From “Candidate” to “Canned”: Finding the Bright Side of Rejection

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    Napoleon Harrington
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It happens to the best of us. We prepare for the interview that will land us the perfect job with an ideal company. We washed the pizza stains out of our best shirt. We found matching socks, two of the same color, and wore the shoes that mother would be proud to see. We look like success. For the interview, we rehearsed our best answers to the tough questions. As for the salary conversation, we carefully practiced inside and out. We even practiced our questions to ask the interviewer to show our investment in the position and to demonstrate how we'd be a valuable asset to their organization. We nailed it. 

Or, so we thought.     

The letter came on a Friday, after we’d waited two weeks to hear the results of the flawless interview we had. To our surprise, despite our best efforts, contained in the letter were those haunting words: “… this was a very competitive process… it was a difficult decision for us to make… although you are a solid candidate… you didn't get the job.” 


Just mere mention of the word denotes some sense of disappointment or “let-down”. As the number of job opportunities, so will the opportunity to interview for potential positions. It’s one thing if rejection for a job is a singular experience, but a growing number of college graduates share with me that this is their interview/job hunting experience more often than they care to admit. The more students I see in sessions, the more I hear about the experience of overcoming a series of rejections before landing a position that they can appreciate.   

So what’s the trick? If rejection is likely to happen, particularly in highly competitive fields, how do I recover from starting out as a confident candidate, then end up on the “canned” list?     

Here are a few ideas to keep your confidence in tact after facing rejection:   

1. Deal with It/Accept It:  It's not beneficial in any way to reject the notion that you weren't the best fit for the position. Yes, it's possible that someone may have had another set of qualities that may synergize with the team more effectively. The sooner you come to terms with this idea, the sooner you can get your bearings and begin again with a clear mind.   

2. Re-frame “Rejection”: Virtually, everyone that interviews for a position will at some point be rejected or passed over for an opportunity. Instead of becoming self-critical or pessimistic from being passed over, it's in your best interest to be optimistic about your view of the event. As an alternative to seeing rejection as a terrible thing that happened, think of it as an opportunity to utilize your talents in an organization with a better fit. Perspective is powerful and if people experience rejection as a personal failure it can spell trouble for their self-confidence and impact their idea of self-worth. Take an opportunity to view rejection as experience for the next interview. Randy Pausch, author of the The Last Lecture, says, “Experience is what we get when we don’t get what we want”.   

3. Ask Questions:  If you were qualified for a role, but weren't selected to fill it, oftentimes there are reasons that the interviewer can share with you to help build your interviewing skill set. Take the time to follow up with the people involved in your process and ask questions that will help you get to meaningful solutions that you can apply to future interviews. The more information you can get about your experience, the greater the advantage you will have as an insightful, self-aware candidate.   

4.  Relax/Reconnect:  The most resilient and successful people tend to have a common understanding: “no amount of stress and pressure I can put on myself will help change the situation”. Obsessing over disappointment can lead to a defeatist’s mentality and poor attitude that will undoubtedly drain you emotionally, physically, and spiritually. In the face of rejection, take time to rest up and refocus your energy. Begin the process again with a renewed perspective that takes into account the learning experience you just had. Use the feedback wisely to adjust your expectations to a better result.   


Napoleon Harrington, MA, LPC, NCC, “The Courage Counselor”, is the founder and Executive Director of Ambassador Counseling & Resource Group, a professional counseling organization with a personal approach. He is an award winning adjunct faculty professor in Michigan and lives in the Metropolitan Detroit Area with his wife, Faith. For more information, go to:

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