How to Use a Job Rejection to Your Advantage

Even great candidates find themselves striking out in this market, so learn to turn disappointment into opportunity.

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If you’re job-searching, you know all too well the awful feeling of realizing that you didn’t get a job, especially if it was one you really wanted. Even great candidates find themselves striking out again and again in this market, simply because there are far more job seekers than jobs available.

But if you’re like most people, you probably don’t realize that you can actually make productive use of a job rejection. Here’s how to turn a disappointment into an opportunity:

Ask for feedback on what could have made you a stronger candidate.

A lot of hiring managers never give rejected candidates feedback, as a matter of policy. But plenty will, and you never know which type you’re dealing with until you ask. You’ve got nothing to lose by requesting feedback and potentially some useful information to gain.

[See 7 'Survival Jobs' for a Dreary Market.]

Try something like this: “I appreciate you taking the time to speak with me about the position, and I hope you’ll keep me in mind if something opens up that you think would be a good fit. I also wonder if you might be willing to give me some advice for the future. Is there anything you could share with me about what I could have done to be a stronger candidate or suggestions for how I could be a stronger candidate in the future?”

Make this request over e-mail, not on the phone. E-mail allows the hiring manager to respond at her convenience and to put some thought into her response.

When you make this request, you must be absolutely clear in your own mind that this is not about debating the decision or trying to reverse it. If the hiring manager picks up on even a whiff of argumentativeness, she’s going to revert to vague pabulum like, “We decided to go in a different direction.” After all, the decision has been made; she doesn’t have time or interest in arguing with you.

And if you get an answer, no matter what it is, remember to say thank you. When I take the time to help someone with feedback and get silence in return, I remember it.

[See How to Deal With Job Rejection.]

You now have a relationship with that hiring manager, so use it.

It doesn’t matter that this manager didn’t actually hire you. She’s now a contact, so you want to stay on her radar.

This doesn’t mean you should hound her with emails asking if she has a job for you—but you can stay on her radar like you would with any other professional contact.

Send her an e-mail about once a month (or less—but definitely not more often than that). For instance, if you see an article in her field or related to an interest she mentioned, send it to her. Or if you notice some exciting news at her company, send a quick congratulations.

[For more career advice, visit U.S. News Careers.]

Also, be helpful to this employer when they’re hiring for other jobs. Maybe they’re hiring for a position that isn’t a good fit for your background, but you can forward them a resume of someone in your network who might work for them. In this way, you become a helpful resource, and you’re more likely to be on their mind when a position opens up that’s appropriate for you.

Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Leader's Guide to Getting Results and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development. She now teaches other managers how to manage for results.


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