Understanding the Psychology of Job Rejection (Part 1)

This is a two part series on job rejection psychology. Click here for Part 2. 

All of us experience it in some way nearly every day of our lives. Rejection is one common human experience that we all wish wasn’t and job rejection can be especially challenging. It’s a part of the job to make decisions about who gets the dream job and whose dream gets postponed but understanding the psychology behind it can help ensure your recruitment processes don’t make it any harder than necessary.

To Experience Job Rejection is to Be Human

Candidates who feel slighted can be put off course in their careers, experience trauma in their personal lives and what’s more, they will share their experiences with others. So, here are three things to keep in mind when it comes to job rejection that can help you take a closer look at how you handle rejecting others.

They Are Going to Take it Personally

We have all heard someone say, “Don’t take it personally”, but we all do anyway, even when we say we don’t. It takes a very strong job seeker to separate themselves from their skills, the job’s requirements and the hiring personnel’s own ideas about the ideal candidate. For those who can do it, job rejection becomes just another part of the process, but in most cases, your rejects are likely to feel that it was, indeed, them.

According to Larry Stybel, Ed.D. and Maryanne Peabody,MBA, in Psychology today, askers, or job seekers, are inclined to believe that when someone rejects them it means they don’t want to give what was asked for. This is often not the case. Job descriptions and hiring requirements can be so specific that even a well-qualified candidate, with a stellar record and a winning personality may just not fit the criteria.

Except for those rare, sensitive people, most job rejection will be handled as a minor setback. Experts recommend that the candidate have more than one interview scheduled back to back so that when one doesn’t go the way they had hoped, they merely move onto the next one. In cases where a good candidate is simply not the best candidate, recommending other positions or employers may make the rejection less of a sting and leave a positive impression in the candidate’s mind.

Rejection Never Changes

From the pursuit of a grade school crush to applying for your fourth position in a successful twenty year career, rejection feels the same.  Job rejection brings up similar emotions and thought patterns as any other type of rejection. Since rejection reaches a very deep part of us and connects back to other experiences throughout our lives, it is a very hard emotional blow to control our reactions to.

Understand that statistically the fact they are even getting a response at all has built hope in the job seeker.  Statistics show that only two percent of applications get any type of response at all. That is a lot of pressure to put on one conversation. They may have sent out dozens of resumes to get this one opportunity to speak to an actual employer and you are it.  For them, job rejection carries some very high stakes.

The one thing that softens the trauma of job rejection is experience. Most candidates have been through it before, come out the other side and have successes to show to prove it. A part of them knows that this will not be the end of the road, even though it can feel like it. While it’s easy to focus on the criteria that they did not match up to, by focusing on the skills they do possess, you can help to keep the situation as positive as possible.

Some People Handle Job Rejection Better Than Others

If you judged who handles job rejection best based on outward appearances, you might be surprised. While some people seem devastated in the face of “no”, others seem to never even notice. Whether it is a matter of nurture, or nature, there are those whose self-esteem seems indomitable. Job rejection is not even a factor for them, consequently, they tend to stay employed.

In his article, “How to Cope With Rejection” Frederic Neuman, MD, a specialist in fighting phobias, tells the story of an unlikely Lothario. The man he describes is over 40, balding and otherwise below average in appearance. This man, however, seems to have a certain charm in the dating department and is rarely alone unless he chooses to be.

For him, it is about the odds. He refuses to take rejection personally because there is always someone out there happy to spend time with him. He simply moves on to the next opportunity. Job seekers who learn to see broader horizons and new ways to apply their skills are less likely to be threatened by job rejection. They know that if the job they are seeking now does not turn out, they can find another opportunity tomorrow.

This is a two part series on job rejection psychology. Click here for Part 2. 

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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Jessica Miller-Merrell

Jessica Miller-Merrell (@jmillermerrell) is a workplace change agent, author and consultant focused on human resources and talent acquisition living in Austin, TX. Recognized by Forbes as a top 50 social media influencer and is a global speaker. She’s the founder of Workology, a workplace HR resource and host of the Workology Podcast.

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