Job Rejection: How to Cope

 In jobs: preparation and placement, PhD/Postdoc Blog

We are all Ph.D.’s, so that means we are relatively successful, and maybe a little type A.   We have also dedicated the last 4-10 years to a specific passion. This makes us removed from the regular job market. We have either only found jobs as a bachelor’s degree holder, or we have never done a job search. On top of that, the Ph.D. job market can be much more restrictive because we are now specialists.

In the job market we are going to get rejections, or worse we never hear back.  Recently, a think tank job I was pursuing informed me that I was not a good fit for a position I applied to. This got me thinking about how to handle rejection in different areas of life. One place I have experienced rejections, on both sides of the rejection coin, is dating. I am going to pull from my dubiously online dating experience and apply it to job search rejection.

Let us jump right in. When that so-called ‘perfect’ someone does not call back, I step back and ask myself: Do I want to date someone that does not want me? No. I want to be excited to date a new person, and I want said new person to be excited that they have a new sweetheart. I want to be a good fit for the person, and by not calling back that person is saying “you know what, you do not mesh with me,” which is actually very helpful, because I want to date someone who is interested in dating me.

Let us take this dating attitude and apply it to jobs. When that so-called ‘perfect’ job does not call back, step back and ask “do I want to work for someone that does not want me?” No. I want to be excited to work at a new job, and I want said new company to be excited that they have a new teammate. I want to be a good fit for the company, and by not hiring me, that company is saying “you know what, you do not fit the position we have.” Once again, this is very helpful, because I want to work where I am a good fit.

I think the same approach works in reverse. Just like you would not go on a second date with someone who creeped you out, you can reject jobs. If after an interview you do not have a great feeling about the company or position, it is okay to step back.  It is okay to say, “You know what, I do not want to work here.” Then say no to the offer, guilt-free. A company wants to hire someone who wants to be there.

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My favorite metaphor for finding the right fit is related to food. Say your perfect person/job is a taco.  You know you want a taco. You know what a taco looks like (tall, dark, and handsome? / happy employees?) and sounds like (someone who showers? / good work-life balance?). When you go on dates/interviews and you find yourself with some sushi, you can say “you know what, you are a great piece of sushi, but you are not a taco. I am really looking for a taco.” It is not the sushi’s fault it is not a taco. It does not mean that the sushi is not the best sushi ever, it is just not a taco.

We are going to expand this analogy a little further and expound upon what a ‘taco’ job really is. Everyone wants to work in an environment that wants us there and that we will be successful in. When a job rejects you, then it is not a taco. It is that simple. By saying no, the company is telling you that you do not fit the position or culture. We should be pleased (or at least not crying) when we get rejections, because that means we have been saved from working in a position where we are not a good fit or for a company that does not fit us.

Let us go find some ‘taco’ jobs!

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If you’ve found this helpful, please share it with another soon to be gainfully employed friend and watch @NIHBEST on Twitter for more from my lovely colleagues and me.

Current Position: 6th year Ph.D. Candidate, Materials Science and Engineering
Program Start Date: August 2012
Institution: Johns Hopkins University


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  • Christian Jorgensen

    Good advice. Retweeted !

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