job search rejectionLooking for a new job can be exciting and hopeful, but also incredibly frustrating when the inevitable happens – you don’t get the job.  It will happen multiple times in any job search, and the longer you look, the more rejections you’ll get before you finally find the right one and are hired. Dealing with the emotional side of job rejection can be very challenging and there is lots of advice out there. Some of it focuses on recognizing if there are things you can do differently next time: does your resume need work or do you need to work on your interviewing skills? Some advice is practical and suggests getting outdoors or exercising, or seeking support by talking to friends or other job seekers.  

One of the most common pieces of advice is not to take it personally. Don’t make your professional self-worth dependent on what happens in an interview, focus on your strengths and achievements instead of dwelling on past mistakes, and keep a positive attitude. But knowing that you shouldn’t take it personally and actually not doing that are very different things. It’s hard not to think the problem is you, especially because most rejection letters include no details and only boilerplate language, if you even hear anything back at all.  

Well, here are a few reasons that it really isn’t you, it’s them, and you really shouldn’t take it personally:

  1. There was an internal candidate but the job needed to be posted in accordance with company protocols. This can be especially true when you submit your resume online and never hear anything ever or get a quick system generated rejection letter. Sometimes positions must be advertised to be in compliance with company rules but with a strong internal candidate in mind, there is little chance of really getting the job.  Don’t take it personally.

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  2. They never gave the job to anyone. This happens more frequently than you think. A job is posted but things change. In today’s economy, companies are warier than before about adding new employees and skittish when economic forecasts or results are gloomier than expected. They may have thought they could hire but have since had a hiring freeze imposed, or a reduction in available budget. Don’t take it personally – they might have wanted you or someone else but in the end couldn’t hire anyone.

  3. They don’t know how to evaluate talent appropriately. Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, Orwell’s Animal Farm, and The Diary of Anne Frank are among many famous authors and classic novels that were all rejected, in some cases multiple times, before being published. The novel The Help was rejected by over 70 literary agents, HBO and Showtime both passed on Orange is the New Black before Netflix picked it up, and Jennifer Hudson was famously dissed by Simon Cowell and eliminated on American Idol before going on to win an Oscar for her role in Dream Girls.  

    It may actually be true that you are a diamond and they didn’t notice. Their ATS system may reject great candidates because of stringent keywords or you may be dealing with someone too inexperienced or too set in their ways to recognize your value, but don’t take it personally; comfort yourself with the knowledge that you are not alone in being talented but overlooked.   

  4. You just weren’t what they needed or were looking for – no matter how talented and wonderful you are.  It happens in the sports world all the time – one team cuts a player and another scoops him up and pays him millions. Directors screen test multiple actors for a role but only pick one. Kurt Russell wasn’t chosen as Han Solo in Star Wars, Harrison Ford was, and Marlon Brando lost out to James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause. Is one a better actor than the other? One more handsome or smart or talented than the other? Aren’t they all great actors who simply were, or weren’t, just right for the part, just what the director was looking for? You can be the Brando of software developers and still not get the job.  Don’t take it personally, actors don’t! (Well, at least they try…)

It is critically important to learn what you can from any job that you don’t get so that you can improve for the next time and do a better job of showcasing your talents and convincing a hiring company that you can help them out. By all means follow all the advice about reviewing your resume for flaws, getting feedback on your interview, etc. But also take the advice not to take it personally to heart because these four reasons are real, not just platitudes. You should feel good about yourself for a lot of reasons, and one of them is because sometimes it really is them, not you. Don’t take it personally.

Looking for a new job? Read: How to Optimize Your Job Search, A Comprehensive Guide for Every Job Seeker


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