Was it Something I Said? – – Job Rejection at a “Certain Age”

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Rejection? Does it get easier to handle when you are older?

Rejection is something to learn from, I would tell my kids when one didn’t get the part he wanted in a school play or the other was not invited to a sleep-over.

You learn that “life is unfair” (my Dad’s favorite phrase) or “when one door closes, another opens” (my Mom’s more optimistic approach) or “don’t take it personally” (my husband’s soothing words of choice.)

I kept these phrases in mind when I opened my email last Friday to read:

Thank you for your time on Wednesday. There were a number of applicants for this opening. (Name of employer) regrets that we are unable to offer you the position of (job title) at this time. We wish you the best in your future endeavors.”


A friend told me a few weeks ago that a well-regarded, college planning company was looking to fill a part-time, seasonal position. I’m not looking for a job, I told her. But this ad, for a college essay specialist, has your name on it, Nancy, my friend insisted. You have the qualifications, you should apply. So I did.

To prep for my interview, I studied the Common Application college essay prompts for next Fall’s admission season. High school seniors using the Common App will write an essay, up to 650 words, on one of five topics. Here’s Topic #2:


 “The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success.

Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?”

How ironic is it that when I applied for a position to assist high school students in brainstorming, writing (their words, not mine!) and editing their essays that I was the one to experience failure?

It could have been something I said or didn’t say. Perhaps it was how I looked? Was I over-qualified? Under-qualified? Not a good fit?

I don’t know why I wasn’t chosen but I can, in up to 650 words, write about it.

1. “Recount an incident when you experienced failure.”

The last time I had a job interview was 23 years ago. Last week my interviewers were a great deal younger and there were two of them in one room. One sat directly in front of me, the other to my left, requiring a great deal of head swiveling. Thought I did well on that. One seemed friendlier, one a bit cooler. I answered their questions, perhaps too candidly, as is my nature. And then to a separate room to take a written test. I like tests, thought that part went well, too.

But I admit, as I left their building, I did not have that warm fuzzy (they liked me! they really liked me!) feeling.  I wrote a nice thank you note. Waited a day. Then the “regrets” email came.

2. “How did it affect me?”

I was surprised, not shocked, but I was upset. Got that pit in the stomach sick feeling. I called my husband who told me not to “take it personally.” Completely unhelpful advice. (Apologies here to my kids for ever saying that to you.) OF COURSE,  I TOOK IT PERSONALLY. They rejected me. That is about as personal as it gets. We do not want you. You may think you were right for the job. We don’t agree. Guess who wins.

I emailed a few friends who were rooting for me. More reassurance; I started to calm down. My stomach returned to its normal state (hunger.) It was late afternoon; I still had research to do for an article I’m writing on college mental health and revisions to make to an agreement I’m drafting for a non-profit board.

Rejection affected me – but not for long. Move on, things to do, next project, please.

3. “What did I learn from the experience?”

I don’t think I learned anything new. When I was younger, I tasted failure often enough. This time, even though I bounced back more quickly, failure had that same bitter taste.

In my 3rd year of law school, when I was hunting for my first job, I had a series of interviews at a small DC law firm that I really wanted to join. I eagerly waited to hear from them. Email had yet to be invented so it was a letter in the mail that gave me the bad news resulting in that same pit in my stomach sick feeling.

The next day I called one of the lawyers at the firm, an older partner who I seemed to connect with during our 20 minute interview, and asked him why I didn’t get the job. He was surprisingly candid. He told me  – “We all thought you had spunk, but your grades didn’t measure up.”

True. My college and grad school grades had been excellent, but my law school grades were less than stellar. And it was also true that I had spunk. Still do.

Yes, being older brings perspective, resilience, maybe even a bit of wisdom. But no getting past it, failure still hurts whatever your age.

What then did I learn from my recent brush with the world of employment?

That sometimes spunk isn’t enough, that your qualifications can get you in the door but now, as then, sometimes life is unfair (you’re right, Dad.) But when one door closes, another door opens. (you were right, Mom.) I’m going to walk through that open door now.


Filed under Aging, Baby Boomers, Careers, College, Law firm life, Lawyers, Midlife, Parenting, Second Careers, Women, Women in the Workplace, Writing

25 responses to “Was it Something I Said? – – Job Rejection at a “Certain Age”

  1. Wise and wonderful! (and true for me, too!)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Alan Freisleben

    Loved this post. Your mom was right.



  3. Meh, let it go. That’s one of the benefits of reaching a “certain age” — the ability to shrug it off. Life’s short to fret over other people’s opinions of you. All that counts is that your friends and family think you’re great.


