A crumpled ball of yellow paper on the floor to suggest a rejected attempt

At the Careers Service, we’re here to support you on your journey into the working world. A significant part of this journey might involve coping with rejection, either at the application stage or further along after an interview. We want to encourage positivity and set you up for success, and making the best of disappointing outcomes can help you improve future applications and build resilience. Let’s look at some healthy ways to handle career rejection.

Recognise that you’re not alone

It’s all too easy to take rejection personally, but this really is something that everyone experiences. Even the most successful businesspeople have been turned down for something – you might even say especially the most successful. There are dozens of inspirational stories online designed to motivate us, teaching us the fable of never giving up. Yes, okay, it’s all a bit corny. Still, I really like Einstein’s famous adage: failure is success in progress. Steve Jobs even got fired from his own company, but he continued to enjoy significant professional success.

Application rejection: quality vs. quantity

Does the phrase ‘due to the high volume of applications…’ sound familiar? Try to take heart in knowing the decision wasn’t made lightly. It might have been a really close call – being unsuccessful ‘on this occasion’ doesn’t mean your application was weak. Keep applying and consider how you might widen your job search, or find alternative routes into your chosen career.

That’s all very well – but how do you stand out against such stiff competition? How do you make a good application the best it can be?

  • Check your CV and cover letter for typos – this really could make or break an application.
  • Make sure you’re using keywords from the job specification. Employers include this for a reason. Some applications are screened by computer software before reaching a real-life person.
  • Use active language – ‘I achieved’, ‘I organised’, etc. Anyone can say they’re a team player – make sure to evidence this with relevant examples.
  • Remember you can book a CV and applications feedback appointment with the Careers Service to get tailored feedback on your CV.

Interview rejection: ask for feedback

Perhaps you secured an interview, only to be told further down the line that you didn’t get the job. This is the ideal opportunity to learn where there’s room for improvement, to seek out the tools for you to improve things for next time. Be patient – employers might be dealing with a lot of these requests!

Asking for feedback can be tough, especially if you didn’t get what you’d hoped for. But the danger of avoiding this is never knowing how you can improve. You send out further unsuccessful applications, feel bad, avoid feedback… and the cycle continues.

Email the employer to thank them for the opportunity, ask what you did well on in your interview and where you could improve. There’s never any harm in asking.

Reframe your thoughts

If rejection is getting to you, challenge how you think about it. Instead of thinking ‘I’m not right for this job’, try to remember there’s a two-way process at play – perhaps the job isn’t right for you? Employers will select those they see fit for the role – but equally, it’s a good idea to pick jobs that appeal to you and reflect your strengths and values.

With the pandemic ongoing and a recession looming, there seems to be a disheartening implication that we can’t afford to be selective. And yet being selective will often increase your chances of success, if you understand what skills you have to offer and which industries need them.

Try not to lose sight of what you’ve achieved so far – remember, we all experience rejection in some shape or form, and it’s not a reflection on you or your worth. Contact careers@bath.ac.uk to find out how we can help you develop your resilience. Our Get Started guides for CVs and interviews can help you too. You can also contact the Wellbeing team for emotional support: wellbeingservice@bath.ac.uk.

Posted in: Advice, Feedback, Finding a Job

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