How to Cope with Rejection While Job Hunting

As human beings, we are extremely sensitive to rejection, especially when it comes to social rejection.

Unfortunately, throughout our lives, we are confronted with rejection on numerous occasions: rejection at work, in family situations, or in relationships. 

No one is immune to the pernicious effects of rejection. However, the good news: bouncing back from rejection is a skill that you can develop. In this article, I share a framework that helps you to cope with rejection while job hunting.  

Rejection and Learned helplessness

If you have ever been rejected in your life, you may be able to recall how you felt afterward. Yet, rejection does not only impact us emotionally. It also affects our behaviors.

Psychological studies have shown that after facing rejection, individuals often feel as if their actions fail to produce any desired effect. Moreover, they may lose hope that in the future, their situation will improve. As such,  rejection can reduce hope and increase the reluctance to take risks. In psychology, this phenomenon is referred to as learned helplessness. 

How to Cope with Rejection: 3 P’s 

Learned helplessness is often the result of how we explain a situation to ourselves.  Psychologist Martin Seligman described three ways we often interpret and explain challenging events, such as rejection, in three ways: internal vs external, stable vs unstable, and global vs local.

Internal vs External: personalization

If we personalize an event, we blame ourselves for an external event, even when it was not under our control. For example, when you are rejected for a position you applied for, you may think, “I am not good enough as a person” or “There is something wrong with me.”

Stable vs Unstable:  Permanence

If we label an event as permanent, we think something is ‘always’ going to be true. In this case, we feel as if a situation is never going to change. For example, when you get rejected once, you might think, “I will never find a job.”

Global vs Local: Pervasiveness

When we view an event as pervasive, we feel as if the specific situation impacts all areas of our life. For example, rejection may lead us to think we also fail in our roles outside of work, such as our role as mother or friend. Or, if you attribute a rejection as being due to something global like your inability to perform during an interview, one rejection may seem like a sign of more rejections to come. 

How to Cope with Rejection

Shift your perspective

When we face rejection, changing our perspective about the event can make a huge difference. So, if you notice yourself explaining the rejection with any of the three P’s, see if you can transform any P to more helpful thoughts.

To help you get started, I provide three alternative ways of looking at rejection.

Rejection is not always permanent

When you perceive a rejection as something impermanent, you can acknowledge that the rejection is not permanent and can change over time. For example, “I will never find a job” can also be seen as “This is merely a minor setback; I will find a new job.” Or “I will never get accepted for this role” can be perceived as “I am currently not the right fit for this role, let’s look at the actions I can take to get qualified.” 

Don’t take rejection personal

Perceiving a situation as impersonal can help you acknowledge that factors outside of your control may have led to the rejection. 

“I am not good enough” can become “Just because I was rejected for the job does not diminish my self-worth and value.” or “Other candidates were a better fit for this specific role.” 

Rejection is often situational specific

Lastly, suppose you perceive the rejection as a specific and situational event. In that case, you acknowledge that the rejection only applied to this particular role at the company you applied for and does not say anything about your role as a mother, friend, or human being in general. 


Practice with the 3 P’s

Shifting your perspective may be easier said than done. You can try the four steps below to shift your perspective on rejection and practice applying these steps in your daily life. You will find that shifting your perspective will become easier over time.

1. Pick a recent situation in which you were rejected.

2. Write out the story you tell yourself about this rejection.

3. Label the P’s you recognize.

4. Question the P’s. What alternative ways of looking at this situation can you think of?


American Psychological Association. Learned helplessness.

Peterson C, Park C. Learned helplessness and explanatory style. In: Barone DF, Hersen M, Van Hasselt VB, eds. Advanced Personality. Springer US; 1998:287-310. doi:10.1007/978-1-4419-8580-4_12


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About Lian

Hi, I’m Lian Angelino, a certified Career coach passionate about helping women move through their careers and daily lives with more ease and meaning.

I combine my background in Work Psychology, Mental Health Sciences, and Leadership development to help you get clear about what makes you tick and gain clarity around difficult career choices.

If you would like help in searching for your next role, finding clarity around a career challenge, or are looking for a structured way to approach your job search, learn more about my services here

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