Silver Lining: How Rejection Propelled Me Forward In My Career

by Dan Schawbel
Dan Schawbel

If someone told me growing up that I would be an author, consultant, researcher, speaker and advisor, I would have laughed. First, I wouldn't have believed this career path even existed, and second, it would seem like such a stretch goal to get there.

I have much to thank my father for in the early part of my career -- along with my grandfather, for instilling worth ethic in me early on.

See, I believe the sooner you start focusing on your career, the more likely you are to succeed later in life. Thankfully, my story began when I was 13 years old.

My dad had me sign up to be a caterer at my Temple, where I helped out with Shabbat dinners, Bar Mitzvahs and even weddings. I had to do what many would call "grunt work," but it taught me a lot, including how to deal with people and their demands, as well as how to organize an event.

Fast-forward to middle school, when I started watching my friends design graphics and get into web development. I was always fascinated by the web, and learned a lot from them as they became experts on Photoshop and HTML.

I tested out my new knowledge by creating websites for myself, including a James Bond one and one about WCW, which ages me because WWF has owned them for years now.

Then, in high school, I went to camp every summer, eventually becoming a counselor my junior year. After that, my father convinced me I needed real work experience. He introduced me to a local entrepreneur who owned several businesses, including a DSL Internet company, a phone auditing company and a few planes.

My job as a summer intern was to make as many cold calls as possible to close sales, and it was devastating that after over 1,000 calls, we didn't get one new customer. Now, you might think that is failure, and it is, but to me, failure is part of the process. I learned more about myself that summer than ever before.

At this point, it was time to choose colleges to apply for, and since I'm stubborn, I only cared about going to Bentley University; although, I did apply to other colleges to keep my parents happy. I applied "early decision" because I wanted to be secure upon graduating and have the best chance of getting in. But, I eventually heard back that I wasn't accepted.

I became serious about getting into that college, so I got straight A's my last semester, interviewed on campus, wrote them a strong letter and finally got in! During my freshman year of college, I challenged myself to get straight A's because I had never before achieved it, and I ended up reaching my goal.

Once that happened, I realized that through hard work, you can achieve anything. At the same time, I learned how to market myself by creating a professional website under my name, a business card, a references document and a CD portfolio of my work.

I started landing a lot of internships -- seven to be exact -- and then, I eventually became a leader in several on-campus organizations. At the same time, I started a website consulting firm serving local small businesses.

Now, it was senior year, and I started my job search six months before graduation; I struggled because I wasn't great at networking as an introvert. I interviewed about 40 times overall, 15 of which were for a company at which I desperately wanted to work.

During my last interview, I noticed something that completely changed my view of marketing, branding and career success. My interviewer was skimming my résumé and his eyes zeroed in on my Reebok marketing internship, which was more of an administrative role.

At smaller companies, I had accomplished so much more; yet, it was Reebok that stood out because it was a brand name, and through my association with it, I became more credible.

After a few months at my job, I started a blog called "Drive to Succeed," which eventually turned into "Personal Branding Blog" after I was inspired by Tom Peter's famous article in Fast Company Magazine called "The Brand Called You."

In it, he talks about how we have to be the Chief Marketing Officer of our own lives, the CEO of Me, Inc. One part of the article of note was when he mentions how the smartest employees are the ones that would create their own unique positions at their companies.

From March to August 2007, I worked 40 to 50 hours a week for EMC, did a Six Sigma "Green Belt" project focused on process improvement, blogged 10 to 12 times per week and wrote for other websites and magazines.

I created an online TV show, an award for people in the personal branding space and commented on every single blog post published nationally that even mentioned personal branding. Through this effort, I created a community, and eventually, Fast Company Magazine profiled me, which was 10 years to the day when Tom's article came out.

The article mentioned that I worked at EMC, and soon, the PR team found it and sent it to a VP, who recruited me to be the first social media expert for the company. I went from taking orders to being asked for help, and I proved that if you build a strong online brand, opportunities will follow.

Through this experience, I was inspired to write a proposal for my first book, "Me 2.0." I had no idea what I was doing and a lot of people laughed at the thought of me writing a book, but I was ready to hustle to make it happen because I genuinely thought I could help people.

I set out and was rejected by 70 out of 70 companies and two publishers, eventually getting a deal with Kaplan in January 2008. I wrote the book and did the marketing campaign, and it became successful, but I was patient and didn't launch my company, Millennial Branding, until January 2010.

From there, I started speaking, corporate consulting and personal brand coaching, especially focused on Millennials. Eventually, I transitioned as my audience grew in their careers and became focused on Millennials in the workplace.

You would think getting a second book deal would be easy, but think again. After over three years, firing two agents, hiring three consultants and three book proposals, I finally got a book deal.

To get the research sponsored for my book, I was rejected by 99 out of 100 companies, and the only reason I got the deal was because a campaign I worked on went viral when they were reviewing the proposal. The book started off as a paperback and eventually became a hardcover after I proved myself to the publisher with a ton of PR hits.

I got Ernst & Young to sponsor my New York book launch, too. The book came out on September 2; the launch was a week later, and the following day, it hit the bestsellers lists.

Two days later, I turned 30 years old. The most important thing I've learned throughout my entire experience is you can't give up; you have to put the work in. Networking is more important than anything else, and the sooner you focus on your career, the more successful you will be in the future.