how to respond to job rejection – and even make it work for you

It’s your favorite topic: job rejection!

Obviously, getting rejected for a job you really wanted is one of the worst parts of job searching. But if you handle the rejection well, you can get something useful out of the disappointment.

1. Don’t get angry.

There’s no point in getting angry or taking a job rejection personally. You might think that you were perfect for the job and resent the employer for not seeing it, or even feel angry that you spent your time interviewing. But rejection comes with the territory when you’re hunting for a job, and in a job market like this one, even highly qualified candidates get rejected because there’s often someone who is simply a better match for the job. Getting angry will only make it harder for you to continue with your search in good spirits – and can turn into bitterness, which can scare off future employers.

2. Thank your interviewer for their time.

Saying thank-you might be the last thing you feel like doing, but send a gracious note thanking the interviewer for her time. Say that you enjoyed meeting her and getting to learn about her company, and ask that she keep you in mind if opportunities open up in the future. Why? Well, first, being polite is never a bad thing to do … but also, stories abound of people whose gracious responses to rejection led to them getting the job when the employer’s first-choice candidate didn’t work out, or being contacted about new openings later on.

3. Ask the hiring manager to give you feedback on how you could be a stronger candidate.

This won’t always yield useful information – some employers have a policy of not giving feedback to rejected candidates – but sometimes it will, and you never know until you ask. In order to maximize your chances of a useful response, it’s crucial that you don’t sound like you’re frustrated or, even worse, challenging the employer’s decision. There’s no faster way to make your interviewer shut down. You also don’t want to sound like the request is a perfunctory email that you send to every interviewer; it needs to sound personal and engaging, so that your interviewer feels rapport with you and is more inclined to respond.

Again, this won’t work every time. But it when it does, you can learn valuable information about how you can do better next time.

4. Stay in touch with the hiring manager.

After being rejected, you might want nothing more than to wipe the memory of your interview from your mind and pretend the whole experience never happened – but don’t. That hiring manager is now a business contact, and you should stay in touch. Connect on LinkedIn, check in now and then, send an article that you think she’d like. Don’t be a pest, but don’t let the relationship fade into nothing. She may be able to tell you about another opening some day, either at her company or with a contact.

I originally published this at U.S. News & World Report.

{ 21 comments… read them below }

  1. Janet*

    Twice I’ve gotten jobs after being rejected initially.

    Job #1: For my first job out of college I was rejected for a position because they hired someone who had a year of experience under her belt. BUT the hiring manager liked me so much that he called the old boss of their new hire and said “I’m sorry we hired away your employee but I have someone who would be good to take her place.” and I got that position.

    Job #2: I interviewed for a position in a larger department. They liked me but my experience and skill set weren’t the perfect match for the opening. Got a rejection letter but then a week later, someone else quit – and I was a better fit for her job and I was hired.

  2. Emily*

    I actually think this is a great article to post because this is how I recieved an offer for my current job. They rejected me for a position and I ended up emailing the president of the company thanking him for his time and if another position opened up to let me know. He sent me an email back that day asking for me to call his cell phone and offered me another position over the phone. I was second runner up for the other position I applied for, so they did have interest in me, but the position I applied for they didn’t see me in. If you can take a negative and make it positive, great things can come your way.

  3. M*

    I had a relatively good experience along these lines recently. After I was not hired for a position I applied for, I contacted the hiring manager and asked whether she’d be willing to speak with me briefly and advise me about getting into the field the job was in (I had only minimal work experience in that field when I applied). She was willing, and she gave me some really helpful feedback – both on the general job market in that field (really tough) as well as on how to target my resume better for similar positions.

  4. Cara*

    I was recently rejected for a fantastic job where I was a final 3 candidate, where they had also do a reference check. So, of course I really thought I’d get the job! I didn’t. And the rejection did not come via email, it came by a phone call. It took all of me to fight back tears and a cracking voice, and I’m glad that I was able to keep myself together. I asked for feedback right there on the phone, and the Hiring Manager told me that my references were fantastic. (great! because I have never had the opportunity to get feedback on how a reference check went!) She gave me feedback on myself, and I’m glad she did. She initiated connecting with me on LinkedIN afterwards too. I really feel that this is all because of how I handled the rejection!

  5. Amanda*

    This is timely because I just sent a rejection response to an interviewer again thanking them for the opportunity, expressing my interest if another position opened up, offering volunteer help with their upcoming event and wishing them the best luck with their new hire.

    This is the first rejection I’ve walked away from feeling pretty OK about (although that is partly because I have a phone interview for another position lined up tomorrow and also partly because I know why I was rejected-they had a last-minute candidate with more experience).

    I do have some additional questions-

    1) In thanking them for getting back to me, I’ve been tempted to say what a rare thing it is to have hiring managers be so courteous. It’s true because I am so grateful to employers who don’t leave me hanging (it sucks not having any sense of closure) but I’m worried that I could sound bitter. What do people think?

