Taking Rejection Like a Champ


Rejection.  I’ve gotten real good at it.  The new economy had me running around like a maniac applying for jobs.  At last count, over 50–and I’m sure my number is very LOW compared to others who found themselves scrambling and lucky because I actually landed a job. I’ve been rejected about 49 times in over a year. Thankfully I received at least one call and it has been one of the best calls professionally I’ve received in a while.

Rejection is tough.  There’s no way around it. The waiting….that’s the worst.  In academia the wait seems to be about 10x longer due to the negotiation process that comes with it.  If you are the candidate who gets the call, you can go back to your current job, negotiate both ways, and that can take weeks to decide upon.  If you were like me, you said “yes” and signed on the dotted line for fear that someone else would swoop in and do it.  But don’t worry, I didn’t sign until the last day.  I learned a thing or two in life and I also learned how to ask questions, get things in writing, and haggle a little bit.  But not too much, girlfriend wanted a paycheck and good benefits again….

Academic rejection is like a swear word with which many of my colleagues think about and immediately want to barf a bit.  Pardon the overt honesty here but it’s true.  I won’t lie, I interviewed for a few TT track positions and was flown to far away places that did not remind me of never never land (the Peter Pan version of the Michael Jackson version). One is still sitting with me and I’d like to share my experience…..

The interview started off well enough.  The folks were pleasant. The breakfast was from a major chain restaurant. And that’s where it stopped being pleasant. As I waited in the room to present my seminar(s) that I had prepared with the topic guidelines sent to me earlier, I noticed something that was odd to me. No one spoke to each other. The interview committee, the other invited stakeholders, the chair of the search committee, all sat with stone silence.  Was I supposed to entertain them?  Should I have brought my juggling balls?  I can’t even juggle! I made small talk like a champ, noting that I loved the weather, the city was fabulous, and I had enjoyed a leisurely stroll the day before. **Awkward turtle swimming at ya!**

I gave my talks, fielded questions, and was given a boxed lunch to eat while visiting with the graduate students.  Pleasant. Honest. After lunch I met with an “important guy” in the Dean’s office (the dean was unavailable, a red flag raised high enough for me to notice it) and we chatted about research, scholarship, and all things academic.  That was ok.  I could do my work here……Dean’s are busy people but if an interview committee is truly serious about a candidate, they will do their very best to schedule said candidates during a time when the Dean is available to get multiple impressions.  Note that future job hunters in academia….There are extenuating circumstances (emergency hires, emergencies for the Dean, etc….)

My last interview segment of the day was with the full interview committee.  While I’m going to point a few things out here, let me preface this by saying: these things bother me, they might not bother you.  I walk into the conference room w/ no personality-white walls, no decor, no nothing, the door closes behind me and I’m sitting in front of an all-white-male committee with one-token-female thrown in there for good measure. **Red flags** I sit down. I begin to answer the questions of this very interested committee. And then I apparently made a mistake.  I know it was a mistake because it was followed by a full blown argument between one of my interviewers and myself.  This was not witty banter or scholarly engagement.  How do I know this?  Because I had to pull out a term I save only for when the s^$t gets deep, “we’re going to have to agree to disagree on this one Dr.__________.” The question at hand does not matter enough anymore because I knew….I KNEW the interview was over no matter how many other stops in the day there was.

I finished the on-campus visit.  I went back to the hotel.  I called my old advisor and panicked.  She reassured me.  I told her I wasn’t feeling too good.  I did feel good up until that point. I’m not afraid of conflict, it’s not one of my top 5 things to do, but you know what I mean.  I can hold my own.  Mama didn’t raise no fool.  I go to dinner……The department chair is at dinner, another newly hired faculty is there, it’s pleasant.  We discussed pies and baking.  During dinner a few more red flags flew up like red cards at a soccer match. “We think this hiring process will be audited so we wanted to make sure to bring in a diverse candidate like yourself.” **giant red flag** During the car ride back to the hotel, the newly hired faculty asks, “do you have kids? are you married? i’m not supposed to ask you that but oh well. i have two kids. this is my job for life.” **red flag** While it wasn’t so much that she asked me very personal things, which are in fact illegal to ask, the point that caught me–the job for life thing.

