The feeling of rejection can often be awful, even crippling. As humans we fear rejection as confirmation of our doubts about how others value us, whether in a relationship or in a job search. But rejection can also be a supremely valuable part of the job search. It drives you to learn from your mistakes and forces you to take action to become what employers want and need.
The next time you get a rejection letter from an employer, whether it’s after three rounds of interviews or before you’ve even had a chance to go through a phone screen, take stock of the things you can control in the process, and make plans to improve yourself.
Here’s how rejection can make you a better job seeker, and a better professional.
It tells you what you can improve on
The next rejection email that lands into your inbox will be your first chance for you to start improving on your job application process. If the email comes directly from an individual, or there is an email address available for you to reach back out to, write back asking for the reason they went ahead with different candidates.
This isn’t to say that you should be asking “Why was I rejected?” Instead, you’ll want to phrase your inquiry in such a way as to ask for information important to your job search.
Try something along these lines:
“I'm disappointed to hear that, but appreciate your response. Thank you for the opportunity to interview with you and to meet everyone on the team. If you could spare a bit of advice or feedback, I’d love to know anything I could improve on in my application or my interviews. It would help a ton in my ongoing job search.”
You’ll find that, more often than you may think (but still rarely), interviewers, recruiters, and hiring managers sometimes go a bit out of their way to answer this question. They’ll come back with advice on how to better write your resume, what things work best in an interview, and even the skills you should work on developing to become a more attractive candidate.
If you can’t get an answer from anyone at the company, you can still do a bit of introspective analysis to see where you might have gone wrong. Take stock of how your interview went, how you reached out (did you personalize the cover letter? did you cater your resume?), and how well you prepared for all the questions and tests that come with the hiring process.
Where did something not come across as you had planned or a story not landed as you expected? What parts of your resume did your interviewers appreciate if you got that far in the process, and if you didn’t, which parts of your resume probably held you back?
Find what you can improve on for your next round of applications and interviews.
It allows you to build a plan of action
Now that you have a strong sense of what went wrong, you can take the time and effort to begin working on the things you need to improve to be a better candidate.
If you find that you didn’t do enough to cater your application to the specific company, start doing more research before you hit apply. Find out as much as you can about the culture of the company, adjust your resume to fit the role, and learn all you can about the hiring manager.
If you came off as an unprepared candidate in an interview, make the effort to learn more about the interview process and the potential questions you may need to answer. A great source for this information is Glassdoor, where many candidates, both successful and unsuccessful, share their interview experiences with various companies.
If you don’t have the necessary skills to be viewed as an outstanding candidate, go out of your way to start learning them. Online courses, certification tests, bootcamps, self-guided platforms, and tons of other education options exist. As you learn more and more, you can upgrade your resume with new skills and show that you’re taking your career into your own hands.
It drives a shift in attitude
How you respond to rejection changes the more you experience the feeling. The first time it happens, it can halt your job search progress dead in its tracks. The second time might be just as bad. But as you experience that feeling more and more often, your attitude will shift from "it's the end of the world" to "on to the next one." And that’s important -- a job search is as much about the numbers as it is about the interviews you participate in and the resume you craft.
That change will help you quickly move past a company saying no and lead you to the next opportunity on your list. You won't see a single lost opportunity as the one that got away, but as a stepping stone to your ideal job. Instead of wallowing in despair, you can get right back up, analyze what went wrong, and adapt, whether it's your resume, cover letter, interview prep, or any other factor that led to your rejection.
The "on to the next one" attitude will motivate you to keep applying every day, as opposed to letting your job search stall at every hurdle. You can take this lesson not just from job search rejection, but any rejection you face in your life. Each time you hear "no," you'll be ready to make plans for the appropriate next steps.
Rejection doesn’t have to be the end of the world. In fact, it can open up a lot of new doors in your job hunt. It all depends on how you react to it. If you take rejection as an opportunity to better yourself, you’ll find that even such a negative experience can be highly fulfilling.