Why a hiring rejection will sting, even if you already have a great job


Why a hiring rejection will sting, even if you already have a great job

These four thought traps might be to blame.

BY Kelly Justice

Have you ever been in a position where you had a great job, but decided that it was time to look elsewhere for an opportunity to grow in your career? You went through the interview process, was on the short list, but the company ultimately went with someone else. You didn’t get the job, and you felt depressed.

It can be tempting to give up on searching for a new job altogether when you’re in this state. But before throwing in the towel, you might want to look at whether any thought biases are to blame. When you understand how these thought patterns contributed to you feeling so devastated, you can learn to give those thoughts less power over you. In turn, this will free up your mind so you can focus on reigniting your drive.

In my role as a psychologist, I’ve worked with many people as they recover from the blow of not getting the job that they thought was theirs. Because we’re seeing it from our own perspective, we don’t often know the reasons behind hiring decisions. So we end up blaming ourselves or the hiring manager that didn’t choose us.

The following patterns can explain why not being accepted for a job can feel so depressing, and what you can do to challenge those thoughts.

Reason 1: personalization

This is a psychological term that describes the tendency for people to focus more on self-blame when things go wrong. Some people even go so far as to blame negative outcomes on who they are as a person, instead of focusing on the application strategies they want to change.

Catch yourself if you are treating yourself like there is something wrong with who you are if you don’t get the job. Remind yourself that the hiring manager is focused on the specific needs of the company, which likely has nothing to do with you.

Reason 2: fixed mindset

The term fixed mindset, coined by psychologist Carol Dweck, describes a tendency for some to view themselves as having qualities that are fixed and unchangeable. If you engage in self-blame, you might assume that if you don’t get the job, you’ll be stuck in an endless pattern of defeat.

If you catch yourself having a fixed mindset, think about finding a new job from a growth mindset perspective instead. With a growth mindset, you’d recognize that there are actions you can take to make yourself a more competitive candidate for the next job.

Reason 3: scarcity mentality

A scarcity mentality refers to having the perspective that life is like a finite pie. When others take a big slice, that leaves less for you. This mindset may intensify your discouragement about finding another job since it can cause you to focus on the mindset that there is a scarcity of jobs you are eligible to apply for.

Shift to an abundance mindset, where you focus on the vast number of opportunities available to you in many situations. One way to start this shift is to notice all of the ways that you talk yourself out of an abundance mindset. Remember, you created those limiting thoughts, which means you can also change them.

Why a hiring rejection will sting, even if you already have a great job


Brainstorm creative job possibilities that you might have overlooked. Stop limiting what you think are your job possibilities and start expanding your options to jobs that are a little different. You’ll be one step closer to getting a job that you had not known might be the perfect job for you.

Reason 4: unknown unknown effect

The unknown unknown effect was popularized by Donald Rumsfeld and is more commonly used in risk analysis. As the name implies, it refers to the fact that we don’t know what we don’t  know. This also fits with what happens when you make guesses about why you did not get the job.

When you don’t get a job, you have no idea how many extremely qualified applicants put their hand up for the role. The company might already have an existing candidate in mind, for example, or human resources might have decided to freeze the position. 

Instead of picking one reason for why you didn’t get the job and deciding it is a fact, get creative and generate a list of possibilities. This helps you to stop ruminating on one reason that may not be true.  Most of us start off not knowing what it’s like to be in the role of the one doing the hiring. Even if you’ve been in the hiring role, you haven’t been in that role for this particular job. They might have many reasons for not hiring you that have nothing to do with you or your capabilities. For example, they might be following a checklist with arbitrary requirements and ruling out many qualified candidates in the process.

Putting it into practice

While it’s important to question what you could do differently when applying for the next job, recognize how you might be stifling your own career drive. Notice ways that psychological and risk management principles may be keeping you more focused on why you didn’t  get the last job, and sidetrack you from a focus on your future.

To sum it up, keep the self-criticism in perspective. Remind yourself that not getting a job isn’t always in your control, and that there is an abundance of jobs out there if you broaden your search. And don’t assume that you know the reason why you didn’t get that job. Remember, you don’t know what you don’t know.

Kelly Justice is a board-certified licensed psychologist with over 20 years of experience as a psychotherapist and clinical supervisor.

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