Rejection is a word that is often feared, whether it be a teenager putting their heart on the line, or a graduate looking for their first role out of university. Rejection is something that everyone is likely to experience at one stage of their life or another, so it is important to understand the effects it can have, and what the most productive ways to deal with it. After all the measure of character is not how much a person suffers rejection, but how they bounce back from the experience and learn from it.

How rejection affects the brain

Rejection affects the brain in a similar way to physical pain, this is likely why we fear rejection as much as we avoid putting ourselves in harms way. The neurological pathways that tell our brain where we have hurt ourselves are also used for the feeling of rejection, and studies have even shown that simple pain killers can ease the feeling of angst. Research has also been carried out to investigate why this may be, it is likely to stem from our hunter-gatherer ancestors, in which living in packs and interdependence were important for survival in the harsh environments. This neurological pathway is thought to be an evolutionary development to act as an early warning system to those at risk of rejection. However, mankind is now likely to act stronger without this reaction to rejection, dealing with rejection can even be learned as a skill with some even training themselves with coping strategies. There are many stories out there of how rejection has been a key part to the story of very successful people; Michael Jordan cut from his High School team, J.K. Rowling told Harry Potter would never sell, Dwayne Johnson was rejected by the NFL and then cut from the Calgary Stampeders, You are likely to find a lot of these stories on inspirational Instagram posts dotted about. The main take away from these stories aren’t that famous people get rejected too, but that they had the mental strength to overcome the feeling of rejection and put their energy into something productive.

Fear of rejection worse than the experience itself

Speaking from personal experience during a job search, the fear of rejection can sometimes be more crippling than the actual rejection itself. During my first real job search I had an interview at a company I believed was the only path to my dream career. This piled pressure onto myself to the point where I feared the interview through fear of messing it up and being rejected as a result. The interview came around and I can comfortably say it went about as badly as it could have. I was informed of my rejection the next day and it came as almost a relief as I had put so much importance on this company that when I was told I wouldn’t work there is felt like a weight had been lifted. Fast forward 3 months and I was offered a role much better suited to my abilities and in a location that has led to me looking back at my rejection with a positive mindset as I attribute the reflection from the experience as a key factor in the success of getting the role I’m now working in.

A screenshot of a cell phoneDescription generated with very high confidenceImportance of self-reflection / awareness

A good level of self-awareness from a candidate is every recruiters dream, there is very little more frustrating than receiving an application to a role from a candidate that is underqualified and cannot be put forward for the position. Self-awareness is born from self-reflection which can be a very productive exercise following a rejection. There are many models to follow for reflection but possibly the most effective for improving self-awareness is the JOHARI window developed by Joseph Luften & Harry Ingham in 1955 as a tool to help people to better communicate with others. The model is designed for people to look inwardly to themselves as well as asking others how they view them. This can be useful when asking for feedback on an interview that went badly as it may be the case that your personality is seen by the interviewer differently to your perception. This exercise can reveal aspects of yourself that are difficult to recognise without asking others, having a clearer picture of how others view you is likely to allow you to position yourself in the jobs market much more effectively. Candidates that are self-aware simplify the recruitment process as they are comfortable talking about their skills and come across as a lot more credible to hiring managers as a result. Whilst “fake it ‘til you make it” can be a useful motto in some circumstances, it is important to be sure of your position in the market and never set yourself up to over-promise & under-deliver.

How to bounce back

Our recommended strategy to cope with rejection is inspired by the lyrical stylings of Chumbawumba;

“I get knocked down, but I get up again, you’re never gonna keep me down”

These are words to live by if you ask us, it can be tempting to allow a rejection to consume you and shy away from future opportunities as a result, whilst rejection is a painful experience to go through it can be even more damaging to allow a rejection to define you. Imagine where Michael Jordan, J.K. Rowling or even Dwayne Johnson would be had they allowed their rejections to take control. Rejection should be an opportunity for growth, to acknowledge where you fell short and implement a plan of action to prevent being in a similar position ever again, after all…

“It is better to live a life with rejection, than a life with regret”

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