How to reject and be rejected during job interviews

Job rejection isn’t nice, but it happens. Whether you’ve lost out on a job or are turning down a role that isn’t right, we’ll show you how to handle it. Rejection is a part of life, so it’s time to figure out the best ways to handle it.

Being rejected after a job interview can be tough. It can hurt your feelings and damage your confidence. But you know what?

Rejection is a part of life.

It happens to us all. That girl or boy turning down your invitation for a date, losing out in a school talent competition, your Mom saying you can’t have a fourth cookie (that still hurts) — all forms of rejection. Not getting the job you want is just another thing to add to the list.

In this article, we’re going to show you how to deal with rejection and turn it into a positive. We’re also going to give you tips on how to do some rejecting of your own. Because, sometimes, a job that seemed right might not be what’s best for your future.

Signs you didn't get the job after an interview

There are times when a rejection will catch you completely off guard and times where it’s the obvious outcome. With the latter, the signs tend to be there during the interview. If any of these things are apparent in the interview room, it might be best to expect the worst.

The interview gets cut short

If a scheduled 45-minute interview ends with you being shepherded out of the door after 10 minutes, the interviewer has everything they need. There are typically two reasons for this:

  1. You’ve upset them in some way.
  2. They’ve found the person they want and are seeing you to be polite.

There was no spark

Sometimes people don’t click. Often there’s no reason for it other than a lack of chemistry. If there’s no connection, you’ll know about it.

According to Dr. Albert Mehrabian’s 7-38-55% Rule, 93% of communication is nonverbal. Body language speaks volumes — you’ll get a sense that there’s no spark without a word ever being spoken.

They weren’t interested

If the interviewer seems interested in anything except what you have to say, it’s not a good sign. But this probably has more to do with them than you. Maybe they’ve already found the person they’re looking for or don’t really believe this is a position that needs to be filled.

If you attend an interview and the interviewer is clock watching or taking no notice of your answers, there's nothing you can do but chalk it up to experience.

You didn’t ask any questions

Interviewers expect you to ask questions. It shows them you’re keen about the job and interested in the company, and that you’ve done your research. When you’re asked if you have any questions, have two or three prepared.

Find inspiration for your questions by studying the job description and digging for the company online. The ideal question is one that’s not too difficult to answer but is not a simple yes or no question. Some good examples are:

  • What do you think are the most important qualities needed to flourish in this role?
  • Where are the biggest challenges/opportunities facing the company right now?
  • What do you like best about working here?
  • Can you describe the culture of the company?

What you don’t want to do is ask the wrong questions. Those are as bad, if not worse, than keeping your mouth shut. Avoid questions like:

  • So, what does the company do?
  • When I can take time off for vacation?
  • How many warnings do you get before you’re fired?
  • When do I start?

You couldn’t answer a big question

Interviews are designed to test you, and interviewers will typically have one killer question that is set up to make or break the candidate. Fail to answer it and you probably won’t get the job.

Often, there's no right or wrong answer but the interviewer will want to see that you’ve done your research and know enough about the role or industry to be considered.

So, the key is to prepare.

Research the company as much as possible online before the interview — find out everything there is to know. Study the job description thoroughly so you know exactly what the role entails, and make sure you’re ready to backup everything you’ve said on your resume.

If you’ve done your homework, answered all the questions as best you could, and put forward some good questions of your own and the interview still doesn’t go well. Then, again, it’s probably them and not you.

And, hey — at least with a bad interview you know what the outcome is going to be!

How to respond to a job rejection

Finding out you didn’t get the job you wanted isn’t nice. In fact, it’s downright horrible. It leaves you feeling disheartened and dejected, especially when you’ve gone in fully prepared and done everything asked of you.

But it happens.

Of course, if you’re reading this fresh off a job rejection, ‘it happens’ isn’t going to offer much comfort, so how about this…

In January 2009, after leaving their jobs at Yahoo and taking a year out to travel around South America, computer programmers, Brian Acton and Jan Kroum, applied for jobs at Facebook.

Both were rejected.

Brian then applied for a job at Twitter, only to be knocked back once again. Faced with a stint of unemployment, the pair decided to team up and create a new messaging app to launch on the then seven-month-old Apple App Store.

