1-rejectionDear Dr A 

Thank you for attending the interview for the above position. Regretfully I am now writing to inform you that, on this occasion, you have been unsuccessful.  I would like to take the opportunity to thank you for your interest in working for our organisation. We appreciate the time and care that you have given in submitting your application and attending the interview, and would be happy to receive a further application from you for any future suitable vacancy. I wish you every success in the future. 

Yours sincerely,


It could come by letter, email or face to face but the emotions you experience are the same. It feels like some of the air has been let out of your lungs leaving you feeling like a deflated balloon. If you live long enough, work hard enough and take enough risks, at some point(s) in your career journey, you will experience rejection. In the last few years, especially since the recession, the employment market has been particularly difficult with new graduates bearing the brunt of it. We cannot count the number of times we have read in the newspapers or watched on television where new graduates discuss their inability to get a job despite incredible effort.  I (Amara)  heard about a lady who applied for over a hundred jobs and was not called to a single interview! Technology has made applying for jobs so much easier, however, this comes with the  increased chance of being rejected.

Rejection does not just apply to employment – it could be a manuscript you submitted to a journal or editor, an application you made to your first choice University or a grant application to fund your great big idea. Regardless of where it comes from, rejection can severely dent confidence as we often tend to equate it with failing and being a failure. However, rejection does not have to be such a negative thing. It can actually become a useful learning tool in our personal and professional development journey. So, when you face rejection, what can you do differently?

Keep things in perspective – You may have failed at something but that does not make you a ‘failure’. An interview result is not an indication of your personal worth. No one likes to experience rejection. The rejection letter you see above was one I (Amara) received  and remember how bad I felt when I read it.  I had been excited to make it to the last 4 out of about 100 applicants to be interviewed. The interview had gone really well (in my opinion) but a few days later, I found out I didn’t get the job. After a few days of reflecting, I chose to see the whole process as a positive not negative experience. No, I did not get the job but I had made it to the last 4 out of 100. The top 5%. This meant that there was something about my CV, covering letter, personal statement and application form that had appealed to the employer. Maybe I just wasn’t a right fit for them. Maybe they made a mistake! Interviewers are human after all. Choose to see being invited to an interview as a plus, regardless of whether you get a job or not, at least, they like you on paper! When you experience rejection, try and think objectively. Choose to see failure as an event and not an identity. 

To thyself be true – This calls for some ‘reflection-on-action.’ Think over your application process again? If you have applied for 100 jobs without a single response, then in our opinion there is a problem somewhere. Are you using the ‘scatter-gun’ approach to your job search? Is there a mismatch between your skills profile and the jobs you are applying for? Do both your CV and personal statement match the person-specification in the advertisement or are you just sending the same documents to everyone? Are there any technical or subject specific skills you lack that could improve your chances at success? Did you follow the journal submission instructions to the letter? Does your manuscript fit the scope of the journal where you submitted it? Do you meet the entry requirements to get on the course you have applied for?

Deal with the issues – When it is difficult to know where things are going wrong, seek expert help. A careers adviser can look at your CV and provide information that can be the difference between getting a job or not. A mentor who is knowledgeable of a field that you are trying to get into can provide invaluable advice or know someone who knows someone who needs someone? Do you find yourself really nervous at interviews? So do most people!  Just try to avoid letting your nerves get the upper hand. This might sound like cliché but Practice does make perfect.  If your CV has looked the same for the last 2 years, is there a course that can help you update your skills profile?

Embrace feedback – When you do receive feedback, please remember it is not personal (at least most of the time!). If someone, has in good faith, taken their time to provide that information, see it as them investing in you. They most likely would not do it, if they did not see something positive in you or your work that needs improvement to make it better. Feedback can be difficult to take but if you can be dispassionate about it, you will find it is essential for your personal development. When you find yourself in a situation where you have not done as well as you hoped, seek feedback. Send a follow up email after an interview when you did not get the job. You will learn and grow from it.

Never give up – You never know how close you are to that Yes! Read the biography of any successful person you admire and you will undoubtedly find a rejection story among its pages. A colleague who evaluates grant applications for the EU shared that sometimes the difference between ‘accept’ and ‘reject’ can be 1 or 2 marks out of 100. She has had to reject a grant application that scored 95 out of 100, simply because another one scored 97! Another colleague had a manuscript rejected four times but finally got her work published in an international journal. The biggest surprise was that it got published in the journal she had sent it to in the first place! Each time she got a rejection letter, she improved her manuscript based on the feedback and submitted it again. She had enough self-belief in her research not to be put off by a few stumbling blocks. Be that way about yourself too. Have enough self-belief in what your skills can bring to an organisation or what your big idea can bring to the world. Be persistent and tenacious. You just never know.

aa-headshotAbout our writer – After completing a PhD in Microbiology, Amara is building her career in academia. She is grateful for every opportunity to teach and mentor a new generation of scientists, undertake research and develop international partnerships. She believes in the combined power of education and productive relationships in building successful careers. Stay connected on Twitter – @amaratweets

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  1. Great post and helpful advice. I’m quite often my own worst critic. I’ve taken some leave off work due to some (personal issues) so this will be a great help in future social work interviews 🙂
    Life inside the Locket


  2. I’ve told my children not to take rejection personally, and to see it as a stepping stone along the path. Now that I have taken a bold move myself (and my friends warn me that it’s much harder to change ones path after age 50), I’m trying to heed my own advice (a lot easier to give than to accept!). Thank you for the reminder.


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