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How to deal with rejection

How to deal with rejection

Olivia Atkinson


During this time of year, the cold season sets in, hats and gloves come out, and most importantly for aspiring lawyers, deadlines for applications fall due. And with applications can come rejections. Some enjoy the rush of adrenaline as each CV is submitted, but I think the majority initially find the application process daunting and any rejections destabilising at best. 

Everybody gets rejected, it’s normal 

The first thing I should say is, I have been rejected. You, the reader, have probably been or will be rejected, and I can guarantee you, most of the solicitors, partners, and even judges that you come across in your legal career have experienced rejection too. It’s totally normal. I want to drive out the negative, counterproductive belief that is attached to the concept of rejection; the notion that you are “not good enough”. Rejections are just a way of narrowing down your list to find out which firm is right for you. 

Some of the guidance we often receive is to send out as many applications as quickly as possible. This is simply outdated advice. At an interview, one of the common things recruiters ask is: why do you want to work at our firm? If you cannot answer this question in sufficient detail, then you should not send application number 97. Firms often reject promising candidates because they do not make a connection with them and see straight through an insincere copy-and-paste cover letter.

Many applicants quickly forget that you are not just applying for a job and hoping that that company will like you, you must like the firm too! If you cannot picture yourself working at that firm, under that company’s ethos and work ethic, then why are you sending your CV? Avoid rejection by tailoring your application to the individual firm that you actually want to work for. By doing so it will allow your enthusiasm for the firm and a career in the profession to naturally flow from your writing. Carefully consider which firms will value your specific set of skills and interests. Submitting applications is all about making tough decisions, conducting intense research, and being honest, first and foremost, with yourself. It’s an exercise in self-reflection, which is healthy and useful for measuring growth in your career. 

Using rejection to your advantage

At the point of each rejection, shortcomings must be embraced and positive action taken to improve and repair these methods. As I explained above, you should take these opportunities to be honest with yourself, and consider whether more time and research is needed before you press ‘send’. Rejections are not black holes of disappointment; they are there to intensify your determination to succeed and to help you become more attuned to what these firms are looking for. If you are not given any feedback, don’t stop there. Send your cover letter to a friend and see whether they can spot any common errors or oversights. In addition, you can try emailing a firm’s head of recruitment or HR to explain that you are trying to improve your application method for next time. While the firms will appreciate your integrity, and that you are keen to learn from your mistakes, they may not be able to provide specific or individual feedback, so you might receive a list of common issues that candidates make on applications – don’t be disheartened! Use this as a standard checklist for your next application. 

I mentioned above that it is important to form an organic and sincere connection with the firm you are applying to. To put this into practice, try having impromptu conversations before your application, interview or assessment centre, and form an opinion during these discussions. Whether this is with your neighbour or the cashier packing your bags at Sainsbury’s, you must become adept in striking and engaging in conversation with people you are not used to interacting with, and perhaps even debating the topic. This is relevant because lawyers are always talking to new clients. Therefore, the recruiter must be confident in your ability to form client relationships and generate repeat business.

Emotion in law: coping mechanisms

I wanted to end on a positive note, as I am aware that the word rejection has already been used 12 times in this article! Sometimes, the journey to a career in law brings great emotional strain on candidates. At no point do I want readers to feel like I am saying, “just get over it”. What I do think is important, however, is knowing when to park your emotion. Emotion surely has its place in law; we must be sensitive to our client’s needs and be able to understand their position in order to give the best advice. But before we become that empathetic adviser, we must submit many applications over a short burst of deadline dates. The multitude of ‘Nos’ over ‘Yes’s’ we receive will inevitably take its toll over time. To combat this, my own coping mechanism consists of refraining from becoming too emotionally invested in the outcome of the initial application phase, until it progresses further. Do not confuse this with the effort that you put into writing an application for a firm that you are eager to join. Manage your perception of rejections at the beginning and allow the weight and strain of each application to be lifted from your shoulders from now on, each time you press ‘send’.