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Getting rejected (cdixon.org)
188 points by edo on Sept 12, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 57 comments

The reason this period was so useful was that it helped me develop a really thick skin.

Another reason is that a high volume of rejections is just another form of stepwise refinement. OP may not have realized it, but he probably got much better over time. It's a good idea to not personalize rejections. It's a better idea to use them as data in order to improve.

"It's a good idea to not personalize rejections. It's a better idea to use them as data in order to improve." -- so true, but it's hard for some people not to take stuff personally. When they succeed in doing that, they'll become come successful, and better persons by the way.

i agree, it is hard for some people to not take it personally... i have struggled with this. my approach has been to focus on things i can control... and you can't control if people reject you.

Well true, if people are tight on finance or similar, they have mental pressure on them and almost always take things personally. They can't clean their head, refresh their thoughts and think strait.

How do you improve if you don't use rejections as reflections to find flaws in yourself? As in, how do you improve if you don't personalize rejections?

The idea is better served as to being tenacious and not giving up even after rejections. A lot of times we take rebuffs as negative validation not to keep going or to have it drag us down in depression.

Don't expect rejection but learn to cope and live with it.

Also--especially dangerous now that I'm reading some of these comments--learn not to be so high up in the clouds and deluded in thinking you're above reproach or criticism. You're not. Learn to cope with rejection so that you're not just getting carried away with manic dreams.

Life is learning the balance.

I would still say that it is better to expect failure. That way, when you succeed it is more of an 'oh, ok.' moment than something that causes you to think too highly of yourself. Once I personally learned to get over the fact that I am smart, because, so is everyone else in my field that is worth their salt, that made it much easier to walk forward and not get turned back by rejections or failure.

"If you’re aren’t getting rejected on a daily basis, your goals aren’t ambitious enough."

Does that include getting downvotes on HN? ;)

It actually would be really helpful if you got honest feedback about why you were rejected... this has never happened in my experience; rather, you get some sugar-coated rejection like "we were all very impressed with your background and skills, but do not have a position that is a good match for you."

Of course if that were true, and your resume was not embellished, you would not have gotten past the first screening.

This is probably done for liability protection: any really honest reasons for why you were rejected could be used as fodder for a lawsuit.

"You were sufficiently promising to pass our screening but after meeting you we can definitely do better. Have a nice day." is not an easy thing to say even in absence of legal issues. I could tap-dance on your face as an employer without getting sued here, but that doesn't mean we sent applicants home with a list of their inadequacies.

Of course, if you believe social science research, the reason is probably "You failed in the first five seconds to connect with your interviewer, he rejected you then, and he eventually found a reason to hang his hat on."

Well I tried that once, on the basis of 'treat others like you want to be treated', so I listed the mistakes she made in her job interview at the end so that she could improve on those points in her next interview. I wasn't being an asshole about it, I did it very carefully, it was a very hard thing to do because I'm usually very nice to everybody, it's second nature to me to not ruffle any feathers, I really framed everything in objective terms, made sure to tell her why I did it etc.

Next thing you know I'm sitting there in the conference room with a crying girl, and I'm not talking a silent tear crying, I'm talking full-out wailing in a way that the secretary from another company 2 doors down (!) came to check up on us, to see what was going on. So I come out like a bumbling idiot trying to make up an excuse for what was going on to that secretary, trying to calm down the girl I was interviewing, and she probably still went back home telling everybody what a heartless bastard I was.

So now even when people ask I'm very careful to phrase any feedback in the most general terms. It sucks for those who could handle the honest feedback, and I hope that others that I will interview with in the future are braver than I am, but this 'giving honest feedback' hasn't worked out for me.

It can be hard enough to get honest feedback from your friends, throw in legal liability and there's very little incentive for a potential employer to tell you exactly why they didn't hire you.

Getting _real_ feedback on anything you're doing is probably one of the most valuable inputs you can get. Depending on the context, such as applying for jobs, it can be really hard to get. At my last company I gave a few applicants real feedback on their resumes _if_ they asked for it (very few do). As much as you want to tell a person who doesn't work for you but can still sue you how they can improve, it can be hard to justify the risk.

I feel like in some circumstances there's a tendency to interview people even when they aren't that seriously interested in hiring them, which isn't exactly fair to the applicant. I wish people would be more open about this when it is the case.

