Have you tried to break into the investment banking world or the consulting sector without success? Read on for a healthy dose of perspective from Victor Cheng, strategic advisor to Fortune 500 CEO’s, mentor to aspiring consultants worldwide, and McKinsey alum.
I applied to every investment bank on Wall Street not even getting an interview with most, and not getting past round 1 with any of them. This was after spending 2 weeks networking on Wall Street at Lehman, Bear Sterns, Goldman, JP Morgan, etc.
It is very easy to interpret such experiences in a negative way that is ultimately harmful to your self-confidence and esteem. You could conclude you’re not very high caliber. You could conclude you’re not employable (the thought crossed my mind when I kept getting rejected). And if you do so, you risk making an ENORMOUS mistake.
Handling Rejection Constructively
Rather than interpreting rejection as a reflection of your talent, skills or self-worth, it is better to interpret rejection as a reflection of the approach you happen to be taking at this moment in time. I define an approach as a goal combined with a method. So, when you extend this line of reasoning, rejection should be interpreted as
- You are focusing on the wrong goal, or
- You’ve got the right goal, but you are going about it in the wrong way…
and that’s it! …nothing more and nothing less!
It is very easy to over-extrapolate the data from your experience and form overly negative conclusions when you have been rejected. I had friends that did in fact do this, and it ultimately hurt them. Here’s why…When you over-interpret rejection, there’s a tendency for people to reject themselves long before the firms ever get a chance to do so. When this happens, people will give up too early in the recruiting process to avoid future rejection.
The “Learning To Earning Curve” Reality
To further understand why this is problematic, let me introduce you to a concept I call the “Learning to Earning Curve.” (For those of you who follow the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) closely, this is analogous to the BCG Experience Curve.) If you imagine the first half of a standard bell curve, the learning portion of the curve is the one rising to the top. The “Earning Curve” occurs when you reach the top of the “Learning Curve.” The best way to earn big dollars later in your career is to leverage the knowledge you acquired earlier in your career — as opposed to continually learning new things.
From a job search perspective, when you start up the “Learning Curve,” you do not get the offer until you get to the top – to the earning portion of the curve (or what we might call the “Job Offer” portion of the curve in this example). The “Learning Curve” is expensive. You put in a lot of time and energy, and you spend a lot of money (travelling to interviews, taking people to lunch, buying interview clothes, buying prep materials, etc…) climbing the “Learning Curve” and basically you have absolutely nothing to show for it unless you get to the top.
It’s particularly problematic for people who get 80% of the way up the “Learning Curve,” but fail to attain the summit and then quit — the rationale being: “I was not successful getting an offer; therefore it is not possible for me to be successful in X.” Perhaps they should be looking at it this way — “In this particular attempt I was not successful, and it will not be possible for me to be successful getting a job in X using this approach.” Note the distinction between the two rationales. While they are very similar in terms of words, they are dramatically different in meaning and interpretation. So the qualitative analysis to consider is this:
- How much further up the learning curve do I need to get to be successful? and,
- How much more work is it (relative to the benefit) compared with other career options where I might just be starting the “Learning Curve” climb?
My advice to you is the following…
…If you’re having a hard time breaking into an elite, highly competitive industry you should step back from the rejection and analyze your situation. If you got close – got to 2nd round interviews, for example– and are clearly capable of doing the job, you likely made a mistake somewhere in the process. So, if you make a few more attempts (or widen your search radius, beyond, for example, the top 3 firms) you might end up being successful and land your target job. Bottom line? Don’t give up too soon!