What to do if you keep being rejected for jobs

“I didn’t get the job”. Five words flashed up via my notifications and I could feel her sadness and frustration. I opened the message but couldn’t find the words to make her feel better. Yet another job rejection, it all seems so unfair. She said, “why do I keep being rejected for jobs?”

It’s not you

In my line of work, I hear from people who are struggling to find a new job. Sure, they get interviews but then, nothing. It’s at this point that it feels hard to keep going, where you begin to doubt yourself. It’s really common to fall into the trap of reading too much meaning into the results of your job applications. Hiring processes are notoriously opaque and combine that with you being really interested in the role and it’s natural to try and read into it and draw conclusions about yourself along the way. 

If you are turned down for a job you will likely experience a wide range of emotions (anger, sadness, even depression) and that’s OK. Let yourself grieve for what might have been (whilst remaining as professional as possible). If you only remember one thing from me today, make it this: rejection isn’t a measure of your worth. Not at all.

Good people get rejected for jobs too

It is extremely uncommon to get every job you interview for, for most of us, rejection happens often and it hurts. I often say to people at the beginning of the process it’s worth an application even if you can see that 200 others have applied for a role because you could be the one. 

So many people think of getting jobs as a pass/fail i.e. if you’re good enough you get the job, if you’re not enough, you won’t. But that’s not how hiring works – you could be someone that the hiring manager would love on their team, but someone else was stronger on the day. This could mean that if that other person hadn’t interviewed, it could have been you. (This is a really frustrating thought in a whole different way of course!). It also means that some really good people get rejected. Equally, if you’re the right person for the role and you sell yourself effectively then it could be you. 


Common reasons for being rejected for jobs

Fitting in

In my experience, a lot of what happens at interviews is not about whether you are qualified. Instead, it’s about determining the fit for you and the company. I have seen (and hired) people who on paper are slightly less strong but who will get on better with the team or with the culture of the company e.g. “we’re a company who enjoys change and you seem to prefer structure and stability”. It could be that you are great with huge budgets but they need someone who works with smaller budgets or you’re really outgoing but the rest of the team is reserved. 

This kind of rejection is hard because it feels personal, and, to a certain extent, it is, but it also incorporates your best interests. One of the reasons people stay in a role or love their job is because it fits with their personality and values. How you fit together is an important consideration for both parties. This is something for you to think about during the interview too, remember, it’s a two-way process. 


Things change

It’s worth remembering that things can change during the hiring process and even at the interview. I once flew to Switzerland for a role only to find when I got there they wanted someone more senior, they had literally changed their mind as I was on the plane! But they may also realise during the interview that they are looking for a qualification they didn’t even know they wanted until they saw it in another candidate e.g fluency in a foreign language or a huge network of fundraising contacts. Other things can change too, like budgets, managers, projects or multiple lockdowns and uncertainty in a global pandemic! 


You aren’t qualified

Of course, it could be that you aren’t qualified for the jobs you’re applying for. Consider whether you felt qualified for the role? Did you meet the criteria (60% minimum) or was that job more of a stretch goal? There’s nothing wrong with challenging yourself and aiming high, in fact, I encourage it. However, if you’re receiving rejection after rejection it may be time to reassess the plan. 

Equally, you might be overqualified for the jobs you’re applying for. The biggest danger here is that you might become bored. The employer might sense this and turn you down for fear of you leaving later on. If you are overqualified and still want to apply, be really clear in your motivation and intentions.

However, if you are getting interviews then it’s more likely your qualifications are fine, it could be your interview skills are letting you down. If this could be true for you then get in touch. 


What to do if you’re being rejected for jobs

So, what to do? When you’re feeling ready,  go back over everything, from the way you prepared and researched through to your interactions in the interview and any follow-up and feedback. This is a significant learning opportunity and not the time to be hard on yourself. 

Review and reflect

What would you change? 

You could rank your own performance for each stage and see whether there is room for improvement. Ask yourself: What did I sense went well? What could I have done differently? 

Could a presentation have been prepared more thoroughly? Could you have worked harder to build rapport with your interviewer(s)? Did you focus too much on technical competence at the expense of showcasing your softer skills? Were there any questions you feel you could have answered better?

Are there any common themes?

Think about feedback from past rejections, and from appraisals and the like. Are there any recurring themes? What should your development priorities be?

Make a note of any weaknesses or issues that you can do something about, and use them as a focus for the way you approach your preparation next time.

Focus on the positives too

Remember this isn’t an opportunity to focus on the negative. If you find you’re blaming yourself then celebrate the fact that you got an interview with a great company and tell yourself you can do it again.

Feedback should be used as it is intended, to help you improve for the next interview. Use this experience to shine a light on the areas you need to work on. You might turn these learnings into a plan to fix any gaps in your performance. This is where a coach/mentor can come in useful. 


Refine your search

Sometimes the interview and/or feedback process can make you realise that, although it’s disappointing to be rejected, the role didn’t, on reflection, feel like quite the right fit for you either. 

Focus on what you want

Write down what you prefer in an employer, team, work environment and how you want to feel. Focus on what you have to offer (think strengths and skills) and how you can help your ideal company/team. Make sure you’re going after roles that excite you, not those you think you should be applying for. 

Look back over the job specification and ask yourself if you could truly see yourself in that role on a day-to-day basis. If there were aspects of the role that didn’t excite you, the interviewer may have been able to see this too.

Use your experience to help you refine future job searches. Are you perhaps looking at keywords that don’t quite match your ambitions and aspirations? Did the role that went with the job title not quite match your expectations? Did the interview make you realise that this is not quite the right sort of job for you? And if not, then what is? 


Change your mindset

What can you control? 

At your interview the only thing in your control is yourself. You have no control over who is successful or why. This is important in recognising that so often, it’s not about you. Your worth is not defined by the work you do, or the whether or not you’re successful at job interviews. 

Focus instead on what you can fix. Your career will grow and mature just like you do; it’s your career journey, and it won’t look the same as everyone else. Instead of feeling like you have failed or that your career path hasn’t been perfect, remember that this is one chapter, not the end of your story. 

Celebrate your achievements

Remind yourself how far you have come. Look at your CV and think back on all of your accomplishments so far and how those experiences make you a strong candidate. Your ego may be feeling a little bruised. Breathe. Being rejected for jobs doesn’t define you. In fact, I would do away with the whole notion of being rejected for jobs and replace it with the idea that it takes courage and strength to put ourselves out there. It takes vulnerability to be open to failure. We should applaud ourselves for striving for success. 

Next week I will be focusing on 5 common mistakes we make at interview and how to fix them. 

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