How to get a job after you’ve been rejected

I’ve gotten everything I have because I was rejected.

My senior year of high school, every day I’d run to the mailbox. I was waiting to hear back from my dream college. I was so excited when the envelope finally came. I ripped it open, my heart pounding.

It was a rejection letter. I was devastated. I asked them if there was anything I could do to change their minds. Sorry, they said. There’s no waitlist and no appeals process.

But I really wanted in. So I redid my resume and essays, made a glossy brochure, and made them a video about me.

They reversed their decision.

By rejecting me at first, college admissions taught me the most valuable lesson of my life. It doesn’t matter if you’re told no. Everything’s negotiable.

Do everything in your power to change their minds
If you really want this job, the first question you should ask yourself is: Did I do everything possible to get the job?

If the answer is no — congratulations! Time for the fun part.

Do everything in your power to change their minds. If you really want this job, put in 100 hours to get it.

You might think putting in this kind of effort is overkill. But you’ve probably spent 100 hours working on something for a job you already have. Why not do it for a job you really want?

What would 100 hours look like? You can do a lot with it. Get creative. Trying to get a web designer position? Give their existing website a facelift. Marketing position? Put together a marketing plan or a concept for a viral video. Don’t wait until you’re hired to show them you can do the job. Show them when you apply. You are going to run circles around all the other candidates sending in their paltry resumes and cover letters.

Do something that makes you a stronger candidate not only for this employer, but for others too. That way if it doesn’t work out, you haven’t wasted your time. If you redesign a site or make a creative video, that’s a piece you can put in your portfolio to show the next company.

Ask them why they rejected you. If they give you reasons, brainstorm ways to demonstrate how you can overcome them.

It can be tempting not to try your hardest
If you don’t try your hardest, you always get to fall on a safety net:

“Well I didn’t get it, but it’s not like I tried that hard anyway.”

Your safety net is holding you back.

Yes, failure is hard to take. Rejection is tough to stomach. But better to try your damnedest and fail than to hold back and always wonder what if. The master has failed more times than the beginner has even tried.

100 hours doesn’t always work
I wanted a job at Evernote, and I wanted it bad.

So I put in my 100 hours. I made a custom resume that I illustrated with little Evernote-style animals. I got out my guitar and sang a song about why I wanted to work there. I designed a custom iPhone app for them.

It wasn’t enough. I didn’t get the job.

You know what sucked? There was nothing left for me to do. No fight left for me to fight. My friends told me I’d find another job. But I didn’t want another job, I wanted that job.

Life is funny, though. Pretty soon after, I discovered a new startup, Exec. And I wanted Exec so bad. I put in my 100 hours. This time, I got the job.

Now I get it. Evernote was right to reject me.

They could see what I couldn’t see at the time — that I was not right for their company. Evernote has several hundred employees. But I like to do a wide variety of things and not be confined to one role — I belong at a smaller company.

I love Evernote and still use it every day. I’ve met many employees and they’re good folks. But the best thing Evernote could do for me was reject me. It gave me the freedom to find Exec, which was a much better fit for my skills and personality.

If you give it your all but still get rejected, be proud. Be proud, not ashamed. You had the balls to try your hardest — fear of failure be damned.

Consider this: what you think is a dream job might not be so great after all. You’re an outsider looking in, and you don’t actually know what it’s like to work there day by day. The company might be able to see something you can’t — that you wouldn’t actually be happy there. Have faith that rejecting you was for the best.

And show the next company why they’d be damn lucky to have you.


If you’re serious about committing every day to your job search, you might enjoy a project I’m running to keep you motivated: a 100 day challenge.

Say hi at @karenxcheng

13 Comments

13 Responses to “How to get a job after you’ve been rejected”

  1. Albert Chen December 17, 2013 at 9:41 am #

    Ever seen the tedtalks on Rejection Therapy?

    http://tedxtalks.ted.com/video/Surprising-Lessons-From-100-D-2

    It definitely made me smile and rethink how we deal with rejection.

    Keep up the good work Karen! I enjoy reading your posts and watching 100 progress.

  2. Nick December 17, 2013 at 11:02 am #

    Great read and very motivational.

  3. pcunite December 17, 2013 at 11:20 am #

    Love it! I don’t reject you! Well, actually you scare me with how hard you try. Gonna run away now.

    :-)

  4. Kenji December 17, 2013 at 11:51 am #

    Haha, that’s what I call cognitive dissonance.
    You didn’t get the job so you subsequently choose to think that it was good like that. Your brain is fooling you and you put this so beautifully into a blogpost ;)

  5. Hilda Ballard December 17, 2013 at 12:19 pm #

    Wonderful advice. Doing your best really means doing more than you would normally and 100 hrs is a great way to think about it. Thanks!

  6. Lenny December 17, 2013 at 2:59 pm #

    Ms Karen, Sorry to say this, but you have serious mental issues. You just can’t seem to handle rejection.

    If you applied your same principle of “I’’ve gotten everything I have because I was rejected.” to getting Brad Pitt to marry you, you’d be in JAIL on stalking charges. Forget Brad Pitt, any guy that you want, if you did this to him, you’d be in Jail or a mental institution.

    Sorry to burst your bubble and expose you.

  7. Frank Rizzo December 17, 2013 at 3:35 pm #

    Sounds like this was written with all the passion of an 18 year old.

  8. Survival and Selection Biased December 17, 2013 at 3:44 pm #

    Yeah… so where are the details about which college, the video you made, etc, for the college rejection?

    What about other rejections that you chose not to pursue? How do you pick which ones? What about exec, a business that is basically limping along with cleaning-only…?

    This is a nice advertisement for your company, but I am skeptical of the value of the advice given it’s clearly a case of both survival and selection biases at work…

  9. Justin December 17, 2013 at 7:29 pm #

    Great post. Love the spirit.

  10. Ed December 18, 2013 at 12:35 am #

    Perhaps if you’d have spent 100 hours thinking about your marketing strategy you would have remembered to add the bit where you actually got a job that you were initially denied.

  11. Samuel Lampa December 18, 2013 at 1:39 am #

    Nice read! :) I think it is a nice thing that there are people that really want things, and go for it by all they can. Love that.

    Only, I think (and as you also started to realize), with age, one might start realizing that the things you so easily get “in love with” (like certain jobs) are often far over-glorified in one’s brain, and in reality, there other things that one will really find valuable in the long run.

    Thanks for sharing this really nice blog post!

  12. Sam December 18, 2013 at 3:50 am #

    Hi Karen
    You’re a rockstar — love your previous snippets where you’ve demonstrated an insane ability to concentrate and get seemingly impossible work done. I wish I had half the dedication (or even half the smarts :)

    Keep up the good work

  13. John December 19, 2013 at 12:34 am #

    Dear Lenny,

    I got a different perspective. What this article is is about having emotional intelligence, and choosing interpretations.

    Emotional Intelligence: “The ability to identify, assess, and control the emotions of oneself, of others, and of groups.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emotional_intelligence

    Why should anyone choose an interpretation to put yourself down?

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