How to Move Past (And Learn From) a Job Rejection

don't trip potato chip Reading Time: 4 minutes

When you hear that they want to interview you—yes, you—for that job you applied for, you likely feel a swirl of emotions. Excitement, pride, trepidation, even impostor syndrome. You spend the next few days preparing for your meeting. There’s research about the company. Then you practice some potential interview questions. Maybe you meet with a friend to roll through your personal pitch. Your stomach in knots, you think, “How am I going to get through this?” And then, in a grand sum of maybe 45 minutes, you do.

But sometimes, the worst is yet to come. Whether it’s in the form of a rejection email or—ugh—a full-blown professional ghost, there’s nothing more disheartening than working so hard to land a job you desperately want, only to realize whoever they hire isn’t going to be you.

We’ve all been there. It stings, but there are some easy ways to push past it, stay upbeat, and even turn that rejection into a positive. So, don’t trip, potato chip. Instead, take these next steps:

Give Yourself a Day

A job rejection always hurts, but especially if you were in the final round of interviews. You put a lot of work into the process, and it’s hard not to feel like you’ve wasted your time. You haven’t, but that’s a discussion for another day. Today, don’t mass apply to more jobs in a panic and try not to emotionally spiral. Instead, go do something nice for yourself.

Even landing that job interview is a sign that you’ve got plenty to offer, and you worked very hard to prepare for it. Whether it’s buying yourself a nice dinner or meeting a friend at your favorite wine bar to decompress, treat yourself to a little self-care. You’ve earned it. Tomorrow, you can work on next steps.

If They Wrote You a Rejection Letter, Don’t Ghost Them

This is the hardest part, so it’s best to get it out of the way sooner rather than later (but after you’re well-rested!). Write back to the recruiter or hiring manager who emailed you and thank them for their time. You’re going to do this for a couple of reasons:

  • You don’t know why they didn’t pick you. In fact, maybe they wanted to hire you and another candidate so badly, and they made one of the toughest calls of their year. Thanking them means that you’re proving yourself as a great candidate, even in the face of rejection.
  • It’s also possible they have you in mind for more jobs or will remember you in the future when a better job comes up. This is your best chance to keep the connection up.
  • You’re also going to muster up the courage to ask for feedback. That may sound awful, but there are some savvy reasons why, outlined next.

Ask for Feedback (Yes, Even If You’re Embarrassed)

You didn’t land the job, which means you’re going to continue interviewing (at least once more, anyway!). Addressing this rejection head-on is a brilliant opportunity to ask someone who witnessed you first-hand in an interview what you could have done better. They may not write back, but often they do. And, as much as it stings to hear why they didn’t pick you, you can leverage that feedback to give better future interviews. Don’t let such a great chance go.

Write Down a Few Sticking Points You Know You Had

Regardless of whether you hear back from the interviewer or not, what were some areas you know you could have handled better during the interview? Even if that’s not why you didn’t get the job, now is a good time to do a “review” of your own behavior.

It helps to actually write down a list of items so you’re really visualizing what happened. To start, think about using these metrics:

  • What questions did I do a great job answering?
  • What questions could I have answered better?
  • What question totally stumped me?
  • What did the interviewer seem most concerned about hiring for? (This is a great question if you’re applying to similar job titles in an industry, so you can start to glean the most important skills to emphasize.)
  • Were there any moments where the interviewer seemed concerned or lost interest?

For the questions you could have answered better, write down some ideas for how you’d answer them next time. You may even want to practice them out loud to start to get more comfortable. When you get another interview, you’ll be ready.

Head Back to the Job Boards—But Do It With Intention

Now that you’ve 1) hopefully received feedback from your interviewer and 2) done your own review, you should have a good idea of some areas you can work on. So, head back to the job boards, but before you do, remind yourself: I am a strong candidate. They want to interview me. 

Seriously, imagine how many resumes landed in that interviewers’ trash bin. To have gone so far means you’ve gone most of the way.

As you look for jobs, don’t apply for every listing that even vaguely matches your experience. Which ones really speak to you? Spend some time consciously looking for the jobs that excite you most, and even more time writing a custom cover letter for each. In those letters, call out your strongest skills and maybe even address any areas that came up during your feedback phase—now that you know what gives hiring managers pause, you can explain exactly why they don’t need to worry.

Put Some Work into Learning New Skills

Whether you heard that you lacked an important skill which cost you the job or not, you can always benefit from learning new skills regularly and often. Use the experience you just had to motivate you to learn something that you can add to your resume and/or interview answers. There are great sites out there to help like Lynda and Skillshare, or you can spend an evening watching YouTube tutorials or reading blogs specific to your industry. If all else fails, study up on improving your public speaking and presentation skills—that way you’ll be ready when the next interviewer calls, which we think will be ASAP.

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