Rejection Is Feedback, Too

As the judge manager for StarCityGames, I regularly send both acceptance and rejection emails to judges who apply to our events. I also regularly receive replies from people who get the latter. Many of these replies share common themes. For example, judges often respond to a rejection with something to this effect:

    “I’ve been declined for X events in a row (or X out of Y events), and I haven’t gotten any feedback on how I can get better.”

If you or someone you know has ever expressed this frustration, consider these three pieces of advice.

  1. Understand that you have received feedback.

That’s right. That rejection letter is feedback. It might not look like it at first blush, but ultimately that letter says, “We didn’t want you for this event. We felt it was more appropriate to staff X other judges.”

Harsh. But what does the rejection mean?

Getting rejected is, at its core, an evaluation. The TO preferred to have other people on staff over you. Note that this doesn’t necessarily mean that you are a worse judge than everyone staffed. Judging is a complicated and diverse field; we all have various strengths and weaknesses. There’s no correct way to calculate the numerical value that each judge brings to an event, which is why I refer to the TO’s selection as preference.

It’s also important to note that most TOs won’t necessarily take the top X judges for X slots on staff. Development of future generations is a consideration, and events are always taking objectively weaker judges in order to facilitate the growth of individuals and the community.

Even if the TO didn’t consider you to be the Weakest Link (Goodbye!), you have been weighed, you have been measured, and you have been found wanting. That’s on its own is feedback, but it’s not that useful to you. You want to know more. What are you lacking? How can you improve?

What if I told you that you’re asking the wrong person?

  1. Get the details on your rejection.

By and large, the details won’t come from the person who sent you the rejection letter. Why?

Because they just aren’t that into you.

Imagine that you ask someone out on a date. You are rejected, so you decide that you want some additional feedback. “What can I do to make myself more attractive to you?” The answer you get isn’t going to be helpful to you because it isn’t designed to be helpful to you. That isn’t their goal. Their goal is to spare your feelings, maybe stay friends, and go talk to the person that they do want to date… or in this case staff for an event.

It’s also possible that the reason you got rejected is much, much simpler. They don’t know you. While TOs do mix it up as I suggested earlier, by and large, if they’ve been doing this for a while, they probably have a roster of judges that they have a positive working relationship with.

There’s an important person that you should be talking to during this process: your Regional Coordinator (RC). For larger events, especially Grand Prix, it is very likely that your RC participated in some, maybe all, of the evaluation that led to the TO rejecting you. GP TOs often lean heavily on RCs to gather information, especially on newer judges, or judges from regions where they don’t have a lot of history. In fact, it’s entirely possible that a GP TO is acting solely on information provided by an RC or the Head Judge, who might also participate in such an evaluation, but can run into the same constraints as the TO in terms of regional familiarity.

That said, even if your RC didn’t participate directly in the evaluation, reaching out to your RC can have two positive effects.

  1. He or she may have other information that can help you be a more effective judge. RCs are the community nodes for information and they’ve often collected little snippets of information about you.
  2. More importantly, the RC can serve as a buffer between you and the TO. Remember how I said that the TO may not give you the full extent of their evaluation in order to spare your feelings? The TO may be more inclined to share information with an RC, and your RC in turn may be able to shape and share that information with you in a more effective manner.

Once you get the details of why you were rejected from your RC, it’s time to use that information to help you become a better judge… but just as the TO may not have been the right person to give you the feedback, your RC may not be the right person to help you grow from it.

  1. Get a coach to help you act upon the feedback.

Your RC is often the right person to get information and feedback about your performances from, but you should also reach out to your mentors and friends, the people that you work with and talk to about judging. RCs are busy people, since they are having these kinds of brief exchanges with dozens of judges. They might be good for a quick info dump, but helping you use that information to continue your growth may be beyond the scope of assistance that they can offer.

If you’re looking for tips on how to increase your chances of being accepted to future events, your mentors are the people who should already be helping you with that. Who is your mentor? For most people,  it probably starts with the person who certified you as a judge. Beyond that, think of the judges that you look up to, that you have on speed-dial or a Facebook chat open to constantly.

To go back to the analogy of being rejected for a date, your mentors are your circle of friends. Those people are much more likely to tell you that you need to use deodorant or the ratty hoodie that you’ve had since high school needs to be retired.

Failure and rejection are feedback. It doesn’t feel that way, but once you realize this, you can start to work with your RC and your mentors on an plan of action to help you move forward. This will help you grow as a judge, and trust me that word of this will get back to the TOs that rejected you, and soon they’ll be wondering why they didn’t take you for their event.

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