What to Do When You Don’t Get the Job

how to handle interview rejection

How to Handle Interview Rejection

As a job seeker, every prospective interview holds new hope and excitement, especially when you know you’re a great fit for the role.  But, the reality is only one person gets the job, which leaves the rest of the applicants dealing with rejection, if they get any sort of response at all.

So how do you turn the sour taste of rejection into job offer lemonade?  There is no easy way around interview rejection.  It doesn’t feel good and you can lose a lot of momentum after days of researching a company, preparing responses, and handpicking the perfect interview outfit.

But there’s always a silver lining to be had, so before you set out on your job hunt, start with the right mindset and follow a few basic rules of thumb to keep your search on track.

Be mentally prepared.  Know your odds going into a job interview–they are always stacked against you.  You should feel good about making it to the interview, that means you already beat out the majority of the candidates for the position.  It means your resume and any work you did on applications and pre-interview steps paid off, so you’re already doing something right.

But, don’t let it be a shock should you not get an offer, and don’t let it weigh you down.  Every experience can be a learning experience, and as such, focus on each interview as a chance to grow and learn so that you have positive things to focus and improve on from each interview rather than deliberating over the negatives.

Be ready to get back up and try, try again.  Persistence both mentally, emotionally, and physically is needed to survive the job search.

Don’t take it personally.  Sure, it’s always easier said than done, but remember, you are interviewing for a business, and while companies tend to hire people the like, they also reject a lot of people they like.

They’re trying to evaluate the best fit based on a lot of criteria, much of which is probably a mystery to you.  You may never know the real reason why you weren’t selected, so don’t let it keep you down and don’t use the job interview to validate your self-worth.  The decision not to hire you is not based on you as a person, it’s a business decision, sometimes made in your best interest.

You also might be tempted to ask why you didn’t get the job.  If you do, do not expect to get an honest or elaborate response.  Some recruiters or hiring managers will tell you so that you can learn, but many are concerned about HR issues and will keep replies short and generic.  Don’t try to keep convincing them that you can do the job as you might actually harm their opinion of you. They’ve already made their decision, so it’s better to move on and focus on what’s ahead.

Keep your emotions in check.  Regardless of how you feel after the interview, never lash out for not getting the job.  If you need to vent, vent to a friend.  You might not have been a fit for the job you interviewed for but that doesn’t mean you might not be a fit for something else that comes along.  Recruiters and hiring managers talk to one and other and often refer great candidates or keep them in mind for other positions.

And, sometimes job offers and start dates fall through, and if you happened to be number 2 on the list, someone else’s loss could be your gain.  If you burn that bridge and let your emotions interfere, you could be burning not only the opportunity at hand, but future opportunities as well.  As I said, remember, recruiters and hiring managers talk to one and other.

Keep it in perspective.  This is just one interview of many, or if you’re lucky, not so many.  Depending on your background, skill sets, and types of jobs your applying for, competition could be steep and recruitment processes can be drawn out.  Even if you feel great about a job interview, keep applying for other positions and keep interviewing until you have received and accepted a job offer and have a start date.

I take rejection as someone blowing a bugle in my ear to wake me up and get going, rather than retreat. –Sylvester Stallone

It’s a marathon, not a sprint as they say–even if some get to the finish line quicker than others.  Focus on your goals and how to get there.  Keep that as your motivation.  Rejection does not mean failure, it just means the fit on both sides wasn’t there from the hiring manager’s perspective.

And, yes, recruiters and hiring managers are focused on the companies needs, but they are often also considering the candidate’s well being and whether they are a fit for the job and the company in the short and long term, in their final decisions.  Let rejection be a driver in your job hunt and not a detractor from your success.

Accept rejection with grace and tact. When and if you do get turned down for a job, show what a classy candidate you are.  Try following up with a polite thank you note.  Keep it short and thank the interviewer for the opportunity and try to highlight a great quality about the company or individual.

