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Ask Lawrence: Why is rejection so hard?

20 Mar 14:00 By Lawrence Akers

Lawrence Akers Rejection

I think we can all safely agree that no one really enjoys rejection at any level in their life. There is nothing more frustrating or annoying or painful than to receive some feedback that you are, in some ways, not up to the level of standard that has been established. This is especially true in our careers when we have spent time, money, and our energy to learn a new skill or break into a new area of expertise. When we get that ‘NO’, we can take it all too personally.

The point of the blog this week is not to look at where this fear of rejection originates from. While we could look at childhood development and the installation of shame based messages that revolve around ‘not being good enough’, it is probably a far deeper, more lengthy conversation than what this recruitment blog sets out to achieve.

I recently went to see Greg and Chris Savage do a presentation around ‘the six pillars of the future-fit recruiter’. As part of the presentation, they made a very relevant point around recruitment; “our industry is predisposed to disappoint candidates.” While we’re not talking ‘Hunger Games’ level here, the reality is that for the many, many applicants who will apply for a job, only one will get that role. While I’m not searching for a ‘woe is me’ response here, ‘rejecting candidates’ can often be a really unpleasant part of the role as many recruiters, being human, will know that their ‘unsuccessful response’ will be greeted in a variety of ways; some accepting, some unaccepting, and some downright defiant. I once worked with a guy who referred to it as ‘getting out the dream hammer’ as it felt like smashing people’s dreams and, quite honestly, it is not fun. Perhaps this is why some recruitment agencies are so terrible at letting people know when they’ve been unsuccessful as it feels too much like letting people down - and we all know what that feels like. This leads to my first point...

Rejection is inevitable

You are going to experience rejection in your life. This is inevitable. It is just an unfortunate reality that you are going to win some and you are most likely going to lose more. Applying for jobs is ultimately a numbers game although you can improve your chances by ensuring that you match each point of the job ad and/or description as you possibly can. Even then, the fact is that so many factors are going to come into play for the ‘perfect candidate’ and it isn’t going to be solely down to skill. 

The key is how we choose to respond to that rejection. Grab a biography on any great artist and there is bound to be more than a few pages written about how many rejection letters they received before their book / album / script was finally picked up. Then there will be several more pages about how they were frustrated, felt defeated, but still kept going any way until they finally achieved what they set out to do. Yes, I hate to say it but hard work is always going to be part of becoming a success.

Rejection can be valuable

When you are told that you’ve not been successful, this can be a great opportunity to find out what you’re not doing right in order to improve your chances. Let’s be honest here, some places are not going to share why you weren’t successful and that might be simply as it was down to a personal preference; two great candidates, which do I think I can work with best? However in other cases, it can be an opportunity to find out if it was due to an uninspired folio, missing information in your application, a disengaging interview… any number of factors that may have helped give someone else that upper hand. If you find out, then you have an opportunity to work on that more to improve it, such as researching and updating your folio to meet current trends or to do a short course on interview techniques that help to build rapport, communicate strongly and provide experience based answers that talk about your past achievements.

Rejection is just a 'no... for now'.

In recruitment, we often have to do a lot of cold calling. These are horrible experiences. You phone someone you don’t know and you have a very short window of time to try to explain to them why your service could be of value to them. Frequently, these can be soul shattering calls. Hearing that you’re calling in the hope of winning their business, people can often be rude and dismissive leaving you feeling like, well, crap! 

In those moments, I always remember two things. The first is that it isn’t a ‘no’ to me; in fact, they don’t actually know me. They’re saying ‘no’ to what I’m offering. The other thing that I remember is that, while it is a ‘no’ now, it may not always be a ‘no’. I see it as being a ‘not yet’. If I have faith in my service, which I do, then I just need to be as professional as possible, plant the seed of the service existing, and then try again down the track.

The same with applying for jobs; what you’re offering may not be a match now, but if you continue to explore and develop skills in that area, then you may become the ideal candidate as future opportunities unfold.

Understanding you are more than a job description

When you’re in a job that involves giving your heart and soul, people can often take job rejections very personally. At one point in my career, I worked in the music industry. This was the dream job, my friends. I was working with artists that I adored and in an industry that felt intuitively like home. It is an industry that has no shortage of people willing to offer their services and often for a fraction of the price of their peers. It is also an industry that, thanks to advancements in modern technology, is downsizing at an extremely rapid pace. At one point there, we had quarterly downsizings and none of those were ever pleasant, some times watching entire departments leaving by the end of the day.

When it was my turn to part ways with the industry, it was another soul shattering experience. I had placed so much emphasis on being ‘that music industry guy’ that I lived and breathed it, 24/7. I would go to work and work with these incredible artists. I would end the day going to see amazing bands. I would go to a club and think, ‘hey, this place would be awesome to promote this new dance act’ and I would lock in a promotion on the spot. It was the absolute dream. So when I was no longer that, there was this crisis of identity - who was I really?

What’s the message to come from this story? Simply this - you are more than your job description. You are more than the rejection. You have a talent and a skill and while it may not be right for every job, it is right for a job. If you have a passion and a dream, then throw yourself in it. Know that there will be hard work all the way through; breaking in and keeping yourself up to date to stay on trend and relevant but like my job in the music industry, it just never felt like work. It felt like I was being paid for a hobby and that gave me so much joy, passion and energy. 

So take the rejections for what they are for; most likely a guilty feeling recruiter letting you know that unfortunately, you are not right for this role. However, keep up the personal development, be smart in your applications, and be friendly in your communication, and you’ll discover that the rejections are simply guides heading you towards the right opportunity.

If you have any thoughts, questions or simply would like to get in touch with me and offer up a topic for the next Ask Lawrence, you can contact me on or you can find me and connect with me on LinkedIn. You can check out more jobs by going to our website or you can search for them on Twitter via #CRJOBS.

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