How To Get A Job After You've Been Rejected

Designer Karen X. Cheng did everything to land her dream job at Evernote. But it didn't work. Now, looking back, she shares why that's okay.

I’ve gotten everything I have because I was rejected.

My senior year of high school, when I was rejected by my dream college, I asked them if there was anything I could do to change their minds. Sorry, they said. There’s no waitlist and no appeals process.

But I really wanted in. So I redid my resume and essays, made a glossy brochure, and made them a video about me.

They reversed their decision.

By rejecting me at first, college admissions taught me the most valuable lesson of my life. It doesn’t matter if you’re told no. Everything’s negotiable.

Do everything in your power to change their minds

If you really want a job, the first question you should ask yourself is: Did I do everything possible to get the job?

If the answer is no, do everything in your power to change their minds. If you really want the job, put in 100 hours to get it.

You might think putting in this kind of effort is overkill. But you’ve probably spent 100 hours working on something for the job you already have. Why not do it for a job you really want?

What would 100 hours look like? You can do a lot with it. Get creative. Trying to get a web designer position? Give their existing website a facelift. Marketing position? Put together a marketing plan or a concept for a viral video. Don’t wait until you’re hired to show them you can do the job. Show them when you apply. You are going to run circles around all the other candidates sending in their paltry resumes and cover letters.

Do something that makes you a stronger candidate not only for this employer, but for others too. That way if it doesn’t work out, you haven’t wasted your time. If you redesign a site or make a creative video, that’s a piece you can put in your portfolio to show the next company.

If they give you reasons why you didn't get the position, brainstorm ways to demonstrate how you can overcome them.

Yes, failure is hard to take. Rejection is tough to stomach. But better to try your damnedest and fail than to hold back and always wonder what if. The master has failed more times than the beginner has even tried.

100 hours doesn’t always work

I wanted a job at Evernote, and I wanted it bad.

So I put in my 100 hours. I made a custom resume that I illustrated with little Evernote-style animals. I got out my guitar and sang a song about why I wanted to work there. I designed a custom iPhone app for them.

It wasn’t enough. I didn’t get the job.

You know what sucked? There was nothing left for me to do. No fight left for me to fight. My friends told me I’d find another job. But I didn’t want another job, I wanted that job.

Life is funny, though. Pretty soon after, I discovered a new startup, Exec. And I wanted Exec so bad. I put in my 100 hours. This time, I got the job.

Now I get it. Evernote was right to reject me.

They could see what I couldn’t see at the time—that I was not right for their company. Evernote has several hundred employees. But I like to do a wide variety of things and not be confined to one role—I belong at a smaller company.

I love Evernote and still use it every day. I’ve met many employees and they’re good folks. But the best thing Evernote could do for me was reject me. It gave me the freedom to find Exec, which was a much better fit for my skills and personality.

If you give it your all but still get rejected, be proud, not ashamed. You had the balls to try your hardest—fear of failure be damned.

Consider this: what you think is a dream job might not be so great after all. You’re an outsider looking in, and you don’t actually know what it’s like to work there day by day. The company might be able to see something you can’t —that you wouldn’t actually be happy there. Have faith that rejecting you was for the best.

And show the next company why they’d be damn lucky to have you.

Karen X. Cheng is a self-taught designer at Exec in San Francisco. She learned to dance in a year. If you have a dream and don't know how to start—start anyway. Learn more about Karen by visiting her website, or follow her on Twitter at @karenxcheng.

[Image: Flickr user Brian Snelson]

Add New Comment

9 Comments

  • Francis Rose van Soelen

    That's how I got my current job! Inspirational reads on your site Karen!

    Francis Rose van Soelen

  • dee

    "I made a custom resume that I illustrated with little Evernote-style animals. I got out my guitar and sang a song about why I wanted to work there."

    Evernote obviously have taste.

  • Wavy Curls

    "If you have a dream and don't know how to start--start anyway." Gr8 quote & very motivating

  • wm

    Excellent!
    I like this the most - "If you give it your all but still get rejected, be proud, not ashamed. You had the balls to try your hardest--fear of failure be damned."
    If we only have one chance, give it the best shot. You will learn from it even if you have failed.

  • Greg

    Thank you Karen. This is literally exactly the same thing I have been through this whole semester. It got me questioning everything from did I pick the right major? school? even Friend group? After getting rejected after a 2nd round interview at The Dream Company that I was imagining a life around I doubted working at any other job would be worth it. While I got a job at a different company and haven't started yet, it is refreshing to hear that I'm not the only one going through this. Thank you!

  • Guest

    I recently had my own experience with a larger dream company rejecting me (I wrote a rap and showcased everything possible that I knew about them and about the job/industry). But I think it was a blessing in disguise, I'm not meant for a big company, similar to you I thrive in non-confined roles. I'm still on the search for my dream company, how long did it take you to find yours?