Don’t Self-Reject

Discover what’s possible with a healthy job hunt mindset 

We often run into rejection in our job hunts before we ever start. This is called self-rejection. We see the glass half-full, or efforts to try are likely to be without result, or we feel getting our dream job is out of reach. Maybe we heard someone say something like that about themselves or about you and we adopted that view. 

It’s time to stop this harmful habit of self-rejecting and open up to what the job hunt has to teach us. 

Why change? I know, right? Where we are is usually where we feel comfortable. But on the other hand, where we are now is NOT where we want to go. 

And then there’s the perspective of anyone we talk to: they’ll want to see that we believe that we can, whether we actually can or not. One of my best growth experiences came from believing that I can and finding out that I had much to learn. Would not have learned it if I didn’t feel I could in the first place! 

Let’s choose a different path so that we do not reject ourselves before we start, so that we experience what’s possible in our lives and careers, so that we are ultimately successful in our job hunts. 

You feel justified in your Self-rejection

I just met with a talented international student. She spent most of our time together explaining to me why she didn't think that she had what it took to do the job she wanted. She wasn’t going to convince me of this, but she was convinced. 

Our job, of course, is to convince another that we can do the work. That’s part of successful interviewing. So we can see how self-rejection sets us in a direction opposite of where we want to go. 

At various points in this meeting, I would offer (what I hoped was) an uplifting interpretation of events described or invite her to question whether a pessimistic view was really the true way to see things. 

On that one call alone it was clear I was not going to be able to separate her from her self-rejection. And I would not expect that one phone call is all it would take.  

There was no way she would be able to convince me that her situation was as bad as she suggested, or that what she wanted was not possible. I’ve seen too many examples of successful job hunts that began from nothing or from big disadvantages. 

The big changes occurred from the mindset of “I think I can” or its more cautious cousin, open to the possibility of “what if I can?”  

We all start job hunts without certain pieces in place needed to get offers. This is OK and normal. We may not yet have a network. We may lack polished interview responses. We might not yet quite know what it is we actually want to do. 

The source of self-rejection 

Self-rejection and the urge to self-reject come from good places in our hearts and souls. We just want to do well and for people to appreciate us. But when the bar of achievement seems exceedingly high, or the work involved seems too great, we might prefer to duck out and not participate. We might self-reject as a perceived means to avoid the bad. 

It’s not because the rewards are not there - they are! The great brand name on the resume, the chance to travel a lot and stay in nice hotels or (fill in other cool things) - those are all there for your taking. 

But for many, the prospect of not succeeding is even more painful, and self-rejection is that attempt to stay safe. 

We live in a society where parents and society praise perfection. In the job hunt, if we perceive perfection might be hard to attain, we may shy away.

Before Covid I had lunch in Shanghai with a family whose son was attending a US school. The topic of grades came up, the mom quipped to her son, “Since a 4.0 is possible, why not get a 4.0?” His current GPA was 3.99.

IF this is the kind of emotional abuse that we’ve had to go through, we definitely don’t want more of it.

If self-rejection comes up now in your job hunt, much of this is due to upbringing. We have perfectionism built into our systems to a greater or lesser degree, and we’ve had it for a while, and it’s not immediately going to go away. 

There is so much pressure to do well and the consequences of not doing well are removal of emotional support, loss of face or loss of friends.

And in the activity of striving for perfection, in complaining about the 0.01 GPA gap, we're stuck looking for our own weaknesses. We're looking for the problems and we are missing the bigger picture: we are here in this job hunt to fill roles that help others. 

No one was ever asking for perfection. If anything, employers are looking just for potential to be trained, so that one day we can be of service. But with self-rejection we miss that whole part of the story. 

And we end a job hunt before it even starts.

Don’t plan on ever being fully ready

Now, right now, you might have some work to do to be prepared for your job offer. Would that be a reason to give up?

Let’s say management consulting is your dream job. You might need to speak with 20 more consultants before you understand what consulting actually is, having not done it before. 

Let’s say you want to do data science. Maybe you need to talk to 10 more data scientists before you really appreciate what it takes to become a data scientist.

Maybe you are not ready or hireable yet. So what? That’s the gift of the job hunt: the path we can walk to become hireable. Difficulty or lack of preparedness is not a reason to self reject.  Be OK with where you are. Be OK with having a job hunt where there is learning to be done. No one ever got a job after college just relying on their high school understanding of things. 

In my 12 week program, that is where we start: we are open to growth. We identify professional branding that makes us attractive to our teams of interest. Coaching allows you to meet people  you would not otherwise know how to meet, all of those people already doing what we want to be doing, and in sufficient numbers.

There's no prerequisite or prior experience necessary to get on coffee chats, but you’ll likely want to know how to start and execute them and what to do next. 

The 3 questions 

So the next time you think about self rejecting, hold on just for a second. That old habitual “I can’t” may rise up a lot. Each time it does, Remember what Stuart says, “before I do the self rejection thing, let me step back. Let me hold on a second. Let me ask myself, and you should ask yourself “the three questions”: 

Number one, am I willing to work hard? 

