How to Handle Rejection Letters

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“…However, we regret to inform you that you have been unsuccessful in your application”. Are you familiar with phrases like this? Has rejection letters ever got you depressed, embarrassed, or frustrated that you now dread further applications? Let’s talk!

Truly, applying for university admissions, scholarships, jobs, fellowships or internships, etc is not a child’s play. It takes a lot of time, courage, and in most cases, funds.  Thus, it is always depressing when rejection letter hits. A rejection letter could come through email, text message or phone call. Whichever means, I cannot refute its capability to dampen one’s morale and enclose the person with a chilling phobia for making further applications. However, the good news: there are working strategies that could be leveraged to weather out of the emotional and psychological feelings that come with rejection letters.

How Best to Handle Rejection Letters

My personal Experience with a Particular Rejection Letter (a shocking one) and what I did afterwards

In 2018 while I was surfing the net in search of leadership opportunities, I stumbled on the Mandela Rhodes scholarship—one of the most prestigious leadership scholarship schemes on African continent today. After reading about how stupendous the foundation is investing towards developing young African leaders, I was deeply fascinated and resolved to give it a try after my service year.

Fast forward to March 2019, call for application was made. I quickly gathered all the documents and other stuff that was needed and shoot in my application.  At first, lines started falling in pleasant places for me. In June, I scaled through the first stage. In July, I excelled the second stage. One faithful afternoon in August, an e-mail came from the foundation, congratulating and informing me that out of thousands of applications they received, I was among the few that have been shortlisted for an interview, which was going to be the last lap of the selection processes. I was extremely elated. At least, for me, face-to-face interview has never been a hard nut to crack; hopefully, I wasn’t going to fail this one.

Without much ado, a return flight ticket to Cape Town was sent plus a sumptuous hotel reservation. In a matter of days, I collated the required documents and applied for a visa. Seven days later, I received a message that my visa has been processed and it’s ready for collection. Boom! Visa was granted. As all these were going on, I had already contacted some of the previous winners of the scholarship. They were very receptive and offered me lots of tips for the interview. I read, rehearsed, had self mock interviews, and got really prepared. So, the only thing left was to get my ass into Kenyan Airways on the scheduled date, enjoy the ride, and ace my interview.

On 12th October, I was in Cape Town. In Moments of reaching South Africa, I was driven to one of the best hotels in Cape Town with enough funds already deposited to take elite care of my stomach. “If I could be treated this way as a shortlisted applicant, how much more if I get selected”. I thought.  I intensified my efforts and rehearsed for the interview literally throughout the night!

On the morning of the following day, I was taken to the popular Nelson Mandela’s house which was the venue of the interview. When it was my turn for the interview, I walked majestically into the room and met the distinguished judges who were four in number. We exchanged pleasantries and they congratulated me for reaching the final stage. The interview proper kick-started. I answered every question thrown at me most pragmatically and honestly. After about 25 minutes, it was over. They said they will reach out to me about the result as soon as possible. I left the judges’ chamber feeling very confident. Deep down in my mind, I’ve already marked it a done deal!

Without wasting much time, I flew back to Nigeria. A day after, I was on a bus to somewhere when my phone rang. It was the programme manager of the Mandela Rhodes scholarship. I knew it was time for breaking news! Though still confident, I quickly grew Goosebumps. Trust veteran programme managers—they know how to break sad news in a caring way. After much voice-petting and eulogies, he told me that I was NOT selected after the interview.

My world!!! I was utterly shocked and speechless. I thought I possess every quality needed to clinch that scholarship. I reached out to mentors. I prepared very well. I had a nice interview. Yet, I was rejected. So, what must have gone wrong? Or could it be that the judges were partial? I don’t think so because every beneficiary of the scholarship I’ve interacted with had no prior contact with the foundation or the judges before winning. It, thus, dawned on me that disappointments is inevitable even when we least anticipate it.  I got home, pulled myself together, and moved on!

