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Coping with Job Search Rejection

Tips for managing the stress of job search.

Job seeker’s rejection is most definitely a prime candidate for the list of things that are most likely to cause us emotional turmoil, along with bereavement, divorce, moving house or coping with an illness. It ought to occupy number five on this list for sure. For some of us more seasoned job seekers, many of which would have probably made hundreds or thousands of applications and have been waiting for months or even years for that perfect job, it can be gut wrenchingly difficult to stay afloat, or “positive” as much of the advice out there goes; self-doubt, anxiety, depression and sheer loss of will to live is seeping into our daily lives and social media interactions, whether we realise it or not.

How do you “stay positive” about anything anyway? When you’re already feeling so down after months of efforts that are going unrecognised, how can you simply “stay positive and not worry about it so much?” Oh sure, why didn’t I think of that? (rolls eyes in dismay) I personally find this piece of advice dismissive and quite patronising. When’s the last time an angry person has calmed down after being told to calm down? It’s the same thing!

In my experience, I have found several things that have helped me cope with the darkest times and hardest rejections. On the more practical side, I have made sure of the following:

On the more psychological side, these are the thoughts and actions that very much helped me cope:

I had an income!!!

I can think of fewer things more worrying than not being sure if you can afford food tomorrow. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs states that our basic bodily needs must be met before we can move onto the next tier.

  • I reevaluated what I really wanted and narrowed my job search focus
  • I accepted that I may have to move to a different area
  • I reconstructed my CV according to industry standards
  • I researched everything I could possibly find on interview tips and techniques until I was satisfied I wasn’t learning anything new anymore
  • I got myself overly familiar with competency based questions and unusual interview questions to make sure I was as prepared as I possibly could
  • I learned how to cope with interview nerves by learning to believe in myself (as I am) and my capabilities through meditation, visualisation, lots of self-empathic talk, telling myself to remain calm and imagining the interviewer was a new friend
  • I accepted that only the right employer will recognise my career versatility, skills and personality traits to be good for their business
  • I accepted that the right opportunity will come along at the right time, I just have to be patient

On the more psychological side, these are the thoughts and actions that very much helped me cope:

Low Emotional Investment

This is not to be confused with lack of enthusiasm, planning, and focusing.

If you are a fairly emotional person by nature, then this is a very important tool to work with. On the Myers Briggs personality scale, those who have an NF in their four letter code are likely to invest more emotion into anything, including job prospects, at least in the beginning; you become more resilient later on.

In this case, low emotional investment means not obsessing over any particular job prospect more than it is necessary to prepare for (cover letter, interview, transport, what to wear etc). That means not fantasizing about what a great income you’ll have and what you’ll do with it, what amazing praise you’ll get from my peers, or how hard you will work to prove your worth to your new coworkers. Reality is never as good as fantasy so it’s best to let go or you will be dragged, like a horse rider who doesn’t let go of the harness once they’ve come off the horse’s back.

The more you entertain thoughts about one particular prospect, the harder it will be to cope with rejection. I treat each application like a work project, it must be done and I will do my best and hope it works out, but I will not invest more than I need to. I used to do this in the beginning and the pain of rejection was crushing, especially when I thought I had performed very well and I was perfect for the job. It just wasn’t meant to be so I focussed on the next step and learned my lessons each time and improved my approach and techniques and most importantly, my mindset.

Emotions begin with thoughts, of all kinds, and when it comes to job seeking, a lot of those thoughts can be negative, self-doubting, anxious and depressive, especially immediately following rejection. The Myers Briggs typology test is also very helpful to get an idea of a suitable place for you within a company’s hierarchy so it is highly recommended to take the test and read up about your own type. It could also be that you are better off self-employed if you find it hard to work with people.

Self-deprecating Thoughts

Ideas about yourself that bring you down and make you feel worthless. They happen so often, several times a minute, and they often grow into loud monsters that occupy your mental space most of the time. The trick is, of course, to minimise these thoughts. So how do you do that? Start paying attention to their frequency, how often are you having these dreadful thoughts? If it helps you, make a note of how many times you’ve had a thought you’d rather not have had. Accept them and then let them go without them hurting you. Salute your thoughts, like passers by, and wave them on. The more you do it, the easier it gets. Meditation is a great help for this and in particular the mindfulness of breathing. Just five minutes, or even three, when you have the most uncomfortable thoughts, and this can be a real help. Pay attention only to your breathing and nothing else and this will quieten the mind for a while.

