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Three Secrets to Handling Rejection in the Job Search Process

By Benton McTaggart
Director, Career Success Services

You’ve spent weeks job hunting for your dream job. You have a polished resume. You’ve delivered stellar job interviews. You feel like you have dealt all the winning cards in your job search playbook. But yet, you keep hearing, “we have decided to move forward with another candidate.”

The frustration starts to build. You feel like all that hard work is a waste of your effort. You start to lose hope in your ability to land a job and end up feeling rejected.

First, it is completely normal to feel rejected in the job search process because job seekers usually give their all – in terms of time, effort and hope – to find the perfect job.

Feeling a sense of rejection triggers negative thoughts of being turned down, which can derail job seekers’ success. Thoughts such as these tend to take over: You are just not qualified enough, or, you will be rejected just like the last time, so why even bother? This then fuels an unhealthy cycle of self-doubt, procrastination, guilt and frustration.

Here are three secrets to handling rejection while job hunting:

  1. Label what you are feeling so that you can move forward

Acknowledge and label the emotions that come up after receiving a disappointing call or email about your job search. The more aware you are of what you are feeling, the easier it is to let go of those feelings.

Challenge the stories you are telling yourself about what is happening. Are these facts or false evidences appearing real? Choose thoughts that trigger success-inducing emotions such as excitement, optimism or even gratitude.


  1. Focus on your abilities and actions – not your personal traits

The mindset you bring to your job search is critical. Carol Dweck, a Stanford psychologist involved in decades of research on achievement and success, purports in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success that there are two mindsets – fixed and growth.

A fixed-mindset person believes that his or her job search results, and abilities to generate success, are fixed. Therefore, a rejection would be taken personally and interpreted as a reflection of who he or she is as an individual.

On the other hand, a growth-mindset individual knows that his or her abilities and actions can be developed through hard work and dedication. So a rejection is not about whether he or she is worthy, but rather it is an opportunity to get better at the job search.

Having a growth mindset keeps you focused and motivated in the face of rejection. The best way to do this is to focus on your abilities and actions. Do this by asking yourself: What step can I take right now to do this better next time?


  1. Focus on keeping the relationship warm and take the high road

The tendency after being turned down for a job is to give up and move on. Instead, express your gratitude for being a part of the process and ask how you can stay connected to the company. This may sound something like:

“Thank you for taking the time to call (or email) me about this. While I was looking forward to being a part of your company, I am glad to hear that you found a candidate who is the right fit for this role. I thoroughly enjoyed the interview process and learning more about [company] and would like to stay connected. What suggestions do you have for me?”   

Rejection is a normal part of the job search process. How job seekers respond to rejection can make or break their success. First, acknowledge and label what you are feeling to move past rejection. Focus on the next small step you can take to get better results next time. Ask companies how you can stay in touch even though they did not give you a job offer.