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When You Didn't Get the Job You Wanted

6 tips to help you handle the rejection, overcome disappointment and move forward

By Beverly Jones | July 15, 2013
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Beverly Jones is a leadership and transitions coach who runs Clearways Consulting in Washington, D.C., and Rappahannock County, Va. She was formerly a lawyer representing energy clients, universities and nonprofits.

Next Avenue has published articles on "How to Console a Friend Who Didn’t Get the Job" and "Best Ways to Comfort Your Unemployed Adult Child." Here’s career coach Beverly Jones’ advice on what to do when you don’t nail the job you hoped to get; a version of this article previously appeared on her site, Clearwaysconsulting.com.

A highly qualified professional I know (I’ll call him Paul) recently went after his dream job and felt devastated when he didn’t get it. Here’s what he wrote to me:

I hate how this news makes me feel. Not only did I miss out on a job that I really wanted, but the company hired someone against whom I stacked up very well. Aside from frustration and sadness, I also have second-order emotions regarding this decision. Namely, I'm angry at myself for feeling sad and frustrated. These aren't becoming emotions of a gentleman, and certainly I know rationally that they aren't the 'right way' to deal with rejection.

We’ve since talked about career-related rejection and I’m glad to say that Paul’s feeling much better now.

These six tips helped Paul. I hope they’ll help if you face a similar disappointment:

1. Know that the pain of rejection is normal. As someone who has read a lot of history, Paul realized that all great leaders faced setbacks on their paths to glory. But that didn’t help him feel better when he got the news about the job. He was embarrassed. 

“I understand your frustration and the other emotions swirling around,” I told Paul. “This is a normal passage for all high achievers, and the pain is tougher when you are not used to it.”  

Knowing it was OK to feel bad about the missed job opportunity proved helpful to Paul, who then chose to let go of his secondary emotions, in particular his guilt for feeling grief.

(MORE: Laid Off After 50: Five Dos and a Don’t)

2. Write about your pain. A useful way of dealing with the sting of rejection is to examine it so you can start to feel some distance from the event. I suggested that Paul take notes about how he was feeling and answer these questions:
  • What does it feel like to be sad and frustrated?
  • Where do you feel stress in your body? 
  • What are your repetitive thoughts about what happened? 
  • Are you making things worse by having dark thoughts about what this blow means for your future?

3. Share what you’re going through with your inner circle. A key to Paul’s rapid recovery has been the support he has received from his partner and a few close friends.

“I found it really helpful just to share my anxieties with them because good friends who know you well can help you maintain perspective,” he said.

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4. Understand exactly what you lost. When you face professional rejection, your sadness involves a sense of loss. But sometimes people feel awful about losing a job they didn’t even care about; they like winning and feel glum regardless of whether they truly wanted the prize. 

To refocus on the future, it may help to specifically identify what really hurt when you didn’t get the position you were after. Are you mostly concerned about missing out on the actual job, the prestige or the money? 

The more clearly you understand the primary cause of your disappointment, the better you’ll be at pursuing your true goals.

5. Keep a gratitude journal. One of the best antidotes for negative emotion is gratitude. Research has demonstrated that when you feel grateful, the part of your brain associated with anxiety quiets down.

To pull yourself out of a bad place, focus on the things in your life and career that are going well. A useful exercise is to take a few minutes at the end of every day to write about five aspects of your work life for which you’re grateful.

6. Be upbeat, publicly, in the wake of defeat. While Paul was candid about his feelings with a small, trusted group of people, for most of the world he put on his game face and avoided showing any disappointment or bitterness.

That worked out well for him. One of the executives involved in the fateful hiring decision actually wound up helping Paul make a connection that led to a job that’s an even better fit than the original one would have been.

(MORE: Job Hunters: How You Can Stand Out From the Pack)

The Silver Lining to This Playbook

In the depth of his despair, Paul asked me: “What’s the silver lining here?” 

I answered that the experience would help him learn how to navigate career transitions and overcome setbacks.

“Now that you finally have this disappointment out of the way,” I told Paul, “you’ll start to build up antibodies for the next time, just like with chicken pox.”
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