Job rejection may hurt, but it doesn’t have to be the end.
There is no statistic on the average number of rejections a candidate receives before landing a job offer. You probably have your own file where you track applications that have landed in limbo, as well as your list of interviews that didn't lead to offers. Your number may be 20 or 200, but no matter how many times you've faced job rejection, it still stings. Motivating yourself to have a positive attitude through it all can get difficult.
Although many seminars, books, and infographics offer help, much of what they teach is to the effect of “dust yourself off and keep going.” That advice isn't wrong, but when you are caught up in the emotional vortex of experiencing job-search rejection, you may want to curl up on the floor and cry — not get up and keep at it.
Here is a step-by-step guide that will meet you where you are (even if it's a heap on the floor) and help you turn “No” into opportunity.
Manage yourself in the moment
When you get the news, do your best to manage your mental game while you are in conversation with the company. There will be time to sit with all the emotions that go along with job rejection, but a professional email or call isn't an appropriate place to vent. You never know what will happen with this company or this hiring manager later, so don't do anything that may sabotage a future opportunity.
Take a deep breath. Be gracious. Thank the prospective employer for their time. Ask for their feedback about what went wrong and what you could have done better. In many cases, you won't hear anything concrete, but occasionally a hiring manager may share an insight that will make a difference for your next application or interview. It's OK to express your disappointment with the news and to keep the door open, especially if you genuinely like the company or the hiring manager.
Here is what it might look like:
“Dear (name of hiring manager),
Thank you for informing me of your decision.
While I admit I am disappointed that I won't be joining your team at Company ABC, I am grateful for having the opportunity to meet with you and learn more about the company, its exciting projects, and plans for the future. I will continue to follow the company's progress as your team works towards (add a goal that the hiring manager shared during the interview), and especially (mention the project that is particularly important to the hiring manager).
Thank you again for your time. I hope our paths cross in the future!”
After the communications have been managed, take the time you need to process the emotional fallout. Some job rejections are relatively quick and easy to shrug off. Others might stay with you for longer. The turn-around to viewing “no” as a good thing isn't immediate, and you shouldn't force it. Talk with your mentor, family members, or friends. Do something that recharges your batteries; eat some ice cream if that makes you feel better.
Channel the negative energy
The emotions most people experience after a rejection aren't pleasant. There could be anger, disappointment, sadness, frustration, or some messy blend of several emotional ingredients at once. One commonality for many candidates in this situation is that the mix can be quite strong.
If you cannot simply turn it off, you might try to turn it into something constructive instead. Some professionals find that job rejection can give them renewed vigor to pursue new opportunities, even if just to prove that this hiring manager missed out on a great candidate. Others might head to the gym. Choose something that gives you an actionable way to use the negative energy for a constructive outcome.
Learn from what happened
This step is best done after a bit of time has gone by to soften the immediacy of the sting. For some people, a few hours is enough. For others, a day or two is necessary before they can switch to performance self-analysis.
When you are ready, reread your resume and cover letter to see how they could have been better tailored for the opportunity. If there was an interview, reflect back on the conversation and note opportunities to do better next time. Perhaps the stress of a rushed and busy morning carried into the interview, making you appear stiff and unsure of yourself. Or maybe there was a question that caught you off-guard. While you will never be able to control every last aspect of your job-search process, there are parts that we can all do better next time.
Related: The Right (and Wrong) Ways to Show Personality in Your Cover Letter
Look for a possible turnaround
Depending on the situation, a soft “no” could be turned into “possibly yes” through gentle persistence. An important note here is that this is not your permission slip to besiege the hiring manager with pleas to reconsider. However, there are circumstances where a turnaround may be possible. Here are some examples:
Jake was seeking a sales-manager position at the corporate headquarters of a retail company. He felt that his two interviews had gone well and was surprised when 10 days went by without news from the hiring manager. Ordinarily, non-response would mean that the company has moved on to other candidates. However, Jake used the silence as an opportunity to refine his follow up. He began by writing out the key aspects of the position, its requirements for success, and why it was important to the overall goals of the company. He then mapped his qualifications, personal characteristics, and proof of past wins against the “blueprint” for the opening. He distilled his notes down to three bullet points that emphasized the strength of his candidacy and underscored his tenacity and commitment — critical for success in a sales position. Jake's strategic follow-up email got him a response inviting him back for another conversation.
Anna interviewed for a position of a senior consultant in a regional specialty firm. The interviews went well enough, but the company was eager to move on to other candidates, so Anna got a rejection email. After the initial disappointment settled, Anna got back to job hunting. She continued to interview at other companies but could not seem to stop thinking about this other opportunity, and especially her rapport with the hiring manager who would be her boss. So, she continued to monitor the status of the position that got away, noting that the vacancy remained open for over a month. Anna then took the initiative to reach out to the hiring manager to reconnect. She confided that she had been thinking about this opportunity, reiterated the aspects of the position that appealed to her, and emphasized her continued interest. The company brought Anna back for another interview and ultimately offered her the job.
These examples are unusual, but for the candidates who feel a strong connection to the company and who are looking for an edge, there may be a way to turn a job rejection around.
Ask yourself what would make each day great
A great offer from your dream company would certainly make the list but think of other things, big and small, that would allow you to build positive interactions and joy into every day. Meeting friends for a happy hour after work, getting to the gym, making a delicious dinner, catching up on a TV series you love — choose something at the start of every single day and then do it, especially during the stressful interview times. This simple practice can allow you to feel in control. It will also create a small pocket where life is great, regardless of what's happening with your job search. By maintaining an overall positive vibe, you are more likely to project it and move forward with confidence.
Turning job-search rejection into a major career win
Viewing rejection as a good thing doesn't happen overnight. For some rejections, the positive reframing may take a long time, or may never happen at all. Successful candidates allow themselves the time to process the temporary defeat, learn from it, and look for cues that the decision could possibly be less permanent than it seems. They also take control over sprinkling positive interactions and experiences into their everyday lives.
Another effective strategy is to actively seek out examples of other people's “favorite failures” that have turned out to be blessings in disguise.
This is far from a suggestion that you should take a Pollyanna approach of being excessively cheerful or unreasonably optimistic. However, all too often we are tempted to draw direct comparisons between ourselves and our role models. As we do that, we tend to forget that at some point in the past, they too may have been less polished, less sure, and less accepted. When those successful individuals reflect on their overall career trajectory, they often see past rejections and failures as critical and irreplaceable stepping stones on their way to ultimate success. Perhaps you don't feel that way right after you get the dreaded rejection call, but leave room in your mind to grow into being OK with it. Someday, you too may look back, connect the dots, and be grateful for that “no.”
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