How to handle a rejected Job Application

Rejected job applications can hit hard.


Applying for jobs is no guarantee that you’ll get the position you want, and there will inevitably be rejections - and for most people, this isn’t easy to deal with. For older job seekers, this can be somewhat demoralising, to say the least. From our own experience, we know this is a very real issue for people over the age of 55 and 40 per cent of workers have experienced some type of age-related discrimination over the last five years (NZ Herald, November 2016).


There’s a tendency to think that those who have more experience will automatically be the better choice for jobs, but this is not always the case. There are lots of reasons why people aren't hired and we've all heard ones like "we just feel you are not a good t" or "you are over-qualified", "under-qualified" or you are just ignored, which is probably the worst one because it keeps you guessing.

While it’s tempting to simply think that all of these reasons are invalid - sometimes, it’s really not you, it’s them. Getting a rejected job application isn’t the end, even though at times it can certainly feel like one. While rejection from a job application can happen to anyone whatever their age, it isn't easy. There are many ways to manage it (with some strategies working better than others) but it's important to remember that a “no” is not the end.


Here are some reasonable (and not so reasonable) explanations as to why your job application was turned down.

There was a better candidate. This is a common result and one you will probably hear a lot. Perhaps someone else had more experience or showed more promise during the interview. Whatever the reason, the company preferred someone else.

An internal candidate filled the position. It’s also important to remember that some positions may already have internal applicants. The rationale behind this is simple to understand: the best way to get the best candidate is to get as many applicants as possible, so companies would open a vacancy in their ranks to both outside and inside applicants. Often, companies will end up hiring someone from their own teams if no-one from outside is better: it cuts down on training and integrating someone into the company.

Your experience or qualifications didn't match what we needed: It's good to stretch yourself when applying for jobs and many companies will ask you in for an interview even if your experience and qualifications don't quite match the job description. So if you are stretching yourself, being rejected is part of the process and it's all good practice. However, if you know your background matches what's needed and you still get turned down, that's difficult to swallow. Below we have a few suggestions about getting clarity on this so you can move on.

Age is a factor (although they would never say this as it's discrimination). Age should never be a factor when it comes to hiring applicants, except in exceptional circumstances such as very physical work. Given the nature of most companies today, workplaces that tend to reject older applicants will probably not be the best t for you. We’ve previously talked about the challenges that an ageing workforce will encounter in today’s environment, and while there may be fewer cases of ageism now, you’ll still encounter workplaces that are dictated by it.

Your application was lost. This is one of the most infuriating reasons, but it still happens and usually comes across as just an excuse. This is more common with large companies that have popular job postings, with lots of job applications. If you get this, our advice is to move on as if a company can't be bothered to treat you well in the application process they are probably not a good one to work for anyway.


Regardless of the cause, rejections can be difficult especially if you are dealing with many over a period of time. From media reports, we know that for some people this can be the case and it's always sad to hear.


But what can you do to keep on going?

First of all, never give up, carry on and keep on applying. Most people will feel dejected to some degree, some more than others.

Reflect, talk and take time. Job rejections are common and it will take a mental and emotional toll on the applicant, whatever happens. Get your frustration off your chest, talk to friends, family or a professional such as a career counsellor or recruitment consultant.

Ask questions. One of the main questions that come up after a job rejection is "ok, you've provided me with a reason, but what is the real reason?" Some of the reasons for being unsuccessful may just seem like excuses!

Sometimes it’s all right to take “no” for an answer but in many cases, a bit more delving into why is a good thing. If you want to pursue this, call back your interviewer to ask if it was something you said or was there a gap in your experience. Be confident about getting feedback - applying for jobs is a learning opportunity even if you've had a lifetime of work!

Take steps to improve. There may be things you can do that will help you beat all the other candidates. Applying for jobs is competitive. Think about how you present yourself in a CV, look at ways to get noticed. It's always good to get a second opinion on how your resume or CV looks or whether you could have a better cover letter.

Think outside the square. Consider whether there are avenues you could go down that are slightly different to what you've been pursuing to date. If you've been in one sector or type of work for many years are there other sectors that could benet from your skill set. Once again it would be good to get other people's views on this and brush up on your skills and prepare for the next one!

Reflect on what has brought you to this point. Think of how you approach an interview. Are you sharing too much information, or too little? How will you react when you’re asked a personal question? How are your salary negotiating skills? How you react to these questions often provide pointers to an interviewer and can play a role in whether you get hired or not.


A skilled interviewer will notice body language as well as confidence or unease when answering challenging questions. Practicing your interview technique is also a good idea - how about asking a friend to do a role play? You can have some fun with this! Above all else, it’s important to find ways to avoid being disheartened about being told you haven't been successful.


What's certain is that not all interviews will go well, you won't always gel with the interviewer, you may get questions you find difficult to answer and there will sometimes be better candidates. But your experience and wisdom are things that can never be taken away and either of these can be your biggest asset that other candidates will not have. There is a growing skills shortage and that’s where experience becomes invaluable.


Remember being rejected isn’t the end and being at the experienced end of a career you would have experienced rejection in the past. Don't dwell on the failures and think of them as necessary to advance and another addition to your already formidable library of knowledge.


A job rejection should be seen as a stepping stone in your journey. Job opportunities will come and go and the experience you get from trying, failing, trying better and failing better will never leave you.  At the end of the day, it’s important to realise that things take time, effort, and resilience to achieve - and rejection is simply an invitation to try again. The larger your network when looking for job opportunities the better. 


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