My first job rejection was in high school. I wasn’t even that interested in the role (my parents just made me go to the interview), but it still stung when I didn’t get it. And when my best friend got the offer instead of me, I got my first real taste of how it felt to compare my success (or lack thereof) to someone else’s and to question everything about myself. I interpreted the word no as people also telling me I was unintelligent, unqualified, and not as good as the other candidates. In reality, I was probably just unprepared for the interview or simply not a good fit for the role. At the time, though, I wasn’t able to have that perspective, and it hurt.
Rejection has always made me feel like the only person out there who’s not good enough to get a job. But when I reached out to College Fashionista’s alumni network to talk to them about their own experiences with rejection, I realized that it doesn’t matter whether you’re a recent grad or a seasoned professional—nearly everyone is told no at some point in their careers. Their answers taught me that no one is alone in the often disheartening process of finding a job and that it’s important to learn from your mistakes and never give up.
Whether you’re going through a never-ending job hunt or just starting your search for the first time, keep reading for stories from four successful women on their own experiences with rejection and their tips on how to bounce back.
“It’s really, really hard when something (or someone) you love doesn’t love you back. But instead of mourning, your energy is better spent finding a place that will help you and your career flourish.”
“The rejection that sticks out the most to me was the ASME internship, which I applied for the summer going into senior year. I centered a lot of my [college] experience [around] rounding out my application, dating back to freshman year. I knew people involved and I had previous internships. I felt like I had done everything in my power to set myself up to get it. Only I didn’t.
“I was definitely crushed after I didn’t get it. It was one of those [long-standing] goals I had for so long and had done so much to prepare for it that it had already become part of my life. I was attached to the idea, so a no really hurt. I felt a bit like I was going to have to start my internship and career plans from scratch.
“But I had a two-day rule for myself: You get two days to wallow, feel bad for yourself, and be upset. Then we’re moving on. I hated thinking that someone else could have any sort of control over my internship experience and my career. I made sure I kept applying to internships, kept networking, and kept my head up.
“Now that I’ve been on the other side as well, it really helps to detach yourself a little bit from a job. Writers are passionate people, and there’s this kind of dream that exists to work for a brand that you’ve read and has comforted you so many times. But the reality is that a company is a company. There are so many elements at play that have nothing to do with you. It’s important to recognize that while this position and company might be your priority, the reality is that you aren’t [necessarily] theirs. This helps when you get impatient with follow-up emails, too. The perfect job is kind of like finding a partner: You should both feel that the match is right. It’s really, really hard when something (or someone) you love doesn’t love you back. But instead of mourning, your energy is better spent finding a place that will help you and your career flourish.” — Christine Flammia, associate style editor at Esquire
“You can’t let one person not emailing or calling you back prevent you from pursuing your career dreams.”
“I never heard back about a fellowship at AOL. I was excited because it was a well-paying fellowship, and one of the girls who worked at Condé Nast (where I work now) started as a fellow at AOL, so I thought it would be the perfect next step for me. But I didn’t hear back after my two-hour Skype interview. Thankfully, [it didn’t deter me from applying to other internships]! Following that Skype interview, I was on the phone with Condé Nast [for another interview] literally minutes after it ended. So I knew bigger things were in store.
“You can’t let one person not emailing or calling you back prevent you from pursuing your career dreams. Rejection is a stepping stone to the bigger picture. Sometimes you have to go through it to obtain your goals. Don’t let rejection make you think you are not good enough. It has a way of eating at you and making you second-guess your thoughts and abilities. Maybe you weren’t the right fit at that particular time, but that doesn’t mean you won’t be down the line.
“The best piece of advice I ever received was ‘Your first job isn’t going to be your last.’ So no matter how many jobs you apply for, how may rejection emails you get, or even how many little side jobs you have to take, remember this saying. Do what you need to do to keep going. Always push toward the bigger picture.” — Madisen Theobald, associate manager of social media, Allure
“Even if you feel like you’re hitting a brick wall, there will be a point when you’re offered an incredible position that will make you so thankful that you continued to push yourself.”
