Navigating the emotional folds of rejection: 3 coaching steps

A businessman standing in front of a question mark.

I, like the great majority of professionals I have met and probably like you, didn’t get the job I applied for at some point in my career. Our human brain is wired for social living. Being and feeling accepted plays a big part in our social system and every time we experience some sort of rejection, no matter what our level of personal confidence is, our system just doesn’t like it. Processing rejection is not a marginal process if the emotional investment in the prospect of changing jobs is significant – for example, when applying for a much bigger role or the dream job we have been waiting for. If the expectation, on the other end of the emotional investment spectrum, is instead low – it was just a nice try – then we may move on quickly, but we will miss an opportunity for personal growth if we don’t reflect on our experience for a moment. The following three steps offer a coaching moment relevant to both scenarios and follow the journey of turning rejection into an asset in our own personal knowledge bank.

1. Stay in the process. Don’t fix it.

(Most) Lawyers are solution driven and want to solve the situation and archive the matter. If Plan A fails, we want to move to Plan B. If we were passed over and the position was for an internal role, we want to fix the relationship and iron out the way forward with the candidate who got the job. With rejection, we need to stay a bit in the space – and that no doubt feels uncomfortable. But the upsides of good processing are significant compared to rushing into fix-and-move-on mode. The 5 stages of rejection are a process that needs to take its course – denial, anger/blaming, bargaining, depression/sadness and finally acceptance may take a couple of days, or they may take a couple of weeks. If we stay in the process, quality acceptance will close it out for us. It will not only save us time by avoiding bringing up the same conversation again and again in the future but also give us a much-needed space for creating alternatives or embracing new perspectives about our current role. We cannot drag resentment around and expect our minds to truly stretch into new thinking. And low resentment and high new thinking is the true indicator that we have moved on.

“If we stay in the process, the 5 stages of rejection will take their course and quality acceptance will close it out for us.”

2. It’s really not personal: it’s not you, it’s them

As we emotionally process rejection, we start seeing a wider perspective. Before landing on the (double-edged) factual statement that every organisation doesn’t get recruiting talent 100% right (many recruiters indicate a 60% success rate as doing a good job in recruiting), let’s refresh ourselves with a few considerations. It is very hard for every external, and even internal, applicant to have a full-picture understanding of the selection criteria that will be employed during the recruitment process. In addition to the stated-in-writing criteria, whether a candidate is a good match for that particular job in that particular organisation is an assessment left to the people holding the vision for that role. That assessment is highly subjective and is formed within a certain (unknown to the external applicant) organisational culture; even for the knowledgeable candidate who ‘ticks all the selection criteria boxes’, it is very difficult to decipher. Leaving aside situations where, and for different reasons, a professional is overtly not a good match, I often hear talented candidates feeling puzzled and discouraged about the outcome. Their feedback constantly circles around the same narrative: I don’t get it; I am exactly the candidate they were looking for. So, what is missing? As we navigate the emotional folds of rejection, I think what we are missing is the unconditional appreciation that our perspective is very different from the selecting committee/recruiting manager perspective – and if we are glue-stuck in ours, it’s very difficult to achieve progress. If we drop once for all our own selection criteria, we find out that any outcome has a lot more to do with them than the candidate experience, qualifications or skillset. This is especially true in the case of capable and skilled candidates who are likely a great asset to any organisation. It just so happens that this particular decision was made based on their subjective, organisation-culture driven, maybe situational, maybe even wrong, criteria.

“It’s always hard to know exactly what selection criteria are prioritised: whether a candidate is a good match for that particular job is an assessment left to the people holding the vision for that role.”

3. Learn something about yourself, not just the legal market or that role. Build your unique self-knowledge bank.

When we don’t get the job we want, our areas of questioning often gravitate towards wanting to understand more about the current legal market or that specific organisation/department. These are all important observations and lessons to be learned because they contribute to our understanding of that complex and dynamic environment that is the professional environment in which we operate. Alongside this, however, staying observant and curious about our internal world is a golden opportunity to build our unique self-knowledge bank. Finding out who we really are, as opposed to who we are told we are, is a lifetime journey. Life offers plenty of opportunities to test our resilience and build self-awareness and every little helps us to equip ourselves with further data. We often think we already know how we will react to certain situations, but forecasting is not a real game for personal growth. Are we noticing when playing the ‘I don’t really care, I’ll find another job’ card to avoid exploring our disappointment? Do we now know better why that role interested us? Staying as much as we can in our circle of influence is empowering ourselves. It moves the focus from trying to influence external factors to being in the only place that will make things happen: us.

“Finding out who we really are, as opposed to who we are told we are, is a lifetime journey”

Experiencing any of these issues? Find out how coaching can support your specific challenges.

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