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How to respond to job rejection

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It's never easy being told you haven't succeeded, but maintaining a positive attitude during your job search is vital

Whether the rejection comes at the application form stage or after an interview, it's disheartening and can have an impact on your confidence, especially if it happens a few times. The first thing to remember is that many others are in the same position. The graduate jobs market is competitive and employers have many well-qualified candidates to choose from.

'While it can feel tough at times, competing in the job market inevitably builds your tenacity and resilience, and makes you more able to withstand the competitive aspects of job hunting in the future,' says Elena Moreno, careers manager at the University of Greenwich.

Lena Bauchop, careers development adviser at the University of Stirling, agrees. 'Getting job rejections can be emotionally taxing, but it can also act as a useful springboard to reassess your goals,' she says. 'Don't give up at the first hurdle and remain positive.'

If the process is starting to get you down, you may want to read about 5 ways to manage student stress.

Contact the employer

While it may be daunting, getting feedback can have a positive impact in the long-term, even if you've been knocked back at the pre-interview stage.

Send your contact at the company an email within a week of the rejection, politely thanking them for their time and asking that they retain your details for any future opportunities. Ask what you did well and where your application fell down, as this can help you approach the next one more confidently.

'Keep it professional, brief, positive and - most importantly - grateful,' advises Elena. 'Explain that you're disappointed not to be selected, but you want feedback on how to improve next time.'

Some employers won't give any feedback at all, especially if you didn't make it to the interview stage. Others will provide bland, generic statements. If you do receive an inadequate response, there's no harm in requesting further information provided that you don't hassle or appear disrespectful of their decision.

'If they say you needed more experience, ask what experience the successful candidate had,' recommends Lorna Froud, director of careers and employability at the University of Reading. 'You will be clearer on what was required and can fill that gap for yourself.'

Boost your employability

Being unemployed when you graduate provides you with the opportunity to devote time to building your skills. Employability-boosting ventures include taking an internship, learning a new language, volunteering in the local community or taking a gap year. 'You can really take control of your future, so make it count,' urges Elena.

Julian White, careers and employability service manager at Manchester Metropolitan University, recommends that those struggling to make the breakthrough should develop an action plan of achievable mini-goals such as:

Perhaps the most underappreciated way of finding work is through networking. More than 60% of jobs aren't advertised publicly, and even those positions that are frequently go to the most well-connected applicants. You should be looking to meet or connect with new people whenever you can through industry events and social media.

'Employers often have to wade through hundreds of online applications for a single role, and sometimes the best way to capture their interest is by getting your name out there,' Elena explains. 'You could even try introducing yourself to a potential employer. They're usually happy to answer phone enquiries, and a call can help you to stand out.'

Improve your job applications

To improve your chances, focus on the things that your applications have been missing. Lorna says that the most common reasons for rejection include:

  • bad spelling or grammar
  • not addressing the job description
  • not answering the questions
  • not taking enough time to research the job and organisation.

You must be self-critical and revisit your application through the recruiter's eyes, considering why you weren't what that they were looking for. 'The focus should be on what you can offer the particular employer,' says Elena. 'Succinctly respond to the specific requirements outlined in the job description, with concrete examples.'

Find out more about how to write a successful job application.

If you aren't getting interviews, then taking a back-to-basics approach is important. You may be applying for positions that are unsuitable for entry-level candidates. Julian recommends that you consider whether the vacancies you're applying for are truly compatible with your skills, qualifications and experiences. Explore what you can do with your degree.

Many graduates have unrealistic expectations. Lorna says that, contrary to popular perception, graduates' first role is unlikely to be particularly well-paid or high in responsibility. Instead, she argues that your first job should be regarded as paid training - and the biggest reward of all is simply getting through the competitive job-hunting process.

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