An Open Response to Accepting Defeat in the Job Search

Accepting defeat after job search rejection

In response to our recent article What to Do When You Don’t Get the Job, a reader posed the following question, to which I felt the response required more than just another comment:

I’ve tried to remain upbeat and positive and follow everything you mention in [your] article for over a year now. I have had a few interviews (usually telephone) followed by nothing. Recruiters and career consultants have indicated that my qualifications, skills, knowledge and experience meet the specific job description yet still nothing. After how long should I just accept defeat and give up? -Gail

Dear Gail,

While I don’t know your particular situation and everything you have gone through in the past year of your job search, I wanted to address your question as a whole, because it is one I get a least a dozen times a week, if not more, from job seekers.

Above anything, know that you are not alone.  Many job seekers feel the same frustration you are going through.  And, while a year of being in search mode can wear anyone down, you can’t just accept defeat and give up.   There are many days when you may want to, and any struggle in life can bring us to the precipice, but know that you have it in you to keep going, that you deserve a great outcome, and keep working towards it until you find it.  Easier said than done from someone sitting behind a keyboard, right?

Much of what I say, you probably already know, but we often hear great insights and tuck them away in our memory and forget to actually apply them.  Or we think we are applying them, but we’re only recalling them and not acting on them.

First, when you’ve been out of work whether it’s 1 month or 1 year, sadly, a stigma is already attached to your candidacy for any job.  I wish it weren’t the case, but even in this economy with so many people out work, many recruiters and hiring managers look at the employment gap and wonder why if you have great skills, no one else has snatched you up.

They still have the mentality that great people will always be employed.  I personally know many talented, smart individuals who have been out of work or under-employed for 1, 2, even 3 years.

You can’t let your job search define you. For many long term job seekers, this becomes the case over time, unknowingly.  Remember who you are, what your goals are, and continually hone your skills while on the search, so when you do manage to land a phone or face to face interview, you can wow the recruiter with your resourcefulness and knowledge.

Secondly, any recruiter or career consultant who is not also supplying you with any constructive criticism to your qualifications and knowledge isn’t helping you.  They’re placating you.  They empathize with your situation, but see many people come and go who are good candidates, and either don’t have the time, energy, or desire to offer you more than a feel good comment.

You very well may have great qualifications, skills, knowledge, and experience, but there’s a reason you’re not getting hired and that’s what you have to figure out for yourself.

Don’t accept just meeting the specific job descriptions when you apply.  In grade school ‘meeting expectations’ was getting a grade of a ‘C’, meaning you were average.  Most companies aren’t interested in hiring average players, they want ‘A’ players.

Ask yourself what wows you about your resume.  Why would you hire you?  (And are those reasons showcased on paper?)  Are you quantifying your resume? (Meaning are you showcasing the results you’ve achieved and attaching actually numbers and statistics to the achievements.)  Does your resume make sense?

If you’re covering all your basis with the resume, are you tailoring your cover letters.  Some recruiters will say that they don’t read cover letters, but many do.  And, for many it can change their minds about a candidate in the maybe pile.  Never write a generic cover letter if you want the job!  Be genuine, answer any questions upfront that might inhibit your candidacy, and showcase why you are the best fit, not just a good fit.

Now maybe your resume and cover letter are landing you interviews, but you just don’t seem to get past that point.  Then, you’re either not showing you’re the best candidate, or the job is just not the right fit.  Get tough on yourself (in a good way.)  And, be honest with yourself.

Are you going into the interview already feeling crippled because you’ve been on the search for a year? Are you feeling cynical, insecure, or worried about your experience or if they’ll like you?  Sometimes even with the best of intentions, we sabotage ourselves.  These inner feelings, like it or not, do reflect outward in ways we don’t always see.

If you feel like giving up, there’s probably a little of this weighing on you when you interview.  You may even be too afraid to hope that a job offer works out because it hasn’t for so long.  The only thing you should give up on are any negative feelings you may be harboring.  Every day it will be a battle to overcome these.  It’s not an easy battle, but you can do it.

You have to have the confidence to believe in yourself, to continually seek out guidance, to improve yourself, and to make opportunities happen for yourself.  When no one else is there, you are all you’ve got and you can’t accept defeat.

