why job rejection isn’t always about you

If you’re not getting rejections in this job market, you’re either not applying for very many jobs or you have some incredible luck. Even really great candidates get rejected, often multiple times.

But how can you keep from getting discouraged when you’re not getting interviews or job offers? After all, the tendency when you get rejected for a job is to feel that you failed. But more often than not, that’s not what it indicates at all. More commonly, it’s about one of these factors:

* Math.  Very often, there’s just one opening and multiple great candidates applying for it. The numbers just aren’t in your favor when that happens. In this economy especially, hiring managers are flooded with highly qualified candidates for almost any position they advertise. You might be a fantastic candidate who interviewed impressively, but if someone else fits that description too and there’s only one open slot, you might be the one who gets rejected. But remember that many times, an employer would happily hire plenty of the candidates who they end up having to reject for lack of slots; this isn’t a reflection on those candidates at all.

* The boss or culture. The hiring manager might know something you don’t about this job, totally unrelated to your qualifications. Because it’s not just a question of whether you have the skills to do the job, it’s also a question of fit for this particular position, with this particular boss, in this particular culture, and in this particular company. And no matter what your working style is, there’s an organization or boss out there that it would clash with. Often one personality type will simply fit better into a team than another, and that’s the kind of thing that’s very difficult (if not impossible) for a candidate to know.

* Hiring isn’t an exact science. Hiring managers aren’t perfect. We do the best we can with the limited information we have, but it’s not a perfect process.

So you shouldn’t take a rejection as a measure of your worth. Very often, it’s no reflection on your worth at all.

It’s also essential not to let it get you down, because you if you start to begin bitter or fatalistic, it’ll show when you talk to employers. And you definitely want to make sure that you don’t react angrily to a rejection, such as sending an angry or bitter email to the employer, or trying to debate the decision.

You can, however, politely ask for feedback, though, which might help you in your search going forward. And you can even stay in touch with that hiring manager, making her part of your network like you would with any other professional contact.

Still, though, rejection stings. So if all else fails, remember that you might have dodged a bullet. After all, you don’t want a job in which you won’t excel or a culture that would make you miserable, and so maybe the hiring manager did you a favor in the long run.

{ 15 comments… read them below }

  1. Charles*

    #1 Math – yes, this is so true.

    Years ago when I was a manager who used to do a lot of hiring it was a VERY difficult decision, so many times I just wanted to hire EVERYONE that I interviewed because I felt that any one of them would do a great job.

    Now, that I am on the other side it is helpful to remember that.

    1. Anonymous*

      I can’t tell you how many times I had the same problem with hiring. “If we hired them BOTH we could get so much more done, the department would be strong, etc. etc.” – but it’s hard to get around a budget for one person!

  2. JfC*

    You’re very right that it’s important to avoid being demoralized. This goes double for those of us with depression-spectrum disorders. While you might be tempted to throw your whole self into your job search and hang your hopes on a particular interview to get you out of your situation, it’s important to reserve time for a hobby or volunteer work (especially one that gets you out of the house and socializing, even better if there’s some physical exercise involved). If it makes you feel guilty about turning away from your job hunt, you can call it ‘networking’ or ‘skills building’ (and in a lot of cases they can actually be those things).

  3. The gold digger*

    A friend was hiring a project manager. She raved about this one woman she interviewed. “I want her to be friends with us,” she said. “But I’m not going to hire her.”

    I asked why not. “You said she has great experience and that she would be really good.”

    My friend shook her head. “I talked to her enough that I realized she would go crazy in this environment. It’s too bureaucratic. Things move too slowly. I can barely stand it. I put up with it only because I am finally in a position where I have the flexibility I need with [her daughter]. She would hate it and she would be absolutely miserable. I need someone who has less initiative and spark.”

    Sometimes, if you’re not hired, it’s because you’re too good.

    1. Lucy*

      But you will never ever know if it is because you were too good, or because you weren’t good enough, which is absolutely maddening.

      1. Anonymous*

        You do sometimes find out! I was interviewed for a job, didn’t get it, had another interview for a different role at the same place, got it, and now the people from the department who originally interviewed me want me to move to their department and said they did not hire me because they thought I was too clever and would end up leaving for something better. Now they realise I really did want that job and are in the process of moving me and training me up to be what I wanted in the first place!

  4. Long Time Admin*

    Or sometimes they don’t like your hair, or your clothes, or your regional accent, or your perfume (you can DO something about that – don’t ever wear any to a job interview). Or maybe you remind them of someone they don’t like. Or they’re thinking more about that tooth that needs some work and they don’t know when they can get to the dentist.

    The problem is: you never really know why you’ve been rejected.

    It helps to remember that they can hire any one they want to, even if they’re missing out on the most qualified, hard working, intelligent person in the universe.

    1. Anonymous*

      “Don’t wear any [perfume]”

      Yes, I agree! (and no heavily scented products for the men either!)

      I’ve seen people being interviewed and being introduced to people in the office… and as they leave people are coughing and the asthmatic is running to the bathroom! Whilst I don’t know that was the reason they weren’t hired it does make an impression on people.

      You never know who will be interviewing you. They might hate Chanel No.5 because of an ex*, they might be asthmatic, they might be allergic to perfume! *Whilst this shouldn’t effect a hiring decision it might just!

  5. Anonymous*

    Sometimes, well most of the time, I feel like I’m being rejected because of a genetic disorder that I have. Its called Neurofibromatosis (NF1), which leaves me with some ugly little tumors on my face. First impression I believe, does matter and unfortunately with no money, I cant have them removed right now.
    That’s why in one short interview I had, I think thats why the VP said “do you know where the door is”!

  6. Anonymous*

    To Anonymous, Wow in today’s culture that VP was what I would call cruel and very insensitive , that person could use some lessons in tact , personal relations and to improve communications skills. Hang in there, somewhere is the right company and culture that will see beyond the outside. I hope you did not really want the job with that particular VP and company because if upper management was allowed to think and act that way would you really truly want to be a part of that? I know it is tough when you are looking but I strongly believe that there is a better match for you out there somewhere.

  7. Some Guy*

    This is a two year old post, but it’s still a huge issue for many.

    They say the job market is improving, but, honestly, job candidates are still being treated like garbage-ignored, jerked around, strung along, lied to, insulted, etc. Candidates are still being held to an impossibly high standard (absolute perfection) and everyone is being rejected until Superman comes into their office.

    If you keep on treating people like garbage and rejecting everyone, they will either believe it (and be depressed) or stop going through insulting application and interview processes -8 interviews, psychobabble tests, etc.. everything but putting on a clown suit and riding a tricycle up a loop-dee-loop for them. Victims of this abuse don’t need to take it anymore.

    When the market turns around, I will have my own black list of employers I will never consider again.

    In the wise words of Sam Cooke:
    “You’ve done me wrong.
    I tried to be kind…
    .. But they’ll be no second time!”

  8. scooter Livingston*

    After trying to get employment in my field for about 5 years, you’re damn right I took it personally. I’d see people below me get better positions either from within or with other companies. Some employers told me my degree was useless and was nothing more than an attendance sheet.

    I knew what was what. The theory of Relativity. Not what you know but WHO you know. Also didn’t help that I went to s small state school rather than a prestigious university.

    I ended up driving a cab for a living. I took my diploma and burned it. Defaulted on my student loans. told kids not to waste their time in college.

    Burn bridges? You bet I did and I don’t regret it. Shit on me and I will dish it back.

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