What is your first reaction when you receive a Rejection Letter?
I know plenty of us share that experience; from a job application, a lover, a rental application, loan or business proposal. Here I am talking about Rejection Letters from a Job Application.
I have had mixed experiences and reactions with a rejection letter: kicking myself, crying, or cursing the institution. Nowadays, I take a positive attitude as an opportunity to learn, either embrace and acknowledge the rejection letter or write back to where the rejection letter came from.
Sometimes, you apply for that job that “speaks to you”, one you say, “this is mine”, then things do not work out the way you hoped. After graduate school, I wanted to move back and work in Africa, so badly. So, all the career jobs I applied to where in Africa, while busting tables and retail sales in the United States on the side. I applied for almost any job that came up in human rights or program management at the African Union, printed, photocopied and notarized job application documents, and airmailed applications to Addis Ababa. Do not ask me how much it cost me; that is what the AU wanted as opposed to the US-way of applying via email. I never received a single response from the AU. I did not give up, but switched attention more toward Africa regional organization in Eastern and Western Africa, and in South Africa.
I remember a job in The Gambia as Deputy Director of a regional human rights organizations. I went through round one of interviews, then round two, and then called for an in-person interview. Yes, the organization flew me from Boston to Banjul, put me up for two nights all expenses and gave me an allowance for time taken and personal expenses. I went through a face-to-face interview with the board and Director, and took a written and computerized test. I was told, the organization was looking for someone who would double as Ag. Director, since both the Director and Deputy Director were leaving. I was told we were three finalists, although only two showed up. I did not the other person, until I met her in the taxi we shared to the airport on our way out of The Gambia. A Ugandan, woman, lawyer, Legal Officer of a refugee organization I helped set up years before I left Uganda. She pretty much had resume, expect she was still working “on the ground”, while I was “theorizing human rights” based in America. Plus, there is always that ‘subtle’ quizzical look that sometimes rears its ugly head as a question to Diaspora Africans seeking opportunities to return to the continent, “Why would you like to live “the comfort” of the United States to come back and live and work in “DDD -Dirty Difficult and Dangerous Africa”? But when I saw Ms. Lady, my gut told me, she had got the job. Needless to say, our ride back to the airport was about her “scheduling her date of resignation from her job in Uganda and moving to Banjul.” That’s how I found that the end of a beautiful dream and received my unofficial Rejection Letter on my ride back home to Boston
Then came a job with a regionalized organization in South Africa to work with Civil Society Resource Mobilization. With all my donor, grant making and grant seeking expertise, I knew this was in my bag. Believe me you, threw out my vow that I made when I left in 2000, never to return to work in “xenophobic South Africa”. I wanted a job, with a regional focus, and several organizations in South Africa do exactly that, including plenty in security, natural resources and international politics, which were the fields of my professional interest and scholarly focus. The South African job gave me a tingle too, and put me in cloud 7. For one, one of my referees was a reputed civil society activist known in most of Africa, and to the organization. Secondly, a friend had worked with the organization, and he gave me plenty to know about the organization. So, I thought I had this in the bag. This time, I pulled out all the lessons learned about “interviewing over the phone and computer”. !) Before the interview, do a mock interview with a friend, and looking at yourself in the mirror, paying attention to your intonations, your vocabulary and flow of communication. 2) On a telephone interview, stand upright to allow your voice projects better to the person(s) on the receiving end. 3) Smile over the phone as that reflects in your mood and the way you speak on the other end of the phone. What else didn’t I do? Yes, I also did a long written test, pouring my heart out! Alas! Rejection Letter came via email! Oh! I cried so hard! I reached out to my BFF (RIP), who had helped me prepare for the interview, cried to her, and she consoled me. After wiping away days of tears, I wrote to the organization that had rejected me, and asked why they had rejected my application. Instead of sulking and hating the institution, I gained more insight into what organizations look for.
I backed off applying to Africa regional organization, and went back to my previous dream – the United Nations, and added international organizations working in Africa – like Oxfam, International Rescue Committee, Care International, plus more. I uploaded my resume to many databases of international development, human rights and humanitarian consulting groups. My professional profile got registered, among the first by an agency that recruits on behalf of UNHCR Legal/Protection. Until I ‘unkindly’ expressed my dissatisfaction with being short-listed for several opportunities but not succeeding with any. I got struck off the list, and my cries and efforts to be reinstated were unwelcomed. But I learned a valuable lesson, “Speak your truth quietly”, and everyone is looking for a job, not just you, some with higher qualifications than yourself.
At least an Italian Brick Oven Restaurant in Somerville, MA did not reject my application for a Hostess position, even though I did not get the waitress position, because my experience in the position was only mental. It gave me a little paycheck to look forward to, and afford me pay the monthly electric bill and personal expenses, while I housesat for my professor who had away from the brutal Boston winter to was India. Note to self: Always have Plan B, to help offset the financial burden when you are looking for work. With access to my professor’s full house, a computer, internet electricity, hot shower and a bed, I could sit in his study and type all job application letters.
Finally, the one thing that I have always believed in more supreme in success -social networks -happened to my job search. It was not all my lucid applications and interviewing, but my social networks that found me the job I took. Don’t get me wrong, I got other job offers, five in total, thanks to my resume and personal interviewing skills. Three of the jobs were with the institution that shaped my decision where to go for graduate school -the United Nations. I got a call from the UN Mission in Sierra Leone, The UNV and UN Human Rights Office in Senegal. I also got a call to interview for a consultancy with the World Bank Resettlement Project in Chad, while shopping for shoes in downtown Boston on a Saturday. By then, I had already made up my mind to move to New York City. I dropped the UN for fear that “the recruitment process and final move would take longer, when I was tired of being underemployed and really wanted well-paid employment. I guess, my “work abroad obsession” had waned off, and considered the opportunities of moving to NYC, working with an academic institutions, and potentially enrolling in my PhD [still hoping to do it]. But why five jobs at once, when I could not get one when I desperately needed it? The lesson learned, you can never predict success and winning. I had learned much more about myself and my resilience. I sharpened my resume and cover letter writing skills, my interviewing skills. In fact, I have sent “Thank You for Considering My application” letters to some organizations that have sent me a rejection letter. One was so grateful and wrote me back, “I wish everyone would take a negative response as diplomatically as you did.”
Now that I look back at al the rejection letters, and I am back into the job search, I am applying all the skills I obtained from multiple applications over the years: get on your feet and go look for work, apply and apply for as many opportunities as you can, refine your resume specifically for the position you are applying for, keep your friends in the loop that you are looking for work, and remind them of “that resume you sent”. Though, there are changes to my job search, some of which are beyond my control and design. The economy is not doing are good as it used to. Gone are the days, when I could walk into a retail department store or restaurant, apply for a job and told to start tomorrow. Ultimately, a Rejection Letter is not the end in itself. Nowadays, even a restaurant hostess position requires a resume!
I am keeping my options open, and casting my net wider. I am now grateful for any institutions that writes me back, even with a rejection – at least somebody looked at my application, so I tell myself. Ultimately, somebody will wash away all the “Rejection Letters”, and send me that one “Acceptance Letter” that I need.-