Careers advice

How to take rejection from a job (and what you can learn)

You’ve been knocked down, now get up again.

Last updated: 5 April 2023

What you’ll learn:

  • How long it can take to hear back from a job application
  • How to respond to rejection from a job application
  • What you can learn from the process of being rejected from a job

Show us someone who claims to have succeeded in every job application they’ve ever submitted, and we’ll show you a liar.

Being rejected is, unfortunately, part and parcel of applying for jobs. That said, we understand, if you’ve just been rejected from a role you were really hoping to land, that, right now, it hurts.

The most important things at this moment, however, are knowing how to take the rejection and taking away as much as you can from the process, so that next time you get the result you’re looking for.

Don’t jump the gun: how long it can take to hear back from a job application in NZ

Before we get into practical steps to take after a job application rejection, it’s important to make sure you actually have been rejected. Sometimes, employers can take a long time to get back to candidates, and radio silence might make you think you’ve lost out. Check out these standard timeframes before you assume the worst:

  • If you’re waiting for an initial phone screen: this very basic introductory chat will usually take place within a week of submitting your application.
  • If you’re waiting to hear about a first round interview: this can take a couple of weeks, so hold on until you’re confident they aren’t getting in touch.
  • If you’re waiting to hear after an interview: generally, the expected timeframe to hear back from a job interview is one to two weeks.

Remember, you can get in touch with an employer to ask about the progress of your application at any stage during the process (though don’t be ringing them every other day). If you’re beginning to think that you haven’t been successful, asking for this update should be your first step, don’t go straight in there and ask for feedback on why you lost out.

How to take rejection from a job application

Once you know for sure that you haven’t landed the role, there are several things you should do:

1. Prioritise your self care

If you weren’t super fussed about the job, you might not be feeling too downbeat. In this case, you can skip this point and read on about the practical things you can learn from the process.

However, if this was a role you’d really hoped to land, you’re allowed to feel rubbish for a bit. We’re not saying go into a three-week mourning period, but glossing over your sadness and pretending you didn’t care isn’t going to do you any favours.

In fact, being aware of your disappointment is an important learning in itself, especially if you were unsure about leaving your current job. Being gutted about missing out indicates that this was the right avenue to pursue, and should encourage you to try again.

2. Respond professionally and politely

Depending on what stage of the process you were at when your application was rejected will determine how you’re most likely to hear about it.

If it was early in the job application journey, typically before you’ve been for an in-person interview, you’ll most likely be informed by email to tell you that you won’t be progressing further. If you’d gotten a wee bit further, chances are you’ll get a phone call.

While an email will give you a little longer to get over the initial emotion and collect your thoughts, you should aim to respond to either communication in a professional and polite manner. The most important things to get across are:

  • Thanking the company representative for their time.
  • Asking for some constructive feedback (much more on this later).
  • Letting them know you’ll be applying for similar positions in the future.

3. Don’t view this setback as an indicator of your value

As we hope we’ve made clear, everyone gets rejected from jobs at various stages in their careers. This absolutely does not mean you aren’t good enough or that you should just stick where you are, if you aren't enjoying it. Bear in mind that the company may have all but promised the job to an internal applicant, and were only listing the job externally to tick a legal box. Equally, the hiring manager may have found the first suitable CV and offered that person the role, without even reading all the other applications. In other words, there are plenty of reasons that this rejection was down to something entirely out of your control. So given the learning opportunity that a job rejection presents, you absolutely should not allow this to put you off from applying for other roles. However, before you do, check out the below section on how to take every lesson you can from this not so fun situation.

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How to learn from a job application rejection

1. Ask for feedback

It might seem like you’re adding insult to injury by asking where you went wrong, but it’s probably the most important thing you can do for your career after being rejected from a job.

Firstly, it looks good. If you’re serious about wanting to work for this company in the future, you should still be concerned about creating a good impression, and asking for feedback is a great way to do this. Doing so demonstrates resilience – even if you’re wallowing internally, on the outside you look as if all that is on your mind is how you can do better next time. Also, it indicates that you’re still eager to work for them, and it might help you stay in their minds if similar roles arise.

Second, getting feedback is just super helpful. You might have some ideas on aspects of your application that didn’t quite go to plan, but now you’ve got the chance to hear from the very people who make hiring decisions – so take it.

Importantly, you need to frame this question in an entirely non-confrontational way. You don’t want the hiring manager to think you’re challenging their decision and, much like a rugby referee, even if you were, they ain’t going to change their minds. So, don’t go in asking: “So, what made the successful candidate better than me?” Instead, you might want to say something like, “I was wondering if you had any feedback for me on how I could improve the quality of my application next time around?”

It can also be useful to ask specifically about skills, both in the interview, and in terms of the competencies they’re looking for in applicants. You could even ask if they had any tips for where you might be able to learn some of the skills they’re recommending you build on.

2. Conduct a self review

In addition to asking the hiring team for their feedback, you should spend a while reflecting on your application.

This should involve re-reading the CV and cover letter you submitted, and being really honest with yourself about whether there’s anything you could have improved on. As well as looking for obvious things like typos or grammar mistakes, analyse the content you included – did it really show off your skills and experience, and were these relevant to the duties and responsibilities of the role you applied for?

If you’re not sure what you should have included, we have specific guidance (and free templates!) for how to write a CV and how to write a cover letter that can help you get yours on track.

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3. Action what you learn

There’s no point in taking on board constructive criticism, or conducting your own self review, to learn where you could improve, and then doing nothing about it.

Once you’ve got a handle on where you think you could do things different next time, you might want to consider:

  • Taking in-person or digital courses.
  • Finding a career mentor.
  • Asking your boss for upskilling opportunities at work.
  • Doing volunteer work on the side to build additional skills.
  • Finding a career coach who can help you put your findings into practice.


Al Hall
Al Hall

Al Hall is a regular contributor at Trade Me Jobs and Trade Me Property. He’s dedicated to helping people succeed in their aspirations to find their dream job and place to live.