What to Do When You Don't Get a Job Offer

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It doesn't matter how many times you experience this type of rejection—and let's face it, if you're actively applying for jobs, rejection is nearly inevitable—the sting never fades.

Even if you don't get a job offer, negative emotions don't have to be the last stop of your application process. Here’s some tried-and-true advice on how to respond, and bounce back, when you're rejected from a job that you really wanted.

Accept Your Emotions

Give yourself time to identify your feelings, whatever they may be. You may want to call a friend to vent, go for an intense workout, or write a frustrated journal entry. Choose the coping method of your choice, but after some time spent processing your emotions, do your best to move on.

While this may feel like a personal decision, it's not: hiring decisions are based on a mix of factors, from candidates' salary needs to experience levels. Personality may play a role in the mix, but it's likely not the most important factor. If you've ever been on the other side of the interview, chatting with candidates, you know decisions are often made based on gut feelings, or a single important bullet point on a candidate's resume.

Be Gracious and Stay Connected

Send a polite thank-you note to your interviewer and any major contacts you've made at the company, thanking them for their time and wishing them good luck. You can also use this space to request that the company keep you in mind for other opportunities that come up. This is also a good moment to connect on LinkedIn, which will help to extend your relationship. 

Ask for Feedback

One of the worst parts about not getting a job can be wondering why you didn't get it. Was it a silly joke you made? A poor answer to a question? A typo in your thank-you note? While legal concerns may restrict a company's response, try asking for feedback on their decision-making process. Frame your inquiry as a positive ("what can I improve?") rather than a negative ("why didn't you hire me?").

If a recruiter was involved in your application, you're in luck: these matchmakers tend to get lots of actionable information from both applicants and employers. Since they don't face the same legal pressures as companies that are hiring, recruiters can be a good source of feedback about your performance during an interview.

If you are fortunate enough to receive feedback, avoid being defensive and use it constructively. It can be frustrating to hear that a company rejected you because you didn't have leadership qualities, when in fact you were a leader in several prior jobs. Take that as a signal that you need to think about ways to emphasize your leadership while answering questions, and potentially rephrase parts of your resume. Use any feedback you receive as a way to improve for next time.  

Review Your Application Process, from Start to Finish

Think about the entire process of your application, from when you first applied to the job through to your correspondence and interviews. Is there anything you would change? There's nothing helpful about obsessing over why it didn't work out—instead, focus on solutions for moments that did not go as desired. Frustrated that you misspelled a name in your thank-you note? Plan to have a friend proofread your email next time. Did you flub an answer? Practice how you'd respond next time.

Work on Your Interview Skills

Even if you were not able to solicit information from an employer as to why they didn’t hire you, keep your eye on the prize and continue to practice your interview skills so that you’ll feel positive and confident when the next opportunity arises. Take the time to prepare for the next job interview by reviewing and answering both job-specific interview questions and behavioral interview questions.

Then, once you’ve been offered an interview by an employer, carefully research the company and write down “talking points” based upon what you’ve learned about their company culture, mission, and needs. With the help of a friend or two, role-play the interview before you go in so that you’ll be well-versed in answering some of the most common interview questions posed by hiring committees.

By focusing on your next step rather than brooding about why you weren’t chosen for a particular job, you’ll be well-prepared to land the “right” job when it comes along. The universe works in strange ways – don’t be surprised if it turns out being a better fit for you than the one you originally thought you wanted!