In March, ReBoot Accel hosted a panel discussion featuring Human Resource professionals and women who recently returned to work that end-capped a successful winter ReBoot Accelerator class.
Early in the hour-long discussion, returner Stephanie J., manager at an ed tech company, told a story about her exhaustive preparation for a job interview with a company which, on paper at least, looked like an ideal match for Stephanie’s experience and background.
Her research told her that she and the interviewer even attended the same business school (that’s a good sign, right?!). The interviewer contacted Stephanie at 7:10 am, via his car phone and said: “You have four minutes to tell me about yourself before my next call.” Clearly, he wasn’t taking the interview seriously and appeared to view it as nothing more than a small item on the day’s checklist of to do’s.
Afterward, Stephanie said to her husband, “What if I never get a job…” and described the experience as a low point in her job search. This, from a woman who graduated from Harvard Business School, who worked for four years at Bain Consulting, along with other amazing organizations and who took a break to accelerate her husband’s career while she stayed home to raise their family.
Everyone in the room erupted in vocal disbelief at the mind-boggling unfairness of her circumstance (mixed, I’m sure, with heartfelt empathy for Stephanie herself).
But Stephanie rallied and got a great job. She said:
“You need to inoculate yourself against rejection. Looking for a job is like dating or what we tell our kids about applying to college. You can’t take it personally. You’ll get 90% rejection no matter who you are so if you go into it with that expectation, you won’t feel horrible after you get the nine no’s to get to the one yes.” – Stephanie J.
The purpose of this blog? To give you four tips on how you, as a returner trying to get back to work, can rally against the rejection inherent in your sometimes disappointing and wildly unpredictable job search. And to remind you that rejection is NOT who you are; it just happens to be part of the process.
I imagine Stephanie’s story reminds us that the pain of rejection lurks behind every phone screen and interview that we work so diligently to engineer. And, maybe the most daunting thought of all: if this can happen to someone as accomplished as Stephanie J., who am I to attempt this back-to-work comeback?
Given that brain science tells us that humans experience rejection as pain AND that it’s also unavoidable in a job search, how can returners inoculate themselves against the pain so that we can move through it and still achieve our objective of getting back to our career?
1. Acknowledge Lack of Control
First, we have to admit that ultimately we will never have every answer about why things happen in our job search. The entire process is filled with unpredictability and a scarcity of information. The lack of direct feedback from recruiters and hiring managers is monumentally challenging because we tend to create elaborate and somewhat delusional stories about why we didn’t get the interview.
Hardly constructive, right?
Acknowledging this inevitability goes a long way toward accepting that we won’t ever be in full control of our job search process. All we can do is be responsible for the part we can control (learn, prepare, practice, repeat) and let the rest go.
This helps me Zen-out. I don’t get so wrapped up in the stories my brain manufactures in response to the absence of hard-core data.
2. Anchor Yourself to Tribe
But when I do wrap myself into meticulously braided knots, I turn to my tribe. Returners, put your tribe on speed
dial text. Your tribe is the magic elixir you should drink to deal with rejection. So before you take one step forward, make sure you are firmly anchored to your chosen tribe.
Be clear about what you need. Do you sit with rejection and quietly reflect? Or do you vent until you calm down enough to “own” your sadness over the rejection?
Maybe you’re the type that doesn’t like to ask for help of any kind. If this is your tendency (and we’ve all been there): coax yourself into accepting every source of comfort and support you can get. Treat yourself with the same tenderness you would treat a friend.
Once you’ve identified your tribe, communicate that you’re in job search mode. Enlist your tribe to help you network and ask them for what you need, for example:
- Don’t call me after I have a job interview; text me instead then I’ll call you when I’m ready
- Can we meet for lunch once a month so I can vent and voice?
- Remind me that I’m amazing at least once a week so I know there’s someone in my corner
- Don’t try to talk me out of my feelings, just listen
3. Rally After Rejection
Easier said than done, I know. But since we know rejection during the job search is a probable (and perhaps it feels even more perilous as a returner who might not yet have her confidence-mojo back), let’s accept rejection from the get-go so we can rally after rejection as opposed to letting it discourage us.
Consider that the same part of your brain that feels rejection (I didn’t get the job) is the same part of our brain that experiences physical pain (Ouch! That burner is hot!)? Perhaps recognizing that this ancient, automatic coping strategy was developed to keep us wired to our tribes so we didn’t experience exile and certain death, can help you put some distance between yourself and the pain you experience when rejection strikes (http://bit.ly/2Hp7ND2 Guy Winch on Why Rejection Hurts So Much).
Can we practice interpreting the pain that we feel as just one more emotion that passes through our body and then fades away like every other emotion we have eventually does?
What about trying some mindfulness: sitting with the despair of rejection and not judging it in any way? Fully explore it in silence with the realization that it will not ever be who we truly are.
These recipes for rallying won’t work for every person, every time. But when we approach rejection with a mindset that we can be strong while facing it, our resilience muscle will strengthen and grow over time. Thinking with a positive, growth mindset will help you develop your resolve.
4. Affirm Yourself
When you wake up in the morning, before you go to bed, or anytime in between, reflect on the nature of rejection. And the fact that rejection isn’t central to who you are.
Repeat this mantra: it’s not about me, it’s not about me, it’s not about me. Because it isn’t about you.
When I graduated from high school, my Dad gave me an article written by Joe Klein giving graduation advice to his daughter. I’ve never forgotten what he wrote because it applies to a multitude of situations like the ones women returning to work face, day in/day out, when they attempt a return-to-work career:
“There is always more cheapness in the world than you suspect but less than at the time as when it touches you. Just don’t let the trash build up.” – Joe Klein
I thought the advice was good then and I think it’s as good now. As many of you know, the return-to-work job search process can seem unfathomably precarious and rejection makes the process all the more daunting.
Take Stephanie’s advice and inoculate yourself so that when rejection does infiltrate your immune system, you have your tribe around you to bring you chicken soup, Kleenex, and plenty of liquids (preferably the wine kind). Acknowledge your lack of ability to control everything which will, paradoxically, provide you with more control. And you’ll develop the rally resilience to support you over time.
Mostly, remember that the pain of rejection won’t last. And rejection isn’t who YOU are.
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