Need strategies for dealing with rejection at work
November 19, 2010 6:37 AM   Subscribe

Can you help me prepare to not get an internal job offer at work?

This was me.

I applied for an internal management position at work. I was ambivalent, but my supervisor really encouraged me to apply. Despite hesitations (some of which were outlined in my earlier post), I did apply. After the phone interview and a week or two of consideration (including a few chats with a therapist), I told my boss I was going to back out, and he talked me into not withdrawing my application (he said he wouldn't share my concerns with the rest of the search committee, but of course my ambivalence didn't make me a stronger candidate).

So, I went ahead, mostly without ambivalence, and had a good interview.

Two other very qualified candidates, both external, also came in for interviews. Apparently they did very well (I wasn't part of their interviews, of course).

Now I'm reading the tea leaves and suspect I won't get the job offer. Which is mostly fine--I'm respected at work, and I really enjoy my current position, and while it'll be a bit of an ego blow, it'll also be a relief of sorts. I don't think this is just sour grapes.

However, sometimes my emotions get the best of me. I'm worried, frankly, that when I sit down with my supervisor or his supervisor and get the "We really value you and we are giving the position to someone else" chat, that I'll break down. I really don't want to do that. I want to be a graceful reject and not feel like I'm losing my dignity at work.

I'm not worried about the long term, but mostly how I conduct myself in the short term. So, do you have any tips for me? I welcome strategies to keep perspective, mentally prep for the rejection conversation, and tips on how to keep my eyes dry and head clear throughout (or at least until I get home and have a nice ridiculous cry about this whole thing). The longer it takes to hear the news, the more anxious I'm growing.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I really do not know if I can successfully reassure you on this point, but this is how it seems to me. The earlier question tells us that you are an academic librarian. To be a librarian is a noble calling. You are a guardian of knowledge, you help to perpetuate human civilization as we know it. You should be proud of what you do. So, if you do not get promoted to a management position, you are still a librarian. There is nothing wrong with that.
posted by grizzled at 6:50 AM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Can you practice this with a friend? Have them give you the bad news over and over again, in different ways, so you're prepared for the many ways that conversation can go.

I just noticed that you mentioned a therapist - they would probably be helpful in thinking of some stock responses and questions you can have (like, "What will make me a stronger candidate the next time around?") I find that asking questions gives me the time I need to maintain my composure.
posted by punchtothehead at 7:16 AM on November 19, 2010

However, sometimes my emotions get the best of me. I'm worried, frankly, that when I sit down with my supervisor or his supervisor and get the "We really value you and we are giving the position to someone else" chat, that I'll break down.

They do really value you. However, they will not be giving you this job. You need to believe that with all that's in you. You need to accept it, to grieve over it, to move on, so that if your boss does call you in to tell you bad news, you will be over it. Sometimes a break down is inevitable. It doesn't mean you need to do it in front of anyone. If you can convince yourself this job will not be given to you, you can start processing it.
posted by routergirl at 7:35 AM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

When this happened to me, I used a mindset that they were making a terrible mistake, and I when I got the news I told my boss so (well, minus the word "terrible." I think my exact words were, "Well, of course I think you're making a mistake (big smile) but thank you for considering me."). Really try to get it into your head that they're a bunch of idiots who don't know what's best for the office. Don't say that the other people are qualified -- whose side are you on? They're dodoheads, totally. Totally.

If you can hold onto these junior-high ideas for as long as it takes I think it'll help keep your eyes dry. It'll act as an opposing force to your natural reactions. And then when you're ready you can slide back to graceful maturity.
posted by JanetLand at 7:47 AM on November 19, 2010

Not getting the job is actually the best of all possible outcomes for you. You were able to please your supervisor who asked you to apply (still a huge compliment!) but at the same time you didn't really seem to want the job. Great - now you won't have to do it. But they definitely have their eyes on you for future promotions which, when you're ready, will be absolutely brilliant. Just keep repeating to yourself that you're relieved you aren't getting the job until you're sure you truly believe it.
posted by hazyjane at 7:56 AM on November 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

On a more practical note, bring a glass of something to drink (not a hot drink) to the meeting with you. If you feel yourself start to choke up, take a drink. The act of swallowing will help you get control of your of the muscles in your throat and face.
posted by bq at 8:47 AM on November 19, 2010

I'm going through this right now. It'll be embarrassing if I don't get the position. My situation is so similar I wonder if someone didn't slip me some Ambian and if I didn't go and set up a new account on Metafilter and post the question myself.

