Dealing with Job-Hunting Failures and Setbacks

Monish SubherwalDesign CareerLeave a Comment

When I taught UX Design, I would tell my students that looking for a job was a matter of just applying daily, keeping at it! Through planning and sheer willpower you can ensure you are making all possible efforts.

And then one day, as I realized I needed to get out of my current job, I began actively looking for job opportunities.  Boy, it was difficult!  Putting my foot in my mouth, I realize it’s easier said than done.

Looking for a job can have a tremendous emotional impact on your wellbeing as it always brings in questions of your self worth.

When you don’t receive a call back, when you apply continuously without any results, or when you do go on the interview and reach the final stages but don’t get the job — it can be very tough to not take things personally and feel down.

This can be especially true if your job search goes from weeks to months.

The Downward Spiral

man looking down dark spiral parking lot

The more we “fail” and get hurt by our failures, the more we can feel like nothing is working and we’re not good enough.  This in turn, leads to more failures.  Subtly (or not so subtly) we can sabotage any interview chances by either a negative or skeptical attitude, a low energy or mood, or even not following up or applying as much as we should.

This is the “vicious downward spiral of defeat”.  Viewing a situation as a “failure” ends up draining internal resources. It can also lead us to have negative beliefs about ourselves and our capabilities.

I know one designer friend who kept getting to the final stages of interviews at 3 companies and didn’t get selected.  As a result, he was so discouraged he spent 1 MONTH taking a break and not applying anywhere.  Instead of celebrating the successes he had so far — he ended up taking himself out of the game.

We don’t want to be like my friend.

Tips for getting out of the downward spiral

To counter this downward spiral, here are some tips to help you get immediately out of your funk:

Tip 1:  Apply more!

Man asleep with book on his face

I often talk to designers who are struggling with the interview process.  They complain that they aren’t qualified and aren’t getting phone calls back and aren’t sure why.

When I ask them, how often are they applying, they tell me “oh, I apply about once a week”.  Once a week!  That’s hardly enough!  You need to be applying daily to 1-3 companies (3 a day is what I would say is aggressive mode).  You should also be reaching out to people you know, asking for introductions, talking to recruiters, going to job fairs, etc..

Yes, I’ve heard “it’s about quality and not quantity!”.  I respectfully disagree.  It’s about quality AND quantity.  You need to be doing both and more.

Tip 2:  See your failures in terms of outcomes

Blurry background with clear sunglasses with city reflection

For some folks caught in the negative spiral, the first thing they need to do is get out of focusing on their “past failures” and “bad results”.  They’ve got to change their attitude!

To do that, refocus on the outcomes you’ve created so far.  An easy way to do that is, to see a failure as a stepping stone to where you want to go.

These questions help you refocus on outcomes (from Neuro-Linguistic Programming for Dummies by Romilla Reddy):

  1. What am I aiming to achieve?
  2. What have I achieved so far?
  3. What feedback have I had?
  4. What lessons have I learned?
  5. How can I put the lessons to positive use?
  6. How will I measure my success?
  7. Pick yourself up — and have another go!

For a designer who is applying to jobs, these could be your answers:

  1. What am I aiming to achieve?  Trying to get a job as a UX Designer!
  2. What have I achieved so far?  I’ve applied to numerous places, got my resume in good shape, worked on my portfolio.
  3. What feedback have I had?  My last interview did not go as planned.  They didn’t invite me back.  I asked the recruiter and she said I didn’t have enough research experience.
  4. What lessons have I learned?  I do have enough experience!  But maybe I need to talk more about my research process in a compelling and confident way.  
  5. How can I put the lessons to positive use?  I’m going to add a research section to my portfolio and prepare (and write down) a better answer for next time someone asks about my research capabilities.
  6. How will I measure my success? I keep applying weekly to at least 5 jobs!
  7. Pick yourself up — and have another go!  🙂

Notice how this process gets you to focus on outcomes and your progress towards those outcomes.  Hopefully, you should be feeling much better and more inspired.

Tip 3:  Troubleshoot what isn’t working

Clipboard with various doctors items

Each “failure” we encounter is just feedback.  That’s all.  Sometimes it’s just evidence of what didn’t work and is telling us to try again or try something differently.

