20 Tips to Rise Above Rejection

So, you’re ‘putting yourself out there’ by considering some job opportunities. Sending your CV into job postings, tapping up some contacts, maybe speaking to a trusted recruiter, hopefully attending some interviews. One of the most difficult parts of the job-search process, which isn’t blogged about too much, is handling rejection.

Well congratulations, you’re already over the first hurdle, by virtue of the fact you haven’t let fear of rejection prevent you from getting started on your job search in the first place. A lot of people are stuck in a job they don’t want to be in, just the same as a bad relationship because they don’t have the confidence to ‘risk’ making a change. So again, given that every worthwhile change starts with a decision, and that the most important step in a journey is the first one, well done & so-far-so-good.

However, this blog will focus on overcoming the disappointments and setbacks that may well come your way ‘en-route’ to the right result:

  • Begin with the end in mind. Stay focused on the end goal of securing a fantastic new role, and everything this means in respect to more money, career challenge, work-life balance etc. This goal will be your reference point, your star that will lead your way through any ‘dark-days’.Remember the why. Kind of related, but as you suffer setbacks and motivation wains, you will question if it is worth trading in one job for another. It is here that the benefit of your ‘why’, which could be a number of things including more money, must outweigh the effort required in your job search.Hope for the best. Yes, hope for the best but also prepare for the worst! If you plan for each eventuality and rehearse in your mind how you will feel and react you won’t be knocked for 6!
  • Each “No” leads you closer to a yes. This is a sales mantra which equally applies when you are ‘selling yourself’ in an interview context. If it is typical for a candidate to attend 5 interviews in order to secure a job offer then it’s a motivational perspective to treat each no as one step closer to a yes. NB this is false hope if you are interviewing badly, each no will lead to another no and so I suggest also reading my ‘prepare to smash your next interview’ blog! 
  • Lose the baggage. It’s important advice not to carry any negativity you’ve held on to from a previous employer or interview. Whilst you may have had previous bad experiences negativity or suspicion rightly or wrongly is always going to reflect badly on the interviewee. Look forward.
  • Be realistic. Assuming that you have a limited amount of time and effort to put into your job-search, then it makes sense to focus where you get most ‘bang for your buck’ i.e. be realistic in your applications, concentrate on applying for jobs you are qualified for and will be good at. This keeps your ratios ‘tight’ in terms of ‘applications to interview’ and hopefully ‘interviews to offers’. This is a win-win in respect to less disappointment and also more efficiency!
  • Know the odds are against you. This point is not designed to de-motivate, simply to point out that it is statistically unlikely that you will be offered each individual job you apply for. Therefore, don’t be too surprised and don’t be too disappointed when you get a rejection! To make a huge generalisation but to help you with context I would expect 50+ people to view a ‘typical’ job posting, 20+ people to apply, 5+ people to be shortlisted and 3+ people to be interviewed.
  • Company agenda: Remember that as above the odds are against you, but also be aware that each candidate does not necessarily have equal chance of success or even a level playing field. Sometimes a company may be ‘testing the water’ which they are perfectly entitled to do. i.e. post a job with the view that if someone ‘UN-Miss-Able’ applies then hire them, otherwise don’t bother. OR a company may be planning to hire an internal applicant but want or need to make external comparisons. OR a company may have a preferred external option lined up that they want to go through the regular recruitment process to achieve ‘perceived fairness’ internally on their hire.
  • Limit pressure: Given everything that we have covered so far, we can see that applications and interviews can be a bit of a lottery. So, don’t put yourself under too much pressure. This is not a life or death scenario. Breathe. The sun will come up tomorrow!
  • Not Personal. Don’t take it personally when you get rejected. Interviews are a flawed way of guessing who will perform best in a job anyway. It’s typically one or two people’s naturally bias opinion based on incomplete and inaccurate information which underpins the decision. Again, there are a million reasons why the answer is no, including for example that they view you as ‘too good’!
  • Get feedback. This can help make sense of an unsuccessful application and may or may not make you feel better. However, it is also key if you are going to follow the “I never lose” philosophy, where you either win or learn. Without the feedback, it’s more difficult to learn and adapt your approach accordingly.
  • Do your analysis. This is taking the get feedback point above, (which most people don’t get), to the next logical level of keeping records of applications & feedback and looking for common themes. In continuous improvement speak this is root cause analysis and corrective actions. This doesn’t have to be a formal process but is worth doing, ‘self-improvement’ is difficult without ‘self-awareness’!
