The job hunt

The Job Hunt: Be prepared for rejection but don't take it personally

Contributing columnistDecember 3, 2012 

Lenroy Jones

There's nothing more debilitating than being rejected.

Remember those skating songs for couples only and the homecoming dance? I just dreaded going across the dance floor and taking the chance she would say no.

While many of us are years past that type of nervousness, fear of rejection and how to deal with it is a common story shared by most job seekers.

It's important to understand from the beginning of your job search that there's a good possibility you'll receive at least one or two rejection letters.

Job seekers "should realize that in every rejection there is an opportunity to improve on oneself," said Michael C. Robinson, the senior pastor of Lexington's Total Grace Baptist Church. Robinson transitioned to ministry a few years ago from corporate work.

You're not alone in receiving your first rejection letter, and it will most likely not be your last. My best advice is to not count them. Doing so only feeds into negative thoughts and behaviors, and that's counterproductive to a successful job search strategy.

So rather than erupt like a volcano, you should take a pause, read and recalibrate before you sabotage your search process with negativity. Even Gen. Oliver Prince Smith, a famed World War II and Korean War leader, understood how to frame a defeat.

"We're not retreating; we're just advancing in a different direction," he famously said.

Here are a few tips on how to handle the rejections. Keep these in mind because anticipating and planning for this reality is essential to a successful interview process.

It's OK to evaluate, but don't dwell on your past: Go over a checklist of what you did during and after the interview, and nothing more. Were you properly dressed? Did you give concise and complete answers? Was your thank-you note error-free and timely? Did your background check turn up positive results? Did you provide the best references? Remember that once you've received the rejection letter, it's a done deal in most cases. So dwelling on that experience isn't going to help you. It's in your past, so move on to your next application.

It's a networking opportunity: Don't get bitter or discouraged but rather be professional in a follow-up note. You will want to be gracious and continue to prepare for that next interview. I encourage you to think before hitting the send button on your email, because your follow-up should be thoughtful and well-written. That hiring manager or recruiter could come between you and another interview opportunity. How you respond could be the difference between a person accepting you on LinkedIn or other online networking tools.

Don't personalize the rejection: Hiring managers rarely personalize their decisions not to hire, and Robinson emphasized not to take such rejections personally.

"See them as opportunities for improvements and not as indictments against you personally," he said.

It's a business choice and most are made in the best interest of the organization with the information provided at that time.

Learn from the rejection: Each experience brings new and more insight into your strengths and weaknesses, and that can result in you acing your next interview. So focus on requesting feedback.

You can ask for any advice or suggestions for future interviews or what would have made you a stronger candidate. You should also be aware that a suggestion by the recruiter for you to reapply in six months sends a good message that you were closer than most.

Give yourself a gift: The best gift you can have is to be determined to give your best and accept support and encouragement from friends and family. Moreover, you should accept and appreciate any free resources that cost you little to nothing, such as gifts of career coaching or counseling. Take full advantage of your local workforce development office or your university's career services offices.

Just remember to not get caught up on the negatives.

Speaking from first-hand experience and recently off the job market, Dorian Cloyd, a 2011 University of Kentucky graduate, offers some sound advice.

"Stay focused and positive and don't give up," he said. "Also don't be afraid to find the job that fits you."

Cloyd has joined the manager trainee program in Lexington of car rental company Enterprise Holdings. During his job search, he looked to friends and family for support to help keep him motivated and for leads on possible positions.

He never gave up, and neither should you. Keep in mind each rejection just brings you closer to a job offer.

Lenroy Jones is the associate director at the University of Kentucky James W. Stuckert Career Center. He has a master's degree in college and university administration from Michigan State University. Join him on LinkedIn, "like" him at Facebook.com/CareerDude or follow him as @CareerDudeTweet on Twitter.

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