How to handle rejection (in employment situations)

Rejection (or ‘not being selected on this occasion’ if you prefer to put it more positively) is a part of everyone’s working life. There have been times in my career when I went from job to job getting the first one I applied for each time, but this will not always be the case. In my earlier career – getting established in the first place, it was harder. Also later on, after working for a particular type of company for several years, I experienced scepticism from different kinds of employers (everyone overrates their uniqueness). The further you go in your career, the more the idea of the right ‘fit’ begins to play a more significant role than do the skills and abilities (which you will have adequately demonstrated).

But how do you handle the unsuccessful applications to your best advantage?

Always ask for feedback

You may think you have missed out for reasons that are obvious or you may not have a clue. But it’s best to get the information directly from the decision maker, so that you can be sure and so that you know you are acting on the right information.

Ask in the right way

Firstly you need to ask in a polite manner that is patient and understanding, positively worded and not done with a sense of entitlement. During stressful situations, this may not be as easy as it sounds, so it is worth thinking carefully about.

Then you need to ask the right question. Being told that someone else was more ‘experienced’ than you is completely useless to you. It’s also often an easy cliché for interviewers to use to avoid having to give you any difficult detail.

Try to ask more open and more intelligent questions:

What kind of experience would have been more relevant?

Which areas do you think I could improve on?

What could I do to improve my performance?

What areas did I score less highly on?

Notice you are not asking for details about the other candidate, you are asking about specific measures that you were outscored on. You are focussing on your development.


Interpret the feedback

You cannot become two years more experienced overnight. So you have to ask and receive more detail if you are to be able to work on it. Then you have to understand how all of this affects what you offer.

What can you do in the short term to gain the specific and relevant experience that will help you score more highly?


Take it well

The natural response is to be defensive when criticised. We all feel that instinct. But you have to train yourself not to react in that way. You will not gain anything from it. It’s also too late to change the decision maker’s mind at this stage, so it’s a complete waste of time. Just ask for the feedback, ask for a little more detail if necessary so that you understand, then thank them and say goodbye. You can wish them all the best in general if you want to, but don’t comment on the role or the person chosen, even just to say you hope it goes well. This can come across inadvertently as a little patronising.

Some people take things to the extreme and become argumentative. I was once told by a Business Development Manager whom I had called to say he had not been selected that ‘The guy (sic) you picked couldn’t have more experience than me’. How could he possibly know that? Also ‘If you don’t want my experience, fair enough’. Yes, that’s right. It made me even more sure that I’d made the right decision. A person so easily moved to defensiveness is not going to perform well in consultative selling of intangible professional services.


Act on the feedback

This can take a variety of forms.

If the feedback is that you don’t have enough of a particular type of experience or skill, you have a couple of choices. You can learn to speak more about that skill or experience that you have, or you can improve it through training or through trying to gain that experience.

For example, if industry experience is needed, can you get involved in that industry in some way other than in your ideal job (which may be more competitive) and take a longer route in? Within your existing job, can you get involved in a project or a secondment or a voluntary activity that will help?

Of course, if it’s just a case of how you present yourself, then you can get advice or coaching to support that.

Written by

CV Writer and Interview Coach. Blogging about ways to improve your CV writing and job searching experience.