Job interviews – dealing with rejection

After investing a lot of time and emotion into applying for a new job or promotion, finding out the position is not yours can have a negative impact on your confidence and your desire to try again. In this reader submission, Dr Poppy Gibson and Dr Robert Morgan from the UK share their three steps for moving forward after being an unsuccessful candidate for a teaching job or promotion.

Taking a leap of faith and applying for a new teaching job, a new role, or a promotion, takes courage and self-confidence. Job searching is a dynamic process that involves several steps of self-regulation.

Waiting to see if you are shortlisted takes patience. Attending the interview can be nerve-wracking and exhausting, and that is not taking into account the time needed to prepare for possible interview questions, perhaps making a presentation or teaching a group activity, and planning the perfect outfit.

But what about when this whole emotional rollercoaster ride has been for nothing, and you are contacted to say that you have been ‘unsuccessful’? We can remain motivated and keep looking onwards and upwards in the face of rejection, by following these three steps:

  1. Ask for feedback
  2. Reflect and reassess
  3. Stay focused and make a plan

Doing your best in that moment

Before going through the three steps in more detail, we wish to give you this phrase to tell yourself if you are rejected from an interview: ‘it’s not me’.

Professor Steve Peters in his 2011 book The Chimp Paradox discusses how people can make life enhancing decisions by balancing the two areas of the brain, the frontal and the limbic (which he calls the human and the chimp, respectively). We suggest that using Peters’ example of the dialogue between the two brains can be applied to coping with the situation of being rejected for an interview.

The human brain bases confidence, in a given scenario, on doing one’s best to reach a level of achievement that allows the individual to realistically deal with the consequence. The chimp brain, however, believes that an achievement has to be achieved and subsequently it is unable to deal with the consequences.

This may be summarised as: ‘...the two choices for confidence are: to base your confidence on your belief in your ability, or to base it on doing your best’ (Peters, 2011, p. 321).

Therefore, when you are preparing for a job interview the focus should be on basing it on doing your best at that moment in time, rather than having to focus on achieving your best. Peters would argue that this subtle difference will allow you to cope with the consequences, which for the purpose of this article, would be interview rejection.

Having the confidence to do your best naturally has to be founded in ideal preparation. You need to seriously consider why you want to work in that particular school and role; you have to engage in research; you need to prepare for the interview by practising or reading about interview techniques and etiquette. You cannot simply wing it!

If you are prepared for the interview the human brain will allow you to deal with the consequences far more enjoyably, and arguably professionally, than the chimp brain would allow. Now, back to three steps:

1. Ask for feedback

    The feedback that we receive can affect how our behaviours continue; negative feedback, or a negative experience perhaps through slow response from the employer or even lack of feedback, can leave us reluctant to continue the job hunt. High quality feedback, even if we are not successful in the job or promotion, can be less damaging for our self-confidence and self-efficacy; don’t be afraid to ask for feedback, but don’t be too hard on yourself if the feedback is not helpful or detailed.

    2. Reflect and reassess

      In reflecting on the outcome, ask yourself, ‘How much did I want that role? How much did it hurt to hear I was not successful?’ Was it a dream or are you secretly relieved at dodging a bullet of extra workload and longer hours?

      Perhaps not having a job that doesn’t suit you is a better outcome than having it? Employers have a set criteria to select a successful candidate. You may think that you did not meet the criteria, but it could be that the criteria was not in your favour. Perhaps there was too much expected of the candidate!

      Reflect on your application and interview. Were you professional and enthusiastic?

      Were you basing your confidence on achieving this or had you not adequately prepared? In other words, you did not do your best and this was pointed out to you.

      Sometimes interview feedback can help us make sense of our own preparation and is useful in helping us to plug gaps in knowledge, skills and professionalism.

      3. Stay focused and make a plan

        Although the initial sting of disappointment may make you feel that you don’t want to apply for anything ever again, it may be worth taking a new perspective.

        If you did not do your best because you were underprepared, then that is an obvious starting point for reflection. However, if you did your best and feedback from the interview panel highlighted where you could improve, see it as free advice, a learning opportunity. This can motivate you in creating a focused plan that should realistically match your expertise and experience to the job you are suited to.

        Some final thoughts

        To conclude, just as we may say there are plenty of fish in the sea, there will be many more doors for you to open and several other opportunities for you to explore.

        Perhaps this rejection has happened for a reason, and something better is waiting for you? Whether you believe in that or not, the most important thing is to use this opportunity to reflect and refocus and remind yourself that you are valuable and worthy.

        If the school did not see your potential, there will be another better-suited school out there for you. If you did not get the promotion, ask for feedback, and decide whether you want to try again.

        Underpinning all this advice has to be the heart-searching question – Did I do my best at the time of the interview? Sometimes that may be the consolation that is simply required. Perhaps it is just that you have still not met the school that wants to employ you.


        Peters, S. (2011). The Chimp Paradox. Vermilion.

        If you’re currently looking for a new position, think about the steps you are taking to prepare for an interview. Have you carefully considered why you want to work in that particular school and role? Have you engaged in research about the role, school and general interview techniques? What are some areas for improvement with the preparation you’re doing?

        As a school leader, reflect on the types of feedback you have given to unsuccessful candidates in the past. Do you believe the feedback is of a high enough quality that candidates can use it in a productive way?