A job rejection can feel awkward, frustrating and disappointing. You’ve played the game, and didn’t manage to score. But it’s not all bad; receiving a rejection isn’t the end of the world—or even necessarily the end of your opportunity.
When you’ve been rejected for a job, it’s usually not the outcome you’ve hoped for. You’ve put effort into your application and resume—and may have made it through to a first, or second round interview. You’ve become invested in the company, learning more about their team, culture and values. You may have even worked out the commute from your place to the office or met with a couple of people from the team.
But then, the bad news comes through. It might arrive via a phone call, email, or letter. It might catch you off guard, it might not. Either way, your heart sinks. You might be annoyed. You’re probably wondering whether all the time and effort was worth it.
Stop. Take a moment. At this point, with just a fraction more time and effort, you can make it more likely that the experience was worthwhile. You may even be able to turn things around.
Before you pick up the phone or hit reply, consider some of my tips on handling rejection.
Rejection might feel like a door slamming shut—but there are handles on both sides of every door.
Treat rejection as an opportunity to change your behaviour. At the very least, you’ll learn to accept rejection with grace, and at most, you might get the job offer after all.
Before I run through these tips, I want to clarify something. Not every rejection can, or should, be undone. If you’ve behaved poorly during an interview, made clear mistakes in an application, or not shown up for an interview, you’re going to have to work hard to turn things around.
The tips I’ve listed below are points for consideration, they are not a guaranteed list for success. The ‘success’ part is up to you.
1. Say thank you.
This one might seem obvious, but when you’re experiencing an emotional reaction to a situation, your better judgment can become clouded. Don’t forget your manners.
Your response to a job rejection is not an opportunity to respond in haste, or a green light to tell the company how wrong they are. These responses are not welcomed or appreciated, and they may have unintended consequences.
Don’t be this guy.
There are numerous articles like this one and this one, that provide you with tips on what to do when you’re rejected from a job. They are worth a read and serve as a reminder to disconnect from the communication you’ve just received. Take a moment to breathe before you respond.
The hiring manager has taken the time to communicate the outcome of your application to you. Not every company does this, but some do. If remaining gracious in the face of rejection is something you really struggle with, try crafting a polite and friendly ‘thank you’ email when you’re in a good frame of mind. Then, it’s simply a matter of copying and pasting the words into an email and you’re ready to respond.
The gesture of replying to a rejection message can sometimes trigger a hiring manager to invite you in for further conversation or feedback. If you craft a response when you’re in a positive state of mind, you’ll be able to write it with clarity, and showcase your personality.
2. Ask for feedback and be gracious about it.
You should ask for feedback in your response. Don’t ask with a sense of entitlement—ask because you’re interested and want to improve.
A hiring manager can always distinguish between a genuine and disingenuous request for feedback. Try commenting on a specific part of an interview or process that you thought went well, but would like to understand if the hiring manager interpreted it differently.
Not all companies are willing to provide feedback to rejected candidates. So, if the offer is made to you, or your request for feedback is accepted, take it!
Be curious and humble when receiving the feedback. At August, we consider feedback as a gift. The person providing feedback is under no obligation to give it to you. You don’t have to like or agree with the feedback, but the person passing it on is not responsible for that. You are. Be gracious and seek clarity if you don’t understand part of the feedback.
One more thing while we’re on the topic of feedback: don’t mistake the gesture of receiving feedback as permission to give feedback. Always seek permission if you feel that providing feedback to the hiring manager is necessary, but don’t assume this permission will be granted.
3. Use the rejection as an opportunity to change the conversation.
If you’ve had your heart set on a specific company and you’ve been rejected, use it as an opportunity to change the conversation. Depending on your circumstances, this could be through any number of ways, but let’s focus on one: get to know the hiring manager.
Understand that the recruitment manager has a job to do as well. They are acting in the best interests of the company and team when bringing in new people. Timing might not have worked out this time, but it may in future—reinforcing the previous point— so don’t create a situation where the hiring manager may not want to contact you again because of how you responded to the initial rejection.
Build a relationship with the hiring manager. It’s an opportunity to grow your network. You’ll learn a lot about the company through them, and by what they do and don’t say. Depending on what you find comfortable, there are many possibilities. Try setting up regular coffee catch ups, find industry events you could both attend or get advice on other aspects of the industry.
Don’t consider your rejection as the end of your relationship with the company. The reason why you were rejected could be multifaceted. There could be competing industry priorities, unexpected business interests that changed the nature of the role, candidate competition, or maybe you were just too slow in your communications.
By forming a relationship with the hiring manager, you present yourself as a candidate that plays the long game. When that person needs to find a good hire in the future, they will know they can call on you for a role, a recommendation, or for a sanity check on a new recruiting approach.
A recruitment manager will be more comfortable pushing out a role vacancy to a warm network than a cold one—hiring managers have a sense of the people in their circle—and we often consider rejected candidates that are still interested in working with us.
4. Go the extra mile.
As a recruitment manager, I see applications and responses to rejection on a daily basis. If you really want to work at the company you were rejected from, go the extra mile.
This article I read a while back has stayed with me ever since. You can go the extra mile in almost any situation you’re involved in—it just depends whether you choose to go for it.
Going the extra mile means something different for everyone. It might be the difference between calling the recruitment manager and thanking them for their time, or not responding at all. It might be that you ask to meet the hiring manager for coffee because you’ve prepared some questions about your application or hiring process. It might mean that you reapply in a few months’ time with an application that is new, improved, and demonstrates your ability to learn and change your approach in the face of rejection.
Put your neck out for the extra mile.
Yes, going the extra mile can be risky. You could differentiate yourself and stand out from the crowd; or, you could feel stuck out there like a lone turtle on the beach.
Even if it doesn’t produce the outcome you want, take things in your stride. By going the extra mile, you’re setting yourself a precedent to push harder and better. You’re building endurance and grit.
I hope these suggestions act as a reminder the next time you’re rejected for a job. This is not a comprehensive list, and I’ve no doubt that others may suggest entirely different approaches. That’s okay too.
If you’re going for a company that values partnerships and relationships, chances are they like to see people try, develop, and learn from both their successes and failures.
Regardless of the rejection, remember to handle it in a way that allows your strengths to shine. That’s a success.