Sometimes they can't tell you the actual reason. Maybe they are suddenly having cash-flow problems and are actually thinking about laying people off.

or responses to comments you left where you thought you knew what you were talking about, but someone here knows the subject matter on a completely different level. Contributing to HN can often put the ego on the line...

I've been rejected from every job I've ever wanted, and had to settle for places that I ended up hating. I was just rejected this morning by Jane Street Capital, after spending hours on the programming problems they had sent me, trying to make them perfect. I had written and sent Python and Scheme solutions along with my OCaml solutions too. I enjoyed reading this short post, but I'm having trouble using this most recent rejection to my advantage. I can't figure out what I'm doing wrong. As much as I dream of working for myself on my own ideas, it's almost become a life goal to get into an awesome company, just because I've been rejected from them innumerable times.

Any advice? I'm young, 22, about to graduate in May. Should I just try to take risks while I'm young and work for myself, or keep trying until I finally get through an interview process for a place that I like? Part of me wants to keep trying until I finally get accepted somewhere, but another part of me thinks that it won't happen and I should just try to prove myself on my own.

> I can't figure out what I'm doing wrong.

Sometimes if you ask nicely, the recruiter can tell you what you were missing. It's great that you're putting in a lot of effort, what you're missing is the feedback.

> Any advice? I'm young, 22, about to graduate in May.

Find a mentor? Find people who walked down any of the paths you're considering, and ask them what it was like. It's easier said than done, but it may prove valuable.

I like the idea of asking the recruiter what was missing, but I mostly am put off by it since I fear he'll tell me they just went with a better candidate...and I'm afraid of hearing what I did wrong, because I think I'd feel even more hopeless after hearing that. I guess I need to take the hint from this post and try harder to not fear rejection.

> Any advice? I'm young, 22, about to graduate in May. Should I just try to take risks while I'm young and work for myself, or keep trying until I finally get through an interview process for a place that I like?

Contrary to most people here, I'd caution against "working for yourself". If you work for yourself, only a small portion of what you do will be programming. In addition, you won't learn about programming on a team (as opposed to coding by yourself). That said, if your goal is to run your own company, go for it; if your goal is just to write code in an environment you love, starting a company (itself rewarding and something I want to do at one point in my life) is neither the only, nor the best way of getting there.

Here's my suggestion: interview at a bunch of places, receive offers, "save the best for last" (don't interview for your dream job first). You may not get an offer for the perfect job, but you're also coming straight from college so the bar is considerably higher, in that you don't have a resume.

Technical interviewing is a very imperfect art, it's just (much) better than the conventional approach of hiring warm bodies based on traditional metrics (the name of the school they went to, etc...). There often isn't a great correlation between one's interview score and one's performance on the job, so once you have people who've worked with you and who can vouch for you, along with examples of your work, you're much less likely to be passed over because you didn't do well enough on a single whiteboard coding exercise.

Out of the offers you do receive, pick the one where the people who've interviewed you seemed the smartest and most passionate: interested in same things as you are, willing to mentor you. Disregard everything else.

Once you're working, don't settle. Don't give up on your asoirations, code OCaml in your evenings, keep up with computer science, hack on open source projects. In a year, try the companies you'd want to work at again.

Also, consider what you've learned doing programming problems Jane Street: quite honestly, I am envious of having an excuse like that to solve interesting puzzles in a language I love. That should give you a boost interviewing at other places.

By the way, have you looked at: http://cufp.org/jobs ? There seem to be several OCaml offerings there.

Thanks for all the advice. I think it's a good idea to interview at a bunch of places to build up for a dream job. Although I'm on my third 6 month internship through school, the managers basically lied about what the jobs would entail to get me to accept (i.e. saying it's a software developer position and I'm stuck doing performance testing all the time), so there's not much I'm even proud to put on my resume. I've had to search far and wide for a reason to write some code, and that's what I always list on my resume.

Maybe one big problem with interviewing at a bunch of places is that I'm most proficient with Python and not Java. I learned to use it as my primary language because a very intelligent friend of mine was using it all the time, and he worked at Google. Although, the most technical interviews I've ever had were with Amazon where they let you use whatever language you want to come up with algorithms to answer their questions. It seems there aren't many companies that use Python.

Anyhow, I'll definitely apply around to a bunch of places even if I don't find them entirely appealing. They can't be much worse than what I've already endured through my internships, and I've learned to make the best of my time at my jobs by now anyway. I was thinking of doing the Y Combinator Common App today, so maybe I'll do that.

