Unexpected rejection can be confusing and dispiriting. The best solution is to contact the organisation and get some feedback. If you're told what went wrong, you might be able to fix it so that you'll have more luck next time. If you were nervous before your interview, calling the employer after you've been rejected may be even more nerve-racking. But it's definitely worthwhile – you have nothing to lose but much to gain.
Be polite and keep your cool
It's advisable to contact a member of the graduate recruitment team, if possible, rather than one of the individual assessors or interviewers. Depending on the organisation, however, you may find that you end up speaking directly to your interviewer.
When you ask for feedback, be polite and keep the conversation as brief as possible. Listen carefully and don't be tempted to argue if you disagree with any comments. Remember to say thank you for the feedback, and, if appropriate, for the interview or assessment centre day as well. If the feedback is mostly positive and you're still interested in the company, let them know, and ask them to keep you in mind for any other vacancies that may arise. Make a few notes about aspects of your performance that could be improved and decide what practical steps you need to take to get it right next time.
Acting on feedback for future success
One common reason for rejection is a lack of necessary skills or knowledge. You may be able to get the relevant qualifications or experience relatively easily, or you may decide that you've been applying for positions that are too advanced for your level of experience. Perhaps you need to readjust your expectations and apply for a position one rung lower on the career ladder.
Alternatively, you may discover that your interview technique needs some work – perhaps you came across as unfriendly when you were actually just nervous, or you didn't communicate well. If this is the case, try to arrange some practice interviews, ideally with a careers adviser. Practice will take the edge off your nerves and you may receive some useful feedback afterwards.
Some employers may give you a generic excuse such as 'another candidate was better qualified' or 'you didn't have enough experience'. If they do, ask them to spell it out – what qualifications or experience would have strengthened your application? You could see if they will let you in on specifics of what experience the successful candidate had. However, if they seem reluctant to give more detailed information, it's best to accept whatever you've been told with good grace.
Dealing with silence
Sometimes you will have to accept that you won't get any feedback. The interviewer may not be able to talk to you or may not have the time, in which case you just need to move on.
It's also possible that you'll think the reason is unfair or inaccurate. You can't challenge the interviewer – they've already made the decision, whether or not you think it's right. But don't just dismiss their comments. Try to think about them objectively, and imagine how they could have come to those conclusions. For example, the assessors or interviewer may have decided that your personality was not suited to the role or workplace. It's possible that they were mistaken, but it's also possible that you might be better suited to a different role or organisation.
You may sometimes be pleasantly surprised when you ask for feedback. It's possible that it was a really close contest and you were only narrowly beaten. If this is the case, the employer may well keep your details on file and offer to contact you if a suitable position becomes available.
Whatever you are told, don't let it shake your confidence, and don't brood on it. Feedback should help you move forwards rather than hold you back.