember that each job search rejection is a singular, temporary event, and does not mean that you will never find the right position. Do not dredge up all past failures to create a disastrous pattern in your mind. Just because you are not the perfect lawyer for a particular firm at this time does not mean that there may not be an opportunity there for you in the future if circumstances change, or that you are not perfect for another job right now.
6. Don’t let a rejection stop you; keep going and stay focused. After receiving a rejection from a particularly attractive opportunity, or after several in a row, it is tempting to give up. The only way to make a smart career move is to keep looking. Each “no” brings you one step closer to the “yes” you are seeking.
7. Get support. Looking for a new position is stressful at best. If you are working long hours for your current firm and trying to keep the search confidential, it is even more stressful. Although, as attorneys, we think we can handle stress, outside support can be very helpful. Confide in your spouse or partner, close friends or colleagues. Get their permission to vent your anger and frustration and air your doubts. Listen to their encouragement.
8. Take good care of yourself. Eat, sleep, exercise, and be gentle with yourself. Treat yourself to activities you enjoy to relieve the stress and keep your spirits up.
9. Realize that rejection can be a blessing in disguise. If you are not a fit for the job, the job is probably not a fit for you. The prospective employer is in a better position to assess “fit”, even when you think you are the perfect candidate. The prospective employer knows the requirements of the position and the culture and personalities of the firm, while you are privy only to the information they imparted to you or you were able to discern through your own research and due diligence. Chances are that if the interviewers determine that you are not an ideal fit, yet hired you anyway, you would be unhappy down the road.
10. Diversify your search efforts and do not put all your eggs in one basket, even if you think it is the perfect basket for you. Job search is a numbers game to some extent. The more options you explore, the better chance you have of making the best career move. If you have inquiries out to many different firms, the sting of rejection by any one of them will be diluted by the opportunities still open with the others.
11. Manage your expectations. Be realistic about your chances for landing the position by assessing your qualifications, matching them to the requirements sought by the prospective employer, and asking questions along the way. Once you are given the interview, focus on demonstrating that your qualifications fit the requirements of the position you seek. Ask the interviewer how many other candidates the firm is considering, and whether they believe you are a strong contender for the job. The more accurately you determine your realistic chances for landing any particular position, the less disappointing (or surprising) any rejection will be.
12. Accept rejection gracefully. Although rejection can be a blow to the ego, remember that the legal community is very small. Do not burn any bridges with your anger, or humiliate yourself by acting desperate or begging (or having others beg for you). If you legitimately believe that the decision was based on incomplete or incorrect information, you may calmly inquire whether certain facts were taken into consideration. If they were, stop there, and thank the prospective employer for their time and consideration. In fact, after every rejection, you should thank the prospective employer, and state that you would like to be kept in mind should anything appropriate open up in the future.