You’ve resolved to find a new job. You’ve sent resumes. Done interviews. But sometimes you just don’t land the job. Hearing “no” from potential employers can impact you mentally, psychological, even physically. But keep your chin up: You can deal with the rejection and the setbacks. There are ways to cope, reframe the disappointment, and learn from the experience.
I was recently speaking with a student in the thick of the job search. He was frustrated that he was getting so many “no’s,” but I urged him to instead look at each rejection as one step closer to getting that “yes.”
Don’t take rejection personally. If you don’t get a “yes,” mentally reframe it in a positive way. Instead of feeling hopeless, embarrassed or frustrated, consider the possibilities that you didn’t hear back because the company decided not to fill the position. Or maybe that position wouldn’t have been the right job for you. Don’t assume you blew the interview; there are countless reasons why you might not have gotten the job so try to keep a positive mental perspective.
Get comfortable with “No.” Kids will keep asking for things no matter how many times they hear a “no.” Adult job-seekers should take a page from those children The average job seeker is rejected by 24 decision-makers before they get the “yes,” according to research from career coach and author Orville Pierson. Staying resilient throughout the job-search process means getting comfortable with rejections. In my teaching, I challenge my MBA students to push themselves to get comfortable hearing “no” by actually assigning them to go out and ask people questions where they will get rejected at least 10 times – things like going into a restaurant and asking for free food, or asking a police officer if they could drive the cruiser. My students find they hear a lot more than just “no;” they hear alternatives and excuses. But the goal is to get them comfortable with “no” and the excitement of finally getting a “yes.”
Reflect on your interviews. The training and development literature suggests that reflection can help fuel deeper learning and insight by looking at situations through a different lens. Don’t just take a rejection as the cue to send out another resume. Take a hard look at why you aren’t getting the results you want and break down the process into steps to better understand where things went wrong. Ask yourself: How am I opening? What’s happening during the conversation? What kind of messages am I conveying verbally and nonverbally? Am I asking at least three to five smart questions that convey I’m intellectually curious and will add value to the organization? Am I asking questions to learn about the interviewer? Am I closing too strong? That is, am I coming across as too boastful and slick, or perhaps too eager or desperate? If you can pinpoint the downfalls in your approach, you can correct them. Don’t oversell yourself and be sure you’re walking the fine line between confidence and arrogance. Prepare great interview responses that connect your experiences with the organization’s mission and values, and never miss an opportunity to ask meaningful questions.
Ask for feedback. When you don’t get a call back, ask your interviews for feedback on why. Though some organizations have policies against providing the information, it doesn’t hurt to ask. The responses can be invaluable when applied to your next interview.
Practice more. You don’t want to sound too scripted or rehearsed in the actual interview, but you also don’t want to stumble over your words. Recruit a friend, family member or colleague to practice your interview skills. Find others in the job-search process. Seek out groups for building confidence and leadership presence, such as joining Toastmasters International or a local improv theatre. Or just get out the iPhone and record yourself answering job interview questions. Watch it back to critique your responses and your delivery. Are you stories memorable? Do they clearly, passionately, and confidently convey your value proposition to an employer? Are you responses concise and well-organized?
Revise your approach. If you’re not getting calls when you send our your resume, assess whether your skills and experience are aligned with the positions where you are applying. Spend time vetting your skills with specific positions and tailor your resume and cover letters for each application. You have to do your homework. This is even more important for job transitioners or those coming back to work after taking a long break. Be strategic. Expand your job search beyond your employer of choice by exploring “career ecosystems” (i.e., potential jobs with suppliers and vendors serving that employer, relevant trade associations, etc.). Set aside time for networking, conducting informational interviews, and creating new relationships. Along the way keep in mind the mantra – “If you ask for a job, you’ll get advice, and if you ask for advice you’ll get a job.”
Take a breather. If you are getting too many rejections, it can help to step away from the process to decompress. You need to have a clear head for the job search. Create “white space” in your job search to reflect if you need it. But don’t take too long of breather – a few days should be enough. If you take a week away from the job search, you might be letting the “no’s” overwhelm you too much.
Remember that in the end, “winners are just people who keep trying.” I was recently exposed to an emotionally compelling and motivating TED Talk featuring Jia Jiang, an entrepreneur, blogger, speaker, author and self-proclaimed “Rejection Ambassador” who is committed to “turning rejection’s darkness into inspiration’s light.”
As you encounter setbacks it’s what you do when you face adversity that defines you. Prevent rejection from derailing your job search efforts by not taking it personally, keeping a smile on your face, and staying mentally tough. If you’re still not getting anywhere in your job search after six months, look for help. Seek out a career course or a negotiations course. Consider engaging the services of a professional career coach. There is no shame in asking for help when you need it – it’s just another sign of resiliency and will get you one step closer to that ultimate “yes” associated with the dream job your desire.
Jeffrey Kudisch is a clinical full professor and co-founder and principal partner of Personnel Assessment Systems, a human resource consulting firm specializing in leadership development, executive assessment, and talent acquisition.