In February 2009, WhatsApp Inc. was incorporated. In 2014, Acton and Kroum agreed to sell the app to Facebook for $19 billion USD.

Or this…

After graduating from Stanford Law School in 1992 and working as a clerk for a year on the 11th Circuit, Peter Thiel was selected as one of a handful of clerks to be interviewed with two of the Justices — a job that would set him up for life.

He went in confident, sure he had what it took to land the prestigious role. But it wasn’t to be. The job went to someone else.

So Peter went on to work other jobs, as a securities lawyer, then as a derivatives trader, and a speechwriter before quitting and moving to California.

Without a job, Thiel decided to embark on a venture capital career and, in 1998, launched his first venture, Confinity, with friends Max Levchin and Luke Nosek. A year later, Confinity launched PayPal, now the biggest online payments system in the world.

The moral of those two stories is this: good things can come from rejection. It’s all about how you react to it. If you’ve got your hopes set on landing a job and it doesn’t go your way, here's how to deal with it.

Don’t take it too personally

Not everything is about you. That sounds harsh, but it’s meant in a good way, I can assure you. If you’re rejected from a job, it’s natural to take it to heart and look at yourself as the problem

“What did I do wrong?”

“Was it something I said?”

“Why did I go in for the hug when he clearly reached out for a handshake?”

“I knew eating garlic before the interview was a terrible idea.”

How you performed in the interview isn’t the be all and end all. Hiring managers take a number of things into account, such as the strength of your resume, relevant experience, and particular skills.

It could be that an internal candidate was moved into the role or someone with a bit more experience in doing the job was preferred. You can’t control these things.

All you can do is put forward a solid resume, prepare, and do your best. If you’ve done that and don’t land the job, take comfort in the fact you did everything you could. It just wasn't meant to be this time.

Be gracious

Rejection is a stinger, but it’s important that you react in the right way. Because being told 'no' isn’t the end of the process. What if the employer's first choice turns down the role or turns out to be a nightmare to work with?

You might be the person they come to.

But only if you’ve been a pleasure to deal with and not told them to shove the job because you didn’t want it anyway.

There might also be another job opening that you’re perfect for and your response to the initial interview can put you in pole position.

Always handle rejection gracefully and respond positively.

If a rejection email lands in your inbox, here’s a great example of how to respond from Ask A Manager’s Alison Green:

“While it pains me to see this opportunity go, I want to thank you for getting back to me. I also want to thank you for taking the time to meet with me. It was such a pleasure to meet you and ___ and learn about the organization. After spending the time talking with you and doing my research, I really do believe that the ___ industry is where I want to work. I know that I am not in a position to ask for favors, but if you have a moment to spare I would love any additional feedback. Please do not feel obligated to answer this question, but if there was something you noticed, it will help me in my job search and I would be most appreciative. I hope everything works out with you and your new intern.”

This example ticks all the boxes:

  • It’s concise
  • It’s polite
  • It shows gratitude
  • It asks for feedback

On that last one, feedback — that’s something that’s really important...

Ask for feedback

Employers typically won’t give feedback to unsuccessful applicants so you’ll need to ask for it, preferably in an email like Alison Green's.

You might not get a full breakdown of why you didn’t land the job and there’s a chance you won’t be thrilled with the feedback, but it can make all the difference for how you approach your next job application and interview.

Asking for feedback also shows the employer that you’re keen to learn from where you went wrong — a very attractive quality in a candidate.

Take feedback with an open mind and use it to learn and improve.

Don’t dwell on it

It’s fine to feel down about not getting a job and by all means, give yourself some time to grieve by eating ice cream in your pajamas. But don’t stay down for too long — 24 hours max. And don’t let self-pity creep in, that’ll only put you in a bad mood which, if allowed to, can lead to depression.

Put the disappointment into perspective. It’s not the end of the world!

There are plenty more employers out there that will be lucky to have you. Finish off your ice cream, get a good night’s sleep, and climb back aboard your metaphorical job hunting horse.

Take a fresh approach

Approach each new job application with a positive attitude and a fresh perspective. Rather than applying for every job in your industry, focus on vacancies best suited to your experience and skill-set. Study the job ad and company and tailor your resume to suit.

