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How to deal with constant job rejections

My phone buzzes as another email lands in my inbox. Seeing that it’s from a job I applied for three weeks ago, I hold my breath as I click open. A rejection, of course. I proceed to scream into the void for 20 minutes. Rinse, repeat, etc

Like thousands of other people in their early twenties, freshly emerged from the warm chrysalis of university, I’ve spent the last few years desperately applying for every job I can. At first, I was only applying for the Dream Job, but after months of ignored applications, I began branching out to any job I could imagine not entirely hating.

I’d been apprehensive but hopeful: after all, my teachers told me that if I got good grades and worked hard, I could make it anywhere. Turns out, the world has changed since you could print out copies of your CV, throw them out the window, and the jobs would come flooding in – no matter how much my mum tells me otherwise.

“This constant stream of rejections and resulting not-good-enough feeling is super demoralizing”

Unfortunately, three years after graduating from a degree in biology that I’ll likely never use, I’m still yet to get lucky with a full-time job in the industry I actually want to work in (journalism). And 60 job rejections later, I’m stuck making coffees to pay the rent. Of course, this constant stream of rejections and resulting not-good-enough feeling is super demoralizing, and has had a big impact on my motivation to keep applying with the same gusto.

Finding a job is harder than ever

I’m very much not the only one in this boat: the average unemployment rate for recent graduates peaked at 16% during 2020. And finding a job is harder than ever, no thanks to the Global Situation over the past two years: nearly 700,000 people lost their jobs as Covid hit, nearly two-thirds of which were under 25 years old. In fact, as of last year, 16-24 year olds are still facing much higher unemployment rates than the rest of the general population, at a rate of 13.3% compared to the average 4.8%.

Ananda, a 24-year-old journalism graduate from London, spent seven months also struggling to find a job in writing. “The more I was rejected from jobs, the harder it was to keep putting myself out there,” she explains. “But also, what was worse than being rejected was when jobs just wouldn’t contact me back. There were times when I regretted my degree and wished I’d just gone into the world of work after school like some of my friends, who have jobs like tree surgeons. We’re told that a degree will help us succeed but when you can’t find work, it doesn’t feel that way.”

“There were times when I regretted my degree and wished I’d just gone into the world of work”

This constant stream of rejection can have a big impact on our mental health. One study found that 49% of unemployed adults who are looking for work say they are pessimistic they’ll find a job in the near future, and 56% say they’ve experienced mental health issues such as anxiety or depression as a result. According to Joe Vaccaro, Psy.D., executive director of Newport Healthcare Orange County, repeated professional rejection is like social rejection. “When a job seeker is rejected for months during a job search, they’re going to experience some range of emotions that we observe in socially rejected individuals.” So basically, it makes us feel the same way that you felt in primary school when Kelly invited everybody except you to her ninth birthday party (I’m totally over it).

Sarah ColemanGetty Images

Dr. Meghan Marcum, Chief Psychologist at AMFM Healthcare, agree. “Rejection is often perceived as failure and if you haven’t experienced a lot of rejection, you can internalize the feedback harshly,” she explains. “The perception of failure can be damaging to self-worth and for someone trying to establish themselves in the workplace, these rejections can seem unexpectedly harsh.”

“I take each rejection as a personal confront to my character”

Oh, how I feel every word of this. I take each rejection as a personal confront to my character especially when it keeps happening time after time. It’s hard to not feel like the person at the other end of the email has looked up everything about me and was so disgusted that they simply couldn’t bear to employ me. You start to wonder what’s so wrong with you that nobody will give you a shot?

Ananda feels it too. “Every time I got a rejection email my heart would just drop,” she tells me. “And when you’re applying to hundreds of jobs it really makes you question yourself and your skills. Each rejection I personally took.”

What else can we do?

These constant rejections are made even harder when you can’t see what more you could be doing. “I’ve loads of experience, I have contacts, I’ve done work experience, paid jobs and unpaid internships, and they still won’t even look at me,” says Anna, a 21-year old graduate from Oxford Brookes, who is looking for a job in media. “The way these companies work, you don’t even get to talk to anyone, or get any feedback. It’s so impersonal. They can just reject my CV in two seconds and it can leave me completely deflated, often crying in bed all day. I don’t know how I’ll keep going, especially when I’m not even excited about the working world anymore.”

Something that every job applicant knows is that, of course, they have to keep applying. Without a miraculous lottery win or perhaps a windfall sugar daddy acquisition, we still have to pay the bills. So, to avoid going into complete meltdown over the course of the next batch of applications, what can we do to stay at least vaguely optimistic in the face of all this rejection?

be kind to yourself

According to psychotherapist Amy Morin, editor-in-chief of Verywell Mind, we need to start by being nice to ourselves. “Thinking you’ll never get hired will only make things worse. Ask yourself what you’d say to a friend who had this problem. That can help you speak to yourself with more kindness. Self-compassion will help you stay motivated to keep going.”

If my BFF was feeling down that she couldn’t get a job, I’d hype her up so hard she would be confident to streak down Oxford Street. Again.

Focus on what you can control, not what you can’t

You can control what jobs you apply for, how great your CV looks, and how charming you seem in an interview. I’ve spent hours answering fake interview questions in the shower, trying to get that perfect balance between professional and likeable nails while completely naked. You can’t however control who else applies for the position, or the fact they’ve somehow got 10 years of experience despite being only 23.

“It can be tempting to fill in the blanks with your own story,” says Morin. “You might decide you said something dumb. But the truth might be that they simply hired an internal candidate.” It very likely wasn’t because they thought you were too ugly, or that you stumbled over pronouncing ‘ostensibly’, despite what your brain might yell at you – trying to get in touch with them to ask for feedback instead.

Keep the big picture in mind

We need to keep some perspective. Just like that all-encompassing crush, it might feel like your whole world at the moment, but it won’t be forever. Morin agrees. “Get a little psychological distance. Imagine yourself when you’re 100 years old telling the story of how long it took to get a job and how you persevered to make it happen.”

a woman looking at her phone with a positive smile

Sarah ColemanGetty Images

Find out what the company wanted after the fact

“Wait a few months, then look at who the company did hire,” says Alison Green, who’s behind advice blog Ask A Manager. “If you can find that person on LinkedIn, you can read about what their background is and see if you can pinpoint why they were more competitive than you.”

There’s also no shame in applying for whatever job-seeker’s benefits are on offer: in the UK, you can get a Job Seeker’s Allowance of up to £61.05 a week if you’re under 25, which increases to £77 weekly if you’re 25 or over.

Just know you’re not alone – millions of us are in the same boat. I am starting to see that rejection is part of the process rather than its entire worth. Or you know, you can always apply to go on Love Island

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