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I keep getting rejected – should I give up?

Simon Gray advises a qualified accountant who keeps getting overlooked for finance manager roles and now feels like giving up.

11th Nov 2020
Founder Career Codex
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A picture of a rejected interviewee

An anonymous AccountingWEB reader recently took to Any Answers to ask if anyone else ever feels like giving up. The qualified accountant has been “stuck doing senior accountant roles” for a while but keeps getting “rejected and overlooked with hardly no feedback, other than ‘you interviewed well’.”

“I see junior inexperienced staff across the profession taking these roles, even financial controller level! Some of them don't even know how to prepare a set of accounts! Like, are you for real,” said the user.

They now feel like giving up with the profession all together and resigning from the ACCA. “When will somebody give me a chance? What is it that these people have over me? I just don't understand.”

The AccountingWEB community encouraged the user to “stick at it”.

“You'll land a position eventually,” said the drookit dug, advising the anonymous poster to make sure they sell themself in interviews. “Really big yourself up. Heaven knows everybody else does.”

Others advised the downtrodden senior accountant to upskill. “Just because you have passed your exams you do not stop learning, you just now have the choice about how you develop your career,” said OldParkAcct.

Meanwhile, Tom123 instructed the user to hold tight during these uncertain Covid times: “Things are tough at the moment, so probably not the best time to try and move if you have over two years’ service in your current role.”


In the workplace and in life, I’m sorry to say that rejection is just an inevitable part of the process. As a former recruiter and adviser to executive jobseekers on how to navigate the job market successfully, the draining effect of rejection is something I’m used to discussing.

Rejection takes numerous forms and for many is an unwelcome companion through the journey of life. It manifests at school, in relationships and, most definitely, in the workplace. The latter crops up in many ways, including being passed up for promotion by a current employer or not being shortlisted for an interview in the external job market.

Rejection will always be there, because we have little control over the perceptions and decisions of others. Blaming your employer or the condition of the job market passes the buck and reinforces the disempowering belief that there’s nothing you can do.

What’s the point – it’s time to give up – what’s wrong with me? If left unchecked, these thoughts could bombard your subconscious and become your self-talk companion during your waking hours, not to mention while you’re trying to get to sleep at night. Take care – these thoughts are damaging, debilitating and unhelpful to your pursuit of progression.

Nana korobi ya oki

In my experience, anything worth having has to be worked at. It’s easy to give up too early. While living, working and training in the martial arts in Tokyo, Japan, I happened upon a proverb that plays centre stage to how I choose to approach life.

Nana korobi ya oki  – fall down seven time, get up eight. There’s no better advice. You’ll get knocked down, but you always have the option to get back up!

Nothing is certain in life and a ‘certainty mindset’ will leave even the most positive of people feeling a little despondent at times. A certainty mindset goes something like this – if I do something, I expect to get this. Whatever you do, you won’t always get the outcome you want. A ‘probability mindset’ is a much better option and presents itself in this way – if I do something ten times, it’s likely that I’ll have success three times out of ten.

Using the job interview as a useful analogy – there are two approaches:

Approach 1 – The candidate who interviews once gets rejected with minimal feedback and subsequently gives up (certainty mindset).

Approach 2 – The candidate who interviews once gets rejected and doesn’t let it phase them. They see rejection as a learning opportunity and one step on the road to a successful outcome – they keep going (probability mindset).

A quote I find helpful is from Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson. The history books quote him as saying: ‘Perseverance in any profession will most probably meet its reward.’ In my opinion he was right.

A different path?

On the flip side, you have to know when it’s time to pick a different path. The catalyst to any decision to change course, though, should not be a reaction to a negative situation, but instead have at its root a proactive decision to make a change.

As human beings we make decisions all the time instinctively. On the one hand this is good news – it gets us out of trouble when there’s no time to think. On the other hand, when it comes to important life decisions, the knee-jerk reaction often requires some tempering. While it’s helpful to have many of our decisions made automatically by our subconscious minds, for the big ones, taking the time to process them in our conscious minds is best advice.

Stay focused, keep going and success could be just around the corner!

