How to deal with rejection at design interviews

Rejection hurts

I prepared for a design job for months. I went through 4 stages of the interview. I prepared a portfolio specific for this job. I did a presentation for the company. I passed the numerical and verbal reasoning test. I got great marks on the psychological test. I did well on the whiteboard challenge. I met the team and we clicked. Everything went so well, I was pumped after each meeting. I thought I really found my tribe where I could do great things. I wanted to belong.

… and there was radio-silence for a week. I knew something was wrong. Then I received ‘the call’ from the recruiter …

‘We all thought you’re fantastic and have great knowledge of UX’ … I already knew a but was coming… ‘but we decided to go with someone else who has less experience’. I didn’t hear anything after this sentence. I remember thanking them for their time and the opportunity to meet everyone. I said I was sure they picked the right person for the job. I wished them luck, and I said goodbye.

My world shattered.

The path I envisioned was gone. I had no Plan B.

Perhaps the reason why I didn’t get that job was unusual. It could have easily been:

  • ‘We went with someone who’s more experienced’
  • ‘We picked an internal candidate instead’
  • ‘We realized we need to reassess our needs for this position’
  • ‘We decided not to hire at this time’
  • or a hundred of other reasons.

Rejection does hurt regardless of the reason. Especially after a long interview process when we feel we did our best and gave 110%.

I believe what we do after being rejected from a job is a true measure of our resilience.

Bouncing back

It can be hard to bounce back. Rejection affects our confidence level, and the judgement of our abilities and self. We question if we’re good enough. We question if we’re even cut out to be designers.

I’m going to outline what helped me to overcome rejection. I hope it helps you too.

Steps

Step 1. Grieve. It’s ok to lick your wounds. Give yourself some time to recover. It might be a couple of days or a week. Take some time. It’s perfectly normal to mourn the loss of the idea of having that dream job within limits.

Step 2. Acceptance. To get over a rejection, you need to find a reason you can accept. I apply attribution theory to overcome negative events in my life. You need to accept a cause:

  • External cause: ‘I didn’t get the job, because the competition was tough.’
  • Unstable cause: ‘I’ll get the next job, because I know I can do even better next time.’
  • Specific cause: ‘I didn’t get the job, because my UI skill isn’t polished enough yet, because I’ve been more focused on user research so far.’

Unfortunately in my case, the company went with someone who was less experienced. So, instead of internalizing the cause, I told myself I didn’t get the job because they didn’t have the budget to pay for someone with my experience. During the interview process they realized someone with less experience can manage the job on a lower budget.

Was I lying to myself? Was that far from the truth? Does it matter?

It doesn’t.

Accept what happened and move on.

Using a positive attributional style when explaining negative events is important in order to bounce back from rejection while maintaining high self-esteem. Having realistic optimism, and a positive outlook on negative events is healthy. This is the way to maintain our mental health after rejection and let things go.

Stop personalizing. It’s hard to believe, but rejection is most likely not about us.

Organizations have their reasons why they choose someone else (often a financial reason).

Step 3. Improve. Learning from rejection is crucial to professional and self-growth. I ask questions such as: ‘What did I learn from this?’, ‘What can I do better next time that I haven’t done before?’.

When we look at rejection this way, we can see that it’s just another learning opportunity to move forward with more experience and wisdom. You also should note what you did well, and what you want to keep doing during the next interview.

Step 4. Try again. While I don’t believe in Plan B, it’s actually efficient to interview for more than one job at the same time. What’s the worst thing that can happen? You might get multiple job offers … that’s a great problem to have.

Keep in mind, only 2% of applicants get interviews. Getting hired for a job is a combination of multiple factors. To increase the probability of reaching the interviewing process you need to submit many applications.

Step 5. Success always comes last. Every step to success is a learning experience and builds character. Rejection happens to everyone. Don’t let it define you as a designer or make you feel you’re not good enough.

Final thoughts

Being rejected at a design interview can have an effect on our confidence, for sure. But it doesn’t need to be this way.

We should focus on the bigger picture. A job shouldn’t serve as a goal, it should serve as one of the possible roads to our higher goal. For example, if your higher goal is to have your own design firm at some point in life, you can acquire the experience and knowledge about leading a design business while taking another job at a different design agency (not only your dream design firm). Not getting a particular job is a small road block. You just need to take a detour to reach your higher goal. There are always more opportunities out there. Keep searching.

Remember, you are still on your journey … just taking another path.

Post originally published here.