How to deal with rejection in employment situations

Rejection or ‘not being selected’ to term it more positively, is a part of everyone’s career. I’ve yet to meet anyone who has a 100% interview success rate.

There have been instances in my career in which I went from one job to another, getting the first one I applied for. However, this will not always happen. Getting established in my early career was hard. Then once I’d had a little experience I was able to make the most of this to get me selected. Then in later years, after working for a certain type of company, I encountered scepticism from numerous employers about transferability (everyone overrates their individuality). So, there are different challenges at different stages of your career.

The more you progress in your career, the more the idea of the right ‘fit’ starts to take a more significant role than your abilities and skills (which you will have effectively demonstrated).

So, do you manage the applications which are not successful in the best way?

Always ask for feedback

You might not have a clue as to why you were unsuccessful or you might think the reasons are obvious. Either way, you need to make sure you are acting on the right information. Therefore, it is best to get the information straight from the decision maker.

They may or may not be willing to help. But you may as well ask.

Ask in the right way

First and foremost, you need to ask politely. Demonstrate patience and understanding, word it in a positive way and don’t behave with a sense of entitlement. If you are stressed, then this might not be as easy as it sounds, so it is worth considering carefully.

You then need to ask the right question. Simply being told that someone was more ‘experienced’ than you is useless to your progression. You will often find that this is an easy cliché used by interviewers to avoid having to divulge any difficult detail.

Try to ask more intelligent and more open questions such as:

(If you have already been told that experience was the issue): What kind of experience would have been more relevant to this job role?

Which areas, in particular, do you think I could work on?

What could I do to enhance my performance?

What areas, in particular, did I score low on?

Note that you are not asking for details about the other candidate, you are focusing on the specific measurements that determined why you were outscored. You are concentrating on your personal development.

Interpret the feedback

You can’t become several years more experienced overnight.

If you want to work on it then you have to ask and receive more detail. Then it’s about understanding how all of this affects your offering.

Think about what you can do in the short term to acquire the relevant and specific experience that will help you score higher next time. Or think about what it is about more experienced candidates (such as experience managing people or exercising good judgement) that you might be able to specifically develop.

Take it well

When criticised, the natural response is to be defensive. It is an instinct we all feel. However, you need to train yourself not to react in such a way as you will not benefit from it. Also, it is too late to change the decision maker’s mind, so it is a total waste of time. Ask for some feedback, and perhaps a little more detail if this will facilitate your understanding, then thank them and say goodbye. Wish them all the best if you feel this is appropriate, but do not pass comment on the person they have selected for the role. Even if it were just to say you hope it goes well for them, this can come across as patronising, despite your good intentions.

Some people go overboard and become argumentative. I once called a business manager to tell him he had not been selected when he responded ‘The person you selected couldn’t have had more experience than me.’ Yet how could he possibly know that? He then added, ‘If you don’t want my experience, fair enough’. This reassured me even more that I had made the right decision. A person who possesses such characteristics i.e. getting so easily defensive and taking things far too personally is not going to perform well in the role concerned, which was selling intangible professional services.

Act on the feedback

This can be approached in numerous ways.

If the feedback tells you that you lacked a type of experience or skill, then you can either speak more about that specific experience or skill in future applications, or you can get training or experience to improve it.

For instance, if industry experience is required, then you could consider getting involved in that industry in some other way. So rather than just applying for your ideal job (which is probably quite competitive) you could take a longer route in?

Is there any way of taking on more responsibility in your existing job?

If it comes down to how you present yourself, then there is advice and coaching to support that. You basically need to put yourself in the place of the decision maker and consider what they are seeking.