  4. I’m finding failure–or fear of failure–is an even bigger problem as I get older. Maybe because options are closing down [not as many doors opening]. Maybe I don’t have the same resiliency for life’s unfairness. I keep reminding myself not to let that fear immobilize me. Congrats to you for trying that new door, even if it didn’t quite open all the way.


    • Thanks, Penny – I think I “put myself out there” without really thinking it through. But I think that doors are still opening as we get older, we just have to push them a lot harder…


  5. Sorry rejection hurts no matter what it is. I’ve had that happen to me recently. Someone emailed me with an awesome opportunity to meet one of my idols and I answered even though I was up to my eyeballs in babies and mom. Now I wonder did I rush to answer, did I say something wrong I don’t know but I’ve never heard a word back even though I keep looking for it. It broke my heart but all you can do is move on.


  6. Yes rejection hurts at any age but with more life experience we all realize it is not the end all. “It wasn’t meant to be” is an expression I hear a lot but don’t care for it because in my mind it diminishes the prep work going into an interview. I like your Mom’s and Dad’s and the irony!


    • Haralee – your comment made me think that my Mom (who died when I was 28) also was fond of saying “it wasn’t meant to be” – I didn’t care for it either but I know if was well-intentioned.



  7. No doubt about it – rejection hurts at any age. You should be an essay consultant on your own! That is the one part of the college app process kids need the most help with and many cannot afford to pay the fee that some of these college consulting firms charge for a whole planning package.


    • Dear “Queen of my kitchen”,

      you are the third person to suggest I do my own essay consulting in the summer and fall for high school kids. I may just do that! thank you! Nancy


  8. Passion got your son a job, patience will bring you the rewards of not worrying about it (as if possible for you ;)). I have complete faith that you are too overqualified for most jobs on earth.

    Tell that partner you did terribly in law school because GW law was a terrible anti-semitic environment and that you will, and did, become a better lawyer than he will ever be.

    It doesn’t matter how many times we fall down, it matters that each time we pick ourselves up again. I learned that at the Menninger Clinic.

    Efforts seemingly made in vain carry a weight beyond measure sometimes.

    Listen to your heart!

    Much love,
    Karmic Death


    • Agree with most of your comments except that GW Law School was hardly an anti-Semitic place! No anti-Semitism at all there, not sure where you picked that up so correcting it for the record – and I did not do terribly in law school, I had a B+ average but for law school, that is not stellar.



  9. Such a great perspective! Thank you.
    So true: rejection is tough at any age (and maybe even harder as we get older?) Recently my 13-year-old son and I received a rejection on the same day. His from a high school he applied to for next year, mine from the Listen To Your Mother Show. I so appreciated that these happen in tandem – he didn’t appear terribly upset, but my own rejection certainly gave me welcome insight into how he probably was feeling and not showing.
    Keep walking those open doors, Nancy!


    • Aaaah, Nicki, rejection never gets easier. And to quote another frequently-heard-at-home platitude, their loss, your gain applicable to both you and your son. Although I admit I never really understood what the “your gain” part really meant.



  10. I *love* the idea of you doing essay consulting I think what you are encountering is ageism… I’m in the same boat. Can’t prove it, but it’s definitely there. A friend of mine, in NY, went through a college counseling certification program from UC Irvine, which might be another option if you decide to go down this path. 🙂


    • Thank you so much, Hilary, I do know about that UC program online. But I am thinking about striking out on my own as a college essay consultant. I loved working with the high school juniors and seniors (their parents not so much.:)

      And ageism, so right, and so elusive too!



  11. Ooops, forgot to say that the UC Irvine program was online–she didn’t have to move to California!


  12. You would be an excellent essay consultant, but would be nicer to do on your own than be stuck with only essays coming from college seniors. Maybe that is ageist of ME. 😉


    • Hardly ageist of you, Nina! 🙂 I am thinking of striking out on my own. I admitted to the interviewers that I liked working with the high school juniors and seniors very much, but did not feel similarly about their parents. So perhaps it was something I said!!



  13. In any interview, cocktail party conversation, date, you don’t necessarily hear what the other person means. They may be looking for someone hip to connect with teenagers, or someone less opinionated to encourage the kids to express themselves. When a fellow on the street recently referred to me as Grandma, I realized I don’t look like the person I really am, a with-it, outspoken, well-read writer. Most people are looking for Donna Tartt in hip boots and gobs of black mascara or Michael Chabon in a tight T and tighter jeans.
    So … even though you may BE the best person for the job, you have to use the opportunity to do something else you want to do, write the next blog entry, stroll your grandson to the park, write a scathing review of The Goldfinch and tell it like it is.
    Young people are VERY judgemental. They don’t like change and they don’t yet know that people who have lived 40-plus more years than they have are much more likely to understand how the world works. That’s why they need that degree, and why you already have one (or three as it may be).


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