Work on quantifying achievements and skills so that they stand out to employers and write your resume in a way that shows them what they want to see.

If you’re hunting for your first job, prioritize education to showcase the training you’ve done.

To help you do this, check out these two guides:

How to write a resume that doesn’t suck

How to write a resume for your first job

How to reject (gracefully)

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Rejection isn’t a one-way street. As a job seeker, more often than not, you’re the one on the receiving end of rejection. However, there may be times when you’re the one that has to do the rejecting, which isn’t always easy.

After all, no one likes to let another person down.

Reasons you might want to turn down a job offer

You should never accept a job purely because it’s a job. It has to be right for you personally, professionally and financially.

If you’ve been offered a role and any of these things apply, you’ll need to be ready to dish out a slice of cold, stale rejection pie.

  • The job wasn’t what you thought
  • You couldn’t agree on terms
  • You were put off during the interview
  • You’re not ready to make the life changes required
  • You were offered a better deal elsewhere

The next step is to work out how to do it.

In writing or over the phone?

Putting your reasons for turning down a job in writing is always the best way to go. An email (or letter if you’re old school) leaves a paper trail, which eliminates any confusion or potential disputes over whether you accepted or rejected a job.

It also matter of fact. There are no mixed signals and no opportunity for coercion or being talked around by a hiring manager.

A quick phone call to a hiring manager to follow up your email can be a nice gesture which helps maintain a friendly relationship, but always make sure your rejection is in writing.   

How to turn down a job offer

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Show your appreciation

Always be thankful to the hiring manager for giving you their time. When it gets to the interviewing stage, this person will have spent a few hours looking over your resume and checking you out online (i.e. stalking your social media profiles). They might have even bragged out you being ‘the one.’

You don’t need to go into too much detail about why you’re thankful, just make it clear that you are.

  • Thank you for taking the time to interview me last week. It was great to meet the team and learn more about the company.  

Give your reasons clearly, but briefly

A hiring manager deserves to know why you’re declining the job role but there’s no need to bring up every point. Be honest and to the point. If you’ve accepted a job at another company, say that. If it’s not the right time for you, let it be known.

  • “I genuinely appreciate you offering me the position of Account Manager but after careful consideration, I’ve decided to accept a position at another company.”
  • “Thank you so much for offering me the role of Account Manager. Unfortunately, after much thought and talking it over with my family, I’ve come to the decision that now is not the best time for me to leave my current job.”

Praise them

After being offered the position, you turning down the role is going to be a kick in the teeth, so it’s nice to take away some of the sting with a few kind words.

  • “Your company has a great culture and an exciting vision for the future. While the role isn’t right for me at this time, I’ve no doubt you’ll find the ideal candidate and they’ll be lucky to work for your company.”
  • “While the position isn’t right for me at this time in my life, I know enough about your company to know the candidate you choose will enjoy a rewarding career.”

Keep the door open

You never know how things are going to work out. There might come a time when a role at this company is right for you. Or the hiring manager that interviewed you this time could be the person interviewing you for a similar role at a different company in the future.

Offer to keep in touch, even if you never truly expect it to happen. It's the thought that counts.

  • “It’s been a pleasure dealing with you, seeing your passion and getting to know the company. I hope to see you again someday.
  • “Thanks again for your support. Hopefully, we cross paths one day so I can buy you a coffee.”

It’s never easy turning down a job offer, but if you’ve made your decision, don’t drag out the process. Craft a polite, generous and concise email or letter and move on.  

Wrap up

Rejection isn’t nice. It’s hard to give and even harder to take. Unfortunately, it is something that you will experience at some point.

Whichever side of rejection you find yourself on, it’s important to handle the situation graciously.

If you’ve just been told you haven’t got the job you wanted, respond positively. Ask for feedback and take what you’ve learned to improve your resume and interview skills.

If you’ve decided that a job you’ve been offered isn’t right, be appreciative. Thank the hiring manager for their time and let them know your reasoning.

Finally, focus on searching for jobs that best suit your skillset and tailoring your resume to fit with what employers want to see. While this is by no means a way to avoid rejection, it’ll certainly help lessen the chances. And that can only be a good thing, right?

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