Job hunt: rejection hurts more than you think

May 19, 2022

5 mins

Job hunt: rejection hurts more than you think
Coline de Silans

Journaliste indépendante

It’s Monday, February 14th, 7:10pm. You’re about to go out for a drink with someone you’ve been seeing when suddenly, you get the text. They’re canceling at the last minute with no offer to reschedule. No problem, you’ll still go out for a drink with your friends. And who cares if it’s Valentine’s Day. Do people even celebrate Valentine’s Day anymore? You try to convince yourself that you don’t care but deep down you know that your ego has taken a hit. It’s like that time you applied for a job you really wanted and, after three job interviews, they shut the door. Spoiler alert: in both romantic and professional rejection, the same psychological mechanism is being triggered. Brushing these feelings under the metaphorical carpet may seem like the solution, but is it healthy to pretend they don’t bother you? What real impact does your application getting rejected have on your psyche? And most of all, how can you avoid losing self-confidence as a result? Lucie Offrant, an occupational psychologist, gives us her insights.

It’s harder to accept a rejection when your expectations are high

Being turned down during a recruitment process can cause different reactions for different people. Some move on without seeming to be bothered by it at all. Others, though, will start to really doubt themselves and even question who they are. Lastly, some will claim not to have been affected at all but will be left with a bitter taste of what they saw as “failure”. Everyone is different, and of course, no one reaction is better than another. However, to make sure you get the most out of being rejected, it’s better not to underestimate the impact it can have on you.

First of all, the extent of how upset you are is often proportional to the expectations you had for the job. The more desirable the job seems, the more the rejection hurts. Other elements can also make it harder to take, like the number of interviews you had before being turned down, or the amount of time you spent preparing for those interviews. “A few years ago, I was looking to change jobs because the field I was working in wasn’t right for me anymore. I went through a lot of interviews, and each time the most complicated thing to deal with was that I was almost at the end of the process before I would ultimately get rejected,” says Benjamin, a data analyst. “Inevitably, the closer you get to the goal, the more you see yourself in the job, and the more not getting it hurts. Beyond the fact that I went through the different stages of the recruitment process before failing the last one, what was tough was that these stages were often technical tests, which were generally very time-consuming. It was all the more disappointing because I had spent all that time and effort on it..”

The same goes for Julie, whose toughest rejection to deal with was the one she had to prepare a long case study for. “I had spent more than half a day preparing this study, I had made a presentation, and I didn’t get a thank you, nothing. I had really poured my heart into this case study, and in the end, I felt like my work was brushed aside without any further explanation. At the time, it was really hard.” Julie raises one of the key points for being able to handle rejection, according to Lucie Offrant: having the benefit of an explanation.

Knowing how to ask for an explanation

You can easily draw a parallel with your love life here again: getting ghosted on Valentine’s Day is often much harder to take than if someone were to kindly explain why it won’t work out. “Having met employees who’d already been denied promotions, transfers, or new positions, it can sting for a very long time when there’s no explanation for the decision,” says Offrant. “It feels like the decision is even harder to handle in these cases because no one has said anything about it.”

As a recruiter in a tech start-up, Camille makes it a point to always give reasons why a candidate hasn’t been selected, especially when the candidate has nearly reached the end of their recruitment process. “When this happens, I always ask the manager who interviewed them what the reasons are so that I can tell them later. And when the person has been interviewed several times, I usually call them so that I can debrief them directly.”

Getting a reason for rejection is crucial in the process of acceptance, simply because it helps to make sense of it. “Whether it’s for a promotion or a new job, being able to understand the reasons for the rejection is crucial. It allows you to make sense of the rejection and avoid creating any confusion that could end up messing with the candidate’s motivation or involvement in the company,” says the occupational psychologist.

During his various interviews, only one recruiter had called Benjamin back to debrief him, a gesture that he greatly appreciated and helped to drive him to continue applying. “The feedback I got from this company was really interesting because it was constructive. They pointed out what was good and what I needed to improve to make it even further next time. I felt reassured because it seemed that I was close to getting a job, that I wasn’t really lacking much.” Unfortunately, not all recruiters make the effort to give their reasons for the rejections, so Offrant suggests in that case not to hesitate to ask HR or the managers for feedback. Not only will this allow you to better understand what went wrong, but it will also improve the weaker points on your résumé.

Talk about - and let yourself feel - your emotions

In addition to discussing it with the person who let you know about the rejection, discussing it with those close to you is also a good way to “move on”. Far from pouring salt on an open wound, it will allow you to put things into perspective and take a step back. “The important thing is not to sit and dwell on your failures,” says Offrant. “So don’t hesitate to talk about it with your kind-hearted friends and family, and avoid “pinning the blame” solely on yourself for the failure. There may be many other factors that prevented you from being selected: a more experienced candidate, a very competitive sector, or a background that wasn’t quite right for the position.”

Julie felt discouraged after failing in the case study, but found new motivation after talking to the people around her. “For me, it was really useful to talk about the harsh rejection with my family and friends because some of them had changed jobs multiple times, and this helped me put things into perspective. They told me to see the positive side and to take the little feedback I got as points to improve on. It really lifted my spirits!”

As for acting like it wasn’t a big deal at all? This isn’t exactly an ideal strategy, according to Offrant. If getting rejected didn’t really affect you, that’s great! It means you’ve got solid self-esteem. But if you start to feel sad or disappointed, it’s better not to lie to yourself. “It is important to know how to accept and recognize these emotions, and not to ignore them”, says the psychologist. Especially since allowing yourself to feel the effects of rejection can sometimes help you understand your true aspirations: “If you were refused a transfer that you had applied for on a whim, for example, and you feel really disappointed, it may be that you ultimately wanted to move more than you actually thought you might have.”

Finally, continuing to apply to other jobs is also important when it comes to digesting that rejection. A bit like falling off a horse, the idea is to get back on the saddle. Continue to learn as much from your successes as you do from your failures.

Translated by Kalin Linsberg

Photo: Welcome to the Jungle

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