Rejection and the Job Search
Get used to it and learn from it.
By Katharine Brooks
One of my favorite pages from What Color is Your Parachute describes what the job search looks like: the word “No” is printed over and over filling every line of the page until the last word on the last line is“Yes.” It is one of the most honest pages in a career book I have ever seen. I show that page to my students—and then I tell them that this particular page appeared in the first edition of the book back in the early 1970s. It sends a message that no matter what year it is, no matter how strong or weak the economy is, no matter how much you try, no matter how qualified you are, the answer to “Will you hire me?” is more often than not, “No.”
Learning to handle rejection is one of the most important skills you can develop in your job search. If you are afraid of rejection you will be less likely to pursue opportunities, and you are more susceptible to depression and anxiety. Developing resilience, grit, and making the most of a rejection are lessons well-learned. Here are three tips for dealing with rejection.
1. Don’t ask for feedback if you don’t want to know.
People often wonder if they should ask the employer why they were not hired. This can be tricky: many employers won’t give feedback for legal reasons, or because they believe the person is just trying to do a sales pitch for the job. Only seek feedback from the employer if you genuinely want to learn, and only if you are willing to hear what is being said.
Your purpose needs to be to listen, accept what is being said, and learn from it. The employer should speak more than you do. This is not the time to argue, defend yourself, or otherwise try to win over the employer, who has likely already extended an offer to someone else. Remain gracious and thank the person for the feedback. After the conversation, you can process what was said, decide whether the advice was helpful or not, and then choose to take action or not.
If you’re likely to get defensive, dispute what is said, or in other ways show that you can’t handle criticism, you’re better off not asking in the first place. You will just prove to the employer why they were right in not hiring you and you will cut off your chances of being hired in the future. The best employees are learners: people who are self-aware, willing to hear criticism, and then make an effort to improve.
If you received helpful feedback (even if it was hard to hear), send a thank-you email to the employer, indicating how the information will be helpful to you in the future, how you might remedy the situation, and state that you hope they will consider you in the future for other opportunities.
I’ve hired a lot of people over the years in my roles and one of my litmus tests for whether I will reconsider a candidate for a future opening is how they handled the rejection the first time around. One candidate asked for feedback when she did not receive an interview; I made some suggestions for improving her resume. (She was a mother returning to work after raising her family and her resume wasn’t as professional-sounding as it could have been.) I gave her several tips and referred her to some online sites. A few months later she applied for another position with her newly revised resume, and we interviewed her immediately.
2. Take advantage of what you are learning in the search process.
Even if you didn’t receive feedback from an employer, can you analyze your search so far, and identify why you might not have received an offer? Start by noting where your search seems to hit a dead end.
If you aren’t getting interviews, it may be your resume, cover letter, or application. Ask an outside neutral party to review your materials to make sure you’re not missing anything. Are you targeting your resume to the specific position or are you sending a generic resume to all openings? Do your research on the employer and the position, and make sure your resume focuses on what each employer needs.
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Many people treat the cover letter as an afterthought. And for some employers it is—they are mostly interested in your resume. But for others, particularly for jobs where writing skills are important, the cover letter is an extremely important document and you should spend time crafting it. Writing a strong cover letter is particularly essential when you are transitioning to a new or different career field. You can use the letter to explain your strengths relative to the new position and your knowledge of the new field. Check this post for transitioning to a new career, and this one for improving your cover letter.
If you’re getting to the interview stage, but not getting the offer, consider the following:
Are you dressed properly? At an interview you dress for the position above the position you want. Wear an outfit that is appropriate for a professional day at the office, not casual Friday. Know what the standard dress code is for your position.
Have you done your homework? Have you researched the office? Have you read books related to the position (if appropriate)? Do you have the proper credentials and training—and if not, can you explain why you can do the job despite that? For instance, if you don’t have the college degree the employer wants, do you have enough practical experience in the field to compensate?
Are you conveying interest and enthusiasm? You may be tired of the search and tired of interviewing, but you can’t show that at the interview.
Are you following up your interview with a thank-you note or email? You can use that note to confirm your interest in the position, and fill in anything you forgot to say during the interview.
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3. Prepare yourself psychologically for rejection.
Just know that it’s going to happen, and generally, it’s not personal, even though it feels that way. I have hired a lot of coaches over the years and there are often 50 candidates for one position. That means 49 rejections. You are definitely not alone, and you are not in the minority if you are rejected. Learn what you can, change what you should, and then let it go and move on to the next opportunity. You are not defined by your rejection. Treat yourself with compassion.
Remember, even that extensive page of “No’s” in What Color Is Your Parachute ended with a “Yes.” And that’s all you need. One yes.