After 526 Rejected Job Applications, I Broke Through. So Can You.
Grow Your Business, Not Your Inbox
“Son, don’t apply for a job just to pay the rent. You need to think beyond yourself. You need to start thinking of building a career and providing for your family in the future.”
My mom gave me that three-sentence career advice over dinner when I was at the lowest point in my job search. And those words changed everything for me.
In early 2013, I graduated from Australia’s top university with postgraduate qualifications in business and engineering management, coupled with a mechanical engineering degree from Singapore. I was on top of the world and ready to kick-start my career.
I landed a job in sales and technical support with an up-and-coming startup. Despite my enthusiasm, I was still fresh out of university and lacked the skills and confidence to fulfill my business development targets. Within 3 months, I was fired -- my team leader called me one morning informing me that I no longer had to come into work. I was back in the job search and had to start from square one.
I did what most job seekers do. I sat behind my computer applying for opportunities, hit as many roles as I could and hoped for the best.
Days turned into weeks, and weeks turned into months. I was getting desperate. I resorted to applying for a whole spectrum of roles -- management consulting, marketing, engineering, project management, administration, youth team leader, newspaper delivery driver -- hoping that something would land.
Soon enough, almost a year had passed, and I was still in the same spot as before. I had a couple of unsuccessful phone and face-to-face interviews, not to mention wave after wave of rejection emails from employers. I had enough. I was desperate, discouraged and disappointed with myself and my situation. I told my mom over dinner that I would take any job to pay the bills.
And then mom gave me that three-sentence advice that changed everything.
I recalled a famous quote from Albert Einstein, “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” With this, I knew that if I wanted things to change, I need to change first.
Without hesitation, I started a careers magazine with my friend -- gathering and compiling career advice from industry professionals. We knew that there were other individuals who were in the same situation, so why not do something to help others?
In just six months, we reached more than 3,000 university students statewide and conducted career workshops for a few reputable universities. From this, I discovered my passion in speaking and training and sent out tailored applications for jobs in this area. Within two weeks, I had a few interviews and landed a role as a business and management trainer.
Looking back, I sent 526 resumes over the course of 561 days. Here are the five takeaways from this experience.
1. Take full ownership of your situation.
When you are deep in the dumps, it’s tempting to place the blame on something or someone else -- the government, the economy, the jobs market, the university, your parents, your friends, etc. But doing so won’t help or improve the situation.
If you want things to change, you’ll need to change first. Take charge and take responsibility of your situation. Like former Navy SEAL Jocko Willink mentioned in his book Extreme Ownership, it is all about seeing where you can do better, not making excuses or denying that problems exist.
2. Don’t take failure personally.
Whether it’s your life or career, whenever you are embarking on something worthwhile or meaningful, you are bound to screw up, make mistakes and encounter failure. The key here is not to take failure personally, but to learn quickly and pick yourself up.
Instead of viewing the heap of employer rejections as a reflection of incompetence, I chose to see this as a learning opportunity so that I can further develop my skills and refine my job search strategy.
3. Get out of your comfort zone.
Whether it’s speaking to strangers, stepping on stage to give a public presentation, making a tough phone call or getting up early to hit the gym, the pursuit of success demands multiple trips outside your comfort zone. While I was hustling on my careers magazine, I was working part-time to pay the bills while applying for jobs at night. I firmly believed that whatever dreams we are pursuing lie outside our comfort zone. We just have to get out to get them.
Was it comfortable and convenient? Surely not. But was it necessary to improve my situation? Definitely.
4. Hang out with the right people.
Jim Rohn, one of the most influential thinkers, once said, “You’re the average of the five people you spend most of your time with.”
Whether you’re cruising on success or pushing through adversity, check your company because your social surroundings can have a profound influence over you. If you want to succeed as an entrepreneur, spend more time with businesspeople who are crushing it. If you want to be more effective in the marketplace, seek out the movers and shakers in your field.
5. Do whatever it takes.
New York Times bestselling author and international speaker Grant Cardone said in a speech that when he was building up his five companies, he had to call on people he didn’t want to be with and do things he didn’t like. “It is not about doing what you love, it's about doing whatever it takes to make your dreams a reality.”
It’s important to be passionate about what you’re doing, but there will be times when you need to push on with the unfamiliar, the uncomfortable and the inconvenient. Most people are interested, but few are committed. The former will do what’s cool and convenient, but the latter will do whatever it takes.
So are you ready to make a dent in the universe? Go for it!