Even if you happen to be an introvert (like myself), you have to take chances in the interview and for a few moments seize the chance to stand out in a positive way.  You’ve already got a leg up on the competition, anyway, it’s called perseverance, because you haven’t given up on finding a job even after months of rejection.  And, what have you got to lose?

But, also know that changing your path is not accepting defeat either.  Opportunities come in all shapes and sizes.  It is important to keep an open mind and not get so focused on one path that you let another chance slip by you.

Be intentional in your job search.  Only apply to jobs you know you would take and tailor your application to show why you’re the best candidate.  When you’re excited about an opportunity and take time to share your enthusiasm and fit, it shows, and you will stand out.

When all else fails, get creative.  Try something new.  Sure some people buy billboards, some stand in the street, some twitter stalk companies, some bake cakes.  Some of these tactics work, and some don’t.  You have to know your audience and know yourself and how you’re comfortable marketing yourself.  Network like crazy, and have your elevator pitch ready at all times because you never know who you may run into.

And don’t lead with your sob story!  I see too many candidates do this, starting their introduction by telling people how long they’ve been out of work.  Lead with your highlights and what you might be able to do for the other person!

When you feel like giving up and accepting defeat, reach out to others for support.  Build your confidence back up and don’t let others define who you are.  Remember that you always have control of who you are and how you feel.  Accepting defeat is the easy way out, but learning from it is what makes a successful person.

If you look at all the great success stories out there, they didn’t just happen overnight, and things weren’t handed to the majority of successful people.  They worked hard and they looked rejection in the face as another opportunity.  Walt Disney was turned down over 100 times before he built his empire.  Sure, you may not be trying to build theme parks and beloved cartoon characters, but you can learn from the experience of others.

My biggest takeaway in all of this, I suppose, is don’t give up and don’t accept defeat.  If you’re still searching, you haven’t been defeated.  Believe in yourself and the power you have to make a difference in your own life.  I can only empathize that the past year has not been easy, but don’t let your struggle be for naught.  Make it worth the wait.  And know, that down the road once you’ve found your next opportunity, you will look back at all the strength you’ve gained from this time in your life and be grateful at how easy it is to face the challenges ahead.

Thank you, Gail, for being open about your frustration, and asking the question.  Maybe I didn’t answer your questions and maybe I did, but please continue to ask more questions, wherever and whenever you can, to get to where you want to be.

Kind Regards,

Robin Rayburn
Editor & General Manager

To all the other job seekers out there, I encourage you to offer your support and advice to Gail and all those struggling to find employment below.

To all the employers out there, what are you doing to help the employment crisis?  And, what are you doing to help those like Gail?

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About Robin Rayburn

Robin L. Rayburn is the Editor & General Manager of Robin was introduced to the recruitment industry in 2007 and her passion for people has never let her stray far from it since. In her spare time she manages her blog,, tweets from @interviewingcom and @chitowntexan, and is always striving to help those around her who have a vision for success. You can also find Robin on LinkedIn and Google+.

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  1. Editor's Blog: Adjusting our Attitudes and Thanking Mom | Interviewing.comMay 10, 2013 at 1:23 pmReply

    […] The main point is, adjust your attitude!  Yes, the job search can be defeating, but that’s only if you let it.  You can read more on my thoughts on this here: An Open Response to Accepting Defeat in the Job Search. […]

  2. Afifa SiddiquiOctober 4, 2012 at 7:53 amReply

    There are so many important things for job seekers to take away from this article, even ones who haven’t been searching for very long. I am a true believer in the idea of remaining both vigilant and positive in times of defeat. Remember that you’re selling your services to employers, and they will be able to sense any lack of confidence in what you’re selling. Believing in yourself and your abilities means that you are will never truly be defeated. The job search is a learning process that will only make a job seeker stronger over time.

