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Articles > January, 05, 2011

Making the Most of Graduate Job Rejections

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At the beginning of this academic year, I had high hopes for my career. I was starting my final year of university and I knew that an exciting job would be there waiting for me after graduation. I was eager and ambitious. And, just a few months later, I now realise I was also very naïve. It’s not that I thought it was going to be easy, but I was sure that at least one job offer would come winging its way to me. Surely students with work experience, knowledge, great academic records and passion would be able to get the graduate role of their dreams, right? Well, yes and no.

It’s amazing how job rejections can make you change your whole outlook on life, yourself and your career. My first one was not too bad; I hadn’t progressed to interview stage, so I remained distant from the company. The next few were harder. Although they were also rejections before interviews, the number of them worried me. And then the final bunch of rejections I received; heartbreaking. I had been through first, second and final rounds. I had had the time to fall in love with the companies I visited and saw myself working with the people I met. Receiving those rejections made me feel like I would never get a job and that my career hopes and dreams were unattainable.

And then my outlook changed. What was the point, I thought, in losing all my confidence? Yes, I was being faced with all my flaws and weaknesses, yes, it was looking likely that I was going to have to take a gap year after graduation, and yes, my career seemed to be veering from the plan I had formulated years ago. But so what? Wouldn’t knowing my flaws and weaknesses be a benefit to me in the long run? Surely a gap year could be productive and enjoyable? And while plans are good to have, can’t they always be adapted and bettered? Learning to make the most from job rejections has been difficult, but now armed with a positive new attitude and lots of experience, I know that I am better prepared for whatever comes my way. The three most important lessons I have learnt are:

1)    Do not feel down about yourself

It is important to identify your weaknesses, and job rejections help with this. However, they can also make you forget your strengths, which can be dangerous. Look over feedback and analyse what was bad about your performance, but make sure you look at the positives as well as the negatives so that you can go into your next career-related activities with renewed confidence. Of course the competition will be tough. No matter how creative, knowledgeable and passionate I thought I was, my job search made me realise that there are plenty of people out there like me, all after the same jobs. But what I took from this was that I was searching for jobs within the right industry and at the right level. I also realised that although I was competing with others, I was also competing with myself. It’s about being the best you can be; it’s about learning and adapting and growing in skill and confidence.

2)    Rejection is great for reassessing career goals

Look at those rejections in a positive light. Mine have helped me decide what industries and companies I’d like to be involved with and have made me more flexible about my career goals. Try to reassess your motivations for your application after each rejection; what did you like about the company, the role, the industry? This will help you to decide what your next career moves will be. Another tip is that it is just as important to reject as it is to be rejected. Job applications are as much about making sure you’re making the right choices as they are about securing a job, and as I realised what industries I would enjoy working in the most, I started feeling more confident about rejecting interviews for companies in sectors that might not be so suitable for me.

3)    Turn a gap year into a productive experience

There are plenty of benefits to gain from a gap year after graduation. A gap year offers time to prepare for each application and interview and opens up opportunities for internships and work experience. The danger of a gap year is of having nothing to show for it. I believe that good things don’t come to those who wait; they come to those who persevere. Pushing on with more career-related activities can be difficult after past rejections, but I find that any time I start to feel downhearted and losing motivation, I make myself remember all the positive things from my job search and feel more confident about the future.

At the beginning of this article, I said that I had high hopes for my career at the start of this academic year. I still do. My dreams and ambitions for my working life have not changed significantly. What has changed is my approach to achieving those goals. It certainly won’t be as easy as I thought, nor will it necessarily be according to the plan I’ve had in my mind. But as I move forward with a pile of job rejections behind me, I am feeling strangely excited and optimistic about the future. As long as I keep in mind everything I have learnt from my first round of applications, I am sure that my second round next year will be my final round, and that my career dreams will still be firmly within my grasp. For those of you in a similar position to mine, I hope that you too can feel excited about your future careers and won’t let those job rejections stop you from eventually getting the offer you are seeking.

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  1. NickG (

    Hi Natasha,

    Great post!!

