How to bounce back from failure when applying for jobs

Annie Gainsborough

Annie Gainsborough is a Senior Consultant at Gradconsult. They support students and graduates to flourish as they move from education into the world of work, with a personal interest in equality and inclusion.

Applying for jobs can be a challenging experience, and it can be particularly difficult when you don’t get an offer or miss out on an interview. Here are some tips to help you maintain motivation and self-belief through your job search.

1. Take some time out and reflect

Receiving a rejection can feel like it sets you back and it is ok to feel upset, disappointed or angry. It can be helpful to take a bit of time out to allow your emotions to process, to reset and to take your mind off the job hunt for a while. You may want to go for a walk, talk to a friend, do something creative or engage in a hobby or interest. Remind yourself that it’s a big success to have submitted an application in the first place; congratulate yourself for that. Remember also that you will learn from this process and each step takes you closer to a job that is right for you. Then, when you are ready, sit down and reflect on the process.

Make a list of what you think you did go well:

  • Did you do some extra research into this business before you applied?
  • Did you make sure your application was well structured and easy to follow?
  • Did you tailor your CV so that it showcased examples from your degree, work experience or part time jobs, volunteering or extracurricular activities that matched the competencies that were listed in the job advert?

It is also worth making a note of the areas where you felt you didn’t perform so well and how you might be able to improve next time. The margins between success and failure can be so small, that even a series of gradual changes can be the difference between getting a job and another rejection.

2. Ask for feedback

You don’t have to reflect on your own. Sometimes an employer will proactively offer you some suggestions for improvement as well as congratulating you on your strengths. More often than not, you will need to reach out to the employer to ask for this feedback yourself.

Once you have this feedback, take some notes on the key points, so that you can refer back to it later. You could ask someone else - a careers adviser at your university (typically you can access support for up to three years after graduation), or a trusted friend or family member - to help you work out how to put these tips into practice.

Some companies have a policy of only giving feedback to candidates during the final stages of the process. If this is the case, we’d recommend taking your application to your university careers adviser who will be able to help you identify where you can improve.

By seeking feedback and actively engaging with it, you are making this a learning opportunity and a chance to work towards future success.

3. It isn’t personal

Whether you get the job is not always entirely about you and your performance. We know it doesn’t always feel this way, but job rejections are not personal. There can be many different factors that come into play during each stage of a recruitment process and only some of these will relate to your application.

Sometimes the factors will relate to the employer, for example they may have had to put a pause on the recruitment process part way through due to external factors, or they may have decided to expand in a different direction which might mean your skills are now less relevant to them. This doesn’t mean your skills won’t be valued elsewhere or at another time.

Other factors will relate to the other candidates, there may be placement students or interns applying for the role who represent a really safe bet for the company, even if your application was impressive. Or it may have been a particularly competitive role, which meant you were up against some unusually strong candidates even if you would have been successful another time.

You can’t control all these factors, and trying to understand them can feel overwhelming. So simply acknowledge them, and then try to put them to one side while you focus on those areas you can control.

Have the confidence that your CV will stand out for the job that you tick all of the criteria for, but be aware that there may be someone else with an extra year’s experience.

4. Was it the right job for you?

Lots of people leave university with very little idea about what they want to do next. If the company didn’t shortlist you for the opportunity, perhaps it wasn’t quite the right fit for you and your values. It is worth reflecting on what is important for you in a job and one place to start with this is your values.

For example:

  • If ethics are a big part of who you are, you may not want to work for a tobacco company or in the defence industry, for example.
  • Or, if work life balance is particularly important to you, then picking a role that involves working evenings and weekends or lots of international travel may not be the best bet.

Work isn’t the only aspect of your life, so your job doesn’t have to fit perfectly with what you believe in, but your values will come across based on what you say in your application and interviews. So not getting the job might be an indication that the job wasn’t quite the right one for you.

You are allowed to get excited at the prospect of getting it — it shows you know that the industry you’re aiming for is for you. But if you don’t quite make it and fall down, learn to pick yourself back up and try again. You’ll come out the other side a lot more resilient and glad that you persevered.

5. Practise makes perfect

Like all things in life, applying for jobs takes practice and the more you do it, and learn from it, the better you will get. That said, writing a strong application takes time, so submitting an unrealistic number of “copy-and-paste” applications is likely to disappoint.

But please don’t be disheartened or put off by rejections, they can be a great opportunity for learning, both about what you want to do and how you can improve. In fact, if you always succeed in recruitment processes, you might not be ambitious enough!

There will be inevitable ups and downs on the journey to finding your first graduate role and it can be a really difficult period to navigate. But you don’t have to face these peaks and troughs alone. Reach out when you need help - whether that’s to friends, family, university careers teams, your GP or other support services. Listen to feedback, apply your learnings and eventually you will find the job for you.

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Page last reviewed: November 2022