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Davide de Paolis
Davide de Paolis

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How to deal with rejections and failures

Unfortunately, we have decided not to move forward with your application at this time


It doesn´t matter how many years you have been working, it does not matter if it was the job application of your dreams or just something you gave a go prompted by a pushy recruiter, when you check your email or answer the phone and receiving such a message, it is never nice.

How do you deal with it?


I was prompt by this post

Ensuring tech blogs don’t become the Instagram for Coders where we portray everything in our coding lives as perfect…

and I decided to share this because we should never be afraid to show and share our failures, setbacks & rejections.

In fact, everyone on the internet is bragging about Learning from Failures, but then it is very hard to read anything about failures and rejections. Everyone seems so successful and shares only what they achieved, what they accomplished - maybe after some struggles, but at least in the end they all seem to make it!

The truth is that lots of people fail, all the time, but of course, it's not good to post about it. We don't want to be seen as whining losers, it's not good for our personal brand!
Well, of course, we don't want our blog/resume to be a collection of rants and sad stories, but we should not be ashamed of what we did wrong, as long as we learned a lot out of it!

So, what happened? What did I learn?

Currently, I am very happy in my current position and I stopped long ago wasting my time answering recruiters that contact me on Linkedin. A few weeks ago I was contacted by the CTO of a company in Canada offering a position as Engineering Manager.

That triggered my curiosity, the position would be the natural next step in my career, the company was quite interesting and well... after I moved from Italy to Hamburg I don´t see any place in the world where I would move besides British Columbia or New Zealand.

After a first interview / introductory chat of about 1 hour with the CTO, I got an appointment for the technical interview with him and the current engineering manager.

Needless to say, I was super excited. The excitement though didn´t last long.

In the past I prepared a lot for technical interviews as an engineer - algos and code challenges, but I did not really know what to expect in a Technical Interview for Engineering Managers.
Then I was asked to design the architecture of a Leaderboard feature for a multiplayer game
literally no idea

When I was asked to draw the system design on an online tool while sharing my screen I started to feel a bit uncomfortable.

I normally do architecture designs, I do them by sketches on paper, on the whiteboard, during meetings or when it is time to share them with devs or stakeholder, I prepare them nicely with some tool but there, under pressure, thinking on my feet about features I have no experiences with at all, trying to explain my ideas, while drawing on my shared screen and not seeing the interviewers anymore it's a different story...


What in my daily job looks clear solid and professional, during the interview looked like a drawing of a 4 year old kid.
The interviewers were very cool and helpful, and we somehow reached the end of the interview.
The very next day though, I received an email from them, and, still ashamed for my poor performance, I opened it and read with little to no surprise:

Unfortunately, we have decided not to move forward with your application at this time

I might say I wasn't looking for a change, that I just received an offer and give it a chance.
I might convince myself that I wasn't sure anyway about the tech stack used there, that eventually I didn´t want to switch programming languages again after all the time and effort invested in learning Node, React and AWS.
I might tell myself that it is a relief that I won´t have to eradicate my wife and kids again from their life and take the grandparents their nephews more away than they are now.

All this is true, but the reality is that a failure, a rejection burns.


Of course, exactly for all the reasons above, the burn lasted less than a couple of days, during which though I had time to think about my future, the future of my job and that of my family. What do I really want? What would be the next level?
And of course, I realize I really have to study a lot and consolidate what I know, if I want to go farther and higher.

The poor performance in the sistem design interview prompted me to watch lots of videos about system design, to learn new concepts and gave me some more motivation to bring on the commitment to finish the AWS Solutions Architect course, hopefully, I will manage to get the certification after the second lockdown...

Quotes to the rescue

Besides all this, whenever I am facing a rejection or a failure I go back to some of my favorite quotes:

I also feared boredom and mediocrity much more than I feared failure.

“I also feared boredom and mediocrity much more than I feared failure.” ― Ray Dalio

This quote helps me to remind myself that if I faced a rejection it was because I put myself first out of my comfort zone.
I decided to take a challenge, to expose myself to some risks in order to grasp some new opportunities. Failure is part of the process, it might go well, it might not. If you fail, (most of the time) nothing really changes from your previous situation. But even if it does, this brings us to the next quote:

I never lose.   Either I win, or I learn.

I never lose. Either I win, or I learn. (Nelson Mandela)

I love this quote. It starts by sounding almost arrogant. But then you realize the message and its incredible power.

Reframing your mindset is the key.
Defeat, or losing, is only possible when you give up and quit.
If you made a mistake and failed, look for solutions, look for whatever changes you can apply to yourself or your context to be successful next time.
What Good can you find in what happened?

Obstacles: Good!

When things are going bad, there’s going to be some good that will come from it.
Didn’t get promoted? Good… More time to get better.
Didn’t get the job you wanted? Good… Go out, gain more experience, and build a better resume.
That’s it. When things are going bad: Don’t get all bummed out, don’t get started, don’t get frustrated. No. Just look at the issue and say: “Good.”
Get up, dust off, reload, recalibrate, re-engage
From Jocko Willnick Podcast

This does not mean it is easy. It is not. But I always find it helpful to not get stuck in self-pity.

Hope it helps

be positive

Photo by Sydney Sims on Unsplash

Top comments (3)

drajkumarsapkota profile image

When I read your post I felt that your are talk about my feeling, as I have been through this situation many times in recent days. I'm not applying for Engineering Manager, but as software developer role. When we get rejected we feel demotivated, ashamed for not making through the interview. But I like one thing in your post is that you even got rescue quotes which is good, as we should be the one who should take measures to revive our courage to face next similar kind of situation in a much prepared way.

dvddpl profile image
Davide de Paolis

hiring process nowadays - especially for devs (there is a lot of competition and standards got higher and higher) - is quite tough. it's normal to be sad but don't beat yourself down. never be ashamed. maybe ask for a feedback from the recruiter/interviewer ( they tend to generally not answer or be very vague, but sometime they also provide with some valuable feedback, you never know) and try to improve what you felt went wrong. dont give up. wish you luck

phongduong profile image
Phong Duong

Every experience gives us a lesson. Whether you succeed or fail, you still gain something. Thank you for your post. I really like your stories

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