Handling Rejection

Ah, the bitter blow of rejection.  We’ll all have felt it at one time or another.  Whether it was being left out of the school netball team, not being accepted on to your first choice of degree or when Katie Samuels told you she wouldn’t go out with you in year 4 and went out with your best mate Matt instead (it still hurts).…rejection is a fact of life.

Rejection hurts

Rejection hurts

So it is with the world of work, too, as rejection is a natural part of the recruitment process.  An organisation looking to fill any role must choose the person best suited for that position.  This means that there will also be people less suited to that position and they will be rejected; in all likelihood at some point that person is going to be you.

With this in mind we have to look at the best way of dealing with this unwanted but inevitable situation – and the key is not in making sure it doesn’t happen, but how you see being ‘rejected’.  Is it a sign that you’re not worthy of achieving your goal?  Are the fates conspiring against you?  Or do you simply need to learn from the experience?

For inspiration let’s look at some good examples of successfully dealing with rejection.  JK Rowling’s initial manuscript for Harry Potter was rejected by 12 publishing houses before it was finally accepted; Albert Einstein was expelled from school for being ‘slow and antisocial’; Abraham Lincoln had a nervous breakdown, was made bankrupt and had no less than eight political defeats before being elected President; and Soichiro Honda’s job application to Toyota was rejected and left him unemployed for quite some time….until he started what is now one of the largest automobile manufacturers in the world.

The reason these people became successes was because of their failures, not in spite of them.  If you see rejection as an indication that the approach you’re taking needs altering you can then diagnose the problem and make the necessary changes.  If we apply this to job searching then these pointers can help:

  • See the positive

An easy one for somebody to tell you but in practice perhaps this is a little more difficult.  But there are positives to rejection.  Firstly you have experience of at least part of the recruitment process – whether you got to the interview or telephone interview stage – and you now have a better idea of the sorts of questions you’ll be asked and the competencies the employer was looking for.  No doubt a few days after the interview you’ll have one of those ‘why didn’t I say that!?’ moments.  At least you can say it next time!  Ultimately if you can look back at your application and know you did your best then obviously this wasn’t the right job for you.

  • Feedback

This leads us to our next point and one which is extremely helpful when being rejected: you should always try and obtain feedback from an employer regarding your application.  This is not always easy to do and may require a little perseverance on your part, but if you can hear from the recruiter why your application was not successful you’ll know exactly where you can improve.  Always show professionalism in requesting and receiving feedback, making the recruiter aware how important this is to your development, as this should make them more amenable to the request.  This professional approach is important at all stages of the recruitment process.  Remember that you never know when you may cross paths with a company or specific employer again, so maintaining a positive, professional demeanour could pay dividends further down the line.


  • Review your job searching methods


Are you using all the available methods of sourcing vacancies?  Just applying to roles that are widely advertised automatically increases the competition you’ll face, making rejection all the more likely.  Can you use your contacts to source opportunities?  Have you considered a graduate internship?  Have you approached any companies speculatively?  Have you sent your CV to any recruitment agencies?  Varying your approach can reap rewards.

It is also important to review how focussed you are being with each application.  It is more likely you will fail if you apply to ten companies, giving 80% effort in each application, rather than five vacancies at 100%.

  • Seek support


Luckily (even if we do say so ourselves) you have access to one of the best careers services in the country.  Any student at the University of Birmingham, including those who have graduated and moved on, is able to access the full range of services Careers Network provides.  This includes Careers Advisors, Internship Officers, Application Advisors and a full range of online services to aid you in narrowing your job goals and successfully finding employment.  This is not a service that those in the later stages of their career can rely on so it’s a good idea to use this to your advantage!

Remember this.  There will always be the Katie Samuels of this world, whether you are a heartbroken 8 year-old or a recent graduate who’s just received their first rejection letter.  It is what you take away from the experience that counts and this is how you will successfully deal with rejection.  Even if it does mean you never play five-a-side with Matt again.


About careersbham

Student Engagement Officer for Careers Network University of Birmingham

3 thoughts on “Handling Rejection

  1. Good work BB!

    Kind Regards


    Amy Haworth (nee Horne)
    Careers Adviser
    College of Life and Environmental Sciences

  2. A really positive look on handling rejection, I often have students telling me that just taking part in the interview process for my programmes has been beneficial and we always point out the positives to take away from the process. Very motivational!

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