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How to bounce back from job rejection

Dealing with job rejection

Product Manager

Getting rejected sucks. There’s no way of glossing over it. You went to an interview, wore your best outfit and prepared answers to the interview questions, but during the interview you couldn’t show your best self. Later that night before when you went to sleep, you played the interview over in your head and beat yourself up: “I shouldn’t have said that.” A few days later, you received the dreaded email: “Unfortunately we’re not moving forward with your application…”

Job rejection sucks because it makes you question yourself: “Maybe I’m not good enough, maybe I’ll be stuck here forever, perhaps I’m not as smart as my friend/sister/brother/cousin.” Let me tell you a story: a few years ago, I was desperately looking for a job. I applied to more than 100 companies. Some companies were decent enough to send me a rejection email, some companies just completely ignored my application. It’s disheartening. After months of trying, I was close to giving up, until I finally landed a job…at Facebook.

At WhiteHat, we believe in personal development. Rejection shouldn’t make you question yourself - it should be an opportunity to reflect and improve. That’s why we ask each employer to give feedback when they reject candidates at interview stage.

Why did I get rejected for a job?

Every company tries to find the best match for their needs. Similar to human beings, companies also have personalities - the corporate term for this is 'company culture'. For example, Amazon is efficient, Google is innovative, Microsoft is competitive and Facebook is creative. Similar to human beings looking to find a friend or a partner, companies will also try to find somebody whose personality matches theirs.

Apart from culture-fit, companies also consider role-fit. As each role has different expectations, it’s important to understand what each role entails. Ideally you should research this even before you apply, so you don’t waste time applying for something that’s not right for you. You should work out what role you want to work in before you apply.

If you believe that you are a good match for the company and the role, the challenge is to show it through your application or your WhiteHat Digital Profile (if you have one), as well as through the interview process. Check the “You’re a great fit if” section of the job description. Think of ways to show employers that you have those skills. Saying that you can do something is easy, showing them through things you’ve done is more challenging and will make you stand out among other applicants. Don’t forget to add new things you’ve learned or new projects you’ve done to your CV and online profiles.

Companies are looking for the best match. Which means it doesn’t mean that you’re not good enough when you're rejected. It simply means you and the role are not right for each other. You will also perform better, and be happier, in a role that matches your strength and passion. Remember to send a response to a job rejection to let the company know it was nice to meet them, and they should reach out if there are any opportunities in the future. Dealing with job rejection is tough but you can redefine the way you deal with it by accepting it as part of the process.

I got rejected for lack of knowledge and passion, how can I improve?

The recruitment process is not that different from dating or making a new friend. Companies, like people, think it's nice when you show a genuine interest in what they do. Getting to know them shows you’re keen to find out more about them, and let’s be honest, we like it when people really make the effort to get to know us.

Researching the company thoroughly and the role you’re interviewing with will show your intent and make you stand out from other candidates. Make sure you do some research before your next interview:

What’s the company’s mission?

Has the company been in the news recently?

What do you think is the biggest challenge the company is facing?

If the company has clients, who are they and what does the company do for them?

What projects that the company’s been involved in do you think standout?

Pinpoint several things that you’re really passionate about from your research. For example, if you’re passionate about the environment, and the company just won a sustainability award, it’s definitely something worth mentioning.

Think of ways to express your passion through common interview questions. “Tell me about yourself?” and “Why were you interested in applying for this role?” are very commonly asked. Use those opportunities to express your knowledge and passion about the company and the role.

I got rejected for having a lack of skills and experience, what should I do?

I’ll be honest - this is a trickier one as there’s no overnight solution for this. Before we go on, let’s reflect a little bit: are you really lacking skills, do you have the experience or did you fail to communicate your experience? If it’s the latter, the next section might be more relevant to you.

If you think it’s the former, then the only practical way to solve this is by upskilling. Sharpening your skills and obtaining more experiences might take you week, months or years. It might seem daunting, but as Earl Nightingale said: “Never give up on a dream just because of the time it will take to accomplish it. The time will pass anyway.”

Let me tell you another story: I grew up in Indonesia, a third-world country far away from here. I had always wanted to move to the UK and I knew the only way I could do that was by getting a scholarship. I applied for a scholarship from the UK government every single year for four years, upskilling in between each application, until I finally got one.

I was told my communication wasn’t good enough - what does that mean?

So you’ve done your research, you know everything about the company, you’re passionate about the role, but you didn’t communicate it to the interviewer. What happened there?

You might no t have quite got to the point of what you were trying to say because you spoke too broadly and overused filler words. The best way to sharpen your answers is by practising answering common interview questions. You can ask somebody to practice interviewing you. They may be able to help you identify blindspots.

Contextualise what you do in the interview

If I told you that my biggest achievement is that I built three products last quarter. Would you know what I mean? Probably not. To understand the scale of my statement, you need to know some more information, such as:

What does ‘building products’ actually mean? Did you build it with your hand? Did you coordinate people who built it?

How many products were you expected to build? How many did your peers build? Is three a lot, or a little?

Why did you build those products? What problems were you trying to solve?

If you fail to explain the context of what you do, the interviewers will fail to understand it. STAR framework (Situation, Task, Action, Result) can help you build context around your story.

How do I overcome nerves at a job interview?

Interviews can be nerve-wracking even for people who have been working for years. Nerves are natural. But sometimes feeling nervous can be overwhelming: being in a new place, meeting new people and having the attention on you when you answer questions.

But there are loads of things you can do to manage your nerves and do all you can to ensure you perform to the best of your abilities. The more you prepare the less likely you’re to be nervous. Think about exactly what you want to say. Knowing exactly who will be at the interview will help. Getting there early enough to not worry about being late is another way of calming your nerves... and breathe. If you feel like you’re getting really nervous, breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth before you head in, until you feel more relaxed. Also, the interviewers are on your side. They want you to do well. They know you’re probably going to be a bit nervous but the key is to control yourself and communicate exactly what you planned on saying.

Applying and interviewing for jobs is a skill. Like any other skill, practice makes perfect. In hindsight, I probably wouldn’t have scored that job at Facebook if it was my first or second interview. I now see my other interviews were a way for me to practice, refine and sharpen my performance. Your dream job is just around the corner, so don’t give up.

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