‘Use it to your advantage’: Graduate Dan on job rejection
‘I lost count of the amount of rejections I had’. Dan White knows all about job search disappointment. He spent months applying and interviewing for grad schemes after completing his degree. But after missing out more times than he can count, he’s now climbing the ladder with the world’s largest brewer.
I asked Dan why he chose his subject, how he found the strength to persevere in his job search, and what it’s like when you get that big break.
Here’s what he had to say.
Dan, how did you get into chemical engineering. Where did the interest come from?
The truth is, I fell into it. Being less than useless in the arts, I was always more suited to maths and science. When my college recognised that these were my strengths, they encouraged me to apply for medical school, which I was fully on board with.
I did everything I possibly could to get into medical school, spending six months volunteering on a care for the elderly ward and going on courses to help me in the application tests. I applied two years in a row and only ever received offers for my backup choices of biochemistry and chemical engineering. I realised that biochemistry was too research-based for me and went backpacking instead.
I ended up choosing chemical engineering for three reasons. First, the sectors you can work in are wide-ranging and varied, from oil refining and pharmaceuticals to fast-moving consumer goods. Second, the degree equips you with the problem-solving and communication skills you need for a career in these industries. And third, the pay is rather good! I’ve just gone with the flow and that flow has thankfully led me to a job I love.
You did a placement year with Unilever during your studies. How did you find that experience?
I was working in the global supply chain, specifically focusing on personal care products from brands such as Tresemme, Dove, and Aquafresh. The biggest project I worked on was to help facilitate audits on factories around the world to assess their hygienic design and integrity. I also created a series of training modules for the supply community.
The experience was brilliant, a real challenge with great exposure to all areas of the global business. I learned so much from the people around me - engineers, planners, directors, and vice presidents. I am grateful to Unilever as this has really shaped my career by giving me good working principles.
What was it like applying for graduate schemes while also working a full-time job?
It was difficult, I am not going to lie. Coming home from a day’s work and spending several hours on applications was tiring. I lost count of the amount of rejections I had but I’m glad I had the resilience to continue. My applications improved over time and I began to find myself in the final stages only to narrowly miss out to somebody with more experience. There were occasions that I was led to believe that I wasn’t good enough.
But with each failure or rejection came a lesson, and I became a better candidate and a stronger person. Being offered the job I have now was such a good feeling and I celebrated it so much. It was worth the bad feelings of rejection. My story is one of many rejections, but it also shows you only need one opportunity to get what you want.
My advice for other students is not to quit, learn to love the rejection, turn it on its head and use it to your advantage. You’ll get what you deserve as long as you are resilient and persistent enough.
The application and interview process for your current job sounds pretty tough. What can you tell us about it?
At first it was pretty standard - upload your CV and cover letter, answer some application questions, and perform some numerical and logic tests. Next, I was invited to an online video interview. I was asked set questions to see if I was the right cultural fit and given a set amount of time to answer them.
On passing this stage, I went to Belgium for an assessment day where there were several tasks, including a competency interview, a team-based business game and a group activity where you had to come up with a new beer and pitch it to assessors who posed as stern supermarket buyers. I think the key was to think on your feet and be enthusiastic.
The final stage involved a panel interview. If you want to picture it, think of the TV show The Apprentice. There were five company directors and one vice-president on one side of the table and six candidates on the other. You took it in turns to answer challenging questions and were even invited to offer your opinion on who should be hired and fired. It was tough but anything worth doing always is.
So now you’re working for the world’s largest brewer. How is your first year going?
I absolutely love it. The culture here is great! It is a tough job and that is exactly what I was hoping for because it is pushing me to become a better person. I enjoy working in a global business because of the diversity of people that you meet, it’s something I really enjoyed during my travels.
I am now a manager in utilities at a brewery and some of my direct reports are my parents’ age, so I have found that transition challenging because they are far more experienced than me - in work and in life. My approach is to stay humble, respectful and eager to learn because without their support I cannot do my job well.
The highlights have definitely been the business trips I have been on to Belgium and Prague, where I have had the chance to meet some colleagues who are very high up in the business. It is fantastic that they value us enough to take time out of their busy schedules to give us their advice. The social aspect of this programme has also been brilliant, especially when you work for a beer company.
Finally, what are your goals for the next few years?
I am just setting myself short-term goals for now because I have a lot to learn. I want to build up good rapport with everybody in my team and learn about them as individuals. I want to find ways of saving water, heat, electricity, and CO2 to save the business some money and reduce our environmental impacts.
In a few years’ time, I would really like to be a process engineer solving these types of problems and acting as an advisor to breweries in Europe. But, for the minute, I am really happy with the team I have just joined.