How To Pick Yourself Up After Rejection

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We have all felt the pain of rejection at some time in our life. It stings. It hurts.

‘I’m sorry to have to tell you that your job application was unsuccessful.’

‘It was a spur of the moment thing, or I would have called to see if you wanted to join us.’

‘We want different things.’

One episode of rejection still resonates with me. I think back to the time I had just finished university.

With my degree in my hand, I felt like I was invincible. I could do anything that I wanted, and the world would have to accommodate me!

Young, naïve and nervous I walked into my first ‘real’ interview. The person in front of me was a tall man, well over six feet with a deep, commanding voice and the attitude to go with it.

your guide to boosting your resilience

‘I can do this’, I told myself. He’s not that scary, and I started to answer his questions with confidence and conviction.

I even threw in some humour for good measure but made sure I didn’t overstep the mark. He didn’t seem the type to put up with that.

I felt I was in there for hours and he didn’t give a thing away until it was time to go.

Rejection The strength of a spider's web
“I believe that rejection is a blessing because it’s the universe’s way of telling you that there’s something better out there.” – Michelle Phan

As I left, he shook my hand and then smiled. He told me that I had done well. He assured me that I would hear from him in a few days, as there were still others to interview.

That didn’t seem to matter, I felt confident. After all, I got a smile.

Over the ensuing week, I waited with nervous anticipation and inside felt confident that I had wowed the ‘big man’.

The call

Then it came, the phone call. I had worked so hard for those years of my life, and this was the moment of truth.

Was I good enough? Had I done enough?

I listened intently to his words and could feel myself smiling as he said that I had ‘been the strongest candidate’. The excitement started to engulf my entire being and then.

The words that followed were not ones I had even considered hearing, my heart seemed to stop beating, and I couldn’t breathe.

‘However, we are sorry to say that we are not able to offer you the position because we feel that you are overqualified’. Those words cut straight into me.

I couldn’t believe it.

Everything I had worked for and to be told that I was overqualified. I had done too much!

My mind raced. How could I be overqualified? Those early morning lectures, late nights essays and huge projects all worked against me. It made no sense at all.

The next two weeks were agonising. Had all that studying been for nothing? Or had I got the balance of qualifications versus experience wrong?

I was mourning my time at university, even though I had a great time while I was there.

The unexpected call

I managed to pull myself together, helped by a chance meeting with an old school friend. They helped set up an interview with one of the largest companies in the world.

First things first, make sure I wasn’t overqualified. No, I wasn’t. This place loved ‘academics’.

As I researched the company, the people and the prospects I realised that this was so much more for me than the last position.

I had undersold myself. I hadn’t aimed high enough.

Suddenly, life took an unexpected turn. I received a call. It was the ‘big man’. What could he want?

Well whatever it was, it didn’t matter. The new prospect was the only job that I wanted. However, I would still have to take the call, and I was curious to see what he wanted.

I remember thinking as I put the phone down; I can’t believe this. The cheek of it!  Even if they can, they shouldn’t.

He called to offer me the job! The person hired didn’t possess the right attitude and was let go.

I laughed to myself.

But what should I do? Take this job, reject it because I deserve more or ask for time to think to see if I get the other job and then decide between the two.

From early childhood we face rejection. The playground can be the cruellest place.

You’re not playing, and it’s my ball so go away. You’re not coming to my party. That’s always a favourite with girls!

How To Pick Yourself Up After Rejection
“You can’t allow rejection to stop you from getting what you want.” – David Brett-Williams

What makes some of us act as though nothing has happened, yet others of us can go into meltdown mode with floods of tears and behave as if the world has ended?

Does it depend on what we are being rejected for?

The short answer is ‘No’. Whether we are turned down when applying for a job or a love interest, rejection hurts.

Not being offered a job after an interview or not being invited to a friend’s party. Most of us struggle with dealing with rejection.

Does rejection actually hurt?

Studies show that the pain of rejection can manifest physical results. So it is best to address rejection when it arrives rather than ignore it.

A 2003 study by researchers from Purdue University and the University of California, published in Science magazine, found that being turned down or rejected activates the same regions of the brain as that when we feel physical pain.

In 2011, another study showed that the pain experienced from seeing a picture of a former partner from an unwanted relationship breakup was similar to having hot coffee spilt on a forearm.

Is it always as bad as it seems?

When bad news is delivered most of us go straight to negative thoughts which results in stress. However, is it the situation itself causing the stress or merely our perception of it?

Not getting a job or being rejected by a partner can leave us with overwhelming negative thoughts about what we have done wrong or why this is happening to us.

But as human beings, we go through various emotions and disappointment is one of them.

It’s okay to feel upset. After all, we are human and have emotional responses. Let yourself feel the pain, cry or even shout but make sure there is an end to it.

We have to find a way of breaking this cycle of the negative, ruminating thoughts that convince us that we aren’t up to the job or simply useless.

How to handle being rejected

There is more to rejection than just pain. It leaves us feeling insecure and questioning our decisions. Click To Tweet

As human beings, we need security. Rejection makes us doubt ourselves.

Stress levels may begin to increase, and this can affect our ability to sleep and concentrate.

For some, rejection can also lead to aggression, irritability, and withdrawal from our usual circles. Hence, it is imperative that we deal with it.

People that deal with rejection best seem to be those that have a higher sense of self-worth and who have more social power.

Those who value a high sense of individuality also do better than people who have a greater need for being part of a group.