  • No feedback? Having suggested to get feedback, and I certainly suggest at least politely asking for it, it is worth saying that you will not always get it. The hiring company is not obliged to give feedback and it takes away a time-consuming and potentially awkward job if they don’t. That said I think they should, partly as it is the right thing to do, but also as it improves candidate experience which is key in a skills shortage and leads to improved PR / employer brand for the company.
  • Vanilla feedback? Even if you do get feedback unlike in the scenario above, the feedback may be ‘vanilla’ i.e. bland, general and largely unhelpful. Realistically this is typically to protect the hiring company either from a generally awkward debate about whether your leadership skills are up to the task, or in an extreme example from getting sued by the unsuccessful candidate for some kind of discrimination.
  • Personal preference. In a world where we like to feel safe in the knowledge that logic and criteria ensure fairness in the hiring process, how much room remains for personal preference? I would argue that this is still the main factor in a hiring manager’s decision i.e they just liked one candidate better. There is nothing sinister in this chemistry/gel area, but in terms of feedback it’s more difficult to rationalise and verbalise. This is why cliché’s like s/he was/wasn’t the ‘right fit’ fill the communication gap.
  • Preference & Discrimination. As a thought-provoking follow on from the personal preference point above. Assuming preference is OK and discrimination is not OK, at what point does one transition into the other. I’ll leave the answer to that one with you, but discrimination (positive or negative, conscious or sub-conscious) is bound to play a part in any hiring process. That’s just what happens with people and preferences, you may as well accept this and move on, you can’t please all of the people all of the time! 
  • What did I do wrong? Whilst this self-reflecting question can be an important part of the ‘do your analysis’ point above, it is often not a particularly relevant question and is one that I’ve seen people waste far too much time mulling over. To give a context. Think speed dating. Some people you liked more than others. The ones you liked 2nd and 3rd best didn’t do anything wrong as such, there was just something about the ‘favourite’ right?
  • What should I have done differently? This is often the follow-on to the potentially time-wasting question above. The chances are you gave a good interview and account of your background. In the speed-dating scenario, there likely isn’t particular advice you could have given the 2nd or 3rd best option which would unseat the favourite is there? You’re a great candidate but not right ‘for them’!
  • Negative feedback? When you are ‘lucky’ enough to get specific feedback, this is an opportunity to learn in the win or learn scenario. Hopefully if feedback is negative then it is packaged as or at least can be used as ‘constructive criticism’. Typically, the company have nothing to gain by giving it so I suggest to ‘own it’ & use it! If they say your leadership style would not suit the team then chances are that this is their best assessment. This is not likely a smokescreen for them being intimidated by you, which is for some reason a hypothesis that I hear surprisingly often from unsuccessful candidates.
  • Acknowledge decision. When you receive a no, especially via email, it would not be unusual for your immediate reaction to be along the lines of “well screw you then”. However, this stage is another good opportunity to leave a lasting (positive) impression which could be useful if you apply again or come across this person again in another capacity. So as a minimum, thanks for letting me know, I appreciated the opportunity to meet, I hope the successful candidate works out well or similar, is in order. Maybe politely request feedback via reply if not provided. I would suggest ignoring the feedback is by definition ignorant. Lastly, although maybe tempting, I don’t think there is any point, unless very well meant, in giving your own negative feedback in return e.g I didn’t want the job anyway as I found your HR Manager rude etc. (Don’t burn future bridges).

In concluding, I think that when you are undertaking a job search that it’s going to be par for the course to get some rejections and maybe pick up some negative feedback on the way. Acknowledge this, accept this and be prepared to work through it positively. Remember there are a million reasons and reasoning behind the yes or a no decision, many beyond your control and some flat out wrong. Chances are good that you couldn’t have done something particular differently unless feedback tells you otherwise. However, in almost every situation the hiring company are looking for a genuine win-win scenario i.e. where they win in appointing you, but also you win by joining.

If the verdict comes back as a no, then maybe it was not a ‘win-win’ or the ‘best-fit’; maybe they are right. If so, you dodged a bullet and will be better off chasing the next opportunity. So, I think, learn, move on and do go after the next opportunity, with the same level of confidence and enthusiasm.

Good luck and if I can help you with job search or recruitment issues across the spectrum, do feel free to give me a shout at contact details below.


All the best, Anthony
01275 331307 / 07983255399
TW @MacstaffUK