3 Ways to Handle Rejection as a Data Professional

How we learn to handle rejection in the job search can be transformative for our professional careers. Guest contributor Scott DeGeest breaks it down as a data professional.

Handle rejection like a data professional

As we start up our data science careers and begin hunting for jobs, we often discover the need to master rejection.

And, although this post focuses specifically upon rejection during the job search, many of those lessons apply to later stages of professional growth, too.

After all, if we handle rejection well, we’re better positioned to develop the persistence necessary to succeed in work and life. Or, in the words of RuPaul, “Failure allows you to find the places you had no idea existed.”

3 Ways to Handle Rejection

1. Remember: Rejection is often not about you.

Job rejections often have little do with us, actually—especially in the latter rounds of an interview.

Getting rejected from an initial round of an interview is easy. It happens often. If you are applying for competitive positions, it probably should be happening as you work your way to finding the ideal fit.

Getting rejected in the latter rounds hurts more. That said, those rejections often speak less about one's skills set and more about the internal political dynamics of an organization.

Let’s look at it from a systems POV.

Most companies lack an effective system to hire people, which leads to both false positives (e.g., an employee with 3 years of data science experience who learned little on the job) and false negatives (e.g., an employee with less than a year of experience who studied in the evenings and learned a ton).

As a data professional, you know about these classification concepts. The concept I focus on here is recall, which is the ratio of true positives to the sum of true positives and false negatives.

Companies rarely strive to identify all true positives. Really, most have systems designed to get just enough positives (true and false!) to meet a benchmark, then they stop. Such a process leads to lots of false negatives and consequent low recall.

The conceptual takeaway here is that organizations constantly miss qualified candidates due to their own processes, and it's not on you to blame yourself for their inability to hire well.

Key Takeaway A

Always practice and prepare for interviews, recognizing that the only levers an applicant controls in the applicant process are:

  • The number of applications you send in
  • The quality of the application materials sent

Key Takeaway B

If you’re confident that you were prepared for the interview and meet the qualification minimums, squarely place that rejection decision as a shortcoming in an organization’s leaky hiring process, not your lack of skill.

This belief will help you sleep better and manage the job-seeking process.

Agility — combined with emotional intelligence and authenticity — can be key to transforming professional obstacles into opportunities, as research published in the Harvard Business Report revealed.

2. Use a two-step reaction. First, acknowledge uncomfortable feelings. Second, focus on reframing.

Rejections hurt because they evoke disappointment.  

For example, a few weeks ago I put in a bid to do some data science contract work. Although I did not get a formal rejection, I learned through social media that someone else won the contract.

There are lots of reasons I may have been rejected. For example:

  • My price may have been too high.
  • My skill set may have been a poor fit.
  • They may have just liked or connected with someone else more.

I spent about 24 hours letting myself be bummed about it. I gave myself some time to feel and process my negative emotions: “I worked hard! I am very good! HOW DARE THEY!”

Once I was done with those feelings, I knew I would rather spend my time reframing my experience in a productive way. I asked myself a few questions:

"What did I learn about myself from completing this application process?"

  • Did I learn that I do not really want to work in this industry or role after learning more about it?
  • Did I learn more about a company and its hiring practices that will inform me about how I want companies to engage with me in the future?

"What work product did I produce from this application that I can reuse?"

  • Did I write essays or answers to STAR questions I can reuse in future applications?
  • Did I revamp my resume in a way where I found a really good way to talk about a work experience I had not before?
  • Did I build a project, deck, or other proposal that I can use going forward in a portfolio?

"What new information and resources do I have that can help me do better in my career going forward?"

  • Who did I meet in doing my company research that I can follow up with to build a professional connection?
  • What feedback did I get from my peers, recruiters, or the hiring manager about my application materials that I can use to hone my process?

Key Takeaway

Feeling bad is sometimes part of the process. Let yourself feel bad, then move toward positive reframing when you are ready.

3. Use your rejection and failure to increase your capacity to deal with frustration.

Rejection is a hard mental experience to process.

As such, reflecting on how you experience it gives you an opportunity to master how you respond to professional setbacks. To excel, you need effective emotional regulation tactics for processing these feelings.

Some options for regulation you can try:  

  • What happens when you do some freeform writing as you experience rejection? Where do you find your mind going? Identifying what negative emotions rejection triggers is valuable. We cannot be the master of our emotions until we learn to name them and give them their due.

Create your rejection catalog — a set of stories about people you admire getting rejected and failing — to remind you that greatness getting rejected is part of the process.

  • Figure out a way to make the following statement real for you: “All you need are a couple of successes in a sea full of rejections to make it to the next level.”

Key Takeaway 

Set up a process for yourself to work through your feelings of rejection and failure.

Final Thoughts on How to Handle Rejection

Learning to handle rejection may be uncomfortable, but it need not overwhelm you. With the right perspective on the situation, it can help you grow and develop as a data professional.

Another factor that can make a difference, especially for people from groups historically underrepresented in the data field? Developing relationships with professional mentors who recognize your talent.

According to the aforementioned HBR story, having someone in your field to discuss the challenges of entering and succeeding in one’s chosen profession can go a long way to fostering success.

Fortunately, for Fellows and Alumni of Correlation One’s DS4A data training programs, mentoring is baked right into the talent development process.

And if you’re an accomplished data professional who would like to help develop rising talent? Then visit our Enterprises page to learn how we help companies like yours do just that.


Guest contributor Scott DeGeest, MBA, Ph.D. is a Community Advocate for Correlation One’s DS4A program. He also works as a Lead Computational Social Scientist with Interos, a tech company specializing in AI-powered supply chain risk management.

Scott would like to acknowledge William Johnson, Omolola Akinsehwina, and Keanu Renne-Glover for their constructive feedback on earlier drafts of this post.


Publish date: March 31, 2022