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Teacher’s Career Advice? Don’t Be Afraid to Fail

Eli Joseph’s road to success has not been a straight path. But he was able to navigate it through perseverance and by relying on his Christian faith. (Photo: Courtesy of Eli Joseph)

CLINTON HILL — Rejected by that university you had your heart set on attending? Eli Joseph has been there. Sent your resume hoping to be hired for that dream job only to be turned down? Eli Joseph has been there too. Many times over, in fact.

Joseph, who teaches applied analytics at both Columbia University and New York University (NYU), has the “distinction” of having been rejected from 30 colleges and universities he applied to back when he was a senior at Benjamin Banneker Academy in Clinton Hill in 2012. 

Two of those schools telling him “No thanks” were, you guessed it, Columbia and NYU. In a notable turn of events, he served as an academic marshal at the graduation ceremonies for both Columbia and NYU last month.

Not only that, but Joseph, who earned a Ph.D. in business administration from Felician University, was rejected more than 1,000 times when he sent out resumes to companies looking for a job after college.

Ask him why he chose to study for his Ph.D. at Felician University, a Catholic school in New Jersey, he is candid. “It was the only school that accepted me,” he said.

You might say he has had experience overcoming obstacles. Looking back, he admitted that he doesn’t know why he met with so much rejection. It stung, but he never let it hold him back.

Joseph tells his unique story of perseverance in his new book, “The Perfect Rejection Resume: A Reader’s Guide to Building a Career Through Failure.” His goal in writing the book is to help people overcome the fear of rejection, so that they can move their lives forward, he said.

One piece of advice? “Learn to think of ‘No’ not as an end, but as a ‘New Opportunity.’ And remember when those rejections are piling up that, in the end, you only need one job,” he said.

Joseph was born and raised in Brooklyn and hails from a deeply religious family that belonged to the Original Church of God of Prophecy, a Pentecostal church in Crown Heights. “I would attend religiously every Sunday, just to make sure that I’m staying grounded,” he said.

He enrolled in Benjamin Banneker Academy in 2008. “It’s a very 

family-oriented school, so everyone knows everyone. My favorite subject was math. And I believed that I was going to eventually do something in the realm of mathematics or science,” he recalled. He was also a member of the school’s basketball and track teams.

He graduated in 2012 and was knee deep in rejection letters from colleges. The first school to reject him was Vassar College, followed soon by Columbia and NYU, among others.

Joseph attended Queens College and earned a bachelor’s in math in 2015.  He followed that up in 2016 with a master’s in business administration from Brooklyn College. In 2019, at the age of 24, he completed his Ph.D. in business administration from Felician University.

However, before earning his Ph.D., he looked in vain for a job and found that his days of rejection were far from over. Faced with rejection after rejection — he was turned down by one company, JP Morgan Chase, 600 times — he found a way to keep going. 

“As for the schools and companies that rejected me, I knew it was nothing personal. I thought, ‘I’ll see them again.’ And I knew I would have the opportunity to rewrite my failures,” Joseph recalled. 

During that season of rejection, he relied on his faith to get him through. “I prayed a lot. That helped remind me I was going through a lot of tests. But those tests will eventually turn into testimonials. Faith was that catalyst that reminded me that I’m doing this for a greater purpose,” he said.

Joseph found a teaching job at Marymount Manhattan College in 2017 and soon followed that up with a teaching post at his alma mater, Queens College. 

A Columbia University professor who had sat on the panel hearing Joseph’s defense of his Ph.D. dissertation told him about a job opening at the school. He applied and was hired in 2019. Three years later, he began teaching at New York University.

“I didn’t know what was going to happen when I was applying for jobs. I didn’t know if I was going to end up teaching at various universities and writing books. All I knew was I just needed one opportunity and have that trust in God,” Joseph said.

He advises not to get caught up in a numbers game but to instead keep an overall goal in mind and keep pointing toward it. “Direction is more important than speed. It’s okay if you’re going at a slower rate as long as you’re going the right direction,” he explained.

“The Perfect Rejection Resume: A Reader’s Guide to Building a Career Through Failure” is available on Amazon.