The Unemployment Playbook: Rejection Rehab

Posted by Cara Scharf on June 18, 2011
The Unemployment Playbook: Rejection Rehab

Rejection can come in many forms and at many stages in the job search process-and it never feels good. It might hit after weeks pass without ever receiving a confirmation that your resume was received. It might come after flying halfway across the country for an interview only to get the bad news in a letter the next week. It can even come in the form of rescinded offers-as many realized in the past year.

However it happens, being turned down for a position can wreak havoc on your self-esteem. "People often lose motivation," says Arnie Boldt, managing partner of career-transition firm Arnold-Smith Associates. "They give up because they're not getting any positive reinforcement."

But the longer you sit on the couch lamenting, the less time you have to create new opportunities. So put down the Ben and Jerry's and consider the following tips for not only dealing with rejection, but using it to enhance your job search and snag that desired position.

Don't take it personally
It's all too easy to blame rejections on your own shortcomings, forgetting that there are often factors beyond your control. Maybe the company lost funding or instituted a hiring freeze in the middle of the interview process. Maybe a highly qualified internal candidate applied for the same position. Maybe the employer was inundated with resumes, upping their selectivity and decreasing your chances of being picked.

No matter the case, wallowing in self-pity after each resume submission goes unanswered is unproductive. "Most employers don't know you, so they're not judging you as a person," says Arnie Boldt, managing partner of career-transition firm Arnold-Smith Associates. "It's more about whose qualifications best meet their needs."

It can be even easier to assume the employer simply disliked your personality when rejection comes after a face-to-face interview. But rather than dwell on your suit choice and personality flaws, realize that you had the skills to score an interview and that if they felt you might not be a good fit for them, it might not be a good fit for you either.  

Use rejection as a learning experience
The things you can control-your resume, cover letter, interview preparedness, etc.-should be the best they can be. Each rejection gives you more time and ammunition to improve upon these skills. Start by asking yourself honestly if you did everything you could. Did you decide 15 minutes was enough for research? Did you neglect to spell-check your resume? Did you have a solid answer to all the interviewer's questions? List a few things to do differently next time.

It can be difficult to assess yourself in a constructive way, so don't hesitate to ask friends and family members to review your resume, conduct a mock interview, or help identify your skills or define your weaknesses.  

You may also benefit from a local networking or career search group that not only provides support, but also practical job search help, says Boldt. Try a search on or

Finally, don't underestimate the benefits of contacting your interviewer for feedback. Note that you felt passionate about the job and disappointed it didn't work out, and would like to be better prepared when a similar position comes along. Just make sure you sound positive and gracious instead of desperate or angry.

Develop the right relationship with employers who've turned you down
An employer who turned you down can also be a great resource, especially if you clicked with the interviewer.  If you're truly interested in future opportunities, let the employer know. Say you're still interested in the company, ask about internship or volunteer opportunities, and follow up in a few months if you're still interested. "Nothing bad can come from staying in touch as long as you keep it positive," says Boldt.

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