How to Regroup after a Job Loss or Rejection

by Justin Zackal

Article content is provided by HigherEdJobs.
Whether you interviewed but didn't get the job, you were denied tenure, or you just lurched out of an unfavorable meeting with HR at 4 o'clock on Friday, the next step after a rejection or termination can be decisive in your career success.

Barring a barstool, you may think the next logical foothold is marshaling your resume/CV and references, confiding in the sympathetic voices telling you "something will come up," or scouring job boards and career websites (Oh, well hello there).

But like a wandering tourist suddenly aware of knee-high quicksand, a natural reaction is to cling to your baggage and wriggle toward solid ground, only to find yourself sinking deeper.

Resist the urge. Your response to a job rejection can be a transformative time in your career if you use it as an opportunity for reflection, planning, and exploration. Here are a few tips to buoy your outlook before diving back into the job hunt.

Name It Before You Tame It
Rejection is a stimulus and launching a job-search campaign or simply saying, "At least I have a job," is a response. According to Susan David, author of "Emotional Agility," there needs to be space between stimulus and response to learn from your emotions, make changes to shape your career, and become more resilient.

"In the rush to solve the problem, we don't allow the space to make sense of the situation and to gather the resources internally to move forward effectively," David told Lewis Howes on an episode of his show, The School of Greatness, before adding advice for someone who recently lost a job. "The first thing is being able to label the experience in which you are going through (...) and to put your experience into language; it helps to create greater levels of insight."

Spend time reflecting on what you liked about the job, what you disliked, why you love a career in higher education, and what you'd like to do next. This will help you achieve congruence with what you value in your career and your actions. Write your thoughts in a journal. A beneficial exercise is writing a specific description for your ideal job so you know what to look for.

David cites research by James Pennebaker, a professor at the University of Texas, who found that people who wrote about their difficult emotions for 20 minutes a day for three days showed higher levels of wellbeing. Additionally, of people who were laid off from their jobs, participants in writing sessions were three times more likely to be reemployed after four months.

Embrace More Rejection
Based on a self-help game created by Jason Comely and popularized in an amusing TED Talk by Jia Jiang, the concept of Rejection Therapy is overcoming the fear of rejection through controlled, forced exposure. Jiang overcame the fear of "No" through a 100-day challenge of asking complete strangers questions like, "Can I borrow $100?," "Can I speak over your store's intercom?," and "Can I have a hamburger refill?"

Now, you may feel comfortable with rejection after conducting your job search -- and have 100 days' worth of rejection letters in your drawer to prove it -- but the goal is not being desensitized to rejection. According to Jiang, it's figuring out how to be a better professional or a better leader and discovering more ideas.

Jiang convinced a local Starbucks to let him be a storefront "greeter," a role he created based on a similar job at Walmart. He learned how to turn no into yes, how to relate to others with empathy, and how organizations make decisions.

"When you get rejected in life; when you're facing the next obstacle or failure, consider it a possibility," Jiang said. "Don't run; if you just embrace (rejections), they just might become your gifts as well."

What are opportunities you can pursue in higher education with this same fearless approach? They can be requests for informational interviews, offering your expertise at a conference or, what Jiang successfully did, asking to guest-lecture a class.

Imagine Your Future Self
Journaling and rejection therapy won't immediately change your dire circumstances or pay your mortgage. You need a new job, right now. A proactive approach may seem like you're procrastinating an actual job search.

However, a research-based exercise to prevent people from procrastinating is an excellent way to make sound decisions now that your future self, that person who eventually got hired into a coveted position, will appreciate.

Eve-Marie Blouin-Hudon, a psychologist and researcher at Carleton University in Ottawa, theorized that people make better decisions for their future, instead of satisfying present desires, based on "the imaginative capacity of remembering the past and anticipating how our lives will unfold."

By spending time with your future self, through visualizing that person for about 10 minutes every day, students in Blouin-Hudon's study felt more overlap between who they were in the moment and who they'd soon become. As a result, they did not procrastinate as much with their schoolwork.

Don't let who you are now -- rejected, vulnerable, miserable in your job or unemployed -- define your identity. People often look back on the gaps in their careers or missed opportunities as periods of growth and redress, not the desperate scramble you may be currently encountering. Take small steps each day -- yes, maybe completing a job application -- as an investment in your future self, not simply as a reaction to your temporary situation.

In hindsight, what was once quicksand may be more of a therapeutic mud bath.