Turn Your Job Rejection Into a Learning Opportunity
Despite your brilliance, your thorough preparation, and your deep desire for the role, there will be times when you’re not successful in the job hunt. As much as these rejections might make you want to yell and scream or curl into a ball and lick your wounds, there are better ways to handle the situation.
Why People Get Rejected
First, you need to know that the reasons why people get rejected for jobs can be broken down into roughly four categories. In order of likelihood, these are:
- Often: The employer didn’t understand your claims or see your potential.
- Often: Political maneuverings (e.g., the hiring manager had their eye on an internal applicant from the start).
- Occasionally: You didn’t have the skills, knowledge, experience, or personal attributes needed for the job.
- Rarely: There is something wrong with you.
It’s Not Because You’re a Bad Candidate
Most of the time, the rejection you have received is not a rejection of you. It is not personal. What usually happens is that the employer has a “story” that they wanted to hear about the ideal candidate, and the “story” you presented just did not match closely enough. You simply didn’t tell the employer what they wanted to hear. In some way, you failed to present yourself in a way that proved to the employer that you were the one for the job.
Your job, in the face of rejection, is to learn how you could have presented your story better.
Sometimes, the Jobs Is Not Right For You
Occasionally, you will not be selected for a role because there is a genuine mismatch between what the employer wants and what you have to offer. In other words: Sometimes, you just don’t have the ability to do the job.
If that is the case, you want to be thankful that you weren’t selected. You would have been miserable in the role as you struggled to perform your duties.
If you suspect this is the case for a recent rejection, you can still learn from the experience. Ask yourself what skills you need to develop, what experience you need to gain, where you need to go to seek the additional knowledge you need, and/or what additional learning you need to undertake.
Then, go do what you need to do to improve for next time.
Did the Employer Not Like Me?
The biggest fear people have when they are rejected for a job is that the rejection is based on a flaw in their character. Maybe you’ve had this fear before and wondered if the selection panel rejected you because they couldn’t stand having you around.
This is very, very, very rarely the case.
The people who experience the greatest level of success in their careers are people who have very clear understandings of themselves. They have put the time in to understand their personalities, their values, their beliefs, the way they are perceived, and their social and emotional intelligence. They choose jobs that align with who they are.
In the very rare cases that it is you who has been rejected, look for the small kernel of learning you might be able to take from the experience. If this employer did not like who you were, then maybe it’s time to find an employer that appreciates who you are.
The Politics of Hiring
Occasionally, there are political factors that conspire against applicants. Please don’t let these put you off of applying if you truly believe you are an outstanding applicant for the position. I have seen lots and lots of cases where the external applicant has won out over an internal favorite. The key thing is that you need to know that you are truly an outstanding applicant.
Always Seek Feedback When You Get Rejected
The most important action that you need to take in the face of a job rejection is to seek feedback from the employer. Seeking feedback can achieve three things:
- It will give you valuable information that will help you step up your game for the next job you apply to.
- It gives you an opportunity to build your relationship with the employer in a positive way, despite the rejection.
- It gives you a good reputation with the employer, and that may help you land a job with said employer sometime in the future.
One thing to keep in mind when seeking feedback is that the person you are seeking feedback from may be afraid to be honest with you. They may fear that you will be offended by something they say, or they may worry that you’ll use their feedback to appeal the decision. You need to put their mind at ease.
Be clear that you are seeking feedback so that you can learn and do better next time. Two things happen when you make this known: The first is that the person will likely see you in a very positive light, and the second is that the person will be more honest with you in their feedback.
The Best Way to Get Feedback
When seeking feedback, the best approach is to prepare a series of questions that you want to ask. (Some examples are listed below.) Your questions should not be general. Instead, you should be seeking for specific feedback in the following areas:
- The quality of your written application.
- The way in which you performed and presented at the interview.
- The level at which the employer rated your skills, experience, knowledge, and qualifications.
- The appropriateness of the examples you presented to substantiate your claims and the stories you used in the interview.
- Your physical presentation and the level of positive engagement the employer felt with you
Here are some questions you could ask when seeking feedback:
“Were there any habits – or ways of presenting – I had in the interview (e.g., annoying hand movements, ways of saying things) that you think I could work on?”
“Were there answers to interview question or things I wrote in my application that you found difficult to understand? If so, which ones?”
“What specific skills (either technical or personal) do you think I could enhance in order to be successful with you, or with similar employers, next time?”
“Was there anything about my application/interview that made it difficult for you to select me?”
“If you had to name the key reason I was unsuccessful at this time, what would it be?”
“In comparison to the successful candidate, do you believe it was skills, knowledge, experience, qualifications, or potential that made the difference?”
“What would you like to have seen/read about me that may have made me more successful in this process?”
“Of the examples I presented of my work history, which were the ones that resonated with you the most? Which were the ones that failed to sell my skills?”
Please don’t ask all of these, as that would be quite intimidating! Instead, select three or four relevant ones for your situation. Be curious, be open, and don’t grow defensive. Sincerely thank the employer for any information they give you.
Seek this feedback personally – don’t use email to ask for it. Call, or if you can, arrange for a face-to-face meeting. The bonus is that doing so is such a great personal development activity. If you can seek feedback in the face of job rejection, you can handle just about any job requirement!