“I’ve actually been rejected and ghosted multiple times. It used to be something that embarrassed me, but now I try to see it as experiences I have to go through to get to where I want to be. One of the roles [I didn’t get] was a junior beauty editor position. I was so excited for it because it [seemed like the] perfect start for staying on track to my [ultimate] career goal [of] becoming a beauty editor. I was surprised [about the rejection], if I’m being honest. I felt the interview went really well, they liked my edit test, and they were responsive in the beginning with emails. When they ghosted me, it felt very out of the blue, and I was confused trying to figure out what went wrong. It really made me question if I was qualified and if my skills matched up to other applicants’. I originally felt like I could tackle the position with a lot of fresh ideas and confidence, but after being ghosted, I began to worry that I wasn’t fit for any job and that there would always be someone better.
“It’s so easy to take it personally and let it get to you. I had to really work on my thoughts and try to push back against any negative criticism I was bombarding myself with. I sat with my feelings of disappointment and worry for a bit, then metaphorically picked myself back up again. Every time I questioned if it was even worth applying for a job, I countered back and challenged those thoughts. It really is a mental game, and even if you can’t shake the feelings at first, I think ignoring them, at the very least, was a good start for me when it came to bouncing back.
“And I learned that it’s important to look at rejection as a growth opportunity. Once you get over the initial disappointment, consider what you could’ve done differently and focus on making your next application your best one yet. Success will feel so much better when you look back at all the past rejections and realize how far your passion and talent took you. It’s going to sting, but try your hardest not to take it personally. There is so much that only you can offer, and simply being yourself makes you stand out from others.
“An opportunity that you’re meant to have will come around. Even if you feel like you’re hitting a brick wall, there will be a point when you’re offered an incredible position that will make you so thankful that you continued to push yourself. I honestly do believe that your ambition and drive will outdo any rejection or frustration if you keep at it.” — Melissa Epifano, editorial and commerce intern at Bauer Xcel Media
“A no may seem like a closed door when, in fact, it’s just an opportunity for you to look at the other door down the hall that’s wide open.”
“One [rejection] that disappointed me a little more than the others was an editorial role at one of the biggest companies in the entertainment business. It was about a three-month-long process from the initial application to getting the rejection email. At the time, I had my heart set on pursuing the entertainment industry, and having such a strong lead for one of the biggest names in the industry felt really amazing. Plus, this would’ve been my first full-time job post-grad.
“I definitely felt blindsided when I got an email saying they had moved on with another candidate. I felt that my in-person interview went really well. I had come prepared with an arsenal of new ideas, and I found lots of commonalities with my potential supervisor that made the interview seem more like a great conversation between colleagues versus a strictly Q&A session.
“The first week after rejection was hard. It made me question my worth and if I could really apply to another job that was at that level at such a huge company. Ultimately, I was able to get over that slump and begin applying to other jobs, but the process was definitely not easy. After getting that rejection, I took a hard look at where I saw myself in the next five years. What shocked me was how little I was sure of where I would be. What shocked me even more was that I accepted it!
“I ended up broadening my horizons and looking into jobs that were beyond simply entertainment but well within the ranges of my skills in marketing/advertising and my interests, which also included fashion and beauty. That rejection led to a chain of events that, long story short, ended with me currently living and working full-time in the city of my dreams—New York!
“I realized that putting all my eggs in one basket (that basket being a job in entertainment) was limiting and prevented me from seeing a whole world of wonderful risks and opportunities I could take (like moving to NY!). Don’t take [rejection] personally. A no may seem like a closed door when, in fact, it’s just an opportunity for you to look at the other door down the hall that’s wide open. You have the rest of your life to work, so take it one step at a time and don’t lose hope!” — Rachel Park, assistant account executive at Beauty@Gotham
How do you deal when you’re rejected from a job you really want? Let us know in the comments below!
Opening image by Val Veak.