If you’ve ever undertaken a job search, you’ve undoubtedly experienced the worst part of the entire experience: the job search rejection.

For most, it’s a visceral experience when you get the call or email (if one comes at all, that is) – a feeling in the pit of your stomach, a full body dread and hopelessness that is very hard to shake. Perhaps there were signs and you were anticipating the rejection- a rude interviewer, weeks without a response, or something you regret saying that has played over and over in your mind. Perhaps it came as a complete surprise, you thought you did everything right – the interview was flawless, your resume checks every single box and you felt a real connection with the hiring manager.  Regardless of the anticipation, it is often this moment that sets off the avalanche of negativity.

You’ve been at the search for weeks, months or, possibly, years. You’re concerned, irritable and exhausted. It’s in this moment that you’re at your lowest, and questioning everything from your skillset to your approach to your self-image. It’s also precisely the point in which it is extremely important to keep going. How you handle job search rejection, and how quickly you bounce back, can determine how long the job search ends up taking.

 

51%

of job seekers wait anywhere from weeks to … never … to hear back about their job application

 

Sometimes you never hear from an employer at all – according to research from job board Indeed.com, 51% of job seekers wait any where from weeks to … never … to hear back about their job application. When you finally do, getting rejected is painful, there is no denying that. If you start with typical job search stress, and add economic anxiety, you’ve got a recipe for a lot of amped up feelings when that “thank you, but no thank you” email hits your inbox (if it ever comes at all). However, by embracing momentary rejection from a job you applied to as an inevitable part of the process, you are not allowing it to feel like an ending or a final statement on your worth.

Here’s how to deal with job search rejection

According to Boston-area career coach Molly Froelich, the best antidote to job search rejection combines one part self care with one part reflection. She recommends tuning in to what self-care practices have helped you most in the past to recover from difficult experiences, such as a walk in nature, yoga class, or listening to your favorite music to nurture and refresh your soul. Beyond that, she says, taking some time to reflect on the “why” of what you are doing, career-wise, will help you spring back with renewed purpose. If you are a career changer, for example, you have put a lot of energy into a new field with new possibilities to help you create the life you want. Visualizing that life -taking a long view and wide perspective – can help to re-energize your job search. “When we get so focused on the day-to-day details of the career-search process, we can lose sight of the big picture. Refocus on the “why” to keep your energy up,” she says.

After you’ve taken a moment to get re-centered, below are five vital steps to take when you experience rejection during your job search.

  1. Thank the people you met. There are many reasons why a candidate is rejected, and some reasons leave open the possibility of future employment with the organization. For this reason it is a great idea to write thank you notes to the hiring manager, anyone peer level or above that you interviewed with, and the recruiter, if one was involved. Keep it positive and light, it’s always possible something happens with the chosen candidate and the role comes open again. Here’s a template for you to modify:

Dear (x),

Thank you for the time you spent with me in the interview process for (role). While I understand that the team went in a different direction with the hire, it was a pleasure meeting you and hearing what great things you’re working on these days. I hope our professional paths cross again in the future, and until then, I’d love to stay connected on LinkedIn (I’ll send an invite in a bit).

Wishing you and the team continued success,

Your name

  1. Pause your search (briefly). Carrying on a job search while you’re feeling dejected is like going on a first-date right after you’ve broken up with someone. You need some space to recover and reset. Clear your mind- a walk in nature, a funny podcast, a yoga class or a run are all things that divert your attention and stop you from ruminating on the rejection. While a pause after job search rejection is valuable, it’s imperative that you keep it brief so re-engaging doesn’t feel like a huge hurdle. This should be a reset not a derailment.
  2. Do a strategic review. Just like re-watching games is an invaluable tool in an athlete’s toolbox, evaluating your job search and interview actions is a great investment of time.  Take a look back through all of your communication during the process, including the interview. What could you have improved? What questions do you need to practice for future rounds? What feedback did you get (if any), and how can you incorporate that into future interview prep? However, don’t focus solely on what you did wrong. Were there interview questions you aced? Positive feedback that you received along the way? Focusing on the positive as well as the areas in which you can improve is an important exercise.
  3. Look forward – keep moving, don’t get stuck on this one opportunity. It’s easy to build up one specific job as the dream position and if you do experience job search rejection that can make it hard to move on. Apart from post-game analysis, giving the rejection any more air time in your mind is a “sunk cost” of time, and is just throwing your valuable energy away.
  4. Support yourself – Self care isn’t just an important step right after job search rejection. It’s vital that you feel supported throughout the entire process so that if you are rejected you have someone to lean on. Support can look many different ways from a professional therapist, career coach or mentor to a buddy that can meet for coffee (even virtually for the time being). Do you know someone else that is job hunting? Consider buddying up and scheduling check ins and sharing resources to keep each other motivated and accountable.  

Takeaway

There are two ways you can think about job search rejection. The first – that it’s a stopping point and a statement of your worth – is a stance that ultimately devalues what you bring and leads to job search stagnation. The second – that it’s a learning opportunity and perhaps a sign there’s something that could be tweaked about your approach for future roles, will lead to more long-term growth and satisfaction. 

When you get that job search rejection, instead of thinking that it’s an ending, think of it as a step on the road toward the right opportunity for you.

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