Dealing with rejection in a positive manner

“Thank you for applying to X. I regret to inform you…”

Rejection. We have all faced or will face it at some point in our life. Maybe it’s from being told you didn’t get a position you wanted, maybe you missed out on an opportunity that could have been life-changing, or maybe you missed out on getting into your dream university. It happens and, sadly, it’s a normal part of life and adulthood. Considering that this is the time in which most people will be receiving rejections from training contracts, it seems like a good time to talk about dealing with the aftermath of rejection.

There are a number of ways you can try to go about dealing with rejection. You could throw your laptop out of the window, scream until you’re blue in the face, or you could consume the contents of several takeaways to fill the void. However, these don’t provide a productive mindset to your pain, and will instead probably hurt you more physically, emotionally or financially than if you truly handle how your application, assessment centre or interview went.

As firms receive more and more applications with every passing cycle, it’s become less probable (if not impossible) to receive feedback from those who read your application, held the assessment centre or interviewed you. You will wonder why you were not chosen and what those who were chosen for the role have that you didn’t – I call it the “why not me” cycle. You may never get an answer to that question, and this cycle will continue to eat away at you unless you do something to change how you performed in this application cycle. You may need to do a self-assessment instead.

The first step in moving forward after a rejection is to look at your application. Have a look at the answers to the firm’s questions. Were the answers to the questions that dealt with “Why X?” direct enough? Could you use what you wrote for them in applications for its competitors? Did you properly research the firm, or did you simply take the first couple of pages off of Google and ad-lib the information from those pages? Researching a firm is a major part of the application process. It truly lets firms know whether or not you truly understand how they work, how they deal with clients, why they are different to their competitors and how this research made you decide to apply to them.

Another issue that can pop up is not having read the application requirements properly. If your grades or your extra-curriculars and the likes are not up to a firm’s standards, it can have a huge impact on how your application is viewed. If we look at a firm like Slaughter & May, their grade requirements state that you need good A-Levels (or equivalent), a good 2:1 at minimum, and that they aim to employ “the brightest minds”. If you have AAB at A Level and a 64% overall, they may disregard you entirely as that is not really up to their standards. Most current and incoming trainees at that firm have at least a very high 2:1 or 1st from their university. It’s a harsh but honest truth, and while there are some with these grades who accomplish getting a training contract at firms like this, it is usually due to great answers to the application questions, a glowing CV or impressive interviews.If your research was flimsy or you messed up the Watson Glaser test, practice and explore the firm a bit more. Ask trainees what they think of the firm, attend an open day or seek to speak to them at a law fair. All of this can improve your next application.

If you made it to an assessment centre or interview, try to look back on how you performed in them. Write down everything you can remember from the assessments centre tasks or interviews and be critical about your performance. See it through the eyes of the graduate recruitment team – if someone was too quiet, they may think the person is not enthusiastic enough or unwilling to participate; but if someone is outspoken and taking over conversations and group work, they may be considered rude and not a team player. Try to remind yourself of the various exercises you were asked. If you made notes during these exercises, go back over them and see if you missed anything that could have been important. Also review how you were during these group activities. If you felt that your performance lagged and it was because you were unsure of what to do, remember that it is okay to ask for help from those around you, which is better than sitting there not knowing what to do. 

With interviews, one thing that catches students out is trying to read the Financial Times or a similar newspaper on the day of the interview and only using what they read that morning to answer the question, ‘Tell me about a recent news story’. This is a bad idea – if you are unable to provide your own view on the topic, it can end tragically, and you will be caught out if the interviewer decides to challenge you on it. Aim to have a news story that you have broadly researched and be open to being challenged by the interviewer on your view of the topic. 

Aim to remember the questions you were asked previously and practice your answers. It may be the case that you will be asked these questions again at the same firm, or at another firm. However, don’t create a script to read off of, as interviewers can tell when someone has rehearsed an answer. Make a list of bullet points that you can go over just before the interview, so you don’t look like a deer in headlights when asked questions. 

It is by properly evaluating your application, assessment centre or interview that you can get a better idea of how to handle your next application cycle. Simply wallowing over it and not learning WHY your experiences ended in rejection is not dealing with your rejection in a productive way.

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