Be mindful of catastrophizing, I’m guilty of that myself! It starts with one simple idea and becomes an absolute abomination in my head. Why? I don’t know why yet, perhaps it’s out of fear but being mindful of this phenomenon and not entertaining this process can be helpful. Obsessive thoughts tend to go away after a few days, your mind gets tired and is ready to move on so bear with yourself. The beach or another nurturing environment is a great place to clear your head.

Devote thought, time and energy to more helpful and rewarding things such as meditating, socialising, cooking, spending time with pets or focussing on your hobbies. They are all important and all deserve an article of their own. All these activities have undeniable therapeutic effects, particularly pets.

Learning how to cope with something is a bit like learning a language — it’s not just the alphabet you have to learn but also how to form words, then sentences, accent, jargon, etc. It all takes time and it doesn’t have one single focus, there are several things you have to pay attention to. So spread your thoughts and invest more energy into nicer things that make you happy and you will find that the bad thoughts will go away by themselves, without having to tackle them directly. Find meaning in what makes you happy because whatever makes you happy already has meaning.

Take your B complex and D vitamins.

Deficiency in these vitamins is well known for allowing anxiety and depression to set in. Overdose is quite unlikely so if you find that one of each a day doesn’t do much, raise the dose to two or even three. I have personally had peace of mind an hour after taking both. They really do work! Needless to say, job seeking is quite stressful and because of this, substance overuse, including caffeine, lack of exercise, a bad diet and dehydration can all occur concomitantly and they all sap your energy and deprive you of nutrients. For these reasons, taking care of your body is an extra important step. Healthy mind, healthy body but the mind can hardly stay healthy if you throw a pile of garbage at your body and put it through a lot of hardship, isn’t that fair? Look after yourself like a caring parent would, always!

Take some of the focus away from yourself.

A fair bit of advice out there mentions volunteering. Why is volunteering so good? Google it yourself to see some ideas but here is a Buddhist quote that words it beautifully:

“All the suffering there is in this world arises from wishing our self to be happy. All the happiness there is in this world arises from wishing others to be happy.” Śāntideva

While this may seem crazy at first if you’re unfamiliar with Buddhist ideas, when you’ve actually spent time alongside someone who has hardly anything left to live for, and you help them do an activity that has brought a smile to their face or a tear to their eyes, it is truly priceless. It can’t be explained in words which is why it must be experienced. Did you ever hear about Takanobu Nishimoto in Japan whose initial idea was to improve the image of men his age so he advertised as being available as a listening ear for people who wanted to talk about themselves? Within four years, his service grew to 60 people who do just that, let other people talk to them because no one else will listen or they are too shy to talk to their friends.

There are so many people out there who need support, paid or unpaid, and putting yourself out there for that is much more rewarding than probably even your next job offer. Truly! It’s very easy to spend all of your time thinking about yourself and how you can make it big so you can get plenty of social recognition and financial gain, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but if you feel that your self-focus is causing more harm than good, perhaps one extremely worthwhile way to counteract this is to help others, because that in itself will help you too. Job seeker’s efforts are not recognised externally so try to put yourself in a position where your efforts, or mere presence, is recognised, whatever that may mean to you, even if it’s setting up an Instagram account for your dog! It will make others happy!

Watch Ted Talks

A great way to learn about the world and your subjects of interest in small, easily digestible pieces. If you have any concerns or insecurities about yourself as a job seeker, I implore you to watch the talk called Why the best hire might not have the perfect resume by HR Manager Regina Hartley. I wish all hiring managers could watch this because it makes so much sense. Ted Talks are such a great way to gain insight on the world and it will honestly reshape how you see it, particularly if you’ve lived through some less pleasant circumstances. This one I very much believe is a cause worth investing in.

To wrap it up, there are quite a few things that can be done to keep the spirits going for as long as you need to. Most importantly, find what you believe in and work towards that, your efforts are not futile if you work towards what’s right for you. The universe helps those who help themselves, who learn and adapt, and who keep an open mind, always!

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