How to deal with interview rejection

An internship or job offer does not define your self-worth. Informed by my share of countless rejections, here’s my system for dealing with failure.

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During my junior year, I had a final round interview with one of the top management consulting firms. This was an offer I really wanted, and I had been preparing for months.

Yet on the day of the interview, I distinctly remember walking out of the office feeling uneasy about my performance — I didn’t click with the interviewers. Given the level of competition, I knew it wasn’t looking good.

Sure enough, a few days later I got the dreaded rejection call. It sucked.

On top of not landing the offer, something else happened. A friend of mine got the offer that same day. When he told me, I was initially happy that one of us got the offer.

But then I remembered what he told me before the interview. He didn’t really want the offer — he was ready to sign with another firm.  

I missed out on landing this offer to someone who didn’t want it nearly as much as I did. That was one of the most frustrating rejections I dealt with during recruiting.

It caused me to question my self worth with poisonous thoughts like “will any employer hire me if I can’t even get an offer over someone who doesn’t want it?”

As students, we are conditioned to compete with our peers from an early age. In high school, students compete for college admissions. In college, students compete for graduate school or jobs.

Even after your first job, it’s easy to continue the “rat race” and climb the corporate ladder for the sake of competing with others.

Unfortunately this competition does not end unless you condition yourself to stop thinking this way. The rat race is real. It started in high school, and is only amplified in college with recruiting.

This causes students to attribute self worth and status to one’s job or internship. We often quickly categorize those with prestigious job offers as smarter than others. But there are 2 glaring flaws with this line of thinking.

  1. There are many smart and successful people who didn’t follow the conventional recruiting path.
  2. Intelligence is just a small portion of what it takes to land a top job offer. Just look at this diagram from last week’s post: Why you’re not getting internship interviews or job offers.

2 by 22 internship and job offer framework

Sure, being smart helps with some of these components, but I would argue hustling is even more important for succeeding in recruiting. And of course, there’s a heavy dose of luck with each step.

Why does any of this matter?

Because of failure. If you haven’t already, I guarantee you will face rejection at some point during the recruiting process. For many of you, this already happened so many times you’ve lost count. For a few lucky others, you feel on top of the world and have yet to experience this.

Most people only like to talk about the job offers they got — ignoring the ones they didn’t get. I probably got rejected to 3 times the number of companies I landed offers with. And that’s just the companies I actually interviewed with. The picture looks far worse if I include all the companies I sent my resume to.

Failure is a fact of life for everyone.

My job is to help maximize your professional potential — something you cannot achieve if you don’t have a system of dealing with inevitable failure.

What do you do when rejection knocks you down?

In a perfect world, we would all understand that job offers do not validate our self-worth. Our inherent value is no different before or after receiving a job offer. But we’re all human… this is easy to say and hard to believe when you get slapped in the face by a company you wanted to work for.

I like to give myself 2 days to feel sorry. Then, I bounce back stronger than ever before — motivated to crush the next interview.

During the 2 days after that big internship rejection, I let myself vent to a few close friends about my frustration with the process. I let myself feel shitty and angry. But on day 3, I put together a plan to move forward and crush whatever opportunities were left.

That is my system for dealing with failures — it’s like a muscle that requires training. And once you strengthen it, no individual failures will stop you.

One of the absolute truths in life is that you will face rejection, and it will happen again, and again, and again…

Being successful requires you to develop this muscle of bouncing back and learning from your mistakes. So take each rejection as an opportunity to train, learn, and grow.

Well, that or just get really damn lucky in an interview. But at 2 by 22 we don’t believe in relying on luck.

P.S. If you have a story about overcoming rejection in the recruiting process, reply to this email and let me know!

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