    2) How can I keep in touch in a way that seems organic and not like I’m waiting in the wings to swoop in if there’s another opening? AAM, you always suggest sending articles, but I can’t figure out how to do that without it seeming forced.

    1. PEBCAK*

      You are waiting in the wings to swoop in if there’s another opening. That’s fine. You don’t have to be ashamed about it. In the business world, people maintain connections that can benefit them.

  6. Emma*

    I have kept in touch with one hiring manager for one of the first jobs for which I interviewed after college. She had actually come in to give a guest lecture for a class of mine, and when I asked her a question, she said something along the lines of “wow, that’s a great question, can you come work for me?”

    So later on, this organization of which she was the executive director is hiring. I apply and get an interview! I don’t recall if I mentioned our shared moment in the cover letter, but I did make a little quip during our interview that “hey, you asked if I wanted a job – and here I am!” I was pretty crushed when they went with a different candidate, but I still thanked her for her time. I keep in touch with her via LinkedIn. Who knows – it may work out for me in the future!

  7. Anne*

    We had a candidate interview yesterday – the interviewers liked him, but his performance on the practical assessment was mediocre.

    This morning, my manager had an email from him in her inbox. He said he felt that he hadn’t done himself justice, and he had gone home and spent the evening working on an example of the type of thing the assessment asked for. It was a pretty decent piece of work.

    Still not sure he’ll get the job, but everyone is very impressed by his attitude. I believe he was going to be rejected before, but it seems likely that we’ll hire him now.

  8. Dulcinea*

    I received a rejection in August/early September for a job I interviewed for. I meant to reply but didn’t get around to it for a number of reasons…anyway, do folks think it’s it too late now?

  9. Chaucer*

    Something to keep in mind, when you are planning on writing a response to a job rejection, is to wait until the initial shock of the rejection passes over you before even thinking about attempting a response. I know that, as a human, when I receive a job rejection there is usually an initial flood of emotions ranging from being shocked, saddened, frustrated and sometimes just downright depressed. You can’t write a good response when dealing with those emotions. So take a day, and once those feelings have passed, write your response.

  10. ChristineH*

    2. Thank your interviewer for their time

    Assuming you sent a follow-up note after the interview, wouldn’t thanking the interviewer after a rejection be redundant?

    1. Jamie*

      I don’t think so, because you’re thanking them for the consideration after the interview and that they took the time to let you know. The is a lot of time in going over candidates after the initial interview and going on the premise that the employer did due diligence and considered all of their interviewees after the fact you’re thanking them for that.

  11. Elizabeth West*

    I had interviewed for another position at NewJob, and didn’t get it. Then a couple of months later, they posted this position, and I thought “Why not?” So I applied again, and referenced that I had interviewed already but wasn’t chosen, and was still very interested in working for the company. The job fit right in with my pending school program, and I aced the skills test. Today was my second day. I still have no freaking idea what is going on yet, but I think I’m going to like it. :)

  12. sai*

    This! Got a standard rejection mail on following up with HR yesterday from a place where my references told me I had made it. While brooding, came across this and shot a nice mail to the hiring manager. Got to know that the position was closed by an internal candidate and ‘I am very much in the radar’ for openings coming up pretty soon and to focus on my current assignment till that time (! I know!)… nothing might come out of this but am glad because atleast now I know there was nothing wrong in my skills etc.,

    Can’t thank you enough alison :-)

  13. Adam*

    Since last year I have been rejected from 5 jobs. The weird part is, I thought I would get the jobs as all I met all their need (education, skills, and experience). I walk away from each job interview thinking I got it and that thought was supported by their impression in each interview. I had two interviews for each job. In rejection, I got the typical stander call or email; “we decide to go with another candidate who we believe suited better the position.”
    I never thought of writing to them after, as I don’t know what to tell them since they clearly told me that they find better fitting individual. I’m usually angry, because I believed let alone of working in that position I can even be the trainer.

    I would like to actually know, what better skills, experience or education does the individual has, but I know they would not answer me to that question.

    1. Abi*

      Well if you have all the necessary skills, experience and qualifications for these jobs perhaps it is your English writing or speaking skills that are letting you down. Have you considered enrolling on an English course? This could greatly enhance your chances. Although I could be wrong, I am only going off the way in which you have written your comment, I hope you don’t mind.

      1. Kane*

        Your grammar skills aren’t any better. Your last sentence is particularly atrocious. Just admit it: you wrote your comment to be rude.

  14. Sam*

    I have a question for everyone – I recently stumbled across a dream job, for which I had every skill and experienced required, along with a killer cover letter, but I was sent the generic email rejection. Being pretty angry, I decided to go and contact the hiring manager in charge of this position and see if he could give me a second chance. Although I haven’t called him as of yet, I’m wondering what I can tell him on the phone to increase my odds of a possible reconsideration. I read an article online, where a blogger mentioned that she made a “creative presentation” to make the hiring manager aware that she had the capacity to conduct the duties and tasks for the job…not sure if she was hired though. Anyways, suggestions would greatly help!

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