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Advice / Job Search / Interviewing

So, You Didn't Land Your Dream Job—Here's What to Do Next (Besides Binge on Ben & Jerry's)

About a month ago, my friend called me, thrilled: After a grueling months-long search, he had just wrapped up a final round interview for his dream job.

The position matched his skills (and paid well, to boot), the organization tied together two of his biggest passions, and the job was based in a city he’d love to move to. He had flown to the headquarters and met with several members of the team, including the head of the department and the president. At the end of the meeting, they asked for references and said they’d be in touch soon. Things were looking good.

Until, well, they weren’t. After a few weeks of patiently waiting and pleasantly following up, he got the email he had been dreading: He didn’t get the job.

It’s always a bummer to be rejected (even if you weren’t 100% sold on the job anyway). But when it’s your dream job? The one you had put all your energy into, told all your friends about, and scoped out nearby lunch places for?

It’s sort of the worst.

But it doesn’t have to be the disappointing ending to your finding-your-dream-job story. To my friend, and to anyone else who’s in the same boat, here’s what I’d recommend doing next.

Scream and Cry

Or punch a wall. Or call in sick and spend a day curled up on your couch with Ben and Jerry’s and Netflix and Kleenex. Or do whatever else will help you let out all the anger, sadness, and frustration you feel. It’s an important step in the process to grieve this opportunity you really thought was the end-all of your career.

But, it’s just the first one.

Make a List of Your Successes

After you’ve screamed it out, take some time to reflect on what happened. But—and this is important—don’t focus on what went wrong.

No, you didn’t get the job. But before that, there were lots of things that went right. Right? Your resume, cover letter, or networking caught the eye of the hiring manager. You told great stories in the interview. You beat out other candidates to make it to the final round. Heck, you found your dream job in the first place!

Make a list of all of these other wins, especially anything that you think really helped you out. Was the recruiter really impressed by your online portfolio or your international experience? Was there something different you did to prepare for the interview that made things run more smoothly? Write down anything that went well in this process, so you can make sure to do again in the future.

Ask for Feedback (or Another Chance)

When you’re in a more positive mindset, it’s time to reach back out to the company. (Fact: You can—and should—respond to that “Unfortunately, we’ve selected another candidate…” email.) First, thank the hiring team for considering you for the position. Let them know how much you enjoyed meeting everyone and how excited you still are about what the company is doing.

Then, add a line asking for feedback, such as: “If there’s anything I can do to improve my candidacy for similar positions, I’d value your thoughts.” No, you won’t always get an answer to this—but if you do? The more you know, the better.

Finally, let the company know that you’d love to be considered for similar opportunities in the future. Be careful of coming off as desperate—no one wants to hire the “I’ll take anything!” candidate. But if it’s a large organization, say, and there are multiple marketing manager positions across different divisions, it’s absolutely OK to ask to be considered for one of them.

And it may just work: See how Muse writer Sara McCord turned a “no” into another offer.

Analyze What You Loved So Much

Make a list of what, exactly, you loved so much about this job. Was it the position or the company that you were really jazzed about? And which specific aspects? Was it the opportunity to work for an up-and-coming startup, or the uber-creative team you’d be working with every day? The more detailed you can get here, the better.

Now, consider this your new list of criteria for any position you apply to in the future. More than likely, there are other jobs and companies that will meet them—you just have to find them. And truthfully, this is a better way to approach your search. You might as well be going after a needle in a haystack if you’re looking for a your new dream job when trolling job boards for “product management jobs in Seattle.” But doing some targeted Googling and networking for a mid-level product management role at a dog-friendly Seattle startup that offers unlimited vacation? Odds are likely much better.

In general, see if you can look at this experience as something that’s pointed you in exactly the right direction of where you’d like to go. You didn’t get this job, and, yeah, that sucks. But you now know exactly what you want from a new job, and you don’t have to settle until you find it.

Enlist Your Army

If you made it pretty far in the interview process, you probably told quite a few people about this amazing gig. And you’re probably not super excited about sharing the news that you didn’t get it.

But not so fast: It’s actually a great idea to let them know—and then use the opportunity to ask for their help. Hopefully, you did this already at the beginning of your search (if not, here’s a template), in which case, you can just drop a brief note to the effect of the following:

Hi Raja,

As you know, I recently interviewed for my dream job—[position name] at [company name]. Unfortunately, I didn’t receive an offer, but the experience has made me really reflect on what I’m looking for in my next role: [list the 2-4 things that you want to prioritize in your search].

If you know anyone who works in this type of role or company that would be willing to sit down with me for an informational interview, I’d be grateful. Or, if you have suggestions of companies I might love but haven’t explored yet, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Thank you so much for your help in advance.”

Important: Don’t go on and on about how upset you are or that you’ll never find something as good as this opportunity. Keep it positive and focused on the future.

Finally, remind yourself that the most successful people out there operate with a “resiliency mindset”—or, thinking of setbacks or disappointments as an opportunity for constructive learning and choosing to move forward, instead of remaining stuck on the past. As therapist and career coach Melody Wilding puts it:

You can drive yourself crazy replaying the scene over and over again in your head, ruminating about the reasons you received a rejection. But the truth is, stewing in your own disappointment only serves to keep you stuck in the past and renders you useless in the present at the exact time you need to rally, pick yourself up, and charge forward to snag a dream job.

It’s heartbreaking not to get a position that you thought just might change your career. But now you can channel all the positivity about the process into your search moving forward. With reflection, some targeted networking, and a little bit of luck, an even better one might just be around the corner.

Photo of sad woman courtesy of Shutterstock.