Ah, the joy of reading these lines: “Dear xxxx, thank you for your interest in our company. Unfortunately…” No applicant has ever read an e-mail like this to its very end, because after the first line you already know what the deal is. In fact, you probably knew it before opening the mail because if they wanted you for the job, wouldn’t they have called? Coming to think of it, you knew even before opening the mailbox today because it’s been five weeks since the interview and the HR manager never got in touch with you.
But even if you have had that sinking feeling for days, it is still always hard to see it in writing - because as long as you didn’t know, officially, you could still hold onto this tiny shred of hope, right? Anyway, the good thing about receiving the rejection letter is that now you can start with putting it behind you and maybe even take something from it for continuing the job hunt:
# Be honest
Be - most of all - honest with yourself: How much did you want the job? …Okay, keep in mind that you are not on trial here, so once again: How much did you want the job, REALLY?
If your answer still is “I really really badly wanted this job”, then you have every reason to be bummed about being rejected. You also have every reason to find out how you can improve your performance in the future in case a similar opportunity presents itself. Still, be careful not to obsess too hard about a certain job. HR managers sometimes see applicants who want a job too much, in the sense that they are so nervous about getting it right in the interview or assessment center that they cannot live up to their full potential.
If your answer is “I really want a job”, then maybe this is already your answer as to why you got rejected. Did you prepare about the specifics of this one company? Did you give a good reason when asked why you want to work for them particularly or was your answer a bit uninspired along the lines of “I really like what you did with your ceiling panelling”?
If your answer is “I really wanted the job, but I can’t be bothered about their product lines, the hiring manager wasn’t really my kind of person, and I already noticed on the bus to the interview that the commute was going to be a nightmare”, then congratulations, you have just saved yourself a lot of sleepless nights thinking about why you didn’t get the job. You didn’t get it because you didn’t really want it - and the interviewer most likely noticed that five minutes into the interview.
# Get feedback (but don’t die trying)
Getting useful feedback out of a busy employer can be like taking away candy from a toddler. If you take this metaphor to mean that it’s going to be easy, you have obviously never tried to take away candy from a toddler. So to be clear, it’s not going to be a walk in the park.
Most employers are reluctant to give out detailed feedback for two reasons: First, they don’t have the time to sit down with every applicant they rejected because there are simply too many applicants and they would never get anything else done. Secondly, employers are wary of lengthy discussions or even lawsuits if an applicant feels unfairly rejected. They hold back with feedback because they do not want it used against them.
As a feedback seeker, there is very little you can do about the time issue. You have to pick your battles. Some employers will just never answer to your feedback requests, so after two unanswered e-mails you just have to accept it as a lost cause. However, if you sense that someone is willing to give you feedback as long as you know how to take it, there is an open window for you: You could start with a follow-up e-mail directly after the interview, saying that you would really appreciate feedback in order to improve your performance, regardless of whether they decide to give you the job or not - that way the employer knows that feedback is important to you and that may encourage him to give you an honest answer.
If you have an inkling about what you could have done better, you could also approach them with your theory. Some employers might find it easier to answer a specific question about a certain part of your application than to review the whole process with you. It also shows that you can reflect about your own capabilities and are, therefore, willing to deal with feedback. If you get the impression from the feedback that it was a very near miss, you can always ask the recruiter to keep you posted if a job at the company is available that you are better suited for.
In case someone does give you feedback, remember to take it politely and not get into an argument, even if you end up not finding it very helpful after all. If you are unsure about your conduct as an applicant in general, ask someone to take a mock interview with you and give you feedback. At some universities, career centers will offer interview and assessment center training where they give you feedback about what you can improve.
# Don’t take it personally
(and if you have heard it a million times, still read this)
You have short-listed this sentence for the MPAE (Most Pointless Advice Ever) Award. Because thanks, you already know. What you are still working on is actually following it. So, here comes the ultimate solution to this age-old problem:
You cannot NOT take it personally. Deal with it.
The interesting thing about rejection is that we are wired by nature to feel it as emotional pain. Scientists have made experiments where people were rejected by total strangers and were still disappointed. Even when the rejected group of people was informed later that these strangers had been told by the scientists to reject them and it had absolutely nothing to do with who they were it did nothing to lessen their disappointment. Guess what happened, when the rejectees were being informed that the strangers who rejected them were part of a racist extremist group that you definitely don’t want to to be friends with? They STILL cared about it, even though they despised the very people who rejected them.
The point is to understand that our human reaction to rejection defies logic. You will always feel a twinge of disappointment, sadness, anger or self-doubt when reading those first lines of a rejection letter. So instead of trying and inevitably failing to not take it personally, rather prepare to feel rejected for a little while. And then move on.
In the first step, you need to acknowledge your own disappointment and find a go-to method that helps you work through it. Some people choose physical exercise to get rid of their anger, others find it helpful to vent by writing down their frustration on a piece of paper which they then tear up and throw away. Whatever your way, just remember to not take your disappointment out on others.
The second (and admittedly harder) step is to leave your self-pity and baggage from the last rejection behind and start fresh. Because if you carry all your past mistakes to the next job interview, you will just get nervous all over again. Instead of beating yourself up about what you did wrong in the past, take solace in the fact that you got invited to an interview - which means that you can make it happen again and now profit from your past experience.
Now is the time to tell yourself that you probably wouldn’t want to work for someone who doesn’t want you in their company - and that there are a lot of other companies out there where your skills and personality may be more appreciated. So re-tailor your resume, rewrite your cover letter and prepare for the next interview. Chop chop!!