“We really enjoyed talking to you….” I hold my breath, “but, we’ve selected another candidate.” The air escapes my lungs, along with all my daydreams about life at this job. Musings about where to eat lunch and how to decorate my desk dissipate, along with my positive attitude and thoughts.
I’ve had this conversation more times than I ever thought possible — about 15 to be exact — and after each rejection I would go home, put on comfortable pants and treat myself to a milkshake. The grieving period would go on for a day, sometimes more. The obvious questions would then fill my mind: why wouldn’t they want me? What did I do wrong? When am I FINALLY going to get an offer?
It's hard to stay positive when life surrounds you with negative thoughts. It's a lot of work to stay positive, but regardless of how optimistic or pessimistic you traditionally are, it's important to keep a positive attitude — especially during a job search. (Even optimists stress about staying positive!)
After the 10th rejection, I developed the mantra: “it’s not meant to be.” But prior to the idea of leaving it up to the universe, I connected with some career counselor friends to ease my mind and make sure I was doing everything I could. Now, five years into my current role, I stress how to maintain a positive attitude and the importance of surrounding yourself with positive people. Using my own experience as a lesson on how to stay positive, I stand by these tips on how to deal with rejection and rekindle optimism.
1. Take a moment.
It's okay to ditch the positivity. You need to have that milkshake, punch a pillow or do whatever you need to get rid of the negative feelings. This may take a few hours, a day, a week or more. Give yourself a deadline for self-loathing and negative thought because you have work to do. Once that deadline hits, banish that negativity and focus on maintaining a positive attitude.
2. Re-evaluate your behavior.
After one interview, I realized I didn’t prepare well and may have come off as arrogant. Another time, my enthusiasm sounded desperate. In your mind, go over exactly what went down in each interview situation. You are likely to find at least one or two things you could improve upon, which you can turn into goals to reach next time.
However, be careful not to let negative thought take over the self-reflection process. Objective adjudication of your skills is one thing, but letting negative self-talk guide the conversation will cloud your thinking and prevent you from keeping a positive attitude.
3. Assess your skills.
I would always tell employers I was creative, but found my examples lackluster. I started asking people who worked with me what they thought my strengths were. I linked each skill to a workplace situation, then used that as a basis for explaining myself to others. Suddenly, my examples were full of positivity and creative thinking. Asking others for feedback was a good habit in helping me assess my skills, and it became a lot easier for me to explain myself to potential employers.
4. Ask yourself what you really want.
I experienced pregnancy discrimination at one of my jobs and in the process of trying to leave, I interviewed terribly. My negative attitude led to negative thoughts, which led to a pessimistic outlook on all of my job prospects. I found myself holding back, afraid an employer would like me too much, find out I was a new mother and not offer me the position as a result. My lack of confidence (and my negative self-talk) came through and I realized I was self-sabotaging.
After taking a day to collect my thoughts, I focused my brain attention on determining what I really wanted. I re-adjusted my job search to prioritize my journey to start my family and took a break from seeking leadership roles that felt career appropriate but personally intimidating.
5. Realize “it's not meant to be.”
Careers are very much like relationships. You rely on your emotions to make decisions, and sometimes it just doesn’t feel right. When I did all that I believed I could and still got rejected, I was left feeling frustrated and confused. Amidst all the negativity, the only positive thought I could rely on was the thought that I was meant for something better. Once I believed that, the need for those milkshakes lessened and so did the negativity in my life.
Take your time, surround yourself with positive people and, most importantly, believe that there is something wonderful out there that will find you when the time is right.
Nicole Wolfrath is mom to two feisty girls in elementary and nursery school and has worked full time as a college career counselor for the past 15 years. She holds leadership roles on her children’s school boards and PTA, loves to create art when she can find the time and is passionate about women’s and parenting issues which she advocates for through teaching and blogging.