How to handle rejections

Failure is not glamorous. Nobody likes to talk about it.

What you see on social media (tweets, Facebook updates, Instagram pics) is the highlight reel. But failures are normal. Everybody fails from time to time.

Talking about our own failures makes us extremely vulnerable, but when we allow this conversation and when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable around each other, we create a space that is safe for everyone to be themselves. So, let’s start.

I learn very well from people’s stories, and I’ll share with you here a few. From each of these stories I learned an important lesson about trying.

NY Tech Meetup, and Women Founders Demo Night

NY Tech Meetup is the largest tech meetup in the world. It’s a monthly event where emerging companies demo new and cutting-edge technology projects.

The demographics of NYTM presenters, like the tech industry in general, is heavily male-dominated. The organizers receive few applications from female tech entrepreneurs to demo their startups.

In an effort to make the event more representative and inclusive, NYTM organized a Women Founders Demo Night. Suddenly, they received close to a hundred applications.

Women felt safer to present their products to a room full of women, rather than men. Having realized this, NYTM now selects a pool of candidates from their Women Founders Demo Night applications and asks them to present at a regular meetup event.

When I applied to present at the NYTM, I thought they’d never pick Neverlate to demo. Imagine my reaction when a few weeks later I got an invitation to present!!

Looking back, I don’t know why my confidence was so low. From this experience, I learned to never say no to myself and to try.

If you don’t ask, the answer is already no.
My team and I present our app, Neverlate, in front of 800+ people at the NYTM in February 2016

On technical interviewing

Another interesting thing that NYTM organizers have noticed is that men applied even if their app/product wasn’t fully functional, or didn’t even exist yet! Women, however, only applied when their product was fully fledged, and nearly perfect.

I can totally identify with that mindset: striving for perfection. Here’s an example.

Technical interviewing is a whole different skill set that you have to learn. When I first started interviewing, I often wouldn’t answer a question, if I wasn’t 100% sure. The interviewer, however, would get an impression that I didn’t know anything. It hurt me as a candidate.

One time I was observing my Access Code classmate during a technical mock interview. When it was over, I told him: “Wow, you did really great!”. “I had no idea what I was talking about,” — he responded.

I had to learn that I need to say everything I know during a technical interview, even if I don’t think that I know the subject in depth. Anything but keep silent!

It takes time to change your mindset from trying to give a perfect answer to learning from your failures. Here’s an excellent talk by Reshma Saujani, Girls Who Code founder, on this topic:

Taking gender off the table in technical interviews

I met Aline Lerner, head of interviewing.io, at the Twilio Signal conference where I was speaking in May. Aline gave a talk about the software her team built that masks candidate’s voice during a technical interview, so women could sound like men and vice versa. Here’s the demo:

The interesting lesson that Aline learned from the data that they collected is that women weren’t performing worse than male candidates. They also weren’t evaluated lower during an interview. The main reason women had lower results was because a higher percentage of women would quit and leave the platform early after a bad/failed interview whereas men kept trying.

Left slide: number of users that quit after poor interview performance by gender (red is women, purple is men)

Rejections suck. How to make it suck less?

The brain has this weird destructive behavior to ignore 99% of good things in your life, and instead to focus on one bad thing that just happened. Like a job rejection.

I just started my job search for my first developer role, and I had two rejections in a row. It hurt. It made me really, really sad.

I started to doubt myself. Why was I rejected? Was it this? Was it that? Did I say something wrong? Did I do something wrong? I’m not good enough. Nobody is going to hire me. Etc. It’s a very destructive train of thought, it didn’t help and hurt my confidence.

I needed to learn how to deal with it in a healthy and positive way. So I asked for advice.

These are some of the very successful people in the industry. You’d think they never have to worry about rejections anymore. Let’s hear their stories.

