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Dealing with Rejection

I spent eight years as an assistant principal.

Those eight years provided a great learning experience. I handled all of the “typical” AP responsibilities such as student behavior, master scheduling, nighttime supervision, employee evaluation, and instructional leadership.

While I enjoyed the role, like most APs I had a dream of one day running my own building. Having the opportunity to put my own “touch” on a school was very appealing.

During my time as an assistant principal, I applied for numerous head principal jobs. While other colleagues got their shot after a single interview, I wasn’t having nearly the same luck.

I participated in several principal interviews. Each time, I came away thinking, “This is the one!” only to discover they chose another candidate.

It wasn’t until my 11th interview when I was finally given a chance.

That’s right, my first ten interviews ended in rejection.


Dealing with rejection can be difficult. Given most school leaders are accustomed to success, not being selected for an administrative job can be a humbling experience.

Unfortunately, going through several interviews before reaching the next level in school administration is typical. Whereas sometimes it appears leadership “gatekeepers” are playing a cruel joke, the reality is most jobs are highly competitive.

Like many others, I struggled with each rejection. I felt anger towards the interview committee and jealousy toward the person who was selected. Furthermore, I began to wonder if I had “what it takes” to be a head principal.

Worse yet, it was common for the local media to announce job finalists prior to the final round of interviews. In addition to the intense pressure I put on myself, the fact that everyone knew I had interviewed made it especially embarrassing when I admitted I didn’t get the job.

Ugh. How embarrassing!

Despite these challenges, understand that everything happens for a reason.

Reflect on the jobs you haven’t landed. Are you still upset? Or, are you thankful for the new path your life has taken? In most cases, people realize they are much happier with how things played out.

For me, one job stands out in particular. I gave a stellar interview and was certain I was the most qualified candidate. My confidence was so high that my girlfriend and I began house hunting! But after a couple weeks of hearing nothing (not even a phone call), I realized I didn’t get the job. I was stunned.

But now that time has passed, I feel fortunate that I didn’t get the job:

My philosophy did not the fit the district culture.

My personality did not mesh with district leadership.

My strengths would have been limited the position.

My career trajectory would have been stifled.

Not getting a job can be a blessing in disguise.


Still struggling with job rejection? Here are seven ideas to consider:

Take Ownership: We live in a culture where it is typical to blame others for our lack of success. While this feeling is natural, at some point as professionals we must take ownership of our shortcomings. Those individuals who use a growth mindset – understanding that there is always room for improvement - are much more likely to have success in future interviews.

Feedback: While employers are growing increasingly weary about giving feedback thanks to potential discrimination complaints, finding someone who can give you accurate, critical feedback is the best way to improve your interview approach. People who treat each failed interview as a learning opportunity discover that their interview skills improve exponentially over time.

Perception: When it comes to internal promotion, one of the biggest barriers I see is public perception. If you are finding it difficult to move up internally, it may be because people don’t have a good perception of you. Have the courage to ask colleagues how you are perceived by others, and then commit to improve on areas of weakness.

Relocate: Are there barriers in your current school or district that are hurting your chances at promotion? It may be time to look outside the district. While kids and families make moving difficult … people who are determined to take the next professional step may need to broaden their search. Besides, you can always return at a later time.

Core Values: One of my most effective pre-interview strategies is to spend time reflecting on my core values. I have found that articulating – in writing – my fundamental leadership beliefs helps ensure that these ideas are communicated during the interview. Want to really impress the interview committee? Give each individual a copy of your core values.

Silver Lining: What positives can be taken from not being selected? For starters, not getting a promotion means you likely have more time on your hands. Focus the energy that would have went into new job towards other parts of your life – such as family, fitness, travel, education, or hobbies. Taking time to list the positive repercussions of not getting a job can do wonders for your mental health.

Motivation: One of my all-time favorite quotes is “The best revenge is massive success,” by Frank Sinatra. Once the sting has worn off, use rejection as motivation to push you even harder. Create a list of the jobs you haven’t been given and make a promise to yourself that those who didn’t pick you will eventually realize they made a mistake. When used appropriately, few things are as motivating as rejection.

Prove the doubters wrong. Every. Single. Day.


Bestselling author and retired US Navy SEAL John “Jocko” Wilink once said the following:

How do I deal with setbacks, failures, delays, defeats, or other disasters? I have a fairly simply way of dealing with these situations, summed up in one word: Good.

Oh, mission got canceled? Good. We can focus on another one.

Didn’t get promoted? Good. More time to get better.

Didn’t get the job you wanted? Good. Build a better resume.

Got beat? Good. We learned.

Unexpected problems? Good. We’ll figure out a solution.

That’s it. When things are going bad, don’t get all bummed out or frustrated. Just look at the issue and you say, Good.

As painful as the process was, I am thankful I was rejected ten times. Not only am I able to help others process their rejection, I am also better prepared to handle future rejection.

Rejection provides motivation.

Rejection opens doors.

Rejection gives perspective.

Next time you are rejected, remember one word: Good.


If you liked this article, you'll love my books Learning Curve and Turning Points.



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