Writer & Photojournalist

November 15, 2019 (Updated )

My CV was polished. I’d passed the edit test. The interview had gone great. And now I was waiting by my phone, my heart in my mouth, for the editor of a busy international newsroom to call with what I hoped was good news – the “Congratulations! You’re hired!” kind of call.

When you’re on the job-hunt, there’s no better feeling than stumbling on your dream listing. As an aspiring foreign correspondent, I was excited when I saw a major wire service had an opening for a humanitarian reporter in East Africa.

The job ticked all of my boxes, and as I progressed through each stage of the application I felt more and more thrilled. But now, waiting by my phone, I was wavering.

Was I really ready to pack up my life, move to a new continent, and set up a brand new bureau — all by myself? Sure thing! said a voice in my head. You got this! But, quietly, there was another voice, too. And that one wasn’t so sure.

The truth was, I didn’t want to listen to what my gut was telling me. I was deep in the search for a full-time media job, and the prospect of yet another rejection made me wince. I’d got so close to this one — why start questioning it now?

A Long And Lonely Slog

The job hunt can seem endless. (Image Credit: Atharva Tulsi / Unsplash)

My colleagues had warned me that the job-search slog could be long and lonely. When my friend Rowan Walrath started looking for a staff writing position after university, she felt utterly overwhelmed.

“It was quite scary. I was applying for things and hearing absolutely nothing,” she tells me. The few places that did reply offered her a resounding “No thanks.”

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Faced with an endless stream of rejections, it’s easy to imagine that your talents and skills are being mistakenly passed over — or even begin to wonder whether they exist at all.

But job rejections can be crucial for all kinds of reasons. Employers can see things from an insider’s perspective, and sometimes they might even understand our best interests better than we do.

Can you help us do more?

Perhaps you have the right experience for the position, but don’t share the same values as the publication. If you’re a young reporter who’s passionate about covering immigrant rights, would you really enjoy a right-wing tabloid’s grad program?

Or maybe the duties for the job don’t quite match your interests. If you thrive when you’re reporting out in the field, but the editor position you’ve applied for will have you chained to a desk all day, hiring you might just make everyone miserable. Including yourself.

It might all seem quite subtle and nuanced, but these kinds of things can actually make a massive difference.

When Rowan was shortlisted for a reporter position in a city she knew well, it initially seemed like a great fit. She’d lived in the area she’d be covering, and the work felt similar to jobs she’d had before. But there was the catch.

“Even though I was well-versed in what it would require, that was also a downside,” she says. “I was thinking, How am I going to be able to grow in this position? I don’t know if I will.”

She was looking for a challenge, and she wasn’t going to find it there.

But while she was considering her options, an editor at the paper gave her a call. “He basically said to me, I don’t know if you would be happy in this position,” she remembers. “I was very grateful for that level of honesty.”​

Narrow Your Focus – Less Is More

Have the focus of this cat. This cat is great. (Image Credit: Raphael Schaller / Unsplash)

Rowan had great credentials for the job she was shortlisted for. But more often than not, we find ourselves rejected from jobs because we just don’t have the experience we need.

If you’re an eager young upstart, getting turned down from positions can feel like a real blow at the start of your career — as Rebekah Chilvers knows. In 2016, she had just completed an MA in Journalism and held an NCTJ qualification from the University of Sussex. But she was struggling to find a job.

“I hadn’t been hearing anything back or I was just l getting rejections,” she says. “They were mostly positions at nationals that required far more experience than I had.”

When you’re in the midst of applying for jobs, it can be difficult to take a breather and look at the bigger picture. But stepping back to see where your talents might fit and different ways to your end goal really can pay off, as can focusing on putting quality over quantity.

Rebekah narrowed her focus, and sure enough she was shortlisted — and then hired— as a reporter with local paper Lynn News in Norfolk. “The job came up just at the right time, and in the area I grew up in so I knew the patch very well,” she says. “By the time I applied for this job, I was more prepared for the process and knew a bit more of what to expect.”

Just one of Rebekah’s many articles. (Image Credit: Screenshot)

Now a senior reporter with the paper, Rebekah is deeply rooted in her community and has filed hundreds of stories on topics that directly affect local residents.

A recent piece highlighting the four-hour ambulance wait an elderly woman endured after breaking her hip spun into a campaign to track down the man who helped her.

She was also recently seconded to the BBC to work with the organisation’s Shared Data Unit, digging into previously unexamined data to uncover stories of public interest.

Her scoop on a recycling “green tax” rose to the top of the BBC’s most read online stories.

“All in all,” she says, “a local newspaper has been a fantastic place to begin my
career and to get to know the industry.”

Hey! Why Was I Rejected? ?

