We can all relate to the feeling of missing out on a dream job - but, as these women prove, there is always a silver lining to be found in perceived rejection.
Losing out on the job of our dreams is like heartbreak. We’ll spend a few days, weeks or even months, feeling sorry for ourselves and pining after “the one that got away”. With time, though, the pain subsides and our vision becomes clearer. We realise the rejection was for the best and that, actually, we’re in a better position now than we were before. The imagined future we’d planned for ourselves is re-written. When Beyoncé sang about the ex who ended up being “the best thing [she] never had” – saying “Thank God you blew it / Thank God I dodged the bullet” – she probably hadn’t envisioned us belting out the lyrics to the HR departments who let us down. Nevertheless, it feels gratifying to emerge from a painful rejection clear-eyed, more determined and stronger than ever. Here, five women reflect on the job they’re most relieved they didn’t get – and why.
“Running my own business is better for my wellbeing”
Two years ago, Francesca Baker, a copywriter and marketer based in Kent, applied for a copywriting role at her dream agency.
When I was 31, I was approached by a recruiter for what I thought was my dream job at one of the world’s largest advertising firms. It was very well paid, at a swanky London agency. It was what I’d always wanted – to be a proper writer.
When I didn’t get it, I felt rejected. I’d been through a few rounds of interviews, so was a bit shocked. In hindsight, I’m happy I didn’t. Deep down I’d always known agency life wasn’t for me. Just before my 30th birthday I left London on the verge of being sectioned due to long-term anorexia, and my previous agency job hadn’t helped. The long days, meetings across meal times, diet talk in the office, lengthy commutes and insidious gossip weren’t conducive to recovery. I’m not recovered now, but working for myself from home gives me a better balance and has enabled me to make huge strides. I also make more money than I would have at the previous job.
A job might come with a good label, a fancy location, or a decent package, but how does it fit with the rest of your life? Running my own business is not only better for my wellbeing, but being healthier and happier makes me able to do the best work for my clients.
“I have no regrets about my career path – including the failures”
In her early twenties, Cotswolds-based Sonal, founder of This Is Silk, had her heart set on working at a bank in the City of London.
I applied to be an Analyst because I’d grown up knowing I wanted to be around the energy you get from business. I’d done well in economics, done work experience at investment banks and thought that would be my destiny.
I felt an acute sense of despair and failure when I didn’t get a role and was lost for a while. I eventually got another role working at a bank and was ecstatic – but by the end of my first day I knew it wasn’t for me. I loathed it and resigned after a month. I didn't want to work in an office every day, staring at a computer screen and the payslips, though generous, were meaningless to me.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realised I value freedom and the ability to make a tangible difference. Those interviewers must’ve seen something in me I didn’t yet know about myself. Once I did realise what was important to me, I became a barrister and loved it for 15 years. When I decided I’d had enough of the Bar, I decided to focus on working with something I’ve always loved – I started a silk business.
Life is full of surprises if you remain open to opportunities and work hard, you can find meaning from many different things. I have no regrets about my career path – including the failures I learned from.
“Life has a way of making sure you always end up where you need to be”
Buckinghamshire-based Fiona, founder of Boss Your PR and co-founder of Supercharge Your Business, applied for a position of Fashion Buyer’s Admin Assistant in her early twenties.
It’s a cliché, but I’d always wanted to work in fashion and to run my own fashion business. A Buyer’s Admin Assistant seemed like the perfect starting point. I knew I’d learn about the buying cycle, purchasing, fit sessions, trend research and get a real insight into the workings of fashion retail.
I’d invested so much energy and emotion into getting the job that I was gutted when it didn’t go to plan. I went back to the drawing board and ended up on a fashion PR work experience placement, where I spent six months and learned so much. Eventually, I set up a freelance consultancy which, over six years, I built into a thriving agency that gave me the flexibility to take time off when I had pregnancy complications.
The path I’ve forged wasn’t what I’d envisioned. Not moving to London enabled my relationship with my now-husband to develop; and we could get onto the property ladder and have our daughter. I don’t think I could have kept pace with the fashion world. I’m an introvert who struggles with depression and anxiety. The competitive world of fashion wouldn’t have been a fit.
With my current business, I’ve created a role suited to me – all as a result of what might once have been thought of as “failures” or “missed opportunities”. Life has a way of making sure you always end up where you need to be.
“I picked myself back up by establishing a daily routine and working on skills-building”
Sydney, a 25-year-old Master’s graduate in Maryland, US, recently missed out on a dream job.
I received the rejection letter in the mail on super fancy paper, which made me disappointed when I opened it and saw that I hadn’t been selected. I often apply for jobs, but sometimes the rejections stick out, and this was one of them.
My immediate reaction was shock, disappointment and sadness. I’d seen the mail preview in an email earlier in the day and had spent the morning speculating about what the letter could be. I was hopeful that it was good news, because I’d received another particularly stinging rejection letter a few days earlier. I spent a few days wallowing in self pity, doubting my career plans and self-worth.
I picked myself back up by establishing a daily routine and working on skills-building to make myself a more desirable candidate. In hindsight, I’m glad I didn’t get the job ... I’m now looking to break into the cyber security field, hopefully a pentesting job.
“If I’d got the job, I wouldn’t have been able to set up my company”
Hope, director of her own PR agency based in Portsmouth, applied for a Digital Media Assistant role in March 2020, aged 22, just before the pandemic took hold.
My mum worked in cruise ships and I’d sometimes join her when she was sailing to exciting places like the Caribbean and through the Mediterranean. The lifestyle looked amazing and it seemed like the perfect opportunity to work while travelling – and I’d be closer to her, too. I got through to the final stage of the interview process and felt confident I’d get the job. I’d mentally prepared for my new life travelling the world. Then the cruising industry came to a halt because of the pandemic, and after months of being told they still weren’t sure what was going to happen, I accepted my fate and didn’t even get closure. I decided to take control of my life and work for myself.
If I’d got the job, I wouldn’t have been able to set up my company and wouldn’t have had the exciting journey I’ve had over the last seven months. I now have control over my time and while I may not be travelling with my job as standard, once things return to normal I’ll be able to work from anywhere in the world. I believe everything happens for a reason. You can want, wish for and manifest something as much as possible, but ultimately there’s always a reason if it doesn’t work out.