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7 ways to stay motivated in the face of rejection on the job hunt

Repeated rejection is discouraging, but it’s a natural part of job seeking. Here’s how to stay motivated until you find your next gig.

7 ways to stay motivated in the face of rejection on the job hunt
[Photo: peepo/Getty Images]

It’s been a banner year for job seekers, but not everyone is finding success during the Great Resignation. While the unemployment rate is at its lowest point since the pandemic began, more than 2 million Americans have been out of work for more than 27 weeks, and about 5.5 million have been looking for more than 15 weeks, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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With so much activity in the employment market, and with their newsfeeds likely overflowing with new job announcements and promotion celebrations, those who are struggling to land their dream job might be feeling a little discouraged right now. Despite these challenges, however, experts believe the new year is an ideal time to get back out there with renewed enthusiasm and confidence.

Emily Liou, a certified career happiness coach, says that for job seekers who “have been feeling discouraged because they’ve been applying and not getting results, it really is a great time to hit a mental reset and start the job search anew. You will eventually land your dream job, unless you stop trying.”

Here are seven ways to continue putting your best food forward in the face of rejection in the job market:

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1. Manage your mindset

Those who have spent a long time applying without much success often become their own biggest obstacle. While each job application and interview offers a fresh opportunity, we often can’t help but carry with us feelings of rejection from previous experiences. “It’s a cycle. The less confident you feel, the more self-doubt kicks in, the more challenging it becomes to put your best foot forward,” Liou says, noting that it’s important not to take rejection personally, as there are many reasons why a candidate might be overlooked.

“Often companies will close a position, they might lose their budget for the position, they may have already promoted someone internally and had to post a job description,” she says. “You could indeed be the most qualified and best candidate and still not get the job. It’s just how the hiring process works. What’s really important is to make sure we as job seekers are not assigning meaning to something that might be beyond [our] control.”

2. Make a “Brag List”

Liou encourages those who are feeling discouraged from a lengthy job search to come up with a list of accomplishments, what she calls a “brag list.”

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“In this society we’re very achievement-focused, and often you’ll set a goal, meet the goal, and then move on to the next goal,” she says. “It’s a mile marker that we’re constantly moving, and we forget to reflect on all of the things we’ve already achieved.”

Liou adds that the process of putting the list together will not only help candidates feel more confident but also help them recall accomplishments that they can include in applications or job interviews in the future. “As you step into your next interview, especially if you feel discouraged or less confident from past results, whip out this list and just remind yourself why you deserve to be in that seat,” she says. 

3. Don’t throw spaghetti at the wall

Those who have been out of the workforce for a prolonged period may feel tempted to respond to a large quantity of postings in hopes that they get a response. But this tactic, which Liou describes as “throwing spaghetti against the wall to see what sticks,” can ultimately serve to further discourage applicants who are struggling to find work. That is because they either don’t hear back, or they do hear back but the opportunity isn’t a good fit.

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She suggests asking yourself several important questions to determine what you’re looking for: “What organizations would I love to join? What impact do I want to make in that organization? How do I align my transferable skills to that role? How do I package myself as that candidate that they must interview?”

Liou adds that job seekers also tend to put too much emphasis on submitting applications and not enough time considering other ways to get noticed. “What I teach my clients is to apply online, but also find a decision maker at the company, whether it’s a recruiter or a hiring manager, and reach out and introduce yourself,” she says, emphasizing that networking is also key. “There are so many ways to find a job in this day and age, and you don’t have to fully rely on job boards.”

4. Don’t keep it to yourself  

Job seeking can be an isolating experience, especially for those who have been at it for a while, and that sense of loneliness can make it even harder to find success.

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“People don’t really talk in detail about their job search, either for confidentiality reasons or they don’t have great news to share, or they do have interview opportunities but it’s taking a long time to get traction,” says Octavia Goredema, a career coach and author of Prep, Push, Pivot: Essential Career Strategies for Underrepresented Women.

Though it may be difficult to share what you’re going through, Goredema says it’s important to find allies who can act as a sounding board and help expand your network. “If people know what you’re looking for or what you’re interested in or what you’re trying to figure out, there’s a greater chance that they might know of somebody or see something that can help you,” she says. “Not everyone can help you, but sometimes there might be a moment of inspiration or a suggestion or a connection that comes out of nowhere, that you would have never have known about otherwise.”

5. Take Baby Steps

Job seekers who struggle to land a position often feel helplessly stuck in neutral, but there’s a lot they can do to drive their job search forward. Goredema says that rather than focusing on the ultimate goal of landing a job, it’s important to establish a series of smaller and more manageable goals along the way.

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“Focus on one next step you can take,” she says. “Is it reaching out to the recruiter to check in politely? Is it checking the lists I have set up to see if there’s an opportunity that aligns with roles that I’m looking for? Is it getting some feedback on the latest revisions I made to my résumé? Is it setting up a virtual coffee with a manager I had a couple of roles ago to catch up and get their perspective on what’s happened in the industry? Is it reading a book that might be able to help me? Is it listening to a podcast of someone I admire in my field that might give me more motivation?”

Goredema adds that job seekers should also reward themselves for taking these small steps and celebrate the little accomplishments that will help them reach the bigger goal.

6. Reevaluate your strategy

Much of the job application process is out of the candidate’s control, but those who are really struggling to land their dream job are encouraged to take a hard look at their strategy and consider what mistakes they might be repeating. According to Marc Cenedella, founder and CEO of Ladders, in a hot hiring market those who are struggling for a prolonged period are most likely making one of three common mistakes.

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“It’s probably your résumé, your interview style, or how you talk about your past boss,” he says. “The great thing is, all of those are super fixable; you can have those fixed today if you wanted.”

Cenedella advises those who are struggling to get hired to reevaluate their résumé and application materials, and ask for assistance from friends and family. He also recommends trying a few practice interviews with those who can provide honest feedback on how you’re portraying yourself. Most important, he recommends against talking negatively about a prior employer.

7. Gently seek honest feedback

There really are only a small group of people who can say for sure why you weren’t selected for a given job, and those are the evaluators themselves, which makes their feedback incredibly valuable. Cenedella warns, however, that hiring managers typically have little incentive for providing honest feedback, and could even fear legal ramifications for saying the wrong thing. Therefore, if you’re going to ask a hiring manager why you didn’t get a job you applied for, tread lightly.

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“One way to disarm the employer so they do give you some honest feedback is to say, ‘I really appreciate you taking the time; I had a wonderful time meeting you; sorry it didn’t work out. If I can ask, what would be one bit of advice you would give someone like me if they really wanted to get a job like the one I interviewed for?'” he says. “By limiting it to one [piece of advice], by thanking them for the interview, and communicating that you’re very forward-focused and constructive in how you’re thinking about it, you may be able to get some honest feedback.”

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About the author

Jared Lindzon is a freelance journalist and public speaker born, raised and based in Toronto, Canada. Lindzon's writing focuses on the future of work and talent as it relates to technological innovation, as well as entrepreneurship, technology, politics, sports and music.

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