I admit, I’m female and Korean.  I can check a whole lot of HR boxes with one fell swoop. I know this and can’t do much about it.  English is my first (and mostly only) language. But no, I don’t have kids. I’m not married.  If you know questions are ‘off the table’ keep your big mouth shut other new faculty.  You’re making yourself and your university look bad. The end.

So, rejection–that’s what it looks like.  You get that feeling.  You just know.  To my own defense and not to pad my own diaper, this place would not have been a good home for me.  There were too many epistemological differences we shared, hence the screaming match.  I did not really want to move to that city, I would not have been happy.  I know I could do it for a few years, but the long term was scary for me. This was also different because I have a job that I LOVE.  This is not just for the blog either, I truly enjoy my work right now. It’s opening new doors for me that will come in handy in a few years.  Where I live right now is pretty great, it’s nice, quiet, cheap, and I am living with good company.  It’s also a bit backwards, southern, and humid.  But central AC can cure much of my crabbiness most summer days. I received my email of rejection and quickly replied and thanked the person again.  Getting rejected is a feeling of humbleness mixed with satisfaction.  I am humbled because I am not perfect but I was very satisfied with myself for recognizing my strengths and weaknesses.  I was satisfied because deep down, I knew I didn’t belong there, I belong where I am right now.  Standing at my desk blogging.  This interview was a different experience for me because for the first time in my interview history since grad school, I had nothing to lose.  I felt as though I could be bold, sell my research and future interests without fear.  I did not fear if they didn’t like my crazy ideas, I only feared if it would be a good fit. This job would have paid more, it would have had summer money, startup, grad students, and other perks.  But those perks would come with cost.  More publications, higher cost of living, less family/home time, a huge move farther away from anyone I recognize as important in my life, and other unintended consequences.

As a new faculty, it’s something that we all must face, rejection.  Perhaps we have become jaded in this new economy.  But I was raised knowing that if I did good work, tenure would not matter, I would always be employable.  While the economy may never fully recover, my own moral and work ethic have yet to let me down.  It’s still not a perfect job, but it’s work to live a nice life.

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One thought on “Taking Rejection Like a Champ

  1. Elizabeth says:

    I know the feeling all too well. I have also been applying for academic jobs, but in k-12, not higher ed. I faced a similar committee. I was the white girl who dared to show up in an all-Black, urban school system. The first two interviews (for different positions) were the same. I faced a committee of four. Four Blacks. 3 females, one male at each interview. I know I was called in for the same reason. I fit their diversity requirement. I’m the white girl they can say they interviewed but found someone “better.” I interviewed back in June and never received so much as a phone call or email. I found out I didn’t get either job by reading the minutes of the Board meeting two months later. At my second interview, one of the committee members plainly said, “We don’t feel you best represent our student body, faculty, or staff.” It was a broad statement, but I knew exactly what she meant. I left crying after that one. Had I been on the other side of that table and made that remark, the $hit would have hit the fan. But I’m the over-educated white girl with the PhD, and as a Black friend of mine informed me, “Black women would never let a white woman teach them.” And yet I remain hopeful. I had my third interview with this school system two weeks ago. Just like the other two: 3 Black females, 1 Black male. I thought it went really well. I felt good about it. Then I received an email today responding to my thank you email that I had sent the 1 and only male (who gave me a business card, so I emailed him a thank you follow up). In his reply he said he would forward my note to the other committee members. Today I emailed him to say thank you, and I asked him if he had an knowledge of when HR would be letting the candidates know anything. His reply, “I am not sure when that will happen, as I am not in involved in the hiring process for the position.” Then why the heck were you at the interview is what I really want to ask him. My stomach dropped, and I realized again that I was the token white girl to fill an interview spot. So frustrating.

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