Career Coach: Dealing with rejection and setbacks

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For those on the job hunt, there will inevitably be setbacks. But it’s how you deal with those setbacks that can prepare you for success and leadership in your career. Job seekers who demonstrate tremendous emotional resilience — to recover and adjust easily to misfortune or change — will be more likely to cope with the adversity and stress of the job search journey.

I just returned from a professional conference where I had the thrilling opportunity to listen to famed psychologist Albert Bandura speak to an audience of psychologists, practitioners and students about his observations regarding the dual role of resilience and self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is defined as one’s inner belief in one’s ability to succeed. According to Bandura, having both attributes allows individuals to meet and exceed the inevitable obstacles and inequities in life. He also noted that in business, politics and sports, many of our greatest and most influential leaders have suffered many rejections and failures along the way.

For example, name the famous leader who dealt with the following failures and setbacks throughout his career:

Lost his job.

Failed in his first attempt to obtain political office (state legislature).

Failed as a businessman (as a storekeeper).

Failed as a farmer.

Sweetheart died.

Had a nervous breakdown.

Defeated for in run for House speaker.

Defeated in run for nomination for U.S. Congress.

Lost re-nomination to Congress.

Rejected for land officer position.

Defeated in run for U.S. Senate.

Defeated in run for nomination for vice president.

Defeated again for U.S. Senate.

This was the journey that Abraham Lincoln took before successfully being elected president.

The following quote from basketball great Michael Jordan also underscores the importance of resilience and self-efficacy in career success: “I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions I have been entrusted to take the game-winning shot, and I missed. I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

Both of these leaders demonstrate the importance of believing in oneself, not giving up in the face of adversity, and learning from mistakes and setbacks.

Don’t feel embarrassed or ashamed by rejection notices or silence from recruiters. Embrace such letdowns as an important part of life. Stay confident and optimistic.

Another way to turn rejection around is to mentally reframe the situation by embracing a sales mind-set. Successful sales people know that every rejection brings them one step closer to success.

Treat your job search as a game where the goal is to go out and actually try to get rejected. Orville Pierson, a career coach and author, recommends using a sheet of graph paper to make an “X” in one of the squares every time you are rejected. According to Pierson, “Your job is to fill the sheet with X’s. Before you fill the sheet you will have a new job.”

Using this technique, Pierson has found that the average job seeker is rejected by 24 decision makers before being hired. This technique is similar to an exercise that my colleagues and I use when teaching an MBA course on executive power and negotiation. We ask students to make requests from others until they receive 10 “nos.” Through this fun exercise, among the various insights gained, students learn to become comfortable with rejection.

Rejection is a major part of the job hunt, so don’t take it personally. Instead, grab your graph paper, get mentally tough and let the game begin! Although your number could be higher or lower, remember your goal is to see how many rejections you can collect. Keep in mind that every “no” gets you one step closer to the “yes” associated with the job offer you desire. By treating your job search as a game, you might even have some fun in the process.

Jeffrey Kudisch is managing director of the Office of Career Services at the Robert H. Smith School of Business and a faculty expert in leadership, negotiations and human capital management. He has a Ph.D. in industrial and organizational psychology and he co-founded Personnel Assessment Systems, a human resource consulting firm specializing in executive assessment and leadership development.

 
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