And you're right, it was loads of fun having an actual reason to solve some problems in OCaml. Actually, I'm not so passionate about the language, I just thought it was really cool that they were looking for sysadmins who also knew about functional programming. But I will check out that link anyway.

Wish I had realized this and kept trying instead of settling for four years as a corporate bank system architect.

Four years is not so long. You certainly at least learned what you DONT want to do for the the rest of your life. And four years experience with one employer looks better on a resume than four separate one-year jobs (unless you were a contractor) and also better than four years of unemployment.

Yup. I think I learnt a lot in these four years, sometimes I look back and wish I had focused on startups earlier but I realize I still had a long ways to go back then.

I finally quit this past May and joined a former co-worker on his new startup, so it all worked out in the end.

I have a similar story -- 5 years at a company where I ended up being bored and not caring about the work. But I learned a lot during those 5 years, and was able to take advantage of several opportunities that may not have otherwise been available to me.

And like you, I'm now at a startup, that I love (heh, most of the time), where I've been for the past 11 months. It's all about timing, I guess.

I think this is partially right. The assumption that if dozens of VCs are rejecting you it's because "you aren't ambitious enough" is probably a great blog post title but poor advice for a startups execution ...

In reality it's because you don't check a checkbox, and the value for you is to: a) develop resilience to rejection (always great) and b) ascertain what you didn't articulate that meant that you didn't check the appropriate checkbox. Finding out how is quite hard, but insanely valuable. (eg: we once got rejected by an investor for reasons of our market being perceived as too small, after hearing this it was obvious there was confusion in our story, we iterated on our story a few times and that concern was removed)

The kind of rejection that'll make you give up is when users reject your product, I'm blown away this isn't discussed ever here.

One of the best sales people I know once told me, "They either convince you they don't need your product or you convince them they can't live without it." I think about that every time I get rejected to make sure I never get convinced :-)

Isn't that a line in the movie Boiler Room? http://goo.gl/IM7r

Boiler Room is one of my favs. Even though Glengarry Glen Ross was relatively boring, I like this line:

"It takes brass balls to sell real estate."

Then he turns around and he is holding brass balls. A-B-C is the best pitch ever in a movie, after greed is good of course.

If you want a great example of how to deal with rejection, come to Haight Ashbury and watch the homeless people ask for change. Sometimes if they have a good enough pitch, I'll give them a dollar. There was one guy giving "bad advice" and he told me to give him my credit card and to have unprotected sex with an intravenous drug user.

I gave him a dollar.

A favourite saying of a friend of mine: 'No balls, no babies.'

This reminds of something a friend once said to me. He said, "If you've never missed your flight, you're spending way too much time at the airport."

I do this with girls!

And jokes aside...it works!

Norah Vincent's book _Self-Made Man_ discusses these issues. In it, Vincent spends a couple months dressing and acting like a man, and she goes around living life as a "man": i.e. she makes male friends, goes on dates, and so forth. The first time she approaches a group of women in an attempt to get to know them, Vincent is shocked by their indifference and what to her eyes looks anew like callousness. In this passage, her friend Curtis is in on the ruse and takes her out to meet women):

"Simple enough, right? A brush-off. No biggie. But as I turned away and slumped back across the room toward our table, I felt like the outcast kid in the lunchroom who trips and dumps his tray on the linoleum in front of the whole school. Rejection sucked.

"Rejection is a staple for guys," said Curtis, laughing as I crumpled into my seat with a humiliated sigh. "Get used to it."

That was my first lesson in male courtship ritual. You had to take your knocks and knock again. It was that or wait for some pitying act of God that would never come. This wasn't some magic island in a beer commercial where all the ladies would light up for me if only I drank the right brew.

"Try again, man," Curtis urged. "C'mon. Don't give up so easily." "

She hadn't realized the sheer amount of rejection most men experience on a day-to-day basis in interacting with women. I suspect most women don't; I also suspect that most men don't understand how many implicit or explicit sexual offers many women get every day, and how that can become wearying too. In dealing with what I'd call the facts of dating life, Vincent says this:

"How do you handle all this fucking rejection?" I asked Curtis when we sat back down for a postmortem.

