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Career Coach

You didn’t get your dream job, now what?

About the author

Elizabeth is a freelance writer in California and a former Career Q&A columnist for the Wall Street Journal.

(Thinkstock Images)

(Thinkstock Images)

When Matt Naclerio was told that he didn’t get the public works director position for which he was interviewing, he asked the executive assistant on the other end of the phone for some feedback.

She told him a few different things but what really stood out for the northern California resident was what some of the interview panel members had said: “He’s not someone we’d like to have a beer with after work.”

The sting of rejection is always hard — but it can feel even worse when it turns out to be personal and speaks to your likeability. While candidates might say they want candid feedback, they aren’t always ready to hear it. Career Coach asked experts to weigh in on how to prepare for personal job rejection and what to do with the feedback when it comes.

A good thing

Feedback is important — even if it isn’t positive, according to Dave Sanford, an executive vice president in client relations at WinterWyman, a Massachusetts-based executive recruiting firm.

“Helpful feedback enables you to make subtle adjustments to your approach and find better ways to communicate your message,” he wrote.

Just be sure to take the feedback with a grain of salt. “One interviewer’s negative take could be a positive for the next,” said Sanford, adding that it’s ok to “tweak” your approach, but it isn’t advised to go for a full-fledged makeover. “[It] will just drive you crazy; you will lose who you are by trying to make everyone happy.”

Unusually candid

Let’s face it, the information Naclerio received from the executive assistant was above and beyond the kind of feedback most hiring managers with any experience would share, according to Al Stewart, founder of Business Mentors with offices in Atlanta and Paris. “They would couch it more carefully,” he wrote.

But if you do receive candid feedback, take note. “It’s all a matter of perception, and the hiring party does not perceive this candidate in a positive manner,” said Stewart. “If people don’t want to go out for a drink with you, then, for whatever reason, you are coming across as not likeable.”

What can you do about it? Consider how you come across in the interview, suggested Stewart. “Are you not cordial or friendly?  Do you have a cold, off-putting demeanor?”

Follow up

In Naclerio’s case, he did “take it personally” and followed up with a chat with the city manager he had interviewed with. Naclerio learned that he had come across as too formal and serious.

The 55-year-old took that to heart and in subsequent interviews for other jobs, Naclerio said he was careful to “loosen up” a bit and let the interviewers see his “friendlier side.” He eventually landed a position as a public works manager. 

Dust yourself off

If you are rejected for a position, recognise and allow yourself to examine what has happened, wrote Seattle-based life and career coach Donna Sellers.

“Accept that it’s natural — and actually beneficial — to experience it. Trying to deny you feel sad, or disappointed or took a confidence hit is to deny the experience of being human,” she said.

But don’t wallow there too long; you’ll want to find a way to build yourself up again. “Do something that helps you re-energise, get grounded again in what the best fit is for you, and move forward,” suggested Sellers. You could re-read what others have said about you in LinkedIn recommendations or in performance reviews. Or ask a couple of trusted friends to share what they appreciate most about you.

Seek out others

For Mark Zafra, a senior director for a Northern California financial-services company, joining a job-search group with weekly in-person meetings proved a good way to deal with rejection during the job hunting process.

“We were able to support each other and give each other sanity checks,” said Zafra who landed a position within a few months.

Tough odds

And remember, the odds of landing a job aren’t always in your favour. So sometimes, it isn’t personal. 

“As a headhunter, I have run 350 successful recruitments and a normal shortlist consists of three candidates,” wrote Jorg Stegemann, managing director of Paris-based Kennedy Executive Search & Outplacement. “This means that I [have] told 700 people, ‘Sorry, you did not make it’.”

His recommendation: “Give 150% in the interview and the follow-up, but then try to take a distance to protect yourself, as odds are 99 to 1 that it won’t work out.”

Career Coach is a twice-monthly column on BBC Capital in which we consider the career turning points and questions many professionals face. We welcome questions from readers at careercoach@bbc.com

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I [have] told 700 people, ‘Sorry, you did not make it’.” — Jorg Stegemann