This is just one out of many rejection letters that have greeted my quest for opportunities. However, I never stopped submitting further applications to as many opportunities I qualified for. Since then to date, I have won a good number of scholarships, fellowships, internships, and writing competitions. Nevertheless, this resilience is a sheer manifestation of some special kind of traits and instincts I have developed over time.

How You too could Develop Much Resilience over Rejection Letters

Having shared my story and the result from my persistence, these are what you too can do to get immunized rejection letters:

  1. First, minimize Chances of Rejection Letters

As a rule of thumb, the first best approach to any undesirable event is to reduce its chances of occurrence.  Although, as I said earlier, rejection letters could strike even when we think we are most qualified for the opportunity we have applied for. Notwithstanding, we can reduce its chances of occurrence. By Steering away from applying? No! But by applying for the opportunities we are most qualified for. There is a tight competition for opportunities that the selection Committee is oftentimes inundated with the enormous profile of qualified candidates. Applying when your profile has not sufficiently met the eligibility criteria is a clear invite for a rejection letter. Endeavor to apply for opportunities you are most qualified for.

  1. Spread Your Tentacles

The age-long crèche, “never put all your eggs in one basket” best describes this point. In as much as you apply for opportunities you are sufficiently qualified for, don’t just submit one application and relax, putting your entire hope on it. If you get declined, the disappointments could hit you squarely. On the flip side, there is a way your mind will radiate hope and calmness if you have more than one application still waiting for a response. And the good news is, whatever opportunity you want (fellowships, scholarships, job, internship, etc), there are always enough openings and call for application at any point in time. Also, it is not just about pouring in applications to every opportunity that matches your profile; you need to be diligent in submitting strong applications. In this post, I talked about how to write an outstanding statement of purpose which is usually a critical part of every application.

  1. Not yet Eureka; keep Calm and Focused

This is one of the major reasons why rejection letters embarrass and/ or throw people off balance. Don’t go about boasting to your friends and colleagues that you applied for an opportunity and certainly going to be selected as a result of your impressive grade, CV, skills, or what have you. If you do, and probably didn’t get selected; chances are high they will mock or ridicule you. Except for close friends and mentors that reviewed your CV or application essays, no one should know that you applied for anything until you get selected.

In the same vein, never plan your career or next-move around opportunities you are yet to get. For instance, don’t relax thinking that the next school fees or graduate studies will come from a certain scholarship you applied for. Don’t reject “moderate jobs” or refuse to acquire a skill because you are hoping to get a response from big firms you have applied to. When you align your career plan with “yet-to-come” opportunities, it will break you badly if you later get rejected. Focus on your bests while on a wait. This attitude will help greatly to manage the letdown feelings that come with rejection letters.

  1. Develop a liberal mindset and a comradeship attitude

If your application turns out negative and you get rejected, don’t go vile on the organization or envy the lucky applicants. If you get a rejection letter, especially if it is an email that supports a reply; a single line of sentence thanking them for the opportunity to apply and affirming that you would hopefully reapply in the next edition portrays you as an open-minded and grateful person. Alas, you never can tell who is on the other side. On the same pedestal, if you get rejected and hope to reapply, reach out to the winners or awardees. Congratulate them and humbly ask for their guidance. Most will be receptive and offer you very valuable ideas that could help elevate your chances next time.

Overall, the takeaway is: do not hold grudges because you were rejected. It only compounds the pain.

  1. Talk to Someone

As our faces are different so is our ability to cope with circumstances. Some are emotionally strong while others are not. If you are the type that finds it difficult to personally bottle up sad feelings that come with rejection letters, it is perfectly fine because we are unique in our different ways. When the feeling overwhelms you, talk to someone—it could be a trusted friend or a mentor.

Also, there are many social media groups and pages where people discuss their rejections and encourage each other. Joining such groups could be handy. Their words of encouragement or story of similar experiences could brighten your mood and get you energized.

One by one, consistently put these strategies into practice, you will definitely see yourself always triumphing over rejection letters. Go ye forward!




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