"Let me tell you a story," he said. "When I was in college, there was this guy Dean, who got laid all the time. I mean this guy had different women coming out of his room every weekend and most weeknights, and he wasn't particularly good looking. He was fat and kind of a slob. Nice guy, though, but nothing special. I couldn't figure out how he did it, so one time I just asked him. 'How do you get so many girls to go out "with you?' He was a man of few words, kind of Coolidge-esque, if you know what I mean. So all he said was: 'I get rejected ninety percent of the time. But it's that ten percent.'"

And this isn't true only of dating life, but of startup life and many other fields (including my own: writing). I actually teach a chapter of Self-Made Man to my freshmen (I'm a grad student in English at the U of Arizona), and part of the reason I do it is for what she says about rejection (and about empathy).

Most of the comparisons between men and women in startups, ability, and so forth are, I think, complete bullshit. But I do wonder if men don't have an advantage in persistence because of early dating experiences, where if they're to have any success whatsoever they must learn to accept and cope with rejection. This isn't because men are somehow born to be more persistent, but I think that, by the time they've been through at least a couple of relationships in which they have to be the ones who make the first move, they begin to get the idea that a) rejection is okay and b) they need a thick skin.

(See the Amazon link to Self-Made Man if you're curious: http://www.amazon.com/Self-Made-Man-Womans-Year-Disguised/dp... . If you want the chapter I teach to my freshmen, from which the above quotes are drawn, send me an e-mail -- seligerj [at] gmail [....dot...] com)

great comment - gonna pick up the book, thanks.

This was an interesting comment, but I think it would be better to disclose the fact that your Amazon link contains a referral tag. Now I am not sure whether you posted some a big excerpt of the book because you genuinely thought it was interesting, or if you wanted to make more money.

at any rate, I genuinely thought it was interesting

Who cares? He'll make, what, a dollar?

Unless they changed it, a referral to Amazon will get the referrer some percentage of anything you buy during the next couple of days, regardless of the original link.

Great post!

I think this supports two of the most important qualities of a entrepreneur..resilience and persistence.

You gotta get back up when you get knocked down and you gotta keep going after you get up.

Are there areas outside of applying for jobs, biz dev partnerhips, etc.. where this works?

Say you are a programmer, how any opportunities do you have to get rejected 100 times

Try asking women out.

lol, don't you get rejected every time you unsuccessfully try fixing a bug?

There is however an opportunity cost for being rejected a 100 times: the time spent applying could have been spent on starting a business or other activities.

Starting a business, is ofcourse, another way to get rejected. I think this post is more about leaving your comfort-zone in the face of fear or anxiety, and not so much about getting a job.

Worse still, an opportunity is "spent" with each rejection.

This is only a problem if you believe that there is a limit to opportunities. There's always another opportunity around the corner that you haven't seen yet. And sometimes you have to fail at the obvious ones to see what the correct one is.

Totally agree and love this post. Rejection is what separates the winners from the losers. Winners shake it off and losers internalize and quit.

I can relate to this - even though I probably got more rejections than offers from job interviews, I learned a lot from them. However, I wish companies would give some interview feedback to candidates they rejected. Companies don't do this for the fear of getting sued.

The skiing corollary: if you aren't wiping out at least once each run you aren't learning.

Great post, seriously. I'm putting the headline somewhere where I'll see it daily.

Also, just FYI, there's a typo in the title:

"If you’re aren’t getting rejected on a daily basis, your goals aren’t ambitious enough."

It would be good to mention as an aside that getting rejected isn't always good enough. Applying to college is a good example.

Just something to keep in mind.

Bro. You got into USC. You're doing quite well, at least better than me :)

And I also got rejected from a bunch of places. :D haven't talked to you in a while, I'll contact you soon.

I designed a game called Rejection Therapy back in 2009 to encourage myself to get out of my comfort zone more. It was amazingly effective and enlightening (for as long as I did it).

If anyone wants to try it, it's here: http://rejectiontherapy.com

It's not finished, it's very stripped down, but it works.

A tough game to bear, although the more you succeed in the game (i.e. get rejected) the easier it probably gets to continue to do so. Hopefully this doesn't become a self-fulfilling prophecy when you actually intend to not get rejected at some point, although I suppose you can even it out be getting rejected at something else within that 24-hour period.

Stunningly elegant concept. I wish I'd thought of it. Trying it now.

Your comment made my day pm. Thank you.

No problem.

It works too, which is even better (though I failed to get a rejection yesterday). Once I've thoroughly tested it, I'm going to introduce it to my employees.


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