  3. Cathy BialyOctober 3, 2012 at 7:28 pmReply

    Robin and Ryan have given you some excellent advice. As someone who has been in the recruiting business for over 20 yrs. I have found that lack of job offers can also be the result of a) unrealistic expectations on behalf of the candidate b) terrible resume format – typos, grammatical errors, poorly constructed paragraphs, lack of pertinent information, etc. c)lack of preparation for phone screens d)lack of preparation for upcoming interviews e)failure to answer interview questions in a concise manner f)failure to be strategic in answering certain problem solving type questions g)Not asking for the job at the end of the interview h)lack of follow up after an interview i)ageism – it truly is more difficult for people over the age of 50.

    I currently have three candidates that have been unemployed for 1-6 mos. and are finally at the offer stages with a couple of my clients. These candidates had excellent backgrounds, great resumes and were top drawer candidates. Two lived in geographically challenging areas and really thought they’d be employed sooner because they had great backgrounds. However, in a bad economy, smaller cities sometimes have fewer job prospects. The third candidate had been working in a very niched marketplace. She needed someone who could really see her skill sets and her ability to transition them.

    All three have been great people to work with. They did their homework on my clients, in each case going above and beyond what regular candidates do (ie, visit the website and hop around the internet). One visited customers of this client to ask them about the client’s products and what they thought of them and then related that information in their interview. Another did a spread sheet of this cliient’s products cost, as well as their competitiors, and what managed care plans they were covered on. Still another reached out to people already working at the prospective company through LinkedIn, and asked them how they liked the company, what their customers were like, etc. All these candidates followed up and followed through on everything they said they were going to do throughout the interview process. They brought brag books to the interviews, extra resumes, etc. They all “asked for the job.” I’m not saying that doing all these things will necessarily get you the job. It’s just a reminder that there are happy endings out there sometimes!

    From my end, I get hundreds of resumes piling into my inbox everyday. 80% or more have typos, grammatical mistakes, or objectives written for jobs totally unrelated to the job I am recruiting for. Many candidates send in resumes that don’t have enough information – not every recruiter will know that your company sells widgets, so put it on your resume! If you are in sales, put your sales numbers on your resume!

    I willl have candidates call me, upset that I haven’t reached out to them about a certain job, such as one requiring long-term care experience. I then look at their resume and NO WHERE do I see that experience listed. The reply is always the same “well I didn’t think it was necessary to list it” or “I can’t list everything.” Well, if you are applying to a job requiring LTC experience, then maybe you should. Always remember, your resume is your calling card! Candidates will say “get me an interview, I’ll get the job.” How can I get you an interview, when you have a poorly written resume?”

    I know that recruiters aren’t perfect either. We are quick to get you off the phone and don’t like to give out a lot of information on how to do a job search. Some recruiters never call you again after an interview! I can’t make excuses for every recruiter. Personally, I’d never work with anyone who sent me on an inteview and then never had the courtesy to return my calls. What you should know though, is that our turn around time on getting resumes to our clients has become extremely short and there are days when we have less than 24 hours to get resumes to a client! We don’t make money doing resume re-writes, or telling you how to market yourself – that is the function of an outplacement service, not a recruiting firm. That being said, I do spend alot of time with candidates who begin to go through the interviewing process with my clients.

    As a human being, I leave my office many evenings with a heavy heart for the unemployed and wish I had more hours in the day to be more helpful. Unfortunately there are no easy answers out there. Keep your spirits up. Try some of those tips from Robin and Ryan. Stay strong, and best of luck to you.

  4. CherOctober 2, 2012 at 3:44 pmReply

    I have been working at the same company for over 5 years. I have been very successful in my role. For the past year I have been looking for my next opportunity. I’ve had many recruiters reach out to me directly saying that I came highly referred to them. I interview for the role and hear the same answer. We loved meeting you and think you are great at what you do and have been successful at my current company but they found someone who fit the role more closely. What’s hard is when I apply directly for a position online for a similar role which I fit all of the requirements of the job and work in the same industry I find out that I am rejected from the career page without a phone screen.

    I believe employers are out there looking for what I call the kitchen sink. They throw every possible quality and criteria for the role. So many people are either out of work or looking for work it just seems impossible to land a job offer.

    Many times I have felt so defeated but I have to keep going. I am convinced that I will land that right job!

