150+ rejections to my dream job (Perspectives from a new grad)
From aspiring anthropologist to UX researcher: some notes on rejection
After I graduated from university with no full-time job lined up or viable prospects in sight, I went into panic mode. Everyone seemed to want an answer from me before, during, and after graduation—and the truth is that I simply didn’t have it.
Here’s the truth: I was happy for all of my friends who were succeeding at their goals in life. For me, I’d gone through multiple transformations throughout college and gotten to know myself a lot better as a result. And, as a hopeful college grad, I was convinced I was equipped to change the world and would find something that was meaningful and fulfilling. but. This was that crucial moment where I asked myself if I should pursue something safe that would be able to financially sustain me, or if I took the leap and fought to find something that was deeper than the money. I chose the latter, and that’s why we have this story.
Here are some of my reflections on the experience and some notes on failure:
- The 50th rejection hurt much more than the 1st one. I thought by then, I’d have found something. I kept sitting there waiting for the rejection to make sense, but it just kept tasting bitter. The key? Sit with it. In the silence that follows rejection, there’s a small gap between where you were before and who you are now. It can be as subtle as a mood change and a shift in perspective. Whatever it is for you, it was alienating, chaotic, and ultimately, transformative for me. I felt numb at first. How many nos before a yes? When does the yes actually mean “yes”? But, the cool thing about failure: you get to assign meaning to it. Failure only stays failure if you let it haunt you.
- Respect yourself and others enough to walk away when it’s not right. I got really desperate sometimes. I wanted to give an answer to all the people hungrily waiting for news about a new development in the job search. At times I got so desperate I started applying to jobs I either knew I was overqualified for, or wouldn’t be happy doing. But, I need to survive capitalism, right? I got callbacks for those safe jobs I applied to, but it didn’t feel right. I didn’t want to be that person who spent their life hating their job, waiting for the next weekend or holiday break to finally feel happy, and then come back to an unfulfilling work. So, I walked away. It took a lot of bravery, though. Keep betting on yourself.
- Your failure is valuable. Leverage it as currency. I’m not going to launch into a clichéd spiel about how all greats had to fail before they got there (it’s true, but you’ve heard it enough times by now, I’m sure). At certain points, I let failure bully me into cowardice. I shrunk away, shied away, disappeared for a summer, because I couldn’t bear to say that I don’t know what the next step is. I got tired of repeating myself. But, you are the protagonist of your story. It got worse for me before it got better. Each failure was a friend that taught me something of value. It hurt, but it made me get better. My resumé was shiny at the end of all of this, because it’d been picked apart a million and a half times by recruiters and hiring managers.
I’ll say two things about #3:
- Managers like hearing you reflect on failure. At least, in my experience. It shows value, critical thought, humility, and willingness/flexibility to grow. Don’t get stuck at failure and let that make you stagnant. The world goes on, so do we.
- At the end of my job hunting cycle, I was interviewing with three of my top choices. I say this not to brag, just to demonstrate that there is so much potential and goodness after and during failure. Don’t let failure get too loud. The noise doesn’t last.
So now let’s get to the juicy part. How did I land my dream job? In the lull between the rejections (a months-long process), I couldn’t handle the anxiety of not knowing where I could end up. So, I busied myself by self-teaching.
I started with what I already had and what I was trying to sell to employers, so I went back to my background of Cultural Anthropology. I read academic papers on digital and applied Anthropology (in my personal opinion, that’s what UX is but we can talk about this). I revisited my undergrad research and field work. I watched tutorials on Youtube, listened to UX podcasts, read books from the library, and started tinkering with creating my own portfolio and website.
When the rejections got too much, I had to get out of my head. So, I got outside of my world and started volunteering with a non-profit that I volunteered with in highschool. Not only did I get hands-on work to practice those self-taught UX skills, but I learned that I wanted the work and research I do to matter: it gave me a better sense of self (professionally).
Here are my takeaways from this summer: I want to make things that are usable and relevant. Things which would serve the interests of users first. I want to curate a better storyline, design a more inclusive future that is human-centered, and above all, I want to help make things that will last. That’s why I chose UX.
Something wonderful happened on a late summer night as I was performing the now-monotonous routine of browsing for jobs: I saw an opening on my dream job’s career site for an Associate UX Researcher. So I pounced.
Since then, I’ve just recently closed out on 3 months at my dream job. I’m thriving. I have a wonderful mentor who’s taught me so much professionally and personally. I have the best team that challenges me and pushes me on the daily. Every week I learn something new. I’m glowing — feeling refreshed, and full of life. I’m fulfilled and challenged and I’m not bored anymore. I’m proud of the company that I work for, the culture of knowledge-sharing and kindness that we have, the team and quality of research I get a privilege to be a part of, and most of all, I’m proud of myself. I hope you fight for your dreams, too.