How to handle an unsuccessful job interview (with tips)

Updated 31 July 2023

Landing your ideal job can be difficult. Sometimes, you gain quite a lot of experience in interviewing before you get the job that sets you towards your intended career path. Often, rejection isn't just inevitable but is important for eventually achieving success. In this article, we explain how to handle an unsuccessful job interview with gravitas and how to learn from the lessons a job rejection teaches you.

How to handle an unsuccessful job interview

Here's how to handle an unsuccessful job interview:

1. Maintain a positive outlook

One of the most important things to take away from any rejection is that everything is a learning experience. Going into an interview with a positive attitude is one of the most important skills you can present. Positivity shows resilience and an openness to new experiences, be it learning new skills for a job or joining a new team.

All of this is important to employers, as they ideally want someone who can integrate into a role and stay for a long time. Positivity is also a great skill to possess yourself, as it means you can handle tough situations more quickly. This is essential for handling rejection as it means you can pick yourself up quickly and move on to preparing for the next one.

Related: How to respond to a rejection email (With example)

2. Ask for feedback

Many companies send out a standard rejection email thanking the candidate for their time and wishing them well on their future career path. This isn't the most useful when you're on the other side, particularly if the job in question was one you wanted. One option is always to politely ask for feedback. Send an email to say thank you for the interviewer's time and ask what they recommend you improve on for future interviews.

Requesting feedback demonstrates resilience and tenacity, both of which are desirable traits. There may also be a chance that the hiring team temporarily pulled the position you applied for or that they opened it up for internal interviews first and may reinstate it for future interviews. In this scenario, re-apply with the benefit that the interviewer now knows how interested you are in the role.

Related: How to ask for feedback after an interview

3. Celebrate small successes

Sometimes being well-prepared and showing yourself in a positive light is all you can do, and the job or company may just not be the right fit for you. Some rejections come even after you're well prepared, say all the right things and ask meaningful questions. When this is the case, champion what you did well rather than mull over what went wrong.

Celebrating your small successes helps you to keep a positive outlook and to remain motivated to apply for further positions. Small successes come in many forms, such as getting positive feedback from the employer or making it to an applicant shortlist. Even poor interviews have the benefit of showing you what to improve on for future interviews.

4. Keep in touch

If your interview went well and you received good feedback but didn't get the job anyway, it may well be that you're still in for a chance with the company in the future. Sometimes, you may have lost out marginally against an internal competitor or someone who just had slightly better-suited qualifications. In this case, politely thank the interviewer for their feedback and ask that they consider you for future positions. They may well get in touch later if you impressed them and are showing an interest in working for the company in future.

Periodically check every few months to see whether anything new has come up or is imminently coming up that you might apply for. Showing initiative and interest in a business is always an advantage, provided you do so respectfully and not too often. Moderation and respectfulness are key.

Related: No feedback after an interview (reasons and what to do)

5. Work on yourself

If you missed out on the position because of a lack of qualifications or not having enough experience, consider taking some time to improve your competency in the skills the employer was looking for. If you received positive feedback from the interviewer, you may even consider asking for specific pointers to improve your chances with future interviews at the same company. Showing initiative and an interest in learning is always positive, and if nothing else you could remain in the interviewer's mind as a potential candidate for future opportunities.

For example, an employer might state that they didn't feel that you had strong enough skills when handling data. In this instance, thank them for their time and begin researching data handling courses that allow you to strengthen your competency in this area. This could help you with interviews at the same company and improve your employment prospects overall.

Related: 8 sought-after skills employers look for

6. Take a break

If you find yourself in the position of having received several rejections recently, and the feedback isn't changing, try to take a step back for a little while. While looking for a job can be vital and feel frantic if you don't currently have a job, it's more productive for your job search to avoid burnout. Take time out from the job hunt to refocus and regenerate.

If you like yoga and mindfulness, these can help to take the stress out of your day-to-day life. Once you've taken time out for a few days you may well find you're coming back to your job search with a new perspective. This can also help you find new ways to use the feedback you receive to improve your approach.

7. Remember it isn't personal

Though job interviews are an assessment of your compatibility and suitability for a particular job role, they rarely reflect on you as a person. Remember that a rejection doesn't reflect badly on you as a person, but rather on your professional assets. Knowing this provides you with a tangible path forward to improve yourself for future interviews. If you do feel like it's a personal matter, politely approach the employer and ask how you can improve your interpersonal skills. Some of the most common interpersonal skills that you could develop following an interview rejection are:

  • confidence

  • persuasion

  • listening

  • self-awareness

  • communication

8. Refresh your perspective

Approach each interview as a new opportunity rather than the latest in a string of possible rejections. This allows you to feel more renewed and invigorated, prompting more enthusiasm and preparation. Rejections following an interview are memorable but not definitive. Every time you apply for a job vacancy, tailor your CV to meet the employer's specifications. This improves the likelihood of employers offering you an interview and with it, a chance to secure the job.

Reasons for being unsuccessful in an interview

There are many reasons for being unsuccessful in an interview, and not all of them are in your control. Here are a few of the most common reasons to consider if the hiring employer didn't provide you with an explanation:

There were better candidates

Some companies seek candidates based solely on experience. Even if you've had previous experience in a senior position, there may be another applicant with more experience across wider positions. This isn't a negative reflection on you or your talents, but simply an instance of there being more qualified competition.

The company culture isn't compatible

If you display strong morals or priorities during an interview that don't match with the company's culture, they may decide to reject you. This is done for both your and the company's benefit. It's better for a company that doesn't align with your values to reject you, as it provides you with the opportunity to continue applying to ones that do.

There was poor preparation on your behalf

Interviews require ample preparation. If for whatever reason you go into an interview unprepared, rejection is more likely. This is because interviews seek candidates that display great organisational skills and have taken the time to research the company and prepare questions beforehand.

The salary discussions weren't productive

Some interviews provide you with an opportunity to negotiate your salary. This is particularly common in senior positions. If you and the employer have different opinions on what the appropriate salary for a job is, they may decide to hire another candidate that does agree. This means that you can apply for other jobs that offer a better-suited salary.

There was no enthusiasm present

Employers seek candidates that resonate with the role they're advertising. If you didn't display enough enthusiasm for the company, role or prospective responsibilities, the employer may be put off. When this is the case, take time to practise presenting yourself positively, such as smiling, using gestures and maintaining eye contact.


  • Job Interview Tips: How to Make a Great Impression

Explore more articles

  • How to write an entry-level CV (with example and template)
  • How To Write a Management Cover Letter (With Examples)
  • How to write an assistant accountant cover letter (with examples)
  • How To Effectively Emphasise Being a Quick Learner at Work
  • How to Write a Civil Service Personal Statement for Jobs
  • How to write a systems analyst CV (with tips and example)
  • Senior manager cover letter samples (plus how to write)
  • How to write a legal assistant cover letter (plus example)
  • How to write a marketing CV with no experience (and example)
  • How to become a medical physicist in 5 steps (plus skills)
  • How to show a promotion on your CV (With examples)
  • How to write a cabin crew CV (with template and examples)