For many graduates, finding work in a large organisation with plenty of development opportunities is an important milestone. That first job is often a starting point for a bright career with a long list of achievements, promotions and other high points.
But careers, like life, aren’t perfect. There will be difficulties along the way – setbacks that test the character and resolve of the person involved.
Missing out on a job is one such setback. Being rejected after applying for a position that appeals to you can be a crushing disappointment. It can impact on the candidate’s confidence and lead them to question their own worth.
That feeling of hurt can be compounded when the vacancy concerned is an internal position. You already know the organisation and its people and the whole recruitment process can be a very ‘open’ experience. Colleagues may know that you’ve applied, and you may even be competing for the post with people you consider as friends.
While it might feel like there’s no hiding place, an unsuccessful internal application can still be a positive experience in the long-term. Here are some tips on how to deal with what can be a challenging situation:
Ask for Feedback
In the immediate aftermath of your rejection, your instinct may be to hide from the world and forget that you ever applied for the job. While that’s a perfectly natural reaction, it’s not exactly productive.
Once you’ve been able to process the news, it’s time to dust yourself down and start to think about what went wrong.
If you’re being completely honest with yourself, you may be able to identify parts of the interview where you could have given a better account of yourself. Perhaps you could have expanded on the answer or given a better example in relation to a competency-based question.
But sometimes, remaining objective is extremely difficult. Finding out that someone else is taking the job you hoped (or in some cases, expected) would be yours can lead to an individual being more defensive and less open to self-reflection.
And that’s why you should ask for feedback.
Whether it’s an operational manager or a member of the Human Resources team, someone from within the organisation should be happy to discuss your application. They will point out areas of the process where you excelled and where there is room for development or improvement.
It can be difficult listening to someone point out your shortcomings. However, obtaining feedback and using it to your advantage can be hugely important to your career prospects.
In the 1996 movie Jerry Maguire, the title character (played by Tom Cruise) famously makes a very public exit from his workplace after being dismissed from his role with a sports management company.
In the real world, Goldman Sachs executive director Greg Smith had his own ‘Maguire’ moment back in 2012. In his resignation letter, he called his working environment “toxic” and “destructive”, and described hearing colleagues talk about “ripping their clients off.”
Immediately after receiving the bad news about an internal application, it might be tempting to make a similarly spectacular departure. You could tell someone, or everyone, in the building exactly what you think of them before heading off into the sunset. Don’t do it.
Some organisations, when considering the feelings of unsuccessful candidates, will make the announcement towards the end of the working day. That way, those who missed out can start to process the rejection at home, rather than at their desk surrounded by colleagues and expected to focus on work.
But, at some point, you’ll need to face everyone, including the successful candidate who landed ‘your’ job. Regardless of how much it hurts, act like a professional and congratulate them on their success. It doesn’t matter if you barely know each other or you are friends who go for lunch together every day, sulking isn’t a good look. And you never know how your paths will cross in future.
Take Time to Think
When your career hits a bump in the road, it’s sensible to pause and consider your options. Any unsuccessful applicant can ask themselves the following questions:
- If a similar position comes up again in my organisation, will I apply?
- Should I apply for similar positions in other organisations?
- Is it time to consider a career change and do something completely different?
These questions could form part of a wider career audit, where you consider other factors such as your mental and physical wellbeing and your long-term career goals. If you’ve applied several times and been rejected every time, it might be time to consider moving on. But take your time and ensure that you make the right decision for your career prospects.
One other question worth asking yourself – why did you apply for the job in the first place? Mostly likely, you really wanted the position. Or perhaps you felt it was expected of you by others within your organisation. Or, maybe you just really wanted to win, and beat colleagues to the post. Be honest with yourself.
Make Yourself Indispensable
So, you’ve had some feedback which helped you to understand why your employer chose someone else for the role. Then, after a period of contemplation, you’re happy that you’re with the right company and that more opportunities will arise.
You take action. You make sure that when the next vacancy comes up, it will be almost impossible for your bosses to turn you down for a promotion or a sideways move.
Use the feedback to identify areas where you need to improve. Whether it’s skills or knowledge, put the work in to make yourself a vital part of the team who can be relied on, no matter what the circumstances.
Such improvements might result from shadowing, mentoring, e-learning at work or training courses or qualifications in your own time. Or it might be as easy as observing colleagues or just putting in a little extra bit of effort as you perform your role. Anything that helps you continue to grow is a positive.
As well as making yourself a more able, well-rounded candidate who is more employable, this approach will demonstrate that you have the right attitude. You’ve taken rejection on the chin and you’re ready to bounce back, determined that your career won’t stall because of one disappointment.
Consider a Career Coach
Like any aspect of your life, it’s important to be able to talk to others about your career and gain their advice or insight. It might be a colleague or your manager, or it could be someone close to you away from work.
The source of the advice isn’t important, what is vital is that you have other people in your life to guide you when it comes to career-related decisions.
If there isn’t someone obvious you can turn to, then perhaps a career coach could be the answer.
Career coaches are experts when it comes helping clients plan and progresses their careers. As well as being someone who can look at your circumstances from an objective point of view, a good coach will have experience of working with people who have suffered career setbacks.
While your career is important to you, what you do for a living doesn’t define who you are as a person. In addition to being a (insert your job title here), you may also be a friend, colleague, spouse, partner, brother, sister, aunt, uncle, grandparent, coach, mentor, volunteer…you get the idea.
So, one unsuccessful job application at work certainly doesn’t define your career.
Try to think of the experience as another stepping stone on the way to the career you want. You’ve had another opportunity to attend an interview, and maybe even a presentation or an assessment centre of some kind. If you’ve performed well, then you’ve given your employer a handy reminder of what you can do – even if they weren’t smart enough to give you the gig this time around.
Guest post written by: William Heany, A freelance jobs and careers writer. Can be found at his blog or on Twitter @hunter_career