“You either win or you learn”.  This is what we tell our children, friends, family members, or colleagues when things don’t go their way.  It is a true, but hard sentiment to stomach, especially in the throes of defeat.

The job application and professional process leave us open to rejection at every stage.  It is fair to assert that we will all face professional rejection at some stage in our careers. It is a true unicorn candidate that never has their CV rejected, gets passed over for promotion, or isn’t successful at an interview.

However, beyond the disappointment with the right mindset, you can channel professional rejection into a career opportunity.

So how do you bounce back in these scenarios, what can you learn from the loss and how can you turn these rejections into future successes?

Ask for detailed feedback.

When faced with professional rejection it is crucial to understand why you weren’t successful.  Asking for feedback, then listening and acting on the response is one of the most productive things you can do after experiencing job rejection.

Relying on self-analysis alone will only exacerbate the problem and lead you to overthink.  It will also not give you a 360 view of the room.  If you are left asking “why?”, you need the views of those who turned you down.

If you used a recruitment partner, get full and detailed notes about why this role wasn’t the right one for you.  Should their response feel generic or too light on detail, don’t be afraid to ask for more.  Feedback becomes more useful the further down the job application process you go.  It is likely that you have invested a lot of time, effort, and energy into your application.  Only actionable, constructive insights can help you next time.

On the flip side, should you be a recruitment partner or a hiring manager and are wondering why giving feedback is so important, we have a blog dedicated to it. Read it in full here.

Review and reflect.

It is tempting to brush any sort of rejection aside and never dwell on it again.  However, doing this would be neglectful, and you’d be passing up a massive learning opportunity.

Take some time to really review and think about the feedback you have received.  Walk back through all the steps you took to get to that point.  Look at your preparation and research. Then revisit the interactions in the interview from introductions right through to follow up.

If the process took place in stages, perhaps you could rank yourself and determine where there is room for improvement.  For example, was your phone interview positive? Was it when you came to present yourself at interview your confidence dropped?

Examples of questions you may like to ask yourself include

  • “What did I sense went well?”
  • “Could I have responded differently in X situation?”
  • “Could I have prepared my presentation more thoroughly?”
  • “How was the rapport with my interviewer(s)?”
  • “Did I focus too hard on technical skills vs. Soft skills, or vice versa?”
  • “Could I have answered any questions better, with more clarity and better detail?”

Create a Personal Development Plan.

Use past professional appraisals in conjunction with interview rejection feedback to write a Personal Development Plan.  Again, this gets easier the more feedback you receive.  Have a look at any recurrent themes.  Should there be any, then these are your development priorities.  These factors or issues will head up your “next time” approach.

Creating a plan allows you to fix gaps in your performance.  Some gaps will be filled with practical and technical skills.  For example, does the feedback tell you that you are not skilled enough in a particular area? Perhaps there is some training or coaching that you could undergo to help you develop.

Alternatively, these gaps may be quick wins…do you need more interview practice, for example.  In this case, simple interview rehearsal with friends or family may be all you need to bridge any gaps.

Be philosophical.

Feedback can also be a useful philosophical tool.  It helps you to reframe events and make you realise that sometimes these things are just out of our hands or are just time-specific. For example, perhaps the job required extensive client management experience – which you don’t have yet…or there was another candidate who had a couple more years than you.  Perhaps the job requires you to speak a local language, and although you do, perhaps not as well as someone else.

In these situations, it pays to be philosophical.   Are these things you can realistically change right now? Are they things that you can proactively do something about? Or are they things that time will take care of?

The key to your plan is to look at things you can realistically change.

Refine your search.

On occasion, the interview experience itself and the ensuing feedback you are given can make you realise that the jobs you are putting yourself forward for are not the right ones for you.

If you feel this might be the case, have a look back over the job descriptions and ask yourself if you could picture yourself doing this job every day. Perhaps if you had misgivings the interviewer could have picked up on them.

Additionally, are the skills listed, skills you have right now? Or are they aspirational roles that don’t quite fit your current experience level?  If this is the case, you may like to use your experience to refine your future job applications.

Build resilience.

Today’s workplace is a rapidly changing environment. Technology is accelerating. Companies are becoming agile as they evolve to better fit the commercial world.  This means that often these companies don’t know what they need until they meet it.

In other words, try not to take rejection personally. See each setback as a challenge to grow your self-understanding and your ability to bounce back from disappointment.

Obstacles WILL fall in your way.  Overcoming these will ultimately take you one step nearer to landing the right role.

It is advisable to refocus and stay constructive by proactively doing things that will increase your chances next time; do all you can do to get ready for the next opportunity.

Professional disappointment happens to us all. What sets each of us apart is our ability to bounce back and take away lessons from each experience.

job search, employment, recruitment, hiring


  • If you only do one thing, ask for feedback. This information is crucial to your “next time” success.
  • Take time to reflect.  Think back over the entire process and review your approach.
  • Make a Personal Development Plan. Look at things you are able to realistically change and focus on those.
  • Be Philosophical. Some things are just out of our hands.
  • Refine your search. Are the jobs you are applying for the right ones for you.
  • Be resilient. Try not to take rejection personally.

We have masses of candidate advice on our blog, written by experts in the recruitment space. We create digital careers and help businesses find the talent to transform the work they do. Perhaps you need help acing your remote interview, or maybe you need a hand thinking of the questions you should ask a potential employer at the interview.

Whatever your needs, we probably have a blog for that!  Have a browse here!


About the author: I manage the recruitment for a range of digital roles for my clients on both a retained and contingency basis. I specialise in senior and confidential appointments, always giving a first class representation of a client’s employer brand.

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