Getting rejected for a job you really wanted is one of the worst parts of job searching. But if you handle the rejection well, you can get something useful out of the disappointment. Here's how.
1. Don't get angry. There's no point in getting angry or taking a job rejection personally. You might think that you were perfect for the job and resent the employer for not seeing it, or even feel angry that you spent your time interviewing. But rejection comes with the territory when you're hunting for a job, and in a market like this one, even highly qualified candidates get rejected because there's often someone who is simply a better match for the position. Getting angry will only make it harder for you to continue with your search in good spirits--and can turn into bitterness, which can scare off future employers.
2. Thank your interviewer for their time. Saying thank-you might be the last thing you feel like doing, but send a gracious note thanking the interviewer for her time. Say that you enjoyed meeting her and getting to learn about her company, and ask that she keep you in mind if opportunities open up in the future. Why? Well, first, being polite is never a bad thing to do ... but also, stories abound of people whose gracious responses to rejection led to them getting the job when the employer's first-choice candidate didn't work out, or being contacted about new openings later on.
3. Ask the hiring manager to give you feedback on how you could be a stronger candidate. This won't always yield useful information--some employers have a policy of not giving feedback to rejected candidates--but sometimes it will, and you never know until you ask. To maximize your chances of a useful response, it's crucial that you don't sound like you're frustrated or, even worse, challenging the employer's decision. There's no faster way to make your interviewer shut down. You also don't want to sound like the request is a perfunctory email that you send to every interviewer; it needs to sound personal and engaging, so that your interviewer feels rapport with you and is more inclined to respond.
Again, this won't work every time. But it when it does, you can learn valuable information about how you can do better next time.
4. Stay in touch with the hiring manager. After being rejected, you might want nothing more than to wipe the memory of your interview from your mind and pretend the whole experience never happened--but don't. That hiring manager is now a business contact, and you should stay in touch. Connect on LinkedIn, check in now and then, send an article that you think she'd like. Don't be a pest, but don't let the relationship fade into nothing. She may be able to tell you about another opening some day, either at her company or with a contact.
Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog, where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the co-author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results, and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development.