Dominic Claeys-Jackson, Editor
March, 2016

Being on the receiving end of a job rejection can make maintaining a positive attitude extremely difficult. However, there are many things you can do to keep your spirits up

Whether you're struggling to land an interview or falling at the final hurdle, the latter stages of finding a job can be disheartening. Indeed, many students and graduates overlook the sheer competitiveness of the application stage; with some allowing several knockbacks to destroy their confidence entirely.

However, Elena Moreno, careers manager at the University of Greenwich, emphasises the importance of perseverance and commitment when making your first career step. 'While it can feel tough at times, competing in the job market inevitably builds your tenacity and resilience, and makes you more able to withstand the competitive aspects of job-hunting in the future,' she adds.

Lena Bauchop, careers development adviser at the University of Stirling agrees, 'Getting job rejections can be emotionally taxing but it can also act as a useful springboard to reassess your goals. Don't give up at the first hurdle and remain positive.'

So, if you've just been turned down, don't take it personally. Instead, read this advice to help you bounce backā€¦

Contacting the employer

While the thought of dealing with the person who rejected you can be daunting, getting feedback can have a positive impact in the long term - even if you've been knocked back at the pre-interview stage.

Send your contact an email within a week of the rejection, politely thanking them for their time and asking that they retain your records for any future opportunities. You should also ask what you did well, as this can help you to approach the next application confidently. 'Keep it professional, brief, positive and - most importantly - grateful,' advises Elena. 'Explain that you're disappointed not to be selected, but you want feedback on how to improve next time.'

Some employers won't give feedback at all, while others will provide bland, generic advice. If you do receive an inadequate response, there's no harm in requesting further information - provided that you don't hassle or appear disrespectful of their decision to reject you.

'If they say you needed more experience, ask what experience the successful candidate had,' recommends Lorna Froud, director of careers and employability at the University of Reading. 'You will be clearer on what was required and can fill that gap for yourself.'

Improving your employability

Being unemployed, even temporarily, provides you with the opportunity to devote time to building your skills. Employability-boosting ventures include taking an internship, learning a new language or volunteering in the local community. 'You can really take control of your future, so make it count,' urges Elena.

Julian White, careers and employability service manager at Manchester Metropolitan University, recommends that those struggling to make the breakthrough should develop an action plan of achievable mini-goals such as:

The most poignant of these are perhaps the latter two, as the most underappreciated way of finding work is through networking. More than 60% of jobs aren't advertised publicly, and those positions that are frequently go to well-connected applicants. You should therefore be looking to meet or connect with new people whenever you can through, for example, industry events and social media.

'Employers often have to wade through hundreds of online applications for a single role, and sometimes the best way to capture their interest is by getting your name out there,' Elena explains. 'You could even try introducing yourself to a potential employer; they're usually happy to answer phone enquiries, and a call can help you to stand out.'

Improving your applications

To improve your chances, you must focus on the things that your applications have been missing. Lorna says that the most common reasons for rejection include:

  • bad spelling or grammar;
  • not addressing the job description;
  • not answering the questions;
  • not taking enough time to research the job and organisation.

The most common reason for rejection is failing to tailor your CV, cover letter or application to the specific opportunity - and therefore not providing sufficient evidence that you meet the job requirements.

You must be self-critical and revisit your application through the recruiter's eyes, considering why you weren't the employee that they were looking for. 'The focus should be on what you can offer the particular employer,' says Elena. 'Succinctly respond to the specific requirements outlined in the job description, with concrete examples.'

If you aren't even getting interviews, then taking a back-to-basics approach is important. You may be applying for positions that are unsuitable for entry-level candidates. In such instances, Julian recommends that you consider whether the vacancies you're applying for are truly compatible with your skills, qualifications and experiences.

Indeed, many graduates have unrealistic expectations. Lorna reminds jobseekers that, contrary to popular perception, their first graduate role is unlikely to be particularly well-paid or high in responsibility. Instead, she argues that your first job should be regarded as paid training - and the biggest reward of all is simply getting through the competitive job-hunting process.