Didn’t get the job? Here’s what you can learn from rejection

Finding out you’ve been unsuccessful in landing a job can be a difficult thing to go through – especially after putting so much time and effort into applying.

While the experience comes with disappointment, there’s also often an opportunity to learn from it.

Here’s how to use a job rejection as a chance to grow and improve as you continue your job search.

Start by asking for constructive feedback

When you’re experiencing rejection, the idea of getting constructive feedback can seem daunting. In fact, according to research for SEEK, only 14% of people say they get feedback from hirers or recruiters when applying for jobs. But if you’ve missed out on a role, it’s completely acceptable to ask for feedback.

Feedback can give you valuable direction on how to improve on your next application. Getting good, constructive feedback comes down to the questions you ask, and making sure your questions are directed to the right people.

Leah Lambart, Career Coach and Founder of Relaunch Me, suggests getting feedback by:

  • Making a polite request for feedback directly from the person who is letting you know the status of your application.
  • Emailing a relevant member of the hiring panel if you’ve been given their details throughout the interview process. Or, if you don’t have their details, email the business’ HR team to request feedback.

In making these approaches, it’s important to make it very clear you would just like to know if they have feedback for you – you don’t want to give the impression that you’re protesting the decision. The way you phrase these questions goes a long way in getting this right.

Some helpful example questions Leah Lambart suggests for requesting feedback:

  • Are you able to provide me with any tips for specific skills or experience that I should work on that will better position me for such a role in the future?
  • Can you recommend any ways that I could gain these skills/experience?
  • Based on my performance in the interview, is there any specific feedback that you might have about my interview skills that might help me perform better in future interviews?
  • Can you let me know if there were specific competencies that I didn’t satisfy in the recruitment process?
  • Were there any specific competencies assessed in the interview where my examples let me down?
  • Do you have any specific feedback on my interview technique? Is there anything that I need to work on to be more successful in the future?

Put constructive feedback to good use

Constructive feedback is only useful if you know how to act on it. To help you implement the feedback you get, Lambart has a number of potential suggestions:

  • Find a course or other training that can help you develop specific skills.
  • Seek someone in your network who would be happy to mentor you in this area.
  • Put up your hand for new opportunities in your current workplace to build out your skill set.
  • Consider pitching yourself at a different level to gain these skills. For example, you might try applying for roles with slightly less responsibility or salary to gain specific experience in a new industry.

Use the opportunity for some self-assessment

Unfortunately, it’s not always possible to obtain feedback. Some organisations have policies against providing it, and other times the feedback you do get is generic and not very useful.

When this happens, there are still things you can do to turn this experience into an opportunity for growth. Self-assessment can be a powerful tool for understanding why you may have not been successful, and to regain confidence before you put yourself out there again.

Lambart advises writing down the questions you were asked immediately following an interview, so you can assess your own responses. This may help you to determine any areas that you have to work on, either on your own, or, as Lambart suggests, with the help of a professional.

“Discussing the questions and your responses with an interview coach may allow you to uncover a flaw in your interview technique that you can work on for next time,” she says. “It can also reassure you that there was nothing wrong with your responses and perhaps the competition was just better on the day.”

Don’t let a rejection stop you from the role you really want

Being knocked back for a role can be deflating and there’s no doubt it can impact your confidence. It’s important to remember though that a rejection is not always straightforward and is often not a direct reflection of how skilled or capable you are.

Lambart says it can help to know that in many cases your skills, experience and performance in the interview may have been very good, but that there was just another candidate who stood out more on the day. “Likewise, you may have been up against an internal candidate who already had a very strong advantage,” she adds.

“If you‘re really struggling to understand why you were not successful, seek out a coach who can help you identify areas for improvement for next time or at least build your confidence up again for the next interview.”

When it comes to applying and interviewing for jobs, there are some things that will always be out of your control. By focusing on what you can do – taking steps to reflect and gain feedback or ideas for improvement – you’ll have benefitted from your experience no matter what the outcome.

Independent research conducted by Nature of behalf of SEEK, interviewing 4000 Kiwis annually. Published March 2023.

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