If nothing else you may impress the interviewer enough that they remember you for other openings and keep you in a positive light.  It can also provide a bit of closure for yourself so that you can move on to pursuing the next opportunity with a clear head, and it keeps the door open for future communication.

Ask the right questions. When all is said and done, the best thing to do is assess your own interview and start asking yourself the hard questions.  It’s easy to say the interviewer just couldn’t see what a great candidate you are, but maybe you didn’t show them all your outstanding qualities in the interview.

What were you prepared for in the interview and what threw you off course?  What can you do differently in the next interview that might put you in a better light?  Did your responses accurately reflect your skills and your desire to do the job?  Don’t be afraid to get tough on yourself for the chance to stand out in your next interview.

And, don’t forget to ask yourself what you learned.  Did the interviewer bring up industry topics you weren’t familiar with that you need to research?  Did you ask questions that didn’t go over well with the interviewer?  Perhaps you realized you didn’t like the company culture or the managers.

There’s nothing like rejection to make you do an inventory of yourself.  –James Lee Burke

Sometimes not landing a job is a blessing in disguise, and if you try to understand what went right and what went wrong in an interview, from both sides, you can learn more about what you seek in an employer, what you want in a job, and better prepare yourself for the next interview.

Don’t be afraid to take what you learn to re-focus your job search and hone in on companies and positions that meet your requirements.  The more concentrated you are able to be on what you want, the more attention you can put into your preparation to land the role you want.

A rejection is nothing more than a necessary step in the pursuit of success. -Bo Bennett 

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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. hallowkitty619July 29, 2013 at 11:46 pmReply

    interviewingcom Try not emotional and despair; be calm to find the reason.

  2. An Open Response to Accepting Defeat in the Job Search - Interviewing.comOctober 2, 2012 at 10:46 amReply

    […] 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 […]

  3. Gail DalrympleSeptember 28, 2012 at 10:03 amReply

    I’ve tried to remain upbeat and positive and follow everything you mention in 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?

    • Robin RayburnOctober 2, 2012 at 10:50 amReplyAuthor

      Gail, I did not want to dismiss your comment with just a few statements, but instead decided to write another post regarding your question. Please feel free to view my response here:
      Please continue to voice your questions and concerns about your job search. It is only through conversation, interaction, and action that a shift can begin and hopefully over time changes for the better can be made. Thank you for your comment.

  4. Recover from Rejection in Your CareerSeptember 27, 2012 at 3:00 pmReply

    […] recently posted an article on “What to Do When You Don’t Get the Job,” and it offers advice on overcoming interview rejection. also recently tackled rejection for […]

  5. Afifa SiddiquiSeptember 20, 2012 at 8:57 amReply

    Don’t forget that you can use your interviewer as a resource as well. Instead of asking why you didn’t get the job, craft a graceful reply and ask the interviewer for any feedback you could use in the future. As the interviewer can objectively critique your interview, he or she may be able to provide you with feedback on an area you can improve upon you wouldn’t have necessarily noticed yourself. Maybe you talked too fast or didn’t demonstrate your knowledge clearly. Or maybe you did a great job and it just came down to experience or some other objective factor. Either way, asking your interviewer for feedback will leave you with a clearer picture of where you stand and how to improve next time.

  6. EdSeptember 19, 2012 at 9:04 amReply

    Insightful article Robin. Thanks. With respect to job search rejection I believe most of the time that “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”.

    • Robin RayburnSeptember 19, 2012 at 9:34 amReplyAuthor

      Very true, Ed! For many job seekers, it can be easy to forget that and allow the struggles of the job hunt get them down which can affect their performance in their next interview. It may be a cliche, but it’s great to remember that rejection won’t kill you, and has the power to make you stronger the next go-round.

  7. Interviewing.comSeptember 18, 2012 at 11:56 amReply

    haha! No emotional or stress eating on our watch!

  8. Ryan JosephSeptember 18, 2012 at 11:16 amReply

    I thought the response was to eat everything in sight? 😉

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