Most of us would probably never even dream that those with self-confidence are also known to use rejection as a tool for self-improvement!

To deal with rejection, we have to develop effective responses to it.

Notice and accept how you are feeling

Rejection leaves us feeling down, fed up and even angry and when feeling stressed we usually see everything in black and white.

We need to stand back and notice that we are feeling this way so that we can understand and acknowledge what is happening.

This enables our mind to stop spending endless energy asking ourselves questions that will not help us and then accept what is happening.

As we know, human beings experience feelings of disappointment and negativity. However, feeling that way for extended periods does not do us any good.

Psychologists believe that it is how we explain an experience to ourselves. A rejection letter can be seen as the end of the world by some, but others tell themselves ‘so I didn’t get the job, nobody died’.

This positive and optimistic approach can be the difference between sinking into a hole and feeling negative or thinking ‘what have I learnt, what’s next’?

We need to accept what has happened and put our energy to good use. Where it matters.

Take action

Your next questions should be what can I do right now and how do I do it? Here are some important next steps.

Positive self-talk

Andy Cope, author of ‘The little book of emotional intelligence’ suggests we all have reserves of ‘ordinary magic’ – an inbuilt ability to bounce back from adversity.

And I think he’s right. While the human body is amazing, the human spirit is even more amazing.

How To Pick Yourself Up After Rejection
“We all learn lessons in life. Some stick, some don’t. I have always learned more from rejection and failure than from acceptance and success.” – Henry Rollins

Cope explains that it’s possible to train your inner voice towards something more positive. He says: “It helps if you can learn to be your own best friend.

On job rejections (we’ve all had them) I always tell myself, ‘Crikey, they’ve missed out.”.

Giving in to negative thoughts is easy but break yourself out of that rejection cycle with positive thoughts and build yourself back so you can get back on whatever horse you fell off.

Catch-up with those who can help

Positive self-talk is a great ‘weapon’, but this can be easier said than done. You may need to call in reinforcements, and we all have friends, colleagues or family we can turn to.

Ask them to help with positive talk as they can often see what we don’t and remember what we forget. This also stops us withdrawing from our life as we know it. It can be a fantastic boost.

However, make sure you turn to people whose opinions matter and that you respect. Avoid those who reinforce unrealistic expectations.


Set aside some time to review your achievements and then start to make a list of your strengths and key qualities. What are you good at? What can you do that others are in awe of?

We all have skills that others come to us for. Write them down.

If you would like other ways to increase your self-confidence you might like this.

List the things you have done which make you proud, positive contributions.

Read and reread these at times that your brain won’t settle, when the negativity wants to take over. For many of us that is in the middle of the night – keep your list by your bedside.

Why go back for more possible rejection

We’ve all heard that entrepreneurs like Richard Branson and Bill Gates fail many, many times in business before they succeed. So, what makes them different? They learn how to accept rejection.

Each time they hear ‘NO’, they acknowledge that they are a step closer to the ‘YES’ they are searching for.

Persevering despite facing rejection is the only way to continue, regardless of whether you are looking for work or love.

What’s next?

Try to have a contingency plan. When you have another job interview scheduled an unsuccessful one feels less tragic.

Whatever the reasons for rejection, you can work on them and develop an improved you.

First things first, always try and gain feedback on what they feel didn’t work or needed improvement. We all find it hard to accept ‘criticism’, but to succeed, we must address any shortcomings to prepare us for the next attempt.

Technical knowledge is one of the most common reasons for unsuccessful job interviews. It doesn’t mean that the knowledge isn’t there, but merely the ability to put the information across may need polishing.

Learning the answers to questions you think will come up is a great way to ensure you say everything that you need to. Even jot down examples of situations and experiences that you’ve had, that could work in your favour.

If you are attending a competency-based interview, you may find it useful to use the STAR technique. It has been around for some time and is still useful.

You can use specific examples, in a clear and concise manner, of how you were able to resolve a task or tackle a situation using this acronym:

  • Situation – simply describe the situation you were in.
  • Task – what was required of you.
  • Action – what you did or may have delegated to others.
  • Result – what was the outcome of the situation.

This is a technique that works for many people but you may have to prepare your answers as thinking on your feet can be tricky under interview conditions.

It’s just one point in time

Just remember, people get rejected  for all sorts of reasons, and it’s often not a reflection on you.

How To Pick Yourself Up After Rejection
“A rejection is nothing more than a necessary step in the pursuit of success.”  – Bo Bennett

Although disappointing, rejection does not make you worthless. This is one point in time and no one is defined by one experience.

I once asked a manager how long it took him to decide that he was going to offer me a position during my interview. His reply ‘about 30 seconds’.

In that short a period of time I did not have a chance to make a meaningful impression, I am not sure I had even managed to take a seat.

Frequently, it is gut instinct from the interviewer. You ‘click’ or you don’t. Not a real reflection of your skills or ability.

So my job situation I told you about, well initially the employer thought I was overqualified, and they rejected me! So, after thinking about their reconsidered offer as a whole, I rejected them.

I realised that the world had so much to offer me and that I shouldn’t sell myself short just because I was scared and didn’t know what was out there.

I took some time to find the right position. That position was not the only position out there for me.

your guide to boosting your resilience
Learn the subtle tweaks to help you bounce back from setbacks.

No one job, person or partner is the only one for any of us.

It might take some searching for the right one, but it’s out there.

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David Brett-Williams