  5. RyanOctober 2, 2012 at 2:41 pmReply

    One final suggestion – if you’re not getting past the phone interview, maybe you can find a colleague or friend that could give you a few practice phone interviews. It never hurts to make sure you’re making the best possible impression. I had a practice call once, and I was embarassed at how many “umm”‘s I had! Many temp/contract agencies will be happy to help you with that, if you’re on their roster of candidates they can vet.

  6. RyanOctober 2, 2012 at 2:36 pmReply

    PS: It’s funny that Robin mentioned baking cakes to be creative.. I once delivered a stack of my resume’s to a company with a large red velvet cake that had my resume in frosting on it. It made an impression that got me in for an interview for the next position they had open up!

  7. RyanOctober 2, 2012 at 2:35 pmReply

    Gail –

    As someone who was unemployed for 28 months, please know you are NOT alone in this frustration.. In that 28 month time frame, I sent out well over 5000 resumes. I went close to 18 months without a face to face interivew. In my first face to face interview after that 18 months period, I knew 5 minutes into the interview I had blown it because my bitterness about the job hunt and how I had been treated as a non-entity by so many recruiters was difficult for me to hide. I also realized in that same instant that it was all up to me, to make sure they could see the best possible version of me. Just because I knew I could do the job, doesn’t mean they will agree when the person in front of them comes across as emotionally battered, a little bitter, and defeated.

    Previous to that long bout of unemployment, I had a charmed life. I had gotten a job offer in every single job interview I sat in. I never struggled to find a job – when I was job hunting I had the luxury of picking from a few offers at a time. I have a great resume and am a highly connected professional who has left a trail of happy employers behind him. I was -NOT- the person that was supposed to happen to. I was not prepared.. it had never occurred to me that I could be on the outside, unable to get back in.

    Here are my tips to you:

    1) Don’t take it personally. Ever. It’s a rough economy. People may not want to hire someone who has been unemployed for any period of time. Maybe they’re one of those limited people who assumes if you are unemployed you are not a good employee. Maybe the hiring manager feels threatened that your resume is a little too good, and their boss may decide to use you to replace them, if you are hired. Maybe the hiring req was frozen after the job was posted. You may never know. It’s too easy to fall into a trap of being upset or taking offense to something that isn’t there. I know I did, and I’m generally a positive/upbeat kind of guy!

    2) Stay busy! Take a class, learn a new skill! Find a non-profit with a cause that is dear to your heart, and volunteer with them in a capacity that lets you use (or ideally gain new) job skills that you want to showcase. It’s a great way to keep busy when not sending out resumes, and it keeps you in contact with people who appreciate you – something every unemployed person really needs. It also looks great on a resume, or if a recruiter/hiring manager ask you what you’ve been doing in your “transition time”.

    3) I kept an excel spreadsheet with the name of every company I applied to, the job title, posting/req number, date applied, and the contact info for anyone I had there directly, or through LinkedIn, or my personal network. This will help you keep track of who/what/when/where. This may seem like unnecessary work to some people, but I found it extremely helpful to keep track of my applications – especially when some employers may take a month or two to respond. I also kept a folder with a copy of every resume/cover letter/application I sent out. I customized each cover letter and resume to the job description of each position I applied for.

    4) Don’t ever view it as “Accepting Defeat”. You are not defeated. Defeat only comes when you quit trying. I don’t want this to sound inane or like some bad motivational poster, but you have to keep your chin up. You have to keep faith in yourself. If you lose faith in yourself, others WILL pick up on that, and if you don’t believe in yourself, you can’t expect a hiring entity to.

    5) If you haven’t already, reach out to temp agencies and headhunters. Many long term temp assignments can lead to permanent employment. They also help you stay busy and offer potential to expand your professional network. If you need the income, that is also an obvious benefit.

    6) Check out Meetup.Com – look for groups and opportunities to network for job hunters, job fairs, and support groups for people on the job hunt. Just use common sense in where/what/who.. be mindful of job scammers, and opportunists, so be cautious in what you share with who.

    7) Don’t forget to breath. I know, there are days when you feel like it’s futile and you just want to scream. Take a deep breath. Have a cup of tea. Let yourself have a little time each day where you don’t obsess over the job hunt. It will grind your spirit down if you lose yourself in the process. You are your greatest asset in this.

    I wish you great success in your search, Gail.


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