By: Career and Professional Development
When it comes to identifying what to teach students in order to prepare for their futures beyond Gonzaga, there are many important skills that quickly come to mind. We train students on how to prepare their resumes, where to find jobs, who to network with, and much more, yet there is one essential skill that many students have not yet mastered and do not often focus on. This important professional and life skill is the ability to handle rejection. Gonzaga is a great school, and many of our students come to us with long lists of successes they have had in their relatively short lives. The pattern of try and succeed becomes an expectation for our students, and when they get to GU they have no way to anticipate that the pattern may change. However, during their time here at GU or after, there will come a day for each and every Zag when they try and don’t find the success they are used to. Whether it is when applying for a job or internship, or even applying for positions or clubs on campus, there will be a rejection letter that comes and forces our students to confront the fact that no one can succeed all the time. Because this is something we see often with students when they apply for jobs, internships, and even positions or clubs around campus, Career & Professional Development has a few tips for family members who may be supporting students through this invaluable but sometimes painful learning experience.
- Normalize it: No one is 100% successful 100% of the time if they are striving to grow and develop. If a student extends themselves to apply for something and then does not get chosen, it is an indication that they were trying for something greater than their status quo, and that in itself is a success. As a family member of a student who is struggling with not having been selected for something, it can be helpful to normalize that experience; especially if it is one of the first times your student has faced rejection. Share with them examples of your own past failures and how you were able to overcome and move on. Point out the failures of some of the people we often think of as synonymous with success. Early in his career, Walt Disney was told by a boss that he ‘lacked imagination and had no good ideas.’ Oprah was fired from her first TV anchor job. Steven Spielberg was rejected twice by the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts. Rejection is normal and one of the best ways to overcome it is to recognize that fact.
- Don’t take it personally: One of the common barriers I see for students to overcome rejection is that they are unable to separate their sense of self-worth and identity from their external successes. As a result, if they are not chosen for the club, leadership role, or position, they see it as a direct reflection of their lack of worth and take it personally. However, as many of us know, selecting a new employee or intern is not about that candidate personally; it is about finding the right fit for the role. This can mean the person with the most experience, best understanding of the role, most flexible schedule, or any number of things. It does not usually mean that the interviewers don’t like the candidate as a person.
- Get feedback: This can be one of the most useful things that a student can do when they have not been selected for a position. If the opportunity is offered, or the relationship with the interviewer has been developed, a student should follow up a rejection letter or phone call with a genuine and open request for feedback. This can benefit the student in two different ways; by improving their skills and by showing the employer that they are open to personal growth. If a student can find out where they have room to grow, whether it be in obtaining more experience with certain skills, better articulating their interview answers, or applying to jobs for which they are better suited, they can reduce the chances of a rejection the next time. It also is can make a very favorable impression on the employer, who may potentially have another position opening up in the near future that would be a good fit for your student. An applicant who shows this maturity and willingness to grow by asking for feedback is usually someone who would make a good employee, and employers will remember that. The important thing to remember with this bit of advice is that the request for feedback must come from a genuine desire to grow. It cannot come read as coming from a place of defensiveness, anger, or obligation. However, when done correctly, this strategy can actually lead to success in the future.