I'm concentrating on how relieved I'll be if I don't get the job (the description of which I'm pretty sure they've overwritten---only someone sacrificing a great deal of home life could succeed), and how much bigger my life is than this one narrow opportunity to be assessed, and I will likely think about a few things about myself that I like, which make me interesting, that would surprise them if they knew. My goal is to be able to smile to myself, confidently.


Memail me if you want to commiserate.
posted by vitabellosi at 10:41 AM on November 19, 2010

I dealt with this at a previous position with the same company. A little different, in that I was already doing the job, and never interviewed for it. But I wasn't officially in the position. I was also responsible for screening candidates, and then interviewed the good ones with my boss.

So I was interviewing people for the position I already [unofficially] held, wanted, but was told I couldn't have [due mostly to our main client wanting "new blood."]

After a year of cycling through three people in that position, with their tenures ranging from 14 days to 6 months, all ending in termination, I was given the position officially, then promoted about 3 months later to a position above that.

The whole process was quite ego-bruising at first. I know what you're fearing. During the chats with my boss surrounding hiring someone for the job I wanted, my heart would beat fast and high in my chest, and my mouth would get dry. My ears would ring, and I found it hard not to just jump up and yell "are you crazy?!?!? What've they got that I ain't got!"

What I found helped was smiling. But for it to work, the smile can't just be your mouth smiling. It's got to be the eyes as well. Even just pretending like everything is OK can sometimes help you feel OK. I would just smile and act like everything was fine, because I knew it would be. I knew that I was proud of the work that I did, and that my management felt the same way. I knew my coworkers respected me, and used me as a resource for solving problems and keeping track of the "institutional knowledge."

The hardest part was also after the new person was hired and I'd have to go back to the work I was doing, without the possibility of moving ahead. It was sometimes hard to stay focused and involved, but that also passes.

So do you think the work you do now is good? Are you happy with your work, and do you think other people see the quality in what you do? I hope that makes you happy, and I hope that is something you can take some happiness from. In the short term, can you focus on continuing to perform and enjoy the job you have, rather than fantasize about the one you won't have? Could you list the things you enjoy about your job, and look at that every day?
posted by MonsieurBon at 11:10 AM on November 19, 2010

Do you have a good friend who could rehearse this with you? Maybe have the friend come to your place and spend 20 minutes or so having the friend give you "the speech" a few times in a couple different ways.

I think if you get to the point where you're like, "Okay, I've heard this enough, I'm over it" you might not have as much of an emotional reaction when you hear the real thing.
posted by Ashley801 at 12:00 PM on November 19, 2010

I think my exact words were, "Well, of course I think you're making a mistake (big smile) but thank you for considering me."

Please don't say something like this if you're interested in not burning bridges. I understand that your first priority is maintaining control of your emotions, and I encourage you to take any reasonable measures to do so, but the above is telling your boss (overtly) that they have made a mistake and (implicitly) that you accept their decision under protest. If one of my subordinates said that to me in regard to any business decision--let alone one having to do with promotion, which is inherently full of complicated impersonal issues as is--I would start thinking about whether I should manage them out of my team.
posted by AkzidenzGrotesk at 1:09 PM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Whoops, "impersonal" should have been "interpersonal."
posted by AkzidenzGrotesk at 1:10 PM on November 19, 2010

I would have something short memorized so you aren't fumbling for words if you get bad news. You could say, with a nice smile, "Well, thank you for considering me for the position. Please let me know if anything similar opens up in the future." Keep thinking about all the downsides and the fact that you dodged a bullet on this one.
posted by amicamentis at 4:11 PM on November 20, 2010

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