In UX interviews, troubleshooting is usually easier than you think.  Here’s a list of common problems that happen and what you can do to fix those issues:

Common Problem 1:  I keep applying online, but don’t get any anyone emailing me or setting up a meeting.  

This may be due to a number of factors:

  • You aren’t applying enough (mentioned earlier).  Apply more often.
  • The company is EXTREMELY slow (they’ve got other things going on!) and/or you have been put on the bottom of the stack.  Try and follow up with recruiters at the company or other contacts at the company via LinkedIn.
  • If you are a seasoned UX professional, you may overqualified for your position.  Take a hard look at the position and your resume, scale down and customize as needed.
  • You are doing online only!  A LOT of positions come as a result of knowing someone or talking to independent recruiters who are connected to companies seeking candidates.  Reach out to recruiters via LinkedIn and start networking with people you know and asking for introductions.
  • If you are a good fit for the position, it could be your resume or portfolio are not compelling enough!  Seek the advice of recruiters or other senior UX designers to get their honest feedback.
  • You are under qualified!  This means you need to take on freelance projects, get additional schooling, or build up your skills.  Recruiters and senior UX colleagues may be good guides to help you feel more confident in your skills and showcase that appropriately.

Common Problem 2:  I got the phone screen with the recruiter, but didn’t move further than that!

This may be due to a number of factors:

  • Could it be your salary is out of range and scared them away?
  • Could it be you didn’t project enough confidence on the call?  Create a list of common UX interview questions (google them online) and come up with answers that are congruent to you.
  • Perhaps you didn’t show them what they needed to see in your portfolio.  You have to reflect on what didn’t work and focus on fixing that.
  • The company is weird/nuts/insane.  Sometimes the person on the other line doesn’t connect with you because you two aren’t a good fit.  Either way, I wouldn’t sweat that too much.  Next!

Common Problem 3:  I got the interview with the team, but they didn’t invite me back!

This may be due to a number of factors:

  • This one is a bit tougher.  You have to reflect where things went poorly.  Sometimes it could be just that you answered one question wrong.  Could be your presentation wasn’t compelling.  Could be you didn’t do a great job during the design challenge they set up for you.  Could be you got tired.  Whatever it is — this is ALL free feedback to make you better next time!  You can always ask the recruiter for a reason why they didn’t hire you.  Sometimes they’ll give it sometimes they won’t.  Either way, it doesn’t hurt to ask.
  • Someone on the team didn’t like your answer or didn’t like you for some reason.  Could have been your garlic breathe.  Who knows?  This can happen (and has happened to me).  It’s tough to make everyone your advocate.  Keep calm, carry on.
  • They have a better candidate who is possibly cheaper than you or they like more that you.  Hey, it could happen!  We like to think there aren’t others more qualified than ourselves, but it’s true.  Don’t worry about that and keep trying.

Tip 4:  Believe you dodged a bullet (or two)!

Photo of bullets and bullet shells

“Remember that sometimes not getting what you want is a wonderful stroke of luck” – Dalai Lama

I love the above Dalai Lama quote.  It’s SO true.  You NEVER NEVER know if the company whose interview you bombed was really the right company for you and your future.  Sure people may say so and so company is a good company, but it may not have been the right company for you.

For example:  you may have been put on a terrible project, your boss may not have liked you for whatever reason, your commute may have been terrible (or you ended up in an accident and got paralyzed), you may had a terrible colleague who was out to get you…who knows!

Since we aren’t fortune tellers we can’t predict the future at all, it’s not a bad idea to assume things are going perfectly as they should be.  This sure beats being negative and isn’t about putting on rose-colored glasses when coupled with tips 1-3.

When I used to teach UX, I used to say this to my students when we put them into groups for projects, “The group you get put into is the right group for you.”  This similar attitude, that the right job will come for you when it’s ready – is a positive one when coupled with the tips 1-3 above.


Overall, I’ve given you 4 really good tips for handling failure.  Feeling bad happens to us all, but we have to adjust our thinking and our actions so that we get closer to our desired goals.

What do you think?  Do you have a tip or two that may help others struggling with failures?  I would love to hear them — please share below.

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