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Have you ever applied for a job but weren’t hired? Few people could answer “no” to this question. In fact, our unsuccessful job applications shape our careers just as much as our successes do, as anyone who has ever experienced a job rejection would have a different work history leading up to their present role had the outcome of their initial application been different.

The job market is more volatile than it has been in years, and spiking unemployment rates fueled by a global pandemic have turned the candidate’s market of the past few years into an employer’s market. As businesses slowly begin to reopen, some industries are seeing candidates apply to jobs in record numbers, and since most of these positions will be filled by only one candidate, all other applicants will be rejected.

The fact that most job seekers will apply to several open positions before landing an offer shouldn’t discourage them. Though job rejections are never easy, they are a necessary part of the job search process and can become opportunities for learning, growth, and long-term career success. Let’s look at a few ways candidates can use a job rejection to their advantage.

Ask for Feedback

The best way to improve at anything is to request constructive criticism and advice for improvement from those who are more knowledgeable, and for job seekers, feedback from employers after a rejection can be invaluable. By contacting a hiring manager shortly after receiving a rejection, candidates can glean valuable information on how to improve their interviewing and self-promotion skills, as well as where their experience and qualifications may fall short for their desired role. In addition, they demonstrate their willingness to seek out criticism in order to learn and better themselves, while reiterating their interest in future roles with the company. Though some employers may be reluctant to share feedback due to legal liability, a follow-up feedback request provides candidates one last opportunity to make a positive impression.

Research Successful Employees

After a job seeker’s application for employment is declined, he or she should make an effort to find out who was selected. Though it may take some time, the person who was hired will likely update his or her LinkedIn profile to reflect the new role, enabling them to be found in a subsequent search by title and employer. Also, there may be other employees at the company with the same title, or at other companies with similar titles and job duties. Candidates should study their profiles and identify what knowledge, skills, and experience these employees possess that they lack. They may also choose to connect with these individuals in order to learn from them, network with them, and convey interest in locating and applying to similar roles.

Develop a Plan

Once job seekers are able to identify the qualifications and experience that have made others successful in their desired role, they can formulate a plan. What steps should be taken in order to accomplish the same, and what is the timeline for each? This may be easier said than done. If those who are successful have an advanced degree, certification, or a specific number of years’ experience, the goal becomes clear. However, if those in similar roles were hired based on culture fit, an employee referral, or some other intangible quality, setting a goal becomes more difficult. Regardless, there is always something job seekers can do to better themselves in order to improve their knowledge and skills and gain an advantage over their competitors. It’s up to them to find out what that is, then act on it.

Refocus Your Efforts

One of the opportunities a job rejection provides is the chance to reassess goals and refocus efforts. As mentioned earlier, the reason for rejection may be due to a lack of qualifications or experience, or the reason may be beyond the candidate’s control and it will take several applications and interviews to land a role that is a good fit. However, if a pattern of rejection persists, there may be a disconnect between the candidate’s abilities and his or her goals. Unfortunately, not every goal is accomplishable by everyone, and after multiple rejections, a reassessment may be needed to determine if the candidate’s career aspirations align with his or her strengths and skill set. Job seekers shouldn’t be afraid to ask for advice from a manager, mentor, or career counselor in order to ensure their career goals are realistic and achievable.

A job search can be a long and difficult process, and the outcome often depends upon trial, error, and persistence. Frustration is only natural, particularly in a tough job market, and job seekers often receive advice from well-meaning friends and associates to stay positive and not give up. But persistence only pays off if goals are in alignment with abilities and there’s an actionable plan to achieve them. Employers look to hire employees who seek feedback and take direction in order to improve. Similarly, job seekers should consider rejections as learning opportunities, allowing them to refocus their goals and fine-tune their search. By turning the negative into a positive, candidates can increase their chances of landing an offer, as well as their opportunity for future job satisfaction and success.

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