Your resume was flawless, you made it through multiple rounds of interviews, you wrote the perfect thank-you notes, you’re sure you have the job in the bag, and then…
You get the dreaded email informing you that you didn’t get the job.
Anyone who has been in this position knows it feels like a punch to the gut. You find yourself asking yourself where you went wrong: Should I not have said X during the interview? Did that one partner not like me? Am I not qualified enough? Was there a typo in my email? Was it my outfit? Is this career path entirely wrong for me? Will I ever get a job?
Unchecked, your thoughts can spiral out of control and start to undermine your confidence. Here are some tips and next steps to follow after a job rejection so that you can tame these thoughts and keep moving forward in your job search.
Take a moment.
Yes, rejection hurts. After receiving the bad news, you may feel angry. You may feel sad. You may feel like you wasted your time. You may feel hopeless about your career. You may feel confused about why it wasn't you. None of these are fun things to feel, but they are all perfectly normal reactions, and you have to give yourself time to feel the feelings. Below, I will tell you to forge ahead in your job search, but before you can do that, it's important to get back in the right headspace. To do that, you need to spend some time processing the rejection you’ve just experienced, so take the time to cry, eat donuts and ice cream, or punch a pillow.
Ask for feedback.
Not all employers are willing to provide you with the reasons they didn’t extend you the offer. But it’s worth the ask, because any feedback you can get from the recruiting team or your interviewers will provide you with valuable insights about areas for improvement. Not only will this information provide clarity about what to focus on to improve your candidacy, but having real action items to work on can help you regain a sense of control over your career during a time where you are probably feeling very little control.
Don’t burn bridges.
No matter how unfair you feel the situation is, don’t do anything out of anger that will tarnish your professional reputation--even if you never plan to speak to anyone at the firm again. You never know where you’ll be down the road or who you’ll run into again, so as hard as it may be, always take the high road. You may even want to consider sending thank-you notes to your interviewers. It may seem counterintuitive after a rejection, but it's a move that lets them know you appreciated their time and don’t have hard feelings. Handling rejection like a gracious professional can also leave an impression that opens the door for future opportunities at the company or firm.
Know that it’s likely not you.
You might never know the exact reason an employer didn’t pick you for the job. Sure, it could be that you truly weren’t qualified and you need to hone your skills, but if you made it through a grueling interview process, the truth is you probably don’t lack anything critical. For one thing, you don’t know who you were up against. Maybe there was an internal candidate up for promotion, or perhaps another candidate had a personal or professional connection that gave them an edge over you. There’s also the elusive question of “fit”—maybe your interviewer didn’t feel the same connection that you did, or maybe they simply felt a stronger one with another candidate. It could even be something so straightforward as the firm having a change in hiring needs, and they chose not to fill the role.
Don’t get stuck in negative thought patterns.
Rejection is hard in any situation, but it is especially tough in the job search. You’ve put a lot of hard work, planning, and time into your career and the interview process, so it’s hard not to get trapped in thoughts of self-doubt and thinking you're not “enough.” But I’ll repeat it again: The decision not to hire you was most likely not about anything you lack. And even if there is an area you need to develop, this doesn’t make you a failure. You are a constantly developing professional, and there will always be new skills to learn, whether you’re just starting out or you’re a seasoned executive.
Not getting this one single job does not mean you aren’t incredibly smart, talented, and worthy of a great career. Try one of these mantras if you find yourself stuck in a cycle of negative thoughts:
- I gave this my all. There was nothing more I could do, and I feel really good about that.
- The right job for me is out there; this one at this time just wasn’t it.
- Now I know that I should work on _____. This is an exciting challenge, and I can’t wait to develop my skills in this area so I can talk about my growth in future interviews.
- I have valuable experiences, qualifications, and skills. I can’t wait to put them to use in the job that is right for me.
- What great practice that was! Now I’m even more ready for my next interview.
No matter how frustrated, upset, or caught off-guard you are, you eventually have to pull yourself up by the bootstraps and carry on with your job search. Sure, after an exhausting interview process, it’s no picnic to start over again. But you have to trust that the right job is out there for you, and it’s up to you to find it. If it helps, think of job searching like a form of dating—sometimes, you have to kiss a few frogs before you find your prince. So get those applications filled out, keep your interview skills sharp, and get excited about the world of opportunities available to you.