When I started hunting for my dream dev job early in 2018, I knew that getting rejected would be an inevitable part of the process. I tried to look past that and focus on the possibilities of success, but when the first rejection came, it turned out to be much harder than I expected. That was when the real learning started! Here are the three key lessons I distilled from my experience.
Process disappointment productively
Here's what happened: I thought I had the perfect opportunity lined up at a startup in Cape Town. I had heard good things about them from friends and family in the tech sphere. After the initial interview, I became deeply invested in the idea of working for them. I read up about the company and liked their design philosophy and their project plans. Their proactive vibe impressed me. Their approach to the water crisis in Cape Town convinced me this could be a company of comrades.
The final step in their interview process was a simulation day, an assessment of my technical ability. They guided me through their requirements and asked me to process data into two BI dashboards. I had tried to over-prepare for the day, but I still found the time limit and new environment overwhelming. Then came the rejection: the company was looking for more experience.
Losing out on that job was like losing a limb. Yes, that sounds like something a Drama Llama would say, but it certainly felt that way to me. My picture of a life where I could really own my niche with like-minded 'leaders' suddenly came crashing down.
For a couple of days, I beat myself up about my failures. Looking back, If there's one thing I learned, it's that you should give yourself time for this.
You should also timebox the experience. I learned that in No Limits: Blow The Cap Off Your Capacity by John Maxwell, a renowned leadership expert. He says that he allows himself only one day to wallow or to celebrate, because neither success nor failure should hold him back the next day. Without setting a deadline for your disappointment, you could waste time in a rut.
Key thought: Allow yourself time to wallow, but timebox it.
I ended up needing more than a day to process the rollercoaster of emotions. I discussed it with my wife. We tried to focus on the positives. I reminded myself that I only needed one good job opportunity to work out to change my life for the better. That put things into perspective for me. For my wife and I, our faith in a God who will close or open doors for His purposes, brought us a lot of stability.
I analyzed my situation, trying to learn, trying to see what should come next. All of this took time. Taking that time was necessary, but so was controlling it, so that I did not amplify my spiralling thoughts to become debilitating excuses for not moving forward.
Decide what is required to improve
I realised that I needed to move toward taking responsibility: I needed to focus on what was in my control to change. I tried to see my own faults objectively and zoomed in on them. The main things I realised was that my simulation day had gone poorly. I became flustered. I could feel how I was working more slowly and having trouble making the mental connections that usually seem easier for me. This was something I could own.
Key thought: Focus on things that are within your control to change.
What would you do in this situation? I venture that most of us think we need to skill up. With more practice, I could be more certain, more in control. Typically, I would launch some training expeditions, do a course or three, and then look for more ways to over-prepare as best I could.
In this case, though, I knew that I had the required skills for the job — it was just about being able to apply them to the challenge at hand. That told me that I had to focus not on skills, but on mindset. It was all about becoming more confident in high-pressure situations, whilst retaining my humility.
Preserve the tension in the Confidence-Humility tightrope
I follow a podcast by Michael Hyatt, a super-successful blogger and former CEO and Chairman of Thomas Nelson Publishers. He once made a great analogy about so many aspects of life being like a tightrope. Much of life is about maintaining a healthy tension between two poles, like health and rest. Tightrope walking is all about tension; the tension must be loose enough to absorb one's steps, but not so loose that the rope sways in the wind.
I found that true of confidence and humility also, especially during my search for new opportunities. Keeping that tension is all about selling yourself courageously — being confident in your character and your skills — without appearing or even turning arrogant. Of all the things I learned during this journey, I consider this my most important takeaway. How I regained that tension, is best told through the rest of my story.
Key thought: Sell yourself courageously without turning arrogant.
After this initial disappointment, I started to look for new opportunities on OfferZen. During my first month, I only got two responses. This lack of success discouraged me a little. Did I have to go and upskill after all?
That's when my Talent Advisor suggested some tweaks to my profile. All of a sudden, five companies contacted me in quick succession.
This helped me realise: Had I taken lots of different courses, it would probably not have been the right ones for that first interview I now went to anyway. I was a BI Developer and the company was interviewing for a full-stack developer position. I decided to just navigate it as best I could and hoped that they would look past the timidity that I felt. My last disappointment was still feeling very real but I tried to show strength of character and courage.
In retrospect, I wouldn't say that I got the tension between confidence and humility in that interview exactly right, but, remarkably, they still made me an offer!
I had already committed to interviews with other companies at this time and luckily so: I discovered that this one company's confidence in me made my own confidence soar. With a win so fresh in my memory, I suddenly felt a lot more at ease. This brought a new, valuable dynamic to my discussions with the other companies. I presented myself confidently, even made jokes, but still spoke my opinions tentatively and showed my hunger to learn. I could tell by the responses I received that getting that tension between confidence and humility right, made me a much more attractive candidate for prospective employers.
Petrus is a BI Developer and Data Scientist.