of us have experienced rejection at some time or other in our careers.
Many of us have experienced it multiple times. Whether you are an
experienced professional or someone just starting out, rejections bring
forth a variety of feelings, ideas and thoughts. It's frustrating and
at times, gut-wrenching, and likely to at least put in a ding in your
How can you persevere through this, so you can
continue getting out there and trying your best? As someone with
extensive experience on the topic, from both sides of the process, I 'd
like to offer some of my thoughts on ways to sort through rejection.
- Accept it graciously and thank the interviewer/hiring official for his or her time. After
all, not everyone who applied was actively considered for the position.
Even fewer were invited to talk to their staff about the position, and
a much smaller number actually invited to come to campus. Even if they
didn't hire you, bringing you to campus wasn't some costly scheme to
insult you for their staff's amusement. And they did invest their time
and money in bringing you in. So they liked you, at least in theory,
and felt you were worth consideration. This is always a compliment. Though rejection can sting like a back-handed swat in the face, don't assume that a rejection for a particular position is a repudiation of you as a person or professional.
- Don't ask for feedback about the interview during the rejection call, unless it is offered. Very
few people like calling candidates to give them bad news, and fewer
still are adequately prepared to share feedback on the spot.
Institutional policies might officially discourage hiring managers from
sharing feedback, as well. It's okay to ask if you could get some
feedback at a later time, but only do this if you really plan to follow
up on it. And don't be surprised if the answer is "it just wasn't the
right fit." Sometimes it really is just that the hiring committee or
manager felt another candidate made a stronger argument or had a more
appropriate skill set. There's not much use in knowing that, unless you
are really committed to a certain type of job or working at a certain
institution. And you can't force the issue of "fit," because it's
nebulous at best, and resides pretty firmly in the area of legitimate
- Reflect on your interview and ask yourself where things could have gone off track. Then ask for feedback. There are some useful lists here and here.
Go over these lists and try to be honest with yourself if any of the
common mistakes mentioned could have been a factor. But don't assume
that you will be able to definitively pinpoint the reason for the
rejection by guessing on your own. Try to be reflective, rather than
simply hard on yourself. There is a natural tendency to go negative and
spend your time and energy kicking yourself for anything that might
have gone wrong. Try not to do this to yourself. Everyone makes
mistakes sometimes, and letting some voice in your head echo "stupid!
stupid!stupid!" is no way to bolster your self-esteem. Once you have a
few ideas, then make the call, or write the e-mail, asking if you can
set up a time for feedback. And definitely ask for a given time, so the hiring manager can prepare for the conversation. If they give you a specific time, they are going to tell you what they think is useful or appropriate, within whatever parameters their department or institution have set. If they don't agree to a specific time, then drop the issue and move on. No point in trying to get blood from a stone.
- Only ask for feedback if you can take criticism gracefully.
Even if the hiring manager shares the rationale for rejection, you may
or may not agree with all the feedback you get. Arguing about your
various good points, insisting you can be a fit for the position, or
saying that the interviewer(s) misinterpreted what you said are
sure-fire ways to seem out of touch, unwilling to accept feedback, just
plain angry, or even worse, desperate. None of these are good ways to
be perceived. Once the interview is over, it's over. Impressions have
been made, and they have been set. They may not be set in stone, but likely at least in a hard clay. If you were "almost"
the candidate they selected, being pushy or argumentative about
feedback will seem needy and can only hurt any chances you might have
for later consideration.
- Commit yourself to doing something with your feedback.
There's no point in asking for feedback if you are not going to do
anything with it. Once you know how you are going off track, you can
try to fix it. Here's my method to doing something with feedback.
ask yourself "What part of this criticism is fair?" This will require
some reflection and some level of stepping into someone else's shoes.
If the criticism is fair, then you need to make peace with it, and
decide what you want to do with the information.
ask yourself "What can I do to correct the situation?" Brainstorm a
little bit. Ask for ideas from your supervisor or a trusted colleague.
Pick the feedback apart and hold the pieces up to the light. You will
probably see some opportunities for growth.
- Third, take a look
at the parts of the criticism that you believe are not fair or
accurate. Then ask yourself why you would want to subject yourself to
working in an environment where you will question the fairness and
judgment of the people you work with from day one. You are better off
for having dodged that bullet. Let it go.
- Finally, take a look
at any pieces of criticism that might be fair, but that you are
unwilling to change. We all bring unique aspects of our personalities
to work with us, and particular ideas about what we like to put out there as our public images and work personas. If the criticism was fair,
but you are unwilling to change, then it really wasn't a good "fit" for
you and you need to keep looking until you find the right environment,
or the willingness to change those things that were the roadblocks in
your way. Look in the mirror, say to yourself "I am good enough, I am
smart enough, and one day I will find people who actually like me for
who I am, how I am, and what I can bring to the table. It's their loss,
- Don't keep knocking on the door when it's been clearly closed in your face.
Don't be the stalkery almost-lover standing outside the door saying
"why don't you love me?" to the blind date you just met, when the date
didn't go well. Nobody likes that. Don't let rejection wreck your
self-confidence. Instead, let it teach you what you need to know about
yourself and how you relate to others, so you can handle the right
relationship when it comes along, and be ready to throw yourself in
with all your heart. The lesson doesn't define you. The learning does.
Lick your wounds, dust yourself off, and stand firmly on your own two
feet, facing the world. There will be another door. The important thing
is to be practically and emotionally prepared to ring the doorbell and ready to walk in the next time someone answers.
If you are
one of those out there licking your wounds incurred in the brutal
realities of the job search, hang in there, and good luck!