Coping with professional disappointment.

Today I spoke with a really sharp young man who applied for an amazing job. In my estimations this is a clever, affable, grounded professional who has racked up a lot of PBs in his career.

He went for the job interview, confident that he could bring world class knowledge, skills and experience to the role.

But after two weeks, he got a short, courteous, ‘We regret to inform you that …’ email.

What started out as surprise … grew to disappointment … and then an anxiety that stunned him. He called and gave me a snapshot of the questions he was asking himself.

Predictably, “What did I do wrong?” “Why do this happen to me?” “Why wasn’t I good enough?” were key questions.

There are a bunch of common reasons why you don’t get the job other than your qualifications or experience that include things you did or failed to do before and during the process.


This includes poor preparation for the interview, your resume, poor references or referees, conflicts in your resume you overlooked.


This includes attitude, poor interviewing skills, aspects of your resume you can’t explain well or at all; poor target skills such as poor social media skills; and personal issues such as poor hygiene, poor presentation, awkwardness, nerves got the better of you, you had unrealistic salary expectations, you didn’t pitch your value, you were too young, too old, too this, too that.

The truth is: it could be none of those or none of those to the degree that you start to inflate in your mind. The truth is any employer is entitled to choose who they want and they select or deselect for their own reasons. Whether you agree or not, for whatever reason you miss out. It doesn’t feel fair, but that’s the way it is.

My coaching was aimed at helping him climb down from the ledge, crawl back out from under the bus and to let go of all his understandings of why he didn’t get the nod.

At times like this you are biologically NOT in a good place to evaluate a crappy outcome. You WILL gravitate to the negative because a) we are survival creatures and b) the negative is more salient than the positive at times like this. This means you will over attend to your own ‘flawed’ and often catastrophic judgment and reasoning. And more than likely, draw the wrong conclusions.

In these moments, what makes you an excellent professional abandons you. Your brain is not thinking straight. Blood is rapidly being allocated from your pre-frontal cortex where good decisions are made to the peripheral brain centres that trigger arousal (anxiety) and gee you up for freeze, flight or fight.

But let’s just say it was you. You fumbled the ball in a big way or in a string of minor ways. It is still the employers right to choose who they feel is a good fit, even if you disagree or feel disappointed.

You will need to move on. But right now, when you are like this, sifting and sorting through the ruins and rerunning the interview to find out where you feel you ‘failed’ is not a good strategy. You’re actually strengthening neurones for failure which then triggers more easily next time you think about doing something aversive like applying for a dream job.

And honestly, asking ‘why’ (or why not) is not a good question right now.

It just is. Change the record. Grab a coffee. Go for a long walk. Watch a box set. Cry. Take a long bath.

Tomorrow is another day and honestly, there is an abundance of opportunity out there. Chin up. You will be directed to the right path.

*Andrew Priestley is qualified in business psychology and coaches business people.

Leave a Reply