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“What to Say When”  is a Darling series that addresses challenging topics with answers from people who have experienced that particular issue. The hope is to encourage people to engage a friend or stranger in a similar situation with more kindness.

“How was the interview?” you ask with eager anticipation. Your friend’s face falls, and you instantly recognize  that expression—she didn’t get the position.

Rejection stings, especially when it bars you from that “perfect” job, the one with the good benefits, the amazing coworkers and all the sparkling opportunities.

I’ve had seven jobs in the past five years. I’ve been rejected from more positions than I can count on both hands. At this point, I’ve become familiar with the helpful—and the hurtful—comments from friends and family. It can be difficult to know what to say when a friend’s hopes for employment are dashed.

Here’s what I’ve learned on what to say when your friend doesn’t get the job:

1. Let your friend know you empathize 

You don’t know exactly how she feels. Yet, a simple, “I’m sorry to hear that,” will let her know that you care about her pain. Not so helpful? “Don’t be sad, you’ll get another chance.” Even though it’s true that your friend will come across other opportunities, at this moment, she needs space to grieve for the opportunity that passed her by. 

2. Tell your friend that you appreciate her

Sometimes it’s hard not to take a job rejection personally. “I admire how good you are at what you do,” is perhaps all you need to say to help her start feeling better.

3. Remind her of her strength and tenacity

If your friend has experienced multiple rejections in a row, then she may be feeling frustrated and tired. You can say something like, “I think your tenacity is awesome.” This is a good way to remind her that she is tough and encourage her not to give up.

Remember that your friend will also need a break from her job search before she starts looking again. Invite her to tea, for a hike or along for some other activity to help clear her mind. Don’t be afraid to acknowledge her sadness and check in on her job hunt in the future.

She’ll be grateful for your presence and your kind words. 

Have you ever walked with a friend through a job rejection or loss? What did you tell her or him for encouragement?

Image by Ali Mitton, Darling Issue No. 21 

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