⬇️ Too little experience: Hold on there, eager beaver. You might be great at this job in a few years, but first you need to hone your skills. Find our where you’re falling behind and spend some time improving those areas. Think about what jobs might lead to the job you want, and think about how to get them.

⬆️ Too much experience: Only the best editors will turn you down for this, but for the most part they’re doing you a favour. Will this job help you grow? Will it offer you new opportunities? Will it give you the experience you need to keep climbing? If not, it could leave you unsatisfied.

✋ Not the right role: You’re a great editor, but this position needs someone who wants to pound the pavement all day. Narrow your search to fit your experience, and, if you’re looking to redirect your career think about how to tell that story and what skills you might need.

? You seem swell, but you’re not quite right for this team: There’s a lot to be said for organisations that share your needs and values. If you’re worried they might think this but they’re wrong, make sure to tailor your application to include specific things they’ve done which have impressed you. Show them you know them!

‘There’s A Lot To Be Said For Starting Small’

Waiting for the phone call can be the worst thing. (Image Credit: CreateHerStock)

There’s a lot to be said for starting small. Offered our dream job too early, we might just crash and burn. Waiting by my phone, I was starting to wonder whether being hired for this ideal position might in fact be the worst thing for my career.

But I didn’t have to worry. When the editor called he told me I’d been pipped to post by another candidate — who had five more years experience. I just wasn’t quite ready.

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But if you’ve found yourself shooting for the stars too early, don’t panic. “I have a motto,” Rowan tells me: “It doesn’t matter. Apply anyway.”

Applying for the jobs that interest you, even if you think they’re way out of your league, can actively help you land a position later on. Interview experience is crucial, even if you blow it. Scrap that – especially if you blow it.

Practicing your answers, and learning what kind of curveballs an editor might throw at you, means you’ll be in
a better position to ace an interview later on.

And, of course, feedback is king. But asking someone in the business to critique your performance when you already know you didn’t do well enough to land the job can be hard.

“There’s no such things as too forward,” Rowan says. If you’ve got somewhere in the interview process, most editors are happy to offer feedback. After each rejection, Rowan sent a polite thank-you email to the editors she’d met and asked “If you’re amenable, I’d also love to hear why I wasn’t the right fit for this role.”

“It is very easy to get slogged down, but you have to move forward,” she says. You never know what’s right around the corner.

How To Turn A Rejection Into A Win ✨

❓Ask for feedback: Yes, editors will expect you to ask, you can send your interviewer an email, or offer to buy them a quick coffee.

? Ask for specifics: What areas do you need to improve? Do your skills match their job description? Are you applying for the right position for your level of experience? The answers to these questions can help you refine your search and improve your chances next time.

?Ask where you might be a better fit: Chances are your interviewer knows a lot of people. Perhaps you’re not right for their newsroom, but you’d be great for another they know of.

? Ask what you did well: Don’t forget you made it this far! Knowing what made your application stand out and what won you points in the interview is a great confidence boost – and a good indicator of what you should keep doing.

A Different Perfect

There are many types of neon perfect signs. (Image Credit: Jonathan Hoxmark)

That was certainly true for Lizzie Roberts. When she was rejected from ITN’s grad scheme at the final application stage, she was bereft.

“I had pinned all my hopes on getting that job and had nothing else lined up,” she remembers. “I felt really stuck in a rut and didn’t know what to do.”

She moved back in with her parents, and worked in a call centre selling life insurance for nine months. At the same time, she saved as much money as she could and applied for more grad jobs and Master’s programmes.

Her tenacity paid off when she was offered a full scholarship to study on the Erasum Mundus Journalism programme, a Master’s degree that lets students study in three counties across two years.

Need some tips on how to make your application actually stand out? Take a look at our guide to what you need to put in your job application.

Without those nine months at the call centre, she says, she wouldn’t have had the funds to study her MA. And if she hadn’t studied for her MA, she wouldn’t have the job she has now, on the Telegraph’s editorial graduate programme.

“Even though I was disappointed when I didn’t get the ITN job, looking back now I know it wasn’t right for me,” she says. “The education I was lucky enough to receive instead has really made me who I am as a journalist.”

“Not everyone can just walk from school to uni to job,” she notes. “It’s ok to work for nine months doing something you may not want to be doing, if it gets you to where you want to be.”

On the phone with the editor who had turned me down from my dream job, I knew he was making the right decision. But it still hurt. I believed in his publication’s mission, and I wanted to be part of it. In coming second, I hoped that I’d proved I was a good fit. I was already planning what I would write in my follow-up email.

But I’d forgotten one last way a job rejection can turn out to be a hidden success. If an editor sees potential, they’ll want to nurture it.

We can’t hire you, the editor said, but we’d like to offer you a temporary reporting position at our London newsroom. This time, I had no doubt about my answer.

Image Credit: Roberto Nikson / Unsplash