December 22, 2009

Rejection: A Case Study

As you can imagine, rejection is part and parcel of the job seeking process. Most companies send emails: "We regret to inform you, yada, yada, yada"; however, some places send old fashioned letters. They arrive in my mailbox with the logo of whatever library I applied to. They're normally thin seeing as it doesn't take a lot of paper to say "you just aren't what we're looking for". I open them, read them, shrug, and move on.

Within the last two days, I have received two of these (Merry Christmas to me!), and although I try not to take any rejection personally when it comes to the job hunt - it's a bad economy, no one has any money to hire me, etc - one of these rejection letters stung me like a bad break-up. It was a very standard letter: They received an enormous amount of interest (this is nothing new) and that they had to choose a pool of applicants for testing and interviews whom they believed were best suited to the position. I don't know why this bothered me so much. I have a feeling it had much more to do with the timing of the letter rather than the letter itself. I've just been getting too much rejection lately. I really need to toughen up. I should have opened the letter, read it, shrugged, and moved on.

On the other hand, I received a letter today that didn't upset me at all. In fact, I felt better about myself after reading it. First it thanked me for my application. Then it detailed why they chose someone else (no biggie), but then the letter also said, and I quote:

"Your own skills and experience in libraries are impressive."

I was agog. They also regretted that they couldn't meet me in person for an interview. Then they said they would keep my profile on file in the case that a vacancy should occur. I was rejected, yet I still felt good about myself. What's more, for the first time in months I felt like I hadn't made a huge mistake by choosing librarianship as a career path. I doubt that I will ever hear from the library again, but wow, someone in the profession thinks my library skills are "impressive". Finally!

I know that rejection is just as difficult for employers as it is for potential candidates. It's even more difficult when the candidate already has a relationship with the potential employer. I've been there, but it was handled really well. My potential employer focused on my strong points when breaking the news. They let me know that I gave a great interview and that ultimately my people skills will earn me a library position. They also let me know that the perfect candidate received the position, but I was also a very good candidate. In the end, I think letting me down was harder for them than it was for me. I totally understood why I didn't get hired. I probably would have gone with the other candidate too if the shoe was on the other foot, but it was nice that they took the time to let me know that I was a decent candidate too. Although it is not the responsibility of potential employers to make job seekers feel better about themselves, it does help maintain momentum for someone who has probably been getting a lot of rejection during their job search.

So, what have I learned. Although I already knew that rejection is part of the process, I know that if I'm ever in the position to hire someone I can write a rejection letter that will make a candidate feel proud instead of defeated.

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