The etiquette of rejection

worried businessman
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The Rolling Stones said it best: you can’t always get what you want. When you go for a job interview but don’t get the job, it’s always hard accepting the rejection – but there’s an art to being gracious in defeat.

After any interview, always send an email or note to the interviewer thanking them for taking the time to see you. Don’t harass them with calls or emails as you await their decision.

Thanks, but no thanks

If you find out that you’ve been unsuccessful in getting a job, you still need to thank the company for considering you. You can also ask them to keep you in mind for any future positions that might open up. It’s always important to leave a good impression and convey your professionalism, as you never know what might happen down the track or who else they might know in your industry.

Even if you don’t get the job, if you impress them they may pass on your details or recommend you to other people – or, alternatively, give you a bad rap if you’ve behaved poorly. Remember, it’s a small world and you can’t afford to burn any bridges!

Don’t behave like one candidate we interviewed who, after being told the bad news over the phone, followed up with a long email detailing everything we ‘should’ have done (we ‘should’ have called his referees, for example). He declared he was still the right person for the job and that we were making a mistake by not hiring him. His behaviour only confirmed our belief that he wasn’t the one for us and that we’d definitely made the right decision!

How to ask for feedback

When you are thanking the interviewer make sure you take the opportunity to ask for some feedback. Getting feedback from an unsuccessful interview can be both reassuring and helpful, pointing you to what areas or interviewing skills you can work on. Perhaps you gave a great interview but another candidate fit the bill more closely or had more experience, or maybe you could have given more detailed answers. This sort of feedback is invaluable and will help you in future interviews.

You can ask for feedback over the phone when you first hear of their decision, or follow up over email. If you are speaking over the phone then keep in mind that they will probably want to keep the discussion brief, so take all their comments on board and definitely don’t argue against any of the points they make.
In all your professional interactions, no matter what the outcome, you should be unfailingly polite, gracious and professional – even, or especially, in the face of rejection.

For more helpful advice, see our full range of interview tips.

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