You send it off, knowing that you’re probably going to get rejected. But there’s that little bit of optimism, maybe you could even call it hope, that they’ll say yes. You allow yourself to weigh up the odds of success; you reckon that since it’s your 7th attempt, the laws of probability dictate that the outcome will be different and that you’ll be accepted. This is the one, you think. All those other ones, they were just leading up to this success. With a sense of relief that you’ve sent if off and that this is the one, you go about your day, impatient for the result.
You come back and you see something from them. You click on it, glad that they’ve replied. But once again, it’s just the same result. They’ve given you some vague, wishy-washy sentences about how you’re perfectly nice and all, but it feels all a bit robotic. They put some other stuff in, but it just leads up to the same answer that you’ve been dreading, but you know and you have known since you sent it off would be coming: “Unfortunately, we have not chosen to progress your application.”
And the process goes again (and again and again concurrently because you’re probably emailing multiple companies at the same time.)
The impersonal, efficient, opaque way that companies have managed to say no is a very different type of rejection to being told “No” by your parents. All you have is the email, and there’s no real reason about why they have rejected you. For all you know, the HR junior staff member has been given the unenviable task of sifting through hundreds of applications late on a Friday evening, and has skimmed your application, having found the smallest incriminating detail with which to put you into the virtual bin.
Or maybe they’ve fed it through an algorithm, and the algorithm has some obscure reason dreamt up by a programmer in a board meeting 5 years ago with which it is authorised to flag you up and reject you. You’ve been found wanting by a line of code. Maybe a team of people have looked at it thoroughly, diligently reading each one and comparing you to the other applicants. They place you on a whiteboard, and they move you around on a rankings table, and then, all of a sudden, your name has dropped down too far and then you are cut off. I’m not sure which is the most comforting.
Most students in Oxford are probably quite unused to dealing with rejection. The event in their life so far that they were most likely to be rejected was for the Oxford interview, and so they were lucky enough (or unlucky, depending on how your week has been) to escape through that character-building process that is rejection by the Oxbridge admissions system. There were very few opportunities to be rejected. Schooling is compulsory, so by law you can’t get rejected. You could have been rejected if there was an admissions test for your secondary school or sixth form, but again, if you’re at Oxford, it’s unlikely.
But everyone has to get rejected at some point in their lives. It’s a depressingly universal sentiment. No one can ever get everything that they want in life. In some ways, it’s a mark of adulthood. Each time you have success, your confidence balloons and it’s like you have the magic touch. The longer you avoid rejection for, the bigger this balloon gets. Until it pops. It’s obvious that there are lots of things outside of your control, and that some things are just not meant to be. Your expectations are brought down to size, and you start to doubt whether there were exogenous factors that you weren’t aware of that enabled your previous successes.
Being in Oxford probably makes it worse. Doesn’t it always? You’re surrounded by lots of incredible people with lots of intellect and skills and when you imagine who’s got your place, which was never even yours to begin with, you envisage those people having the placement that you wanted, sitting in your seat. Of course the company was right to choose them instead of you, you imagine. People around you might make off-hand comments like “The job market looks good” or “You go to Oxford, that’s your life sorted then.”
And by and large these statements are true. Most people who finish their undergraduate degree at Oxford will go onto a job or go in to further education. Many of those jobs will be well paid and at big companies, and many of those further education courses will be very competitive. 4% of people do not, however, according to the Careers Fair. On the one hand, this is great news. You only need to get accepted for one thing to not be unemployed, and 24/25 is a pretty big probability. On the other hand, as a person that worries too much, every time I get rejected, I probably subconsciously think about whether I will fall into that 4%.
We’re all developing some sort of coping mechanism to deal with rejection; otherwise it would be far too depressing. You think and worry about it less. You joke about it with your friends, knowing that they probably have and will experience something similar. You look up the companies that have rejected you and find that on reflection that they aren’t so good, and that the place that you’re applying to now is much better and has such a good working environment and career prospects. And before you know it, you’ve got used to it. You think that next time you apply for something, you’ll be so hardened and your skin so thick to the process that it won’t even hurt if you get rejected and that you’ll just move on with your day when you inevitably do.
Personally, I’ve developed the winning attitude. Given the current housing market, I probably won’t be able to afford a place of my own until many years down the line, whether I have a job or not. If I don’t get a job, I won’t have to pay back my student loan. With each rejection, the prospect of living at home with my parents becomes more and more appealing to me.
Maybe companies should be convincing me to work for them, rather than me having to convince them that I should work for them.