Number two, am I willing to help others? 

Number three, am I willing to take on more responsibility?

If your answers to one, two and three are each a yes, then you have what it takes to be successful in that ideal role that you want to have, and you don't need to settle for second, best or third best, or throw your hands up in the air and conclude it's impossible or “just see what happens”.

Companies are not in business to enforce HR policy

Companies exist to serve a particular group of clients with a particular set of solutions. They don’t exist to enforce HR policy. HR policy is interpreted in ways which best support business outcomes. 

Hiring and sponsoring you may be the best thing for the business now. But they just haven’t met you yet, or you haven’t refined your branding yet, or both.  

If you are interested in helping a particular team do one kind of work and you are willing to work hard, help others and take on new responsibility, you have what it takes to succeed in that firm.

And then it's just a matter of landing your message, your branding in front of the right people.

HR policy is wise enough to support your sponsorship. 

But so often, it happens that the effort does not take flight - we self-reject first. 

Maybe in a past career fair as an undergrad, you encountered a big sign at the booth of your dream company announcing that sponsorship seekers need not apply. 

Now, years later as a graduate student, in your mind we have this image of a sign that says “we don't accept international students” or only “us citizens may apply”. 

The hurt and injury remains personal to you, but the message wasn’t personal. You are getting hired isn’t personal, either. Firms need help and can only choose the people who are a fit.

Years later, now in grad school, we may still carry that injury in our hearts. And we keep self-rejecting. We don’t experience the growth that we might actually need - it may be just one or two weeks of research - in order to be job ready. 

So, decide what you are here for. Are you here to enforce HR policy or are you here to help the company? 

Let’s say the firm doesn't sponsor. None of that actually matters. Why? it's simple: companies don't exist to just enforce an HR policy. If your goal is to serve the company’s mission, you’ll still network inside those non-sponsoring firms, or, lacking the means to do so, you’ll be open to learning how. 

So, before you self-reject, decide which mission you are on: are you here to enforce HR policy or are you here to do great work? 

The right kind of rejection

When we self-reject, we  close a door before it has a chance to open. Which doors? Those doors that lead to helpful feedback on how we can improve. So going forward, please do not self reject. Don’t close doors on conversations or events just because you don’t have certainty you’ll be accepted. Or, said in a different way, be open to the idea of rejection by others. Be open to the idea of getting feedback that says, ”no, you were not a fit for us because A, B and C”. Whoever they were rejecting, that person was the you of last week or last month. Now that you’ve had the conversations or attended those events, you’re no longer rejected. 

One way to understand rejection as being a constructive thing is to acknowledge that the person that we want to become is a work in progress. The you that gets hired was never going to be you when just getting started out.

We may not yet be that person, and that is OK. 

One of the best things that ever happened to me in my job hunt was rejection. It occurred during my first internship during grad school. I was trying out investment banking and I was terrible at it. I had no idea how to do almost anything that was asked of me by the firm. Leading up to that point, I thought that getting my MBA with a finance specialty and having that first year completed was all I needed to be successful in the internship.

And I was very wrong and I did not get invited back, but I got two benefits out of that experience. One, I discovered that I liked investment banking. I thought it was cool and I wanted to do more. And number two, I found out where I was lacking so that I could come back into the job hunt after that summer and get the skills I was missing and beef up on those skills, and then come back to the job hunt and ultimately succeed beyond my wildest dreams in my subsequent job hunts. 

Now, had I self rejected at any of those points, I would not have received life-enhancing chances to grow. 

If I had self-rejected when introduced to an alumna working at the bank, I may have come off as unconfident or unwilling. 

If I had self-rejected at the second round interview stage, I may not have prepared well enough. 

If I had self-rejected during the interview, when I got nervous and started to hyperventilate, the voice in my head that “I got this” may have not been audible. I may not have calmed down, completed the interview and got the offer.  

Had I self-rejected at any point, I would have not aimed higher and achieved more than I had possibly hoped. 

So please do not self reject in your job hunts, and be open to objective feedback from the market because that is the catalyst for your growth, not feedback in the sense of applying and never hearing back, but via actually talking to people, always a signature part of our career accelerator program.

Once we have developed our branding 

Whether you work with a coach or not - develop your branding through conversations with people, then go out and network with executives, specifically of the kind that can influence your hiring even if the company has a no sponsorship policy. Why? Because that referral that you win can override that policy. The policy is not the purpose of the business, rather HR policy is there to serve the business. Once you are established as a great fit for that manager's team, they will bring you into that interview process and give you a chance, even though the policy says something different.

If you need proof of this, look up any company that says they don't sponsor international students and inspect the employees listed as working there via LinkedIn. Note all the international people, even possibly some of your friends - who are working there. And that could be you, too. This all begins, however, with you not self rejecting yourself.


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