How New Grads Can Take Charge of Job Search Rejection

How New Grads Can Take Charge of Job Search Rejection

Nancy is a new graduate who sailed through high school and college. She earned good grades, participated in several extracurricular activities and had several prestigious internships -- including a junior-year summer internship that led to a job offer. However, that offer is now off the table because of a hiring freeze. So Nancy started an entry-level job search, only to find her target employers weren’t hiring.    

This wasn’t supposed to happen. Nancy was stunned and is feeling more and more frustrated and pessimistic.

Sound familiar? The recession has created an enormously challenging job market for college students and new graduates. Paid and even unpaid internships are tough to find. The days when recruiters wooed candidates on campus and enticed them with sign-on bonuses and large starting salaries are gone. College graduates now have to crank up their job search, actively pursuing many more companies and jobs than before.

Of course, rejections are common. And while you may intuitively know rejection is a normal part of job searching, you may have little personal experience with it if you are a recent grad. And ongoing rejection can become paralyzing. But if you handle it properly, you can use the rejection as a tool in your job search. After all, what you learn from each rejection brings you one step closer to a yes.

Here are some concrete steps you can take to deal with the rejection constructively and improve your chances of landing a job.

Handle Your Head

You may feel stunned at your first rejection. You’ll deny it, thinking it a mistake or due to some quirk. When a few more rejections roll in, you may even get mad. Over time, you may begin to lump all the rejections into a pot and draw (inaccurate) catastrophic conclusions, such as: I’m a loser. I’ll never get a job. It will never work out. I’ll be stuck at home, working part time in a lousy job for minimum wage. This cascading negative self-talk gradually leads to feeling down, losing confidence and wanting to avoid your job search altogether.

Remember: Finding a job is a numbers game. The more opportunities you pursue, the probability of success increases, but so does the frequency of rejection. And you are more likely to experience rejection (or no response at all) in a soft economy than in a robust one.

Understand that the final decision may have nothing to do with your capabilities. Many factors over which you have no control play into the hiring process. A position may have been cut due to budget. Your resume may have been misplaced or improperly screened. Or the job just may not have been the right fit. The key is to treat each rejection as a unique event to dissect and learn from.

Get Feedback from Companies That Reject You

When there is something you can improve, you want to know about it. Strive to appraise your job search strengths and areas for improvement realistically, and develop a game plan for improving your weaknesses.

It takes guts and humility to ask for critical interview feedback. “It’s amazing to me how few candidates follow up after an interview,” says one Boston-area recruiter. “College graduates are in a perfect position to ask for feedback. Hiring people remember what it was like to start out and want to help.”

So get up your courage and call. Say you’re disappointed you didn’t get an offer since you were really excited about the job and thought you were a great fit. Then express that you would really appreciate anything they can tell you to help you learn from the experience. Ask the recruiter, human resources rep or interviewer the following questions:

  • How should I improve my cover letter and resume? 
  • How could I have better shown how my skills and experiences would help the company? 
  • How could I improve my interview skills
  • Did I communicate my knowledge of and excitement about the company and how I could contribute from day one? 
  • Did I have a background gap?

Make sure to follow up with a written thank-you note after the conversation.

All the feedback you gather is gold. Take this constructive criticism seriously and make the suggested changes. Otherwise, you’re doomed to repeat mistakes, incur potentially avoidable rejections and lose steam.

Improve Your Job Search

If you continue to apply for jobs without success, critically reevaluate your job search strategy. Candidates who land the job are well-focused, prepared and connected. John Conway, co-director of career services at Regis College, has these suggestions: “Widen your net, target robust industries, set multiple job goals [and] pursue different locations.”

Finally, make sure you develop a disciplined and organized daily job search schedule. Don’t allow your frustration about rejection to disrupt your routine and full-time commitment to finding a job.

Additional reporting by Mitch Bornstein, PhD.