No professional has a perfect record: at some point, you’ll apply for what seems like a dream job — and be rejected. Taking a little time to wallow is natural. But eventually, you have to will yourself to move on. That doesn’t mean giving up on your dream, but it does mean recalibrating. Here are four strategies you can use to overcome the disappointment and take action.
Put your rejection into context.
In the moment, it can seem like being turned down for a choice opportunity means you’re doomed, and will be unable to fulfill your life goals. That’s rarely the case, of course, but knowing that intellectually doesn’t help in the moment. That’s why a useful step is to look back on your own past history of failed efforts, and reflect on how they made other things possible for you (in my case, losing my job in the first wave of journalism layoffs in 2001 gave me plenty of time to reinvent myself professionally).
Channel your frustration into motivation.
My senior year of college, one classmate – set on becoming a doctor – pinned rejection letters from various medical schools on her door, for all to see. Her public defiance kept her focused, and she ultimately joined the military, trained as a doctor in the service, and practices as an internist today. If you were turned down because you lacked certain skills or experience, this is the chance to harness your indignation productively. Learning a new computer language or completing a certification can be onerous and frustrating, but your anger can keep you moving forward: no one’s ever going to reject you again because you don’t have that credential.
If you’re starting to feel down because of repeated rejection, you might try a counterintuitive strategy from researchers Lauren Eskreis-Winkler and Ayelet Fishbach, who discovered that giving advice to others facing the same situation as you are helps to increase your own motivation – so you may feel more encouraged to put yourself out there again after counseling a fellow job-seeker.
Identify alternate means to achieve your goal.
After I completed my master’s degree, I decided to get a doctorate and build a career in academia. I was crestfallen, then, when I was turned down by every doctoral program I applied to. I thought that was the end of my teaching aspirations, but less than four years later, I networked my way into adjunct teaching at a prominent local university, and within a decade, had started teaching executive education. For any goal you have, there are likely alternate paths that will work just as well, if not better. Ask yourself:
- Is there a competitor who recruits for similar positions? (Coca-Cola may not want you for its marketing department, but Pepsi might.)
- Are there adjacent roles that might still be a fit? (Would you be open to a role in sales, or communications, or distributor relations?)
- Are there vendors, suppliers, or related businesses you could work for? (Maybe you could get a job with an advertising agency that handles media buying for your ideal company.)
- Are there “feeder” roles you could take? (Examine the LinkedIn profiles of people who have the job you want. What was their career path? See if you can break into the jobs they had before their current one.)
Find ways to stay on the company’s radar.
The truth is, within two years, nearly half of executive transitions are considered disappointments or outright failures — so the person who originally landed the job may choose, or be asked to, leave.
You can start early on: when they notify you that you didn’t get the job, you can send back a warm note thanking them for the opportunity and letting them know you remain very interested in the company. You can add that, if they felt like it would be a fit, you’d be open to conversations about other roles that may become available.
You can also set a Google Alert for the organization, so you can track developments (if they’re opening a new field office or program area, that could indicate new staffing needs); keep watch on LinkedIn for hiring updates; and find subtle ways to keep in touch with the hiring manager. For instance, you might be aware from your interview or from her LinkedIn profile that she’s involved in a particular professional association. It’s a labor-intensive move, but if you’re set on the company and want to keep the connection alive, you might make a point of attending their events periodically to ensure an opportunity for casual, organic conversation. That way, when another position opens up, whether it’s in six months or three years, she’ll have a clear memory of you and you’ll move to the front of the line.
It’s natural to get our hopes up about a professional opportunity that seems perfect — and to feel somewhat defeated when it doesn’t come through. But by following these strategies, you can leverage that rejection into even better opportunities moving forward.
Dorie Clark is a marketing strategist and professional speaker who teaches at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. She is the author of Entrepreneurial You, Reinventing You, and Stand Out. You can receive her free Recognized Expert self-assessment.