    I think you are exactly right. Getting a rejection at interview can be heartbreaking (especially if you’ve become particularly attached to the company – as any serious applicant should!), but gives you a great way to reflect on how you come across, your strengths and weaknesses and that experience should lead you on to have success in future interviews.

    My biggest question is over you point regarding ‘taking a gap year’. My first point on this would be that there are more than just those two options (getting into the ‘milkround’ recruitment for grad schemes and taking a year off). Have you, for instance considered getting into the SME market?

    I feel that there is a great deal of stigma in the graduate marketplace about the importance of getting a ‘graduate job’, but the term ‘graduate job’ is actually a ‘graduate scheme’.

    The difference here is a ‘graduate scheme’ is a structured programme running from 1 to 3 years (some even longer), giving you a taste of all different areas of the business and then letting you settle on the area that your skills seem most appropriate for.

    A ‘graduate job’ on the other hand is any job that a graduate can do. To put that in more context, a graduate job should have; opportunities for progression, training and structure to some level, along with a certain amount of freedom for creativity to let the graduate’s skills flourish.

    I feel that the graduate marketplace spends too much time focusing on the former that the latter often gets overlooked when, in smaller organisations (that potentially only take on one graduate a year, or on an ad hoc basis), the graduate could actually have a much greater impact on the business, gain higher levels of experience and learn more in a shorter time.

    I hope your job search has gone well since you posted this and I would be interested to hear your thoughts.


  2. Pulo

    You are giving very good advice and you write extremely well. Thank you for the article! A couple of months ago I went to a one on one masterclass with a young lawyer who does some work with graduates in the job market and his perspective on the whole thing was FANTASTIC. He really changed my outlook, and working on my applications with him led me into a job that pays over £30k a year. I had been really struggling beforehand with rejection after rejection. He understands recruitment from the inside and I really recommend you get in touch if you are serious about getting a job in this climate:

  3. Natasha

    Hi Philippa,

    Thanks a lot for your advice, and I will keep that all in mind. For now I have landed a paid internship over summer with a possible job offer at the end of it, so I am hopefully on the right track!


  4. Philippa

    Hi Natasha,

    I want to do advertising too, and know how competitive those grad schemes are! Having talked around a bit though, they are definitely not the be all and end all, so I thought I’d share some ideas.

    Several people have gotten in by doing unpaid internships/work experience placements at ad firms who have then been so impressed they’ve hired them – failing that, it’s a useful way to build up contacts in an industry that can be quite ‘who you know’.
    Another way in is often by, oddly, being a PA, then working your way up into an account – apparently this is quite a standard route in for grads.
    I’d also keep a lookout for several short term, entry level positions that often seem to crop up in the middle of the year. I can think of at least three I’ve seen advertised via Twitter or the IPAJobs website. Twitter is in fact extremely useful – follow every advertising agency you can find on there.
    At the end of the day, also consider advertising in companies you may not have thought of – BetFair run an amazing social media campaign on Twitter, and are looking for a grad right now. There’s advertising jobs at magazines, marketing at banks and retail firms, corporate communications – things I hadn’t considered when I was only looking at agencies. And network with the people you know who may get into the industry and tell them to keep a lookout!


  5. Natasha

    Hi Helen

    Glad you don’t feel so alone! It’s a tough job market and really depends on the industry. Good luck 🙂

    Hi Cherralle,

    It’s better to be out of uni trying for a job and gaining experience and creating opportunities etc than staying on paying more fees to study something you don’t want to. But if there’s something you really want to study, go for it!

  6. cherralle shaw

    seee whenn i heear things like this i don’t know if i should spend my time n money in uni.. wattt to do??

  7. Helen

    hi Natasha,

    I’m a recent geography graduate myself and have been having a hard time dealing with what seems like an endless slog of graduate applications! Like you I’ve had a couple of rejections at later stages of the process which have been pretty devastating after having my hopes built up and really feeling a connection with the role. I just wanted to say thanks for your article, it can be easy to feel like you’re alone in this experience so it’s a comfort to be reminded that it is tough for everyone.

