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Sophie BullockTalent Acquisition Operations Manager

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Coping with Mass Application Rejections

We’ve all been rejected from a job we wanted. It’s especially tough after a lengthy interview process.

We’ve all been rejected from a job we wanted. It’s especially tough after a lengthy interview process that you’ve poured your heart and soul into. At the best of times, being rejected can take its toll on your confidence even if you have the security of being in a permanent role. Last year though, rejection felt more acute and more constant in the face of mass redundancies than ever before. I wanted to share my own experience and how I tried to push through even when many of my faculties were telling me to give up. I hope reading this will make you feel less alone if you’re going through a similar experience.

I use an inbox for job applications, and it would be fair to say that I’ve received over 150 rejection emails from June to October last year. My furlough was turning into redundancy, and with a new mortgage, I needed to find a new job ASAP. For the first few weeks of my job search, I felt calm, confident, and I’d apply for a couple of jobs a day. Then the rejections started rolling in. It soon became clear to me that I would need to treat job applications as a full-time job itself. Feeling stressed, but determined, I wrote these bullet points on a post-it note and stuck to my laptop to keep me going when the going got tough:

Try not to take it personally.

Rejections can often feel like a tidal wave. I’d dedicate a few hours to applications each day, and then the next morning I’d wake up to a flood of rejection emails. It was painful, frustrating, and no way to start the day. As much as I was drowning in rejection, I resolved that I would-not-take-it-personally. These companies did not know me as a person; they were not judging my character, mistakes, and achievements. They had a criteria to fulfil and decided I did not meet it. It’s doubly crippling when you read a job description and feel that it could have been written for you, down to the last detail, but we never know what other factors behind the scenes in the hiring team’s decisions. As the saying goes, it’s not you; it’s them.

Don’t forget your worth.

When it feels like everyone is telling you no, it’s easy to start feeling discouraged or lack in something, and you start comparing yourself to others around you who seem to land a job ‘easily’. Do not let your search undermine all you achieved in your career. I made a habit of reminding myself of previous achievements, promotions, projects launched that made an impact in my earlier companies. The sort of examples you’d give in an interview, to remind myself that I had done well before and I can and will do well again. Also, don’t forget to recall personal achievement. It’s so easy to only define ourselves by the work we do, and when we have no work we can often feel a lack of identity, but remind yourself of who you are as a person. Financial stress and hefty job applications sure take their toll, but they don’t change who you are as an individual.

Find a purpose outside of daily applications.

As with many things in life, you can have too much of a good thing. It might feel necessary to be looking and applying for jobs 24/7, but you will burn out and learn to hate the process, if you don’t already. Work can often bring us purpose, and as humans, it is key to a well balanced and meaningful life, so it’s important to find a sense of purpose amongst all the madness. The purpose can be big or small, maybe even a commitment to doing something productive each day, like organising the bookshelf or getting 30 minutes outside. For me, I found purpose in volunteering for a local charity. From April to November, I made up food parcels for the vulnerable in my community and worked out of a local homeless shelter giving out cooked meals, drinks and warm clothes to anyone who might need it. Not only was this work hugely rewarding and purposeful, but I gained ‘colleagues’ again, a team who were on the same mission as me and working towards a common goal. I felt useful, I felt needed, and I felt like I was making a difference. Adding this volunteering work to my life during one of my lowest times was my salvation. It balanced out the monotony of the job hunt and the constant stress and anxiety associated with that search. It humbled me and gave me perspective. Learning that my dire situation could be so much more dire pushed me onwards and upwards, and I went to bed each night feeling like I had achieved something, even if it was something small.

Broaden your horizons if needed.

For too long, I was applying only for jobs similar to what I had done before- similar industry, job title, and scope. This is standard procedure when searching for a job, but after many rejections and an increasingly desperate situation, I realised I needed to broaden my job horizons and get creative. At that moment in time, what I needed was an income to continue paying my mortgage on the flat I’d bought three months before Covid hit. The job I wanted would have to wait. Rather than only trawling LinkedIn for that next step in my career, I opened my search out to temp agencies, a work coach via the Jobcentre, my network, retail job sites, and local community Facebook groups which is where I got lucky. Following a post, I made about looking for work (tragically, lots of people commented on my post with their own stories of desperation) a local business replied saying that they needed temporary warehouse assistants to help them with the busy Christmas period and that I should contact them if interested. Two weeks later, I was working 2-10 pm five days a week packing boxes for a local food retailer, attempting to get 100 boxes filled to hit the shift target. Not a KPI I was used to, nor was it somewhere I ever envisioned working, but it did alleviate some of my money worries, it reminded me just how much I loved the career path I’d been on, and it allowed me to breathe again whilst continuing to find the job I wanted. Moreover, it gave me time, something that I had felt was hastily running out.

Check in on your mental health.

I have not left this topic last due to lack of importance, quite the opposite. If you take anything away from what I’ve written, please let it be that your mental health matters hugely, there is no shame in seeking help, and your wellbeing is paramount. As a sufferer of depression and anxiety, I find that those ailments of mine peak and trough through life's twists and turns, but no one could have prepared me for the toll 2020 would take on my mental wellbeing. In the space of 4 weeks my Stepdad passed away, I was told I was losing my job, and then a good friend suddenly died. These events are enough to push anyone into a dark place, especially on top of the lifestyle changes the pandemic had caused. However, it was the following months of job hunting and rejection that I found utterly soul-destroying, crippling and panic attack inducing.

I wanted to share my experiences to help anyone who is going through a similar experience right now or give some insight into what someone might be feeling behind the scenes. For a period of time, I was riddled with sleep issues, lack of appetite, stress, exhaustion, tears and some of the worst panic attacks I have ever experienced. I was so hard on myself, telling myself I’d never get a new job in this state - how could I perform well in an interview with a racing mind and two hours sleep? How would I sell myself when I had completely lost any semblance of self-confidence and worth? This only left my mind spiralling into a darker place and heightened state of panic.

Ask for help.

I’m not always great at realising when I need to reach out for help, but on a particularly dark day when I received what felt like my 1000th rejection, something reminded me of an Instagram post I’d saved a while back which is a mental health ‘barometer’ of sorts (shared below). I’m not ashamed to tell you that I was in the red. There and then I knew that I needed help, that my level of distress was not sustainable. Reaching out to my GP was the first and biggest step, and I have been receiving NHS therapy ever since, which is helping immensely.

Long periods of worry, stress, perceived failure and constant rejection will impact you. Sometimes your body will sound its warning signal in less obvious ways and ask for help. Please try to listen. It’s not weak to suffer, and it’s not shameful to ask for help. Things are incredibly tough out there for so many of us since Covid hit. I hope this helps even one person in a small way and If you ever need someone to talk to, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me.