How Getting Rejected from My Dream Company Led me to Getting Hired by my Dream Company

Sometimes the old saying "there's plenty of fish in the sea" doesn't make up for the tremendous rift left by a note of rejection from your dream job or company. In these moments when we come closest to reaching our goals, only to have them swept out of grasp at the last minute, it's easy to lose faith in our vision. Don't. As this week's guest shares through her own story, there's more than one road leading to our desired goal. 



          That is the average number of jobs I was applying to each month during my final semester of graduate school at Illinois State University. If job postings were Tinder profiles, I was “swiping right” on each one. Time was running out before I was expected to enter the ever avoided “real world”, and I had no clue what I was doing. Approaching May, there was hope in the distance in knowing the treacherous classwork of my post-graduate life was coming to an end; yet for me the treachery was a place of comfort, being a student was all I’d ever known.

          If you think about it, we are scuttled into a classroom at age five, wide-eyed and curious. For some people they remain cocooned in school for the next seventeen to twenty years, until one day they break free after graduation as the perfect employee who knows exactly what they want to do with the rest of their life as they fly off into the beautiful sunset with the perfect career. Now while that story-line would make a great coming-of-age Pixar movie, that of course is not always the case.

          During graduate school when I wasn’t working, teaching, taking classes, writing my thesis, or playing rugby... I was job searching to no avail. It’s quite hard to job search when you have no clue what you want to do, but equally as hard when you want to do everything, which was my case. Teach at a community college in California, become a polygraph examiner in D.C, move to Australia and be a waitress, apply to PhD programs anywhere, work for NBC Sports or ESPN in Connecticut, do a rotational business program in Europe. While all of those were (and still are) interests in my chaotic career options, my end goal was always to work for the International Olympic Committee (IOC), United State Olympic Committee (USOC), or USA Rugby. Now I didn’t know what I wanted to do for any of those organizations, but I knew I wanted to be part of them.

          Much like my reasoning for writing my thesis about rugby, I figured if I was going to have to work 40 hours a week in an office, it better be with something that I love. I tested this theory by scoring an internship with Rugby Illinois as an Outreach Ambassador going into schools and teaching kids all about the sport of rugby. This was a dream come true for me. I was getting school credit for doing something I loved; I needed to find a job like this. Through my internship I was able to attend USA Rugby’s annual National Development Summit, which happened to be in Chicago that year. I had been to conferences before for graduate school, but a conference for rugby? I had no clue such an event existed. I was able to meet and network with members of the rugby community from all around the world and learn the ins and outs of the rugby landscape in the U.S. I was hooked. At the National Development Summit I was introduced to USA Rugby’s Director of Youth and High School Programs, Kurt Weaver. We exchanged information and I spoke about some of the work I was doing at my internship before he was swept away into an important meeting. 

          Returning back to the cornfields of Central Illinois that week, I was thrilled to find out there were two new job openings in the Youth and High School Department at USA Rugby’s National Office in Boulder, Colorado. This was it. My absolute dream job. AND I met the hiring Director the weekend before. I had the qualifications, the skills, the experience, and the passion for the positions. After passing a first-round interview I made sure to follow up with people I networked with in Chicago to learn more about working in rugby and get a leg up for my second-round interview. After the second, and what Kurt said was the final round, I was feeling good about my odds.

          I had halted all other job search efforts because nothing else could compare to this job with USA Rugby. Plus, I was the perfect candidate. They’d be crazy not to hire me. I anxiously awaited a notification on my phone all week for an email from Mr. Weaver.

*ding* I snatched my phone, eagerly opening up my Gmail app… it was from Kurt...

We filled both our positions at USA Rugby, but I wanted to thank you for participating in the process. You are a great resource to rugby and I hope we can keep you involved at least locally in IL.

          Absolute devastation. I had just been “friend-zoned” by my dream organization. I was confused, upset, and discouraged. "I bet Kurt told everyone they should stay involved in rugby", I thought to myself.

          If I was denied a job where I was actually qualified and had the experience, what was the point in “leaning in” to the other forty-two jobs I would have to apply to in order to keep my monthly average?

          Job searching is exhausting and wears you down with each cover letter that you edit. After getting at least a half-dozen more rejections from other companies, I gave up. I was done. I felt defeated. My two roommates had both been offered full-time jobs for after graduation, and to add to everything I was behind schedule with my thesis. The light at the end of the tunnel got smaller and smaller, but I was too far in to turn around. I was stuck. I wallowed late at night in fits of panic convincing myself I would never finish grad school and no company would ever hire me. “What skills do I actually even have?”, “What am I doing here?”, “Will I ever find a job?”, all questions I thought to myself.

          After a few too many pity-parties I snapped out of it. Sitting around crying at night was doing nothing to get me a job or to help finish my thesis. At this point I made a decision to prioritize the two major things that were stressing me out. The first order of business was to finish my thesis. There was no point in applying for jobs if I wasn’t going to finish graduate school. I told myself I was going to finish my thesis and take the summer off to relax and apply for jobs from Cape Cod where I made plans to live with my best friend for a few months.

          Putting the job search on the back burner allowed me more energy to invest in finishing my internship with Rugby Illinois. I still wanted to hopefully get another job in rugby even if it was just locally as Kurt recommended. Over the next few months I was able to educate hundreds of kids across the state, create promotional marketing materials, meet with influential community members to get rugby in their parks and recreation summer programs, implement the first rugby session for a home school P.E class at the local YMCA, and I was Instagramming everything along the way.

          My decision to stop applying for jobs took a weight off my chest and allowed me to refocus my life. Companies are always going to be hiring, what was the rush to have a career lined up for when I crossed the graduation stage?

          I successfully defended my thesis about rugby coaches in May and had my bucket list planned out for my summer in Cape Cod. After Cape Cod, plans were in the making to head to Australia for 6-12 months. Having no job and no future commitments was liberating. I cognitively restructured the way I viewed my situation. Instead of thinking, “I do not know what I am going to do”, the opposite was true, and I thought of the possibilities of things I could do.

         Sitting around with my roommates and our families the night of graduation celebrating our successes and discussing our futures, I got a notification on my phone… it was from Kurt Weaver. USA Rugby had a job opening and he wanted me to apply….

          Fast forward a year and a half and it all worked out. I was able to spend some time on Cape Cod with my friends before quickly relocating to Boulder, Colorado where I am currently the Training and Education Manager for USA Rugby. Looking back at my final semester of graduate school I don’t know if I’ve ever been as stressed as I was then. I truly had convinced myself that I was going nowhere and that I would never finish my Master’s degree. I could have kept telling myself that and who knows where I would be today. There are highs and lows to every one’s story and when you find yourself in a low place you have to remember it won’t last forever, unless you let it.

-Kelley Sullivan

EXCITING UPDATE: Since writing this blog post, Kelley quit her job and purchased a one way ticket to Australia to fulfill the promise she made to herself to move back. To read more about Kelley's adventures in Aus, check out her blog: Abroad in Australia


This post has been edited for grammar. All other content remains the original work of the author.