For more thoughts on this subject, I wrote a book at the start of this year about my time in Japan: Suck It Up Or Go Home – A True Story About The Courage To Stand Up, Keep Going And Never Give In! .

Business Watch with Simon Gray

Replies (12)

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By RuthFraser
12th Nov 2020 10:36

I think what is important here is that just because you can competently prepare a set of accounts and/or are a qualified accountant, it does not make you an ideal candidate for a Finance Manager position. I qualified in the nineties and after a brief stint in Central Government Audit (a necessary stepping stone), I quickly moved into industry. I was always well aware that the Audit Practice route was never for me as I have a different skillset entirely and I think that is what is key here.
Throughout my 20 year career, I have worked with a wide variety of finance professionals and some that I see struggle are the ones that have tried to move from practice and do not have the additional skills to really get behind the numbers. They know the what the answers should be on the TB, but not necessarily the best way to go about practically getting there in a 'live' environment. I come from a family of business owners, I even run my own business separately from my day job and I believe that Finance Manager is so much more than a number cruncher. I am now Head of Finance for an SME in the Waste Management Industry and the key skills that I have found to have helped me are being able to translate and communicate the numbers to the rest of the business. I really immerse myself in the business to align service delivery with the financial performance. I set meaningful KPIs that Operations understand and this enables the business to be agile and responsive in changing times - the current pandemic being the perfect example.
I would say to this person that it is not simply a case of 'keep trying' as there are likely to be key attributes that are not coming across at interview. Upskilling is the best option and perhaps getting the opportunity to be mentored by someone in that position so that they can pick up the qualities necessary for the desired role.

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By Mikesch
12th Nov 2020 11:16

So many thinks play a part in one's career. I used to be a contracts manager but after having children nobody wanted to take me on part-time. Always made it to the last three in interviews, always got glowing feedback, never made the final cut though. It was time to stop flogging the dead horse. I decided to switch professions. I am now a AAT level 3 bookkeeper, self-employed, very busy and I am the one doing the rejecting. It was hard work as I am in my fifties but it was worth it.
If you cannot progress in a particular direction in your career, stop, take stock and adjust. Check-Plan-Do, weren't those buzz words in the nineties? If you continuously get overlooked for promotion while more junior staff moves ahead, then it might be time to make changes: upskill, move to another employer, whatever you do, don't give up.

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By ColA
12th Nov 2020 11:25

Perseverance & a bulleted CV work wonders, with an honest, brief personal summary. It is important to read what the recruiting client actually needs.
Personal chemistry comes into it, particularly at the interview stage.
I speak as one who in 54 years had over 20 roles, some extending to 13+ years, with others as short as 3 weeks, retiring at 71, now with 50 years’ membership of ICAE&W.

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By Self-Employed and Happy
12th Nov 2020 11:47

I started AAT aged 26 after work (sales job) at a college , I found it impossible to get a job in practice as I had zero experience and I would cost more than an apprenticeship wage.

I then switched focus to Corporate Finance and got a job there (huge expected pay cut from Sales), finished AAT and then started paying for ACCA classes myself during the weekend.

I spent 4 years working up the ladder in the Corporate Finance job (management accounting) before I then again started applying for jobs in practice (at this stage I was only 20% through ACCA), took another pay cut after previously working my way up to take a job at a small practice covering maternity for one year.

FINALLY, that then opened the door and after a year of absorbing as much as possible when the year maternity cover was up and I indicated I wanted to leave I got many interviews and offers and finished my ACCA (again paying for it myself) within a year and a bit of leaving.

Just because you have a qualification it doesn't mean you SHOULD enter at a particular level, often you need to lower your aim to get a foot in the door, the rest is then up to you.

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By [email protected]
12th Nov 2020 12:28

I have been made redundant twice as finance manager, once after 6 years and once after 12 years. On Both occasions others were also made redundant at the same time and on both occasions it was not because of the financial situation, but because our faces didn't fit following the appointment of a new CEO.

Never again will I ever take on the Finance Manager's job. I now have control over my life with a growing accountancy practice of about 150 clients which I have built up myself through contacts and very little marketing. Far more satisfying, then anything I ever got out of being a Finance Manager.