Ash Furrow, Mobile Engineer at Artsy:

Every job I’ve applied for has been under stressful circumstances. I really want the job, and sometimes I financially _need_ the job. That sucks. Then my self-doubt takes over and I’ll convince myself that I’m not good enough to work there.
Usually it just passes once I get a job offer, but I’ve always struggled with self-doubt.

David Grandinetti, iOS Lead at Yahoo! Finance:

One of my more spectacular rejections involved an interview from 11am — 4pm, and me not realizing that I normally eat lunch in the middle of that time. About halfway through a whiteboard session, I was shaking a little and my brain was dreaming of food instead of solving the problem at hand. I was totally useless at the whiteboard. We actually left the interview room to get a smoothie from one of the snack bars.
I was not surprised to get rejected that time. Lesson learned, I throw snacks into my laptop bag when interviewing now.

Paola Mata, Mobile Developer at BuzzFeed News App:

Remember that it’s all good practice, and that it takes months to find the right position. Don’t take it personally. Just try to learn from the experience. I know it can be disheartening, I’ve been there, but something will work out soon, I promise! And that’s when the real challenges begin!
In the meantime, make sure you’re building your portfolio and getting stronger at iOS. That should be a priority, because that’s what will land you a job.

Marc Cenedella, Founder of Ladders and Knozen:

Never learn to deal with job rejection better! It should always sting. But learn to overcome job rejections by understanding more of what each employer you interview with is looking for in a candidate. Always ask “what are the top three things you’re looking for in this role and in a successful candidate?” And make sure their response and the professional you’re becoming get closer and closer.

Duncan Gray, Student Success Coordinator at C4Q:

Getting rejected from a job always feels awful. Sometimes there are lessons that you can learn, and feedback from your interviewers can be great and helpful in future interviews, but sometimes it is completely out of your control.
It’s unfortunate, but hiring and recruiting isn’t perfect. In fact, it’s pretty flawed. Sometimes great candidates get turned down for jobs that they would excel in for reasons completely out of their control — interviewers and interview questions can be biased, interviewers have bad days and let that cloud their judgment, and sometimes another candidate just performs better in the interview setting. Sometimes, for whatever reason, the factors just don’t align.
The important thing to remember is that, even though it sucks, getting rejected isn’t always a reflection on your performance or ability.

John F Gomez, Access Code 2.1 alum at C4Q, Android developer intern at Yieldmo:

I’ve had to handle rejection both personally and professionally. One thing I’ve learned is to not take it personal. Everybody has a different outlook on the world and most won’t see it the same way you do. That’s okay.
I’ve had my hopes up for a lot of different places and being rejected by them can feel devastating. One thing that helped me through those times is realizing that everybody has a different path, and respecting that with a positive outlook towards life can be a rewarding and fulfilling perspective to have, regardless of the outcome.
If you think about it, has life truly ever been exactly as we’ve imagined? Nowadays I try to look at both failure and rejection as opportunities to grow and driving forces for me to try and improve myself as a person, because when things really do line up as we hope, it’s one of the best feelings out there. I think that a failure or two (or a thousand) shouldn’t stop you from chasing after your dream.

Jovanny Espinal, Access Code 2.2 alum at C4Q, iOS developer intern at Kickstarter:

When I first started applying to jobs, rejection letters stung. I always took it as “You’re not a good enough developer.”
But with each rejection letter, it began to hurt less and less. It wasn’t until like the 20th rejection letter that someone told me “You may be good enough, but there may be others who are just better. You don’t have to be the best developer to get a job, just the best out of the applicant pool.”
This changed my whole perspective on applying to jobs. I no longer feel a thing when I see a rejection email, I just think about how someone else was more qualified and that’s not my fault. To combat that, I continue to study my craft.
With every rejection email, I knew I was just one more application closer to getting an interview.

And here’s one from me:

1) Ask for feedback: what can you improve on, what would make you a better candidate in the future? 2) Become a better candidate by building further your skills. 3) Don’t give up.
You just gotta get back on the horse!
Sunset in Siberian taiga. This is me circa 2008 in Buryatia where I’m from. ✌