Dealing with job rejection as a graduate
Finding out you didn’t get the job you wanted is never easy, but it is possible to learn from this and use it to your advantage in future applications.
Set aside a certain amount of time for reflection before drawing a line under it.
Whether you keep getting rejected after interviews that you thought went well or your job applications never quite make it to the interview stage, it doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with you as a person or that the employer doesn't like you. However, it’s worth reflecting on what you could learn from the experience to help you succeed next time. Below, we explain how to respond to rejection from a job politely and how to bounce back from this experience for future job applications using a proactive, step-by-step approach.
What to remember when you don't get the job
It’s natural for interview rejection or job application rejection to make you feel disappointed or frustrated – but it’s worth remembering that not getting a job isn’t a personal attack on your character or a reflection of your future prospects.
- Rejection doesn’t mean you did anything wrong. Maybe you met all the requirements for the role and performed well at the interview, but ultimately the employer could only recruit one person and a different candidate just happened to stand out more to them at the time. Helena Soteriou, catchment initiatives programme manager at Thames Water, told TARGETjobs’ sister publication the UK 300: ‘Two years ago, I was able to be involved in interviewing graduates and I can tell you that if you’re rejected, it’s not because you weren’t “good” enough; it’s that you and the employer weren’t the right fit.’
- Rejection isn’t personal. It may feel as if your whole life is being called into question when you didn’t get a job you really wanted. But the outcome of a graduate recruitment process isn’t about you as a person; it is no more than a ‘snapshot’ view of you according to how closely you have demonstrated a set of competencies, behaviours and values on a particular day.
- Rejection happens to everyone. Even current CEOs, world leaders, bestselling authors and other seemingly successful people will have experienced knockbacks in their lives. They only got to where they are today because they didn’t give up.
- Rejection means you’re still learning. The best way to improve your interview technique or impress at assessment centres is to attend interviews and assessment centres; very few people are naturally good at them the first time around. Think of each one as a practice for the next one – sometimes practice is all you need.
- Rejection doesn’t mean you’ll never work for the employer. The recruitment process assesses you for a particular role or graduate programme at a particular point in time, and your chance of success depends partly on who else applies. The employer is not saying they never want you. You could reapply for the scheme the following year or ask to be considered for similar roles. Emphasising your enthusiasm for the company and maintaining a good relationship with the recruiter even when they have rejected you from a role will help – more on this below.
Responding graciously to a job rejection
Graduate recruiters normally contact unsuccessful candidates by email. You don’t have to respond – and most people won’t – but doing so, especially if you were rejected at the final stage of the recruitment process, will help you stand out in the mind of the recruiter as being courteous, professional and interested in the company. It can help your chances if you apply for another job with the same employer in future.
You might even secure a job on this occasion if the first-choice candidate changes their mind, they leave soon after starting the job or the employer has another vacancy for which they think you would be a good fit. It’s much easier for the employer to choose from recently interviewed candidates in these situations than to start the recruitment process all over again. How you respond to being rejected in the first instance could make all the difference.
A good response to a rejection email is short but polite. You should express your gratitude for the opportunity, briefly mention your disappointment that you were not selected, reiterate your interest in the company and ask to be considered for any similar positions in the future.
An example email response to rejection might look like this:
Subject line: [Job title] – [your name]
Dear [recruiter’s name],
Thank you for letting me know your decision. While I’m disappointed not to be able to work at [company], it was great to meet you and learn more about the role and the work [company name] does. If there is another role that you feel would be a better fit for my experience and skills, I would be interested in applying. I would be grateful if you could keep me in mind for any future opportunities.
I hope our paths cross again in the future, and I wish you and [company name] all the best.
You can also ask for feedback at this point – see our asking for feedback article for more on this, including an email template that you can combine with the one above.
What to do after job rejection
You might be tempted either to push forward with your next batch of applications as soon as you’ve received feedback, or to get stuck in a rut overthinking everything you said during your interview. Instead, it’s a good idea to set aside a certain amount of time for reflection and learning before drawing a line under it and moving on to the next job vacancies on your list.
Follow these practical steps to act on the feedback you’ve received and move on from job rejections:
Consider whether the feedback works for you. Recruiters’ opinions are subjective so you may disagree with some of what they said, or different employers may have given conflicting observations. After all, an interview or application is only a snapshot of how you performed at a particular time, not a reflection of your whole self.
It’s worth getting a second opinion from friends or family as to whether they think the feedback is valid and something you should work on. Sometimes others can see what you can’t. Ideally, ask someone who has had some experience of recruiting in their own career – but if not, anyone who knows you well will be able to give that outside perspective. Remember the old adage of the futility of doing the same thing and expecting different results!
Talking through your applications can also help you define your ambitions and work out what you really want to do. For example, it could be that you have all the necessary skills and passion for a particular sector but don’t yet have a clear idea of what exactly you’d like to do in that sector. A little extra research will then ensure that your future applications are more focused and demonstrate your enthusiasm for the sector and the specific position.
Once you’ve decided which aspects of the recruitment process you’d like to work on, you can take steps to actively improve your performance. This could include practising psychometric tests or booking a mock interview, for example. Or, if video interviews are your weakness, you can practise speaking confidently into a webcam during social video calls. Alternatively, if you are lacking certain skills or experiences that other candidates had, you can find ways to develop and demonstrate them so that you stand out more in future.
Next time you apply for a job or attend an interview or assessment centre, make sure you are following the advice you’ve picked up and demonstrating any new skills you’ve learned. No matter what the outcome is, you’ll be giving yourself the best chance of success.