How You Respond to Rejection Influences Your Job Search

“We wish you luck in your future endeavors.”

“We’re moving forward with other candidates.”

“We hope you apply with X Company again in the future.”

These – along with no response at all – are popular canned responses that HR departments use to say no. If you’re actively looking for a new job, odds are you’re going to hear these phrases a lot. 

(I know – not something you want to hear from a career coach, but read on. I promise it gets more hopeful.)

I’ve witnessed the full range of responses to rejection, and I’m ready to make the claim that most people can plot their rejection response somewhere along the “learning experience” – “personal affront” dichotomy. 

Perhaps more importantly, though, I’ve realized that a correlation exists between how my clients handle rejection and how the job search ultimately goes for them. (I suppose I should say “observed,” since I haven’t collected data on this trend, but I have worked with hundreds of clients, so if one of you wonderfully statistics-savvy researchers is reading this blog and wants to do a study, I’d be happy to participate!)

What do I mean, exactly? 

People who see rejection as a normal and expected part of the job-seeking process, who, in fact, look forward to rejection because of the information they can gather are more likely to identify and seize better-fitting opportunities, and to grow those opportunities into more opportunities for career success.

Let’s break this down.

  1. Rejection in job-seeking is normal and is to be expected. 

Many of my clients have a problem with this first statement. The whole goal of their hiring me, they protest, is to avoid rejection. No, the reason my clients hire me is to help them chart and follow a path to career success. That path almost always requires rejection. Why? Because rejection helps job seekers to refine and improve their goals. 

I often compare rejections in job seeking to rejections in sales. Very few salespeople expect to make 100% of sales. Instead, they expect to hit a quota or goal that is often a percentage of sales. In some industries, a 30% close rate is VERY GOOD! That means out of 300 leads, the salesperson only closes 30! But that doesn’t mean the other 270 provide no benefits. No, Those 270 clients who didn’t buy provided the salesperson with a lesson.

Similarly to sales, sports offer a solid metaphor for the job-seeking process – although I’m pretty poor with sports metaphors. Hockey players don’t expect all the shots they take to be slam dunks. (I’m kidding, I’m kidding.) But whether we’re talking baseball, basketball, soccer, or hockey, few athletes use making every single shot they take as a baseline. Missing is normal. When you miss, you learn about your weaknesses and how to refine your craft. 

For some reason, though, the pure normalcy of job seeking seems to have eluded job seekers. Salespeople may not be expected to make every sale, but jobseekers feel discouraged if they aren’t offered an interview each time they apply.

That’s a great segway into #2.

  1. People who see rejection as a normal part of the job-seeking process and who look forward to the lessons they can learn from it ultimately find more opportunities for career success.

Once they realize that #1 is true, people are less likely to resist rejection but instead embrace it. And when they embrace it, they maximize their opportunities. 

But I’m not sure this is natural for us – and when I say “us,” I think I mean those who claim “American” or at least “Western” culture. (I know that a fair amount of the people reading this blog aren’t American. I’d love to know how your cultural views impact this statement.)

Instead, for many, resistance to rejection is the “normal” reaction. How do my clients respond before I talk to them about this? They say things like, “I feel so stupid” or “I just must be underqualified” or “I guess I’m never going to get anywhere.” What does this do – it shuts them down. They don’t learn anything from the experience. At best, they walk away defeated. At worst, they give up. 

What happens when job seekers embrace rejection?

  1. They open up. The first thing they do is think, “Hooray! More data. This is going to help me get closer to where I want to be.”
  2. They figure out why they received the rejection. Sometimes that’s as simple as reading an email. Sometimes, it requires a follow-up email or an investigation. Sometimes it requires a review of data for patterns.
  3. They decide how they can use the why to move forward. Is there something they should change about their resume? Their interview presentation? Do they need to get a new certification or gain skills in a particular area? Or, do they simply need to aim at a different job title, company, or industry?
  4. They devise a plan for how to implement those changes.
  5. They determine whether there is any opportunity in the rejection. Anyone they should add on LinkedIn? Anyone to follow up with in a company? A new job to apply for?

Once you see that list, it should be pretty clear why people who embrace rejection and learn from it find more opportunities than those who resist. I also know that moving from resisting to embracing rejection isn’t easy. I want you to know that it’s not easy for me either – even as a career coach, even though I know better. When I’m first faced with rejection, I often counter with resistance. For me, that resistance has its root in one thing – fear. I’m just like my jobseekers in that way. When my jobseekers face rejection, they often say out of fear, “What if I NEVER get a job?” When I face rejection over a missed opportunity, I sometimes catch myself saying, “What if I NEVER get another client?”

But then I move through it. I move past it. I push through resistance to embrace my rejection, learn from it, and ultimately succeed. That’s what I coach my clients to do too. It’s called resilience. And it matters. 

If you’re struggling with how to handle rejection, book a free call here.