Ninety-Four and No Longer Counting

Deep down, I believed this day would never come. For three-and-a-half long years, there were plenty of reasons to believe it never would. Ninety-four reasons, to be exact. But then it happened.

Less than a week after publicly lamenting my 94th rejection letter, I had a job offer. As if this moment could be any sweeter, the job offer came from a direct industry competitor to the one that had just rejected me.

Over the last few years, I’ve written a lot about the frustrations of the job hunt. It was my own personal hell. Every fear, self-doubt, and anxiety would bubble up to the surface each and every time I started a new application. I would scrutinize each and every word, font size, color, and format of each and every CV, as if I were missing some magical combination that would help this application be the one.

Usually the rejections–if they came at all–would be outright. On the rare occasion, they came after an interview. At least with the latter examples, I could hear why I wasn’t chosen, and it was always the same reason: a lack of experience. Sometimes it would be with an additional adjective or two: corporate experience, large corporate experience, brand experience, [fill in your industry] experience. So on.

Logically, I understood. Of course hiring managers wanted to pick the safest choice. Emotionally, it was hard to take. Like with the CVs above, I wondered if there was anything I could have said differently in the interview that would have made a difference. Was my lack of experience that damning? Or was I just not selling myself in the right way? Ultimately, there was no way of knowing, which was a frustration in and of itself.

Now? I’m having trouble putting all of these feelings into words. More than anything, I’m relieved.

It’s a year-long contract at a major corporation. It’s within the renewable energy industry. I’ll learn a ton, grow my network, and gain that valuable experience to bolster my CV. If things go well, I might not need to be going through the motions of a job search for a long time. That’s the hope.

The last point is especially comforting. Literally nothing has filled me with the same sense of anxiety and dread as searching for a job. Whereas an endless string of rejections keep you mentally rooted in the past, this job offer has me thinking about the future. A real future, with a real paycheck, real experience that I can point to, and–hopefully–a real career path that I can finally begin taking.

I started a folder in my inbox for rejection letters when I was approaching graduation. I didn’t think it’d still be in use until last week.

When I started this perverse habit of keeping these letters, most of them form and sent from a “no-reply” corporate address, I promised myself that I would print them off and burn them as soon as I got a job. It might not be the most sustainable decision, but I decided it was a moment of catharsis that would make all the “Nos” worth it.

Now, I’ll still go through with The Great Burning, but I’m not as eager to do it as I once was. I see now that it was a way for me to keep moving forward. To recognize what happened, file it away, and move on. The implicit promise to myself that this would all be over one day helped me get through it.

It was just one of the many routines that I had to keep me going. When I found a promising job, I’d save the link, put the job description into a spreadsheet (or rather spreadsheets, one for each of 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020), start the process of writing my CV and/or cover letter, searching my network for possible connections, call the contact listed in the job description if possible, submit, and wait.

As I wrote about in “Death by a Thousand Empty Inboxes,” this wait was often torturous. No matter how many times I had been rejected, I went into each new application with hope. And with each passing day after clicking “submit,” that hope would diminish. Sometimes I wouldn’t receive the rejection letter for months later, long after it was clear that I wasn’t going to be invited for an interview. In a strange way, these seemed especially cruel: I went through the process of losing all hope and then had a bolt out of the blue to confirm the obvious. But at least I could update my spreadsheet.

As I said, the biggest emotion is relief. I feel as if an enormous weight has been lifted off my chest. I can breathe. Finally.

The hiring manager who brought me on did so not in spite of my experience, but because of it. Specifically, because my experience didn’t match the others on the team. It is the type of outside-the-box decision that I was hoping for.

I thought I’d be scared. This is uncharted territory for me. What if all the previous hiring managers were right to pass on me? But I’m weirdly at ease. I’m looking forward to the mistakes, and to growing from them. I’m excited about this opportunity, and the opportunities–either within the company, or beyond–that this will afford me. Mostly, I’m looking forward to not submitting another job application for a long time.

As I said, I can now look forward and shut the door on this chapter of my life. With time, I can reflect on those ninety-four rejections, and hopefully learn from them. But now? It’s time to get to work.