On the Job Hunt, 'Rejected' Is Not 'Ejected'

As a writer, I don't make it a point to talk about my life because it's not all about me. However, I've noticed a trend in recruiting and hiring today that strikes a chord with me: a high level of discouragement among job seekers.

I often hear this pain from my college students (i.e., millennials) – this fear that there is nothing out there, that they are not talented enough, that no one older than 30 wants to listen to them.

I hear it from older professionals, too, who don't see themselves as valuable anymore.

Obviously, even the term "millennial" makes a young person feel singled out. Eliminate the label. There have been articles on baby boomers, Gen. X, Gen. Y, and now the millennials. Human labels sell books. Books bring in revenue. You are already participating in the beautiful economic reality by being labeled – so ignore it.

I'm between the last of the baby boom generation and the beginning of Generation X. I once held a tenured teaching position at a strong university – guaranteed success by all standards. I wrote papers, built a pretty nice reputation among my students and academic peers, wore various titles like cologne – but I left that life by choice. It wasn't because I don't admire the academy – I always did and still do. It was because I needed the adventure of cutting my own road.

I did that two years ago, and I have since earned precisely 83 rejections from recruiters and committees. Eighty-three failed applications, with more sure to come.

That's okay.

Now, before any readers raise their left hands and place them on their foreheads with their forefingers pointing straight up and their thumbs 90-degrees out, casting the "Loser" sign on this writer, let me smile and tell you what I've learned from all this rejection:

1. Tell Us What You Know; Not Where You've Been

Recruiters have seen it all. Every name-drop organization that exists, they know about it. It's great that you volunteered for a health/wellness agency or won a big scholarship, but what do you know?

If you doubt me, ask yourself, "What am I really good at doing – I mean really good?" Was it easy to answer that question? If you can't answer it in an application, you can't hold a recruiter responsible for filling in the blank for you.

2. You Are the Same; the Market Isn't

I recall a time when I'd take a handful of resumes, walk several city blocks, and stop at each place that had a help-wanted sign. I'd converse, leave the resume/application, and generally receive a job offer three days after I had terminated my last job.

Later, I earned all of my college credentials only to find that the market outside of the university had changed while I was within its walls. Market demand has changed, and "credentials" mean something different than they used to. A resume done is never a "resume done" – the rules change and your communication must change with them. I am still studying that.

3. Don't Quit

Wall Street is not your enemy; recruiters are not your enemies. You may feel that youth has you singled out. I'm on the other end of the spectrum: a 23-year career behind me already, facing the gloom that maybe I'm too old or my skills are useless and I should have stayed in my safe, tenured position.

Both perspectives – yours and mine – are nothing more than self-pity if we fold to rejection. I should have moved on, and so should you. Study every facet of the gifts you have to offer and identify what is not getting out there to recruiters. Then make sure it gets out there.

Rejection is not ejection. Carry on, examine your gifts, restructure your approach, and say thank you to all of the recruiters who take the time to find out who you are. There are many who do. You are not a label, but you'll have to have to develop your own brand. Rejection will teach you how to do that. Survey your professional life, revise your beliefs through words, and take the world by storm – and by the lightning of rejection.

That's why applications number 84, 85, and 86 are leaving my office today – because rejection is just a reflection of success.

And besides, I like a good lightning storm.

Dr. Thomas Eaton serves as a project coordinator and lead writing associate for Empathinc: A Public Writing Center.