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Career Insights: Rejection, or Retrospection? The Blessing We Fear

In our latest Career Insights blog, YAIA’s Careers Officer Bayan Yazdani shares his experiences of rejection, and how they can help us find our path – and perhaps something even better.

Rejection is never easy, and in the field of international affairs, it is never rare either. For essentially all of us, rejection is something we will inevitably face in our pursuit to where we want to be – but that certainly doesn’t mean it isn’t difficult. Rejection sucks – there is no undermining it. It is a bitter pill to swallow, and it is upsetting and discouraging. Yet, at the same time, rejection provides us with an opportunity to grow and to reflect. It clarifies our vision and the direction we’re steering ourselves towards. It can often serve as a blessing in disguise, and when one door closes – many others open.

Seeking an Internationally Focused Career: Our Post-Pandemic Reality

For so many of us graduating and applying for roles amid the worst pandemic and economic shock in decades, particularly in disciplines related to international affairs and seeking work and opportunities in the same field, rejection is not just an abstract, hypothetical worst-case scenario; it’s something we’ve experienced and felt firsthand, often on multiple occasions, and whether we like to admit it or not, it’s affected us. Even before COVID-19, the field of international relations was already incredibly competitive – and this has now only intensified. Simultaneously, the pandemic has exemplified the importance of working together and viewing humanity’s common challenges across political and geographical boundaries. This has inevitably led to a heightened interest in the events of countries thousands of kilometres away. Moreover, crises like climate change and the decline of democracy are accentuating the importance of diplomacy, in all its forms, now more than ever. For some, this has sparked a new interest in a field with which many of us have been long engaged – and this has manifested itself in increased competition for relevant opportunities.

How do I know this? I've seen it firsthand. 2020 was a year of great success and failure for me – but that’s not my point. It was a year of great learning, of discovering what I am truly aspiring for and realising my worth and potential without becoming disheartened or setting unnecessarily unrealistic standards for myself. Yet more importantly, it was humbling. Despite my own share of notable achievements given my age, 2020 reminded me that there are so many outstanding candidates out there applying for the same things I have set my hopes on, and who are indeed equally as, if not more, deserving of such opportunities as I am.

Reflections From my Own Journey of Resilience in International Affairs

Even volunteering roles in international affairs are competitive, yet often we need to accumulate them to be considered for paid roles – that’s just the reality of this highly competitive field. When I applied for the YAIA Careers Officer position, it was my third attempt at joining YAIA. I had attended its in-person and online events and really admired its diligent work and genuine passion for helping Australian youth better engage in international affairs. I had convinced myself it would be my last time applying to join the team, as I was sick of being rejected even for volunteering roles. I wasn’t expecting much, but a few weeks after the deadline I had an interview. Tony, our People and Culture Director, remembered my past applications and decided to give me a shot this time round because he could sense my keen passion for the organisation. Looking back on my first application in 2018, I had come a long way – I wouldn’t have chosen me either. Now, I regularly update the YAIA Jobs, Internships and Opportunities (JIO) Board to share careers and roles with our network – some of which I apply for myself.

In the year just passed, I applied for the notoriously competitive DFAT policy graduate program. Like most other international relations students, living in Canberra and training in preparation to represent my country overseas is something I have long dreamed of. Still being in my final year of undergraduate studies, I knew the odds of being selected were incredibly low – but I thought I would give it a shot to see if I would be “competitive” without necessarily expecting to get far. After several shortlisting stages including an initial application addressing the selection criteria and highlighting my skills and qualifications, a one-way video interview and psychometric testing, I had, to my surprise, reached the final stage of the recruitment process after a couple of months of “culling” (as its often referred to). From over 2,150 applicants, I was one of 70-80 finalists from across Australia. The final stage was the most daunting. It included a written task, group assessment and final individual interview – all online for the first time in the graduate program’s history, as far as I’m aware. I also had to complete an initial pack for a security clearance. All up, these tasks took hours and hours, and I gave them my everything. I started to think in zero-sum terms and tell myself that this was it, it was now or never. Joining DFAT was my dream. I had placed my sense of self-worth on this.

