Rejection & Resilience: Surviving Recruiting Struggles

Rejection & Resilience: Surviving Recruiting Struggles

A common interview prompt is, “Tell me about a time when you failed.” As Booth students, we have spoken to this over and over again. From our past jobs to our MBA admissions interviews, we have at least one good story about overcoming failure.

The theory behind the prompt is that candidates who have failed in the past have learned to handle, overcome, and learn from these experiences. Ideally, they will not repeat their past mistakes and, when they do fail at something in the future, they will know how to bounce back from it.

What I have yet to hear is this: Tell me about a time when you were rejected.

From romantic relationships to professional experiences, the word itself can create a visceral reaction. It’s an ugly feeling that no one wants to revisit. Sure, failures can be celebrated (“fail fast” is an echo of my Bay Area homeland), but rejections can leave us shaken—especially when they come in waves.

I didn’t consider that these waves could hit me until I found myself underwater.

First one, then two, then five times in a row. Back-to-back in just over a week. Five final round internship interviews and nothing to show for it beyond a phone record of disappointing calls and dozens of unanswered “thank you for your consideration” emails.

My confidence plummeted. What if I just wasn’t cut out for this? And the “this” was suddenly everything. Maybe I wasn’t meant for these jobs, for this city, for Booth itself. What if admissions had made a mistake? I could already hear it so clearly in my head: Sorry, the scholarship was supposed to go to a different Malone. You can go home now.

I sat in self pity for an evening. Felt all the sad feels and listened to “Breathe” from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights broadway album. I imagined myself as Nina, coming home and feeling like a disappointment to everyone who believed she would make it, wherever “it” was for me.

The next morning I called a friend who had been through the same rejection cycle in the first year of his MBA. He listened patiently as I cried over FaceTime about how I felt like a fraud and he reminded me that these rejections were not representative of my worth as a candidate, student, or person. Just because I felt like an imposter didn’t mean I was one. He also explained that coping in isolation wasn’t going to fix anything.

That night, I strolled along the Chicago Riverwalk with a classmate and confided in her my insecurities. It turned out that I wasn’t alone. Our stories were almost identical, and so was a third friend’s. Each of us thought that we were the lone screw up of our class, but the more we reached out and had honest conversations, the more we heard our fears echoed by others. 

I tell you this not to scare you about recruiting, but to remind you that not every part of an MBA experience is going to be easy or make it to a viral #LinkedInFlex. Many of my friends got offers after their first interviews. I didn’t… and I wasn’t the only one.

We don’t talk enough about rejection. 

Instead, we may push things aside, encourage others to “treat yo self”, or throw ourselves unhealthily into work. The increased likelihood of this to occur can especially happen in an environment where we may put a lot of pressure on ourselves to succeed, like in an MBA program. So, let’s have a practical dialogue on how, at Booth, you can navigate the dream school experience with a recruiting bump that feels like a nightmare.

Keep perspective on how far you’ve come. Your worth does not rest on one (or fifty) yes/no calls. One friend summed it up best: “Your success so far was not an accident.” You have made it so far. Don’t let one bad chapter be the end of your book.

Don’t suffer alone. Chances are, others are feeling the same way. Can you continue to sit alone on your couch and rewatch The Office? Sure, that’s your prerogative. Will that get you as far as a candid conversation on what’s bothering you? Probably not.

Ask for help. Conversations and cookie dough can’t always fix everything (though we appreciate your effort, cookie dough). When that happens, remember that there are mental health resources for rebuilding your spirit and, when you feel prepared to tackle recruiting again, the Career Services Office is there to help you. 

Here’s some of what they offer:

  • Search Teams, which are weekly group meetings through Winter and Spring Quarters with a member of the Career Services team and peers who are also searching for their offers.
  • Mock interviews with Career Advisors, who have experience with the positions and companies you’re targeting.
  • Company info sessions to attend between classes. Why track down every company, when so many of them will come talk to you? 
  • A strong alumni network who will respond to your cold calls. Is there a company you want to learn more about? Chances are there’s a Boothie that works there and they’re willing to talk. 

Success doesn’t happen in a vacuum, so lean on your resources.

While I hope that every person reading this will continue to sail through life with successes, we all hit our little hurdles. Maybe, like me, yours will be recruiting. Maybe it will be mastering accounting or making friends or figuring out the difference between the Metra and the L (and not getting lost on either of them). Whatever it is, the important part is that you keep moving forward.

Not everything will be perfect, so be resilient when–not if–you get knocked down, and you’ll rise even stronger. 

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