Sometimes after four interviews with seven different people, a presentation you spent a three-day weekend slaving over, a barrage of compliments that inflate your confidence toward only one outcome—you don’t get the job. You feel like you were thrown off a cliff, robbed of the future you were promised.
When this happens, I work with clients to acknowledge all they’re feeling.
Rejection: Why didn’t they want me?
Despair: I’m never going to find something as perfect as that role.
Anger: If they didn’t want me, why do they keep using all of the ideas I shared with them? (Side note: Employers, please stop using candidates ideas. And candidates, know that if you share your ideas, employers who may not choose you, may choose your ideas. I like to file this under the "not illegal, but very uncool" category of hiring tactics.)
Once you are one with your feelings, here are some ways you can get your mojo back in your search and in your career.
1. Reframe the loss
Just like finding the right partner, finding the right job is about fit. If you didn’t get the role, there was something that you have yet to uncover that didn’t make you a fit. It could be something on their end that they know about and you don’t, or something they’ve known about you all along that suddenly becomes important. In order for you to move on, it’s critical for you to know that it’s not that you’re not right for any role, rather you’re not right for that role. Your opportunity is out there waiting for you.
2. Ask for feedback
Once they let you know that you didn’t get the role, you can ask them for feedback that might be helpful as you continue your search. While hiring managers and recruiters give feedback a small percentage of the time, when you do get it, it can provide incredibly useful nuggets you can use to tweak your search or better understand how you can talk about the gaps in your experience. It can help you both learn how to do better next time AND clarify their decision-making process for going with someone else. Often times it makes the decision a lot more clear-cut when you realize, "It’s true, I don’t have that experience and if they’re looking for someone who’s done that, I wouldn’t have succeeded in that role."
3. Do a debrief of your performance
There is no perfect interview performance because there is no perfect human. Of course you did well enough to make it through several rounds of interviews, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing you could have done better. Give yourself some time to think through the answers where you may have stumbled or the points at which you talked and talked simply to fill the uncomfortable space. Or perhaps there was a point you went negative on a topic you had on your "Don’t mention these things" list. Make a list of areas you can improve and then spend some time tightening up responses—reframing topics that prompted you to unearth the skeletons—even if it’s simply fine-tuning. This is your chance to learn and take your interview skills to the next level.
4. Distill the essence of what you loved, seek it elsewhere
Go beyond the obvious to better understand what ignited you about that specific role or project. What do you really want that you thought this position could provide? Once you make a list of things that drew you like a magnet to this opportunity, realize that this job was one way of many to get you to those things. This list is your new set of marching orders for the next role you’re going to find. What are similar companies or industries where you may be able to look for a role with these things? It’s like having that great date with someone you know is not the one for you—but he or she helps you realize that this feeling and this person is out there for you and the trail of clues have been left for you to crack the case.
No matter how many times you go through this process of pulling yourself up, the rejection hurts. If you use career transitions and job searches as ways to validate your fears, insecurities and beliefs that the world is conspiring against you—you will find evidence to support all of these claims. And on the flip-side, if you realize they are opportunities to grow, to learn, to expand, and to try things that are outside of what feels comfortable and safe, you will find momentum and build that resilience muscle—capable of driving your success in parts of your life far beyond the scope of your career.