You polish your resume, sharpen your interviewing skills and land an on-campus interview. A few weeks later, you are invited to the corporate offices for a second round of interviews, which you are sure you aced. You get ready to break open the Champagne, thinking that you should be getting the offer letter any day now. After you have been sitting on pins and needles for what seems like an eternity, the letter comes, but instead of an offer, it is a “ding”letter, a “bullet,” a rejection. What do you do now?

Do you tear the letter into a thousand pieces, burn your interviewing suit, and resolve to never again darken the doors of corporate America, or do you take another, a better, approach? There is so much advice out there about what to do when you win, but very little about what you do when you lose?

Take Five — Time for Reflection

Because we don’t like rejection, we generally don’t take it very well. We either assume the one who rejected us was being unfair, or that we weren’t good enough, neither of which is necessarily true. Your job now is to avoid falling into either of these traps. It’s okay to feel disappointed for a hot minute, but then you must get back into the game.

There are some things you want to do right away. First of all, address how you are feeling about this rejection. It is reasonable to feel hurt, even depressed. Face your emotions and ride them out. Don’t become obsessive about a rejection, or even a number of them — some students even paper their walls with the ding letters they receive before landing their first offer. Resist the urge to rehash old rejections and old failures. Just because you were the last one picked for basketball or your prince charming asked someone else to the prom does not mean this is a life-long pattern. A rejection letter is not personal, although it certainly feels personal; it is business, and you need to treat it as such.

Don’t be down on yourself, thinking you have failed. You have not failed! There are a small number of available jobs and a large number of potential applicants. Depending upon the company’s recruiting procedures and your school’s scheduling policy, the company may have had an advance review of up to 100 resumes. If they had two typical recruiting schedules, they may have seen 20 to 26 students on your campus alone, and only two or three from each school were invited back for an on-site interview. If one or two of those were hired, and you consider the odds, you must have been pretty good to get as far as you did!

Talk about your experience, to a friend, professor, parent or significant other. That kind of support is not only good for these tough times; it is invaluable throughout life, with its high and low points. A listening ear can be of significant comfort when you’re feeling down.

And whatever you do, don’t shred that ding letter, at least not yet. It will come in handy, as we will explore later. When one door closes, another one opens. You have to be ready, and approach the situation with a clear, cool head.

Take Stock — Time for Evaluation

Now it’s time to look at your approach to this job search, to see if you could have done something better. Find out what happened, and be open to change if necessary. This is not the only rejection you will ever receive in life, so learn from it, improve, and move on.

Do you have a mentor? Is there someone in your career field to whom you look for guidance, advice, and direction? If so, use this person as a sounding board. Let them know the details of your experience at the site interview, and gain the benefit of their insights.

How did you select this employer? Did you apply for only the “plum” jobs at the premier companies for which there would be the most competition, or did you also apply for positions that may have been less glamorous, but which provided long-term benefits? Did you put all of your eggs in one basket, declining to interview with employers other than your first choice? After the campus interview, did you speak with the placement office? Many employers will provide feedback about the students they interviewed, especially those they are considering inviting back. You will want to seek this information to help you adjust for future interviews.

Did you remember to continue to research the company and its employment offerings after the campus interview was over? The site interview is longer and more detailed than those you have had before, and may focus on the company, its products, industry, and prospects. Did you visit their web site, review their campus folder or other materials, and conduct your own independent library and Internet research, to determine whether the position they had available really met your needs? For example, if they had a field audit position requiring 80% travel, and you were just starting a family, you may have sounded less enthusiastic when you heard the news from the interviewer, and rightly so. Looking back on it, were you really a good fit for the position, once you heard all of the details?

Did you practice interviewing with peers or instructors before you went to the site? Knowing the common questions interviewers ask and framing your answers ahead of time will make you feel more confident and appear less nervous.

Take Steps — Time for Action

Now, fish that ding letter out of the circular file (and tape it back together if you tore it up!). Compose a letter to the company representative who sent it, expressing your thanks for their courtesy in getting back to you regarding the status of your application. Make sure they know that your interest in their company remains strong and that they should feel free to consider you for other, relevant openings. Ask for their views of your performance in the interview process, and how you could improve for the future. Be prepared for constructive criticism, and be ready to change that which makes sense to change.

You should also write a thank-you letter to the person who invited you for the on-site interview or who coordinated your visit. Mention specific people and situations that you found most impressive and most helpful, and tell them that you appreciate the time spent with you and the insights they conveyed.

This is another opportunity for you to ask for feedback on your presentation at the site visit. Close by making sure they also know that you are still interested in employment with the firm and that you would like them to keep our resume and application on file should new opportunities develop for someone with your skill set.

These letters are not just for show. It is not unheard of for the top candidate for a position filled through college recruiting to accept another position at a different company, leaving the first employer to scurry around to find a replacement.

If you were one of the top few candidates, as evidenced by your being invited for a site interview in the first place, your thank-you letter — an uncommon courtesy — may just be what puts you over the top.

During your on-site interviews, you probably collected business cards from the supervisors, alumni, human resources personnel and others you talked to as part of the interview process. Now is the time to use them.

Ask about the qualifications possessed by the successful candidate that gave them the edge. Call for advice, references, and leads. Recently placed college graduates routinely get calls from agencies and competitors seeking to woo them from their new employers, and if they are happy where they are, these employees may pass those leads on to you or mention you favorably.

Take Off! — Time to Fly!

Now that you have evaluated what you did in your first site interview, made adjustments as necessary, and sharpened what you did well, it’s time to get back in the game. Other companies have undoubtedly been scheduled to appear at your campus. Select those that appear to meet your career objectives, then get on their schedules and approach your employment search with renewed intensity and drive.

If you had all your eggs in one basket the first time around, it?s now time to go basket shopping. The company that did not offer you a position still thought you were good enough to be interviewed at the work site, so you are surely good enough to put your skills to work for one of their competitors.

Rejection may sting for a moment, but success is its own reward.

Walter Vertreace is director, Equal Employment Opportunity
at Amerada Hess Corporation in Woodbridge, N.J.