What to Do When You Don’t Get the Job

You’re more than qualified for the position. You know that you totally aced your interview. The hiring manager even accidentally let a “See you soon!” slip out of her mouth as you were leaving. Needless to say, you’re feeling pretty confident about your chances of actually landing that dream job. So, when the email you’ve been waiting days for finally arrives in your inbox, you anxiously start skimming the message for the confirmation that you got the job. Then, your eye catches over one small line and your stomach drops. “We were impressed with your qualifications, but…” That job you thought you had in the bag? Well, it turns out it wasn’t such a sure thing. You’re being rejected. Not landing a job is always tough — particularly if it’s a position you were especially excited about. But, unfortunately, it’s a completely natural part of the job hunting process. And, knowing the right (and wrong) way to respond to rejection is crucial to moving forward and maintaining your professional reputation. So, here are five steps to follow when you didn’t land the job. If one of those dreaded emails arrives again, you’ll know just what to do.

1. Take a Deep Breath

There’s no doubt that receiving one of those horrible “Thanks, but no thanks” messages stings. But, reacting while your ego is bruised and emotions are high is just a recipe for disaster. You don’t want to do anything rash, so resist the temptation to immediately fire off a scathing email to the hiring manager. Instead, step away for at least a few hours and pull yourself together. It might seem unnecessary — particularly if you think you can effectively control your own emotions. But, trust me, you’ll be glad you decided against responding in the heat of the moment.

2. Do Some Self-Reflection

You may have thought you had the job in the bag. But, obviously, things didn’t work out that way. So, it’s time to reflect back on the entire hiring process and identify the areas where you could’ve been stronger. It’s important to be honest with yourself. Don’t gloss over your memory of the interview and convince yourself that the hiring manager is just an incompetent jerk. Instead, think back on individual questions. Were there some you struggled to answer? And, take some time to evaluate the job as a whole. Did you really meet all of the qualifications for the position, or only some? What do you think prevented you from actually landing that job? Getting a grasp on your own performance before asking for an explanation from the actual company is helpful in appropriately targeting your questions when you do ask for feedback, as well as extracting the most value from the hiring manager’s suggestions.

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3. Show Gratitude

Yes, this might be a tough pill to swallow. After all, it’s a little counterintuitive to heartily thank someone for shooting you down. But, remember that the hiring manager took time out of his or her day in order to find out more about you and your experience. And, if nothing else, it was a great opportunity to hone your interview skills. So, when you craft your response email, make sure you start it with a genuine “thank you.” A simple line like, “Thanks so much for the opportunity to interview for this position. I really enjoyed meeting you and learning more about XYZ Company,” demonstrates that you’re a professional and respectable candidate who isn’t holding a grudge (at least publicly). As the old saying goes, you always catch more flies with honey.

5. Request Feedback

Now comes the most crucial part of the entire process. You know that you were rejected, but you want an explanation as to why you didn’t quite make the cut. Before asking for feedback from the hiring manager, it’s important to remind yourself that criticism is rarely easy to hear — even if it is constructive. However, you should avoid becoming defensive and irritated right off the bat.  Yes, we’d all love to receive endless strings of compliments about how intelligent and accomplished we are. But, that doesn’t give you any room to learn and grow. You’ll get some of your most valuable feedback from the people who turn you away — and you can put those suggestions to use in order to improve for future opportunities! So, how exactly do you go about asking for feedback? Well, the best way to do it is in that same response to your rejection email. Following your genuine thank you, simply put your request for suggestions out there with something like, “As I’m actively job hunting, I’m always looking for ways that I can improve my qualifications and interview skills. Would you mind providing some feedback about our interactions? Your valuable insight would mean so much to me!” Then, cross your fingers and hope that the hiring manager responds with some useful feedback you can put to use. Even if you never hear another word, you can rest easy with the knowledge that you maintained the utmost professionalism throughout the entire experience!

6. Stay Connected

Alright, so maybe you didn’t end up being the best fit for that particular job. But, if you really clicked with the company, there’s no law stating that you can never apply for another position within that same organization. Remember that saying, “It’s not always what you know, but who you know”? Well, now you have a connection at that company. So, don’t let that relationship completely stagnate and fade away as a distant memory. Instead, find simple ways you can stay casually connected with the hiring manager or department leader you interviewed with. LinkedIn is particularly great for maintaining a connection in a low-pressure environment. So, send a request with a personalized message, and you’ll have an ace in your pocket when another job is posted! There’s really no sugarcoating it — rejection can be a real blow to your ego. But, reacting appropriately can help to prevent a bad situation from getting worse. So, follow these five steps for responding and you’ll demonstrate what a professional and polished job seeker you are — making you that much more likely to land a different job soon!

Kristen Hamilton is the Co-Founder and CEO of Koru, the leader in predictive hiring. As a technology entrepreneur and executive with a passion for impact, Kristen has a successful track record driving value for customers and investors. She co-founded e-commerce pioneer Onvia and took it public in 2000. Kristen built the organization to 500 people, raised over $300 million of investment capital, and led the M&A team to acquire and integrate four private companies in two years. Kristen then shifted focus to education and talent acquisition, as head of educator strategy at Microsoft, and COO of World Learning, where she ran operations in 66 countries.

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