Yet, several months later, I opened my email after weeks of anxiously waiting only to find I had been rejected and, like several other government departments, DFAT has a policy of providing no individualised feedback. To say I was disappointed, confused, upset, and disheartened would not be doing how I felt justice. I felt almost deceived. I devoted so much time and energy to such a lengthy, difficult and competitive process only to receive no feedback specific to my personal performance to identify what I did 'wrong'. But if my other degree in Psychology had taught me anything, it was how to avoid falling into a trap of negative thinking. Over time and through focusing on developing my skills and engaging in other opportunities, I came to accept this decision and even feel grateful that things turned out the way they did. In hindsight, I wasn’t ready for the permanent move to Canberra, and I didn’t want to end my academic life without postgraduate study. I learnt a lot from the process, and gained the experience of going through a comprehensive graduate recruitment round (perhaps one of Australia’s most competitive). I got to speak to some career diplomats and share with them some of my exciting achievements, while gaining insight into the inner workings of their employer, which was pretty awesome.

And that’s all I needed to do: I needed to change my perspective on the outcome. Instead of viewing it as a ‘rejection’, with all the baggage that word carries, I needed to view it as an achievement in itself to have made it that far. Most graduates in DFAT and other competitive departments and companies – especially those with an international focus – don’t get in on their first attempt. For some, it takes years. Even some of Australia’s ambassadors worked in other departments before making the move over because they did not make it straightaway. I realised that out of over 2,150 applicants, I had made it to the top 3-4% on my first attempt – and that in itself was admirable. If anyone else had done that, I would be praising and congratulating them – why couldn’t I do so for myself? But, it in fact made me realise something even deeper: my true intention. I had applied for the role because I wanted to ‘prove’ to myself I could do it, or that I’m competitive, and in the process I realised maybe that’s not even the only place I want to end up. Perhaps it was exactly this that, despite my meticulous preparation, was identified by the panelists and ultimately led to my rejection.

Going Global: Embracing the Plentiful Opportunities International Affairs Offers

International affairs is such a diverse field, and while I love everything international – I only now recognise that there are so many different ways to embrace it. Researching different roles for the JIO board has helped me appreciate the crazily diverse world this field encompasses: NGOs, environmental not-for-profits, humanitarian aid and international development groups, strategic think tanks, policy centres, academia and research, university mobility departments, intelligence agencies and other government departments – there are so many different careers out there relevant to international affairs, and that’s not to mention the deeply fulfilling and rewarding volunteering roles one can engage in with dynamic youth-led organisations like the Australia-China Youth Association, Australia-Indonesia Youth Association, Australia-Japan Youth Dialogue, ASEAN-Australia Strategic Youth Partnership, Oaktree, UN Youth Australia, Young Diplomats Society and many more! As 2021 progresses and we witness global political structures, even those of longstanding superpowers, seemingly disintegrate from within, a new form of diplomacy is gaining ground and increasingly demonstrating its importance: youth dialogue. Genuine people-to-people connections are a portal to greater intercultural understanding and, ultimately, peace and mutual prosperity – and this is what I have embraced since the rejection. Perhaps the exigency of this ‘second-track’ diplomacy wouldn’t have been as obvious to me if I hadn’t been turned away from the traditional first track.

The Bigger Picture

So, in short, we need to steer away from viewing missing out on a role or position as a crippling rejection, but rather view it as an opportunity for learning and growth. A retrospection – a reset to reimagine our priorities in life, our higher purpose for inhabiting the Earth, and the countless possibilities our keen interest in the world and its citizens opens up for us. We should be proud of how far we make it, and remember the many, many others who feel the same disappointment we do, while not letting that stop us from appreciating the diversity of opportunity out there and striving for ever greater heights.


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