    Wishing you lots of luck with everything, I’m sure we’ll all find that things will work themselves out for the best in the end!


  8. Natasha

    Hi Gregor,

    Thanks very much for your advice, but I have to also disagree with you! You are absolutely correct in saying that I need to understand why I’ve been rejected – which I did mention in the article. It’s important to work on your feedback and try and better your technique. However, I do think your technique improves the more interviews you have, so I just wanted to make sure that people weren’t giving up after the first few rejections, like some of my friends did. And as for a gap year, I just wanted people to know that it’s not necessarily a bad situation if they are forced into one. Also, internships are paid, so if people can secure those they are not necessarily losing out financially either.

    As for me, my ‘dream’ job just means a job with a great company I like in the industry I’m going into, which is advertising. I have my feedback (which is actually nothing to do with my interview technique or anything) and am just working on that for every interview I have. It’s just that each company only takes around 2-5 people per year, so getting a spot is highly competitive and depends as much on you fitting that particular company as it does you being suitable for the industry. I’d rather keep trying for a graduate role in this industry, as otherwise it might be difficult to transfer in, but if I do fail to secure a job this year I can always look for internships and work experience. Whether paid or unpaid, they are also good ways to get into the industry, both in terms of getting more experience and perhaps leading to full time jobs. I think that, for me anyway, if I have to spend an extra year to secure the job of my dreams (which hopefully I won’t as I have more interviews coming up in the next few months) then I’d rather that than go into a job that I won’t enjoy as much and lose out on industry experience.

    Anyway, thank you for bringing up these issues, and I hope I have elaborated on them for you!

  9. Gregor

    Hi Natasha,

    Firstly, well done to you for staying positive. The article was well written, I thought, even though I don’t agree with you.

    My issue is that it may be now that you are displaying the real naïveté in thinking that a gap year will change your predicament. You have been rejected for a number of posts. Absolutely stay positive, but you have to think why you have been rejected. I posit it could be as simple as interview technique. I’m sure you could “CV build” for a year, but the opportunity cost is rather large. Should you manage to stay cost neutral, or even earn some money during this year, you will still be paying for not having a job in lost earnings. My thinking, therefore, would be more along the lines of compromising on the job – you haven’t been offered your dream job, so perhaps the way to work up to it is just to start a different job. That too is a stepping stone to your dream job, rather like a gap year, but a more lucrative one.

    Anyway, I wish you the best of luck in whatever you end up doing, and best of luck for your finals!


  10. Natasha

    Hi Jules – that’s amazing, well done! I have a few more interviews to go so hopefully I’ll also be getting an offer soon 🙂 good luck at OW!

    Hi Jamie – glad the article helped! Don’t give up – try getting work experience/internships in your industry if getting a full time role is difficult, as these can lead to full time positions and are good for the CV. If you want to take a gap year travelling, take it! Only trouble is if you haven’t secured a job before you go that’s another year gone when you’re back. If you could secure one before you went that would be amazing, and some jobs do let you defer. Good luck deciding 🙂

  11. Jamie

    Thanks Natasha, for the wonderful article. I’m a recent graduate and petrified at the current situation. Have strongly been considering taking a gap year to either travel or work for a charity. But, confused if it is the right thing to do and will fetch me a job once I’m back.

    I have been applying for graduate jobs at all the major companies in the industry and also various job portals but nothing materialising.
    Thanks for your help. 🙂
    Appreciate your effort and time.

  12. Julie

    Hey Tash,

    Really enjoyed your article. I am completely in the same position and have been struggling too!

    Just wanted to say that after 5 rejections, 3 long distance interviews (which my poor bf was dragged along to) and several gruelling interviews, I have now just be offered the job of my dreams at Oliver Wymans and am ECSTATIC!!!!!!!!!!!

    Chin up hun, it will all be worth it in the end!I believe in you, but do you believe in yourself?I think you do to be showing this much strength, and publically acknowledging your failures for the benefit of others.

    Best wishes,

    Jules xxx