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How to recover from setbacks in a challenging marketplace

Kate Allen, Executive Chair and Marketing Director, Allen Associates

There’s nothing worse than having to go back to the drawing board after a round of unsuccessful job applications. Having dedicated time and effort into perfecting your CV and customising cover letters for prospective Employers, finding a raft of emails in your inbox that all start with “Sorry” is disheartening to say the least.

What’s worse is when you lose out on a job you had your heart set on; when the one you wanted the most becomes the one that got away.

But don’t despair. Whether or not you believe in fate, there are lessons to be learned from an unsuccessful job application. The steps you take in the wake of a setback will determine how quickly you can bounce back and into a role that’s right for you. It’s time to turn rejection into opportunity and take advantage of this to revise your approach.

Don’t beat yourself up

It’s easy to wallow when all the energy you’ve put into securing a job feels wasted. As much as it may sound like advice from a cat on a motivational poster, failure is just the first step in a learning curve. Remember, you aren’t alone in your rejection: your application is just one of the many that Employers receive upon advertising a vacancy.

As well as skills and experience, the hiring manager will be looking for a Candidate who will fit in with the organisational culture while providing a fresh perspective. That leaves a very small margin of successful applicants, if any. Given the competitiveness of the job market, most Candidates will experience setbacks at some point in their search. If you did happen to make it past the interview stage, congratulations: you’ve already succeeded in attracting the interest of potential Employers.

Seek honest feedback

Upon receiving the dreaded ‘unsuccessful on this occasion’ email, your instincts may tell you to slam your laptop shut, get up from your desk and give up for the day. Before you do, swallow your pride and send a quick response. As well as thanking the Employer for their time and consideration, this is a chance to request some honest feedback from your application.

It may be hard to hear, but the constructive feedback they provide can alert you to the areas you need to improve in order to secure a job at this level. Perhaps they sought more experience or maybe you didn’t clearly communicate your success in previous roles. Any insight they can offer will be invaluable in shining a light on areas you could possibly work on to improve your chances of landing that dream job.

Revisit your CV

You can’t judge a book by its cover. However, when faced with sorting through a mountain of CVs, hiring managers will naturally be attracted to those who present information in a clear, uncluttered fashion. They want to see that you have the skills required for the role, the relevant experience to support it and a passion for taking on new challenges. If you make it hard for a hiring manager to see what you have achieved in your professional career, you are inadvertently hindering your chances of Employment.

Take stock

If unsuccessful applications are starting to become a running theme, it’s a good time to take a step back and consider whether you are pursuing the path that’s right for you. Often, we rush into job applications searching for employment in a field we think we should succeed in instead of asking ourselves whether it’s the route we want to take at all. Consider a recent opportunity you missed out on: could you really have seen yourself with the company five years down the line?

Is this the industry and line of work that you are truly passionate about? If the answer is yes, the this should motivate you to push on with the job hunt. If it isn’t, the setback will have been pivotal in steering you away from something you don’t necessarily want. From here, you can start exploring potential alternatives you may not have previously considered in your search.