How to deal with rejection

Receiving your first job rejection can seem like the end of the world, but learning from your mistakes will make you a better person in the long run. It’s not easy, but this is how you do it.


Why did you get rejected?

It’s easy to take rejection personally. You automatically assume that there must be something wrong with you, or that the interviewer didn’t like you, or you made a hideous mistake. More often than not, this isn’t the case at all – perhaps there was someone who just had that bit more experience than you, or the company decided someone would be a better fit for the role. It doesn’t necessarily mean you did something wrong, so don’t get too disheartened.

At the end of the day, you should always assume the attitude that if you didn’t get the job, then it wasn’t your perfect role. You might have bigged it up in your mind to be your DREAM job, but if they didn’t choose you, either it wasn’t right or you need more time to build up experience.

You should always assume the attitude that if you didn’t get the job then it wasn’t your perfect role


Acknowledge your emotions

So you spent ages fantasising about this job. You spent hours on the CV and cover letter, you battled your nerves first for the telephone interview and then for the face-to-face one and you even somehow scraped through the assessment centre. But you didn’t get the job.

It’s natural you’re going to feel upset and you shouldn’t try to completely shut down any emotions you feel. If you want to mope with a tub of Ben & Jerry’s for an afternoon, do it. Take some time to feel sad but don’t dwell on it for too long. Rise above the rejection, make a positive change and eventually move on – there are plenty of other jobs in the sea, as they say.


Look after your mental health

Job hunting can be really tough, and it’s really important to look after your mental wellbeing. Having to sell yourself on a CV and cover letter, prepare and then present yourself well in an interview and potentially attend assessment centres as well – the process can be gruelling and getting rejections can wear you down even more.

How to cope?

Don’t be afraid to ask for help – if you’re really struggling with the strain of job applications and rejections then don’t be afraid to speak out. Tell your family, friends, or university tutors who’ll be able to offer support, either by offering a shoulder to whinge on, sharing their own experience, or helping you to prepare for future interviews.

Try not to panic. So many students, final-year especially, fall into the trap of thinking they need to have a job lined up for graduation, and if they don’t then they’ve failed somehow. We cannot stress enough how untrue this is. If you don’t get a job straight away that is absolutely fine, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. You can take a gap year or work in a bar for a while, walking straight into your dream grad job isn’t essential.

Don’t compare yourself to others. It might seem like everyone else is getting their dream jobs left, right and centre, but as hard as it is, don’t compare yourself to other people’s successes. Remember, no one is going to do a Facebook post about all their rejections, so try and think about all things social media doesn’t show. Everyone is going through the same journey, but will arrive at the end goal at different times, so just go at your own pace. We’ve got loads more tips on how to look after your mental health when job hunting over in our Insight section.

Job hunting can be really tough and it’s really important to look after your mental wellbeing


How to ask for feedback

This is a tricky one. What do you do if the employer contacts you to inform you of the outcome of the interview but doesn’t give you any feedback? How do you learn from that? The short answer is: you can’t, and it’s up to you to ask for the feedback you deserve.

If you attended a face-to-face interview, if you took the time to research, prepare and travel for them, they can take the time to provide you with some constructive feedback. Simply write them an email or call them, politely thanking them for informing you of the interview outcome and ask if they have any feedback. Explain to them that you would really appreciate being able to learn from the experience and improve yourself for future job opportunities.

Remember, giving feedback benefits employers, too. Debut has been fighting for feedback for all face-to-face interviewees for the past few months, explaining to companies how they will benefit from doing so. It helps them maintain a good reputation among young people, and produce candidates who are more prepared and informed in future, so don’t just see it as them doing you a favour.

The job market as a whole benefits from effective feedback, so know your worth and don’t be scared to ask if you don’t receive the feedback you need. Learn more about the #FightForFeedback campaign and your rights here.


Don’t get defensive

The number one mistake people make when they receive a rejection is to get defensive about it. Being exposed to your own weaknesses is hard and it can make you uncomfortable, but don’t try and ‘reject’ your rejection. For example, if the company say you didn’t have the right amount of experience, it’s easy to respond ‘That’s outrageous, I have plenty of experience, they don’t know what they’re talking about.’

As much as it might be painful to admit, the recruiter knows what’s best for their company and you have to take on board any feedback they give. Simply refusing to admit their constructive criticism isn’t going to get you anywhere other than a fast-track ticket to future rejection.

As much as it might be painful to admit, the recruiter knows what’s best for their company and you have to take on board any feedback they give


Rejection = Opportunity to learn

You can take rejection in one of two ways: You can either crawl under your duvet and mope for a day or two, or you can see the rejection as an opportunity to learn and become a stronger candidate in future.

Look at the feedback you get and think about what positive action you can take to improve yourself and not make the same mistakes next time. Did you not have the right kind of experience? Then go away and work on developing the experience they’re looking for. Maybe your passion for the company didn’t come through? Think about how you can do more research and ensure this comes across well in an interview next time.

Rejection Action Plan: A step-by-step guide to turning that no into a yes…

    • You’re only human and it’s fine to take some time to mourn the loss of the job you set your heart on. Just don’t dwell on it too long.

    • You can’t learn from the interview and improve for the future if you don’t know exactly what it was that the recruiters thought about you. Hopefully the recruiter should provide this when they tell you the interview outcome, but if they don’t just politely ask for them to provide some feedback.

    • Break down everything they’ve said and think about the repercussions. For example, if they said you didn’t have the right experience, then maybe take some time to really think about whether this is the kind of role you want to be going for, or whether other roles might be more in line with your experience and knowledge.

    • Grab a notepad and make a to-do list of things you can do to change and improve for the future. Whether it’s developing a certain skill or making more time to keep up with industry news, write down everything that will help show future employers you’re the perfect candidate.

    • If you just write down a list of resolutions and don’t actually go through with them, then you’re right on track to make the same mistakes again and receive more job rejections. Making the change will leave you feeling more confident going into your next interview and that will help bring about a positive outcome.

    • The nature of the job market in the 21st century means you need to be prepared to receive rejection; competition is fierce and especially if you’re going for sought after roles on big grad schemes, you have to expect that you’re not going to get a job straight away. Keep trying, don’t give up and eventually you’ll get the success you’ve worked so hard for.

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