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By Nina_Guinness
12th Nov 2020 12:48

The article is nice, good advice on persevering and dealing with rejection. I’d like to hear more about the costs of having a ‘never give up’ mentality. The skills to judge when to change course and how to remain positive while you do it. (Is falling down 8 times the magic number?)

If for any one job there are more then 3 candidates then there are always more losers out there than winners, more support for them I say!

Watched Michael Sandel talk about his book ‘The tyranny of merit’ yesterday evening. Winners and losers, hubris and humiliation, and the ‘whip me again until I win’ price that the winners (and their children) pay - thats the society we are in, lets be honest.

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Replying to Nina_Guinness:
By AndyC555
13th Nov 2020 16:18

"If for any one job there are more then 3 candidates then there are always more losers out there than winners"

Being pedantic, I think if there are more than 2 candidates for one job then there are more losers than winners.

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Replying to AndyC555:
By Nina_Guinness
13th Nov 2020 16:38

No thats not pedantic, its absolutely right, thanks for that correction - makes the point even better

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12th Nov 2020 14:24

I too am disillusioned with the recruitment market. I gave up full-time work after a 40+ year career, always having worked in different companies. Not really interested in setting up my own business at 60+, but definitely did want to find another role in an SME as the lead finance person, or as a NED (I have been a member of In Touch for a few years now, without any success), having operated at the FD/CFO level for around 30 years. But, the current state of play, where there are very few roles for part-time work at this level, and then there are 200+ applicants for almost every role, makes me wonder if retirement isn't the only option. Trouble is, I know I am likely to turn into a root vegetable if I do! I have decades of experience, in Large Cap. and SMEs, both in the UK and Internationally, as well as charities, but it appears that either the market does not want that, or doesn't want people with my amount of experience, at this level. Ageism is still rife, but dressed up pretty well, so as not to be too obvious!No disrespect to anyone, but I don't want to be a book-keeper and I don't want to be so busy, that I just end up trading one senior level F/T career for another F/T role at much less pay. I fully understand how the other person feels, and no amount of great Chinese proverbs will change that.

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By Nefertiti
12th Nov 2020 17:21

Relax you are just going through what hundreds of thousands of others are suffering at the moment. The majority of our recruitment agencies are cowboys but employers insist on hiring through them, maybe because a lot of them get kickbacks in one form or another. Recruitment agencies are vicious and literally sell human beings as slabs of meat to a prospective buyer. They have no ethics, they utilise many dodgy and unprofessional tactics in the recruitment process and they are famous for advertising non existent jobs just to collect CVs when times are hard (like now).

You will find lots of agencies that will charge you a hefty fee to "Produce a professional CV for you, that will increase your chances hundredfold of getting a job (but not guarantee it ofcourse). Once the money has changed hands your professional CV will go into the dustbin together with the others at the employers who think they are Gods.

All you can do is keep trying and if you keep failing then reduce your trying, after all, it is our corrupt government that has crashed our economy and destroyed millions of small businesses with this false pandemic that was no more than a dangerous flu. So do what millions of others will do, claim unemployment benefit and social security when times are hard. That is what the government has reduced millions of us to, so sit back and enjoy whatever little you can on benefits until the useless people in government decide to revamp the economy after a year or so and then you can get back into the job market on a much lower pay (just like the rest of us).

And you thought this was a western country right? Well think again, we have now become a third world country.

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Replying to Nefertiti:
13th Nov 2020 17:33

I am pretty relaxed about the whole thing. It will either happen or it won't and after a 40-year plus career in business, I am not phased by rejection, and know very well how recruiters work. It does however, frustrate me to see the talent (at all levels, ages, and roles) that must be being wasted by the markets, and I wonder to myself how on earth we can find a different way to do something about it. I also know the current situation has only made the job market harder to succeed in. I am one of the fortunate ones, as I am able to survive the financial rough-and-tumble going on, but I feel for those who are not so fortunate. Let's see what 2021 brings!

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By AndrewV12
13th Nov 2020 09:10

Thinking about it, I estimate we have all had multiple rejections, unless you are very lucky, or have the knack off telling people what they want to hear at interviews, appraisals.......

Most successful people have quite amazing back stories.

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