Estimated reading time: 4 mins

The tech industry has high turnover and attrition rates. Engineers get out on the job market more often and spend more time preparing for and going through interviews than other sectors. On the flip side, engineers also have to deal with more interview rejections.

While it’s always painful to be rejected or not achieve a goal we worked hard for, rejections are a great way to learn. In this post, I share some of my ways to deal with the bitter pill that is interview rejection.

Let’s turn that frown upside down! :)

Turn that frown upside down!

The subjective and imperfect interview process

Before getting into handling interview rejection, let’s discuss the interview process itself. This will set the basis of what the rejection really means.

Typically, the technical interview process aims to assess:

  • Ability to contribute to technical projects: each team will be working with a different tech stack and solving their own unique set of problems. The interview process should (if thoughtfully designed!) pose coding challenges which are representative of what the team works on. The technical question is therefore skewed to look for a certain experience and profile
  • Cultural fit: even brilliant, genius engineers need to fit into their prospective team. The process does not focus on the technical solution only, it will (and should!) include an assesment of communication skills and team fit. Each team has its own practices and idiosyncracies, so interviewers will look for signals which reflect the team’s practices
  • Seniority and expertise: the team will be looking for a specific level of seniority as well as technical skill. Depending on the role, the interview process might assess attitude to learning and development as well as mentoring style to ensure that it fits with the expectations of the role they are trying to fill. A candidate that does well on the technical task might still be unsuccessful if they do not perform at the job role’s level of seniority

The interview process is a skewed and subjective process that, by design, can only assess technical ability in the frame of a single team’s work and expectations. Assessments of team fit are predictions that interviewers make on the basis of a relatively short interaction with the candidate.

Keep in mind that the process is far from perfect and don’t take rejections personally!

Making the most of interview rejection

Now that I’ve set the scene for what the rejection really means, it is time to look at how to make the most of an interview rejection.

Here are my tips to making the most out of interview rejections:

  • Request written feedback: most recruiters will want to give interview feedback on the phone to give a more personal touch to the process. Hearing the feedback can be emotional, making it difficult to remember the details of what was said. Make sure to request written feedback from the interviewers themselves instead of the recruiter’s short verbal version. This might take a while to receive, but most recruiters will be happy to help candidates improve
  • Solve the interview problems again: take the time to solve the interview problems again at home, making sure to fix any issues of the interview solution. This will empower and fill in any immediate technical gaps. Who knows? The same problem might come up at another interview in the future
  • Use it as constructive, free feedback: turn the power dynamic back and take the interview rejection as constructive feedback instead. I’ve learned where my technical gaps are and how to be better at communicating from interviews. Rejections are a great learning tool, so use them to direct and adjust interview preparation
  • Think of interviewing as a skill in itself: practice is important when picking up any skill. Treat all interviews as practice, where learning is the primary objective and getting an offer is the icing on the cake. No matter the amount of preparation and studying, the proof is in the pudding and there is no substitute for actually taking the leap and getting out there
  • Use the interview process to judge the employer: the interview questions are one of the strongest signals a candidate can get about their prospective employer, giving insight into what they find important and what working there might be like. If these questions don’t align with the candidate’s interests and experiences, then they might not be a suitable future employer, regardless of whether the interview is a success or not

Parting words

Remember, interview rejections happen to everyone!

Interviewing is more like dating than an academic exam. An interview rejection simply means that the candidate was perceived as not fitting well into the projected expectations of that team, not that they are not a good engineer. Just like dating, it’s all about two sides matching up what they’re looking for.

It’s important not to internalise rejection as anything more than it is. It is not a reflection of general technical ability, but a subjective evaluation of the candidate based on a skewed process. Take whatever constructive feedback the interview provides, learn from it and then move on, stronger and better.

Happy interviewing & job hunting!

Comments or Burning Questions?