Turned down for the job? Eight ways to up your game and secure your next post

Applying for your next academic post can be time-consuming. That investment is quickly forgotten when the job offer arrives – but what happens when it’s a ‘No’?

After all the care you’ve taken to refresh your CV, tailor your application, prepare your job talk, arrange time off and travel – not to mention the interview itself – hearing that you have been unsuccessful can be crushing.

In these circumstances, it’s well worth bearing in mind these eight key do’s and don’ts:

1. Learn from the experience. Remember that every invitation to interview is evidence of the selectors being impressed by your CV and application. It’s highly likely you’re on the right track.

2. Give yourself time. Rejection is bruising, and it’s good to acknowledge this. Don’t stifle your feelings. Instead, work through them, so you can manage them more effectively and avoid defensiveness or self-pity. This will help you build momentum rather than closing down or giving up.

3. See the big picture. It’s likely that the job went to someone else because they were better qualified, rather than because you failed in some way. Academia can be tough on the ego, and setbacks are not uncommon. While the downside is such steep competition, the upside is a highly stimulating and inspiring environment. It’s worth remembering that a successful academic career is not a sprint, but a marathon. Now’s the time to draw on your motivation and resilience to carry you on to your next post.

4. Send a personal thank you note. Everyone knows this is a good idea, but not so many remember to actually do it. Refer to something useful you learned or a connection you made, follow up on any threads, and leave a positive impression. Keep the door open, and be explicit in saying you’d still value the opportunity to work with the team.

5. Reflect on each aspect of the interview. Careful review now will go far to tighten your interview technique for future applications. Ask yourself some hard questions:

– How much thought did you give to your body language?
– Did you fluff the ‘Tell me about yourself’ question at the start?
– How well did you prepare for your job talk?
– Did you follow-up?

6. Don’t ask for feedback until you are ready to hear it, or you may find yourself getting defensive or emotional. When the time is right, ask for specific ways to improve. It might make you wince, but this will earn you a response that is tailored and valuable, rather than generic or bland. Separate your sense of self from your feedback. There’s a difference between you, and all that you offer, and your technique at interview, which is entirely coachable and improvable.

7. Fill in the gaps. Armed with your feedback and own evaluation, find proactive ways to address the weaknesses you’ve identified. Invest in training, seek out the best advice, and practice your responses repeatedly, no matter how unnatural it may feel. You’ll be grateful when, in the middle of your next interview, your answers flow freely and cogently.

8. Develop your empathy. Don’t forget the sting of being knocked back, and look for ways to lessen it when giving others news they don’t want to hear. Learn from whatever was good – or bad – about the way you were treated, and let it inform how you give critical feedback or rejection in the future. Choose to be kind and constructive: future candidates and students will love you for it.

Handling rejection positively will go a long way to strengthen your chances of success in the future. Now’s the time to pick yourself up and harness the experience to refuel your search for your next post.

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Jo Mitchell is an experienced writer and editor. After studying Modern Languages at the University of Oxford she worked in fundraising at Oxfam GB and Viva, where she specialised in writing communications for major donors. She now provides freelance editing and copywriting services at Nightingale Ink in the firm belief that sometimes words can sing.

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