Careers and Employability Service

Maintaining your morale and coping with rejection


When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so
regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us

Alexander Graham Bell

Being unemployed for more than a couple of months may sap your morale: 
it's natural to lose your confidence and feel down.


  • Debts from student loans and lack of money
  • Living with parents again and consequent loss of freedom
  • Isolation from college friends
  • Lack of status. Stigma of unemployment: perceived as "lazy". Job or university provides much of your sense of identity and self respect.
  • Job hunting involves a lot of rejection and may sap the confidence of even the best qualified applicants.
  • Your time is no longer structured. Without work or study we may have a large amount of free time on our hands with freedom to do whatever we like but little money to do these things!We may not have aims for the day so the tendency to get up late in the morning and drift aimlessly through the day.
  • The three stages of unemployment are initial shock, then depression and finally adjustment.

What can you do?

Lack of money. Budget carefully: write down exactly what you are spending and cut out anything which appears wasteful. Try to get any job in the short term: even shelf filling in a supermarket is a start and will bring in some cash.

Living with parents again and consequent loss of freedom. A tough one this, but almost certainly an assertive approach is best. Getting angry will help neither party, but a sensible negotiation of your rights and responsibilities may help to make life easier.

Isolation from college friends. You need to develop a support network of positive individuals you can talk things over with. Voluntary work, part-time courses and spending time on your interests are all good ways of meeting new people (see below).

Lack of control

If you are unemployed for long, you lose the feeling of control of your life that a job and a regular income give you. Your days lack structure, you may feel helpless to change your circumstances and you lose that status that comes with having a job. People who lose their ability to control things are more likely to become unhappy and perhaps depressed. The strategies given below will help you to regain control over your life and help you to feel happier and more confident. For more about the importance of being in control (also called autonomy) see our page on Happiness at

Strategies to cope with unemployment


Lack of status. Your time is no longer structured:

    Develop an action plan for each day e.g.
    10 am. Go to library to use computers, research jobs, work on CV and application forms
    2 pm. Teach yourself how to use Excel
    7 pm. Voluntary work at local youth club
  • Job hunting is a full time pursuit! You should try to spend as much time on it as if you were actually working. See our page on action planning.
  • If after several months you are not getting anywhere, try to be more flexible about the job type or location, or look for "stepping stone" jobs that will get you part way towards your ultimate goal. For example, becoming a teaching assistant will help you greatly in getting onto a training course for teaching.
  • Set yourself goals that are stretching but not unattainable; challenging but realistic. Set big goals and break these down into smaller goals. Manage your time
  • Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get

    Throw yourself into some work you believe in with all your heart, live for it, die for it, and you will find happiness that you had thought could never be yours.

    If only the people who worry about their liabilities would think about the riches they do possess, they would stop worrying.

    Instead of worrying about what people say of you, why not spend time trying to accomplish something they will admire.

    Success is getting what you want. Happiness is wanting what you get.

    Dale Carnegie

    When one door of happiness closes another opens! don't look back keep pushing forward

    Helen Keller

  • Unemployment is an excellent time for developing new skills as you have lots of free time. For perhaps the first time in your life you are really free to follow what you want to do without your time being taken up with study or work. Make a list of all the things you would really like to do. What new skills could I develop? See our Skills Inventory and Personal Styles to boost your confidence in your abilities
  • Follow your enthusiasms:  TEFL, writing a book, amateur drama, fund raise for your favourite charity, learn a new skill: computing, singing. computing, ramblers, books, amateur drama, choir, bell ringing. Take up active hobbies.
  • Start a course. This might be an evening class at your local college in computing or business skills (which will also allow you to make new friends) or a free course on-line (type into Google free course in ..... to find these), or you could borrow a teach yourself book from your local library. is an excellent place to look for courses.
  • Voluntary work will help you develop friendships, make you feel good and add new skills to your CV. Helping others is a good way to help yourself. Research showed that volunteering for a good cause can increase our happiness as much as if we doubled our income. The more voluntary work volunteers did the happier they got and they were also less prone to depression and physically healthier. Retailers like applicants who have volunteered in charity shops. See our voluntary work page.
  • It's an excellent chance to re-evaluate what you really want out of life. You now have the time and space to think and plan for the future. read books you've always wanted to read, but not had the time to. Take long walks or cycle rides to explore the countryside and give yourself periods of quiet and space. Go camping.
  • If you are regularly rejected at the application stage, there are two mai n possibilities: either there were better candidates than you or your application is weak. See our example applications, to see how yours measures up, then get your application checked over by a careers adviser to see if there are areas where it could be improved. (Keep copies of all your applications.)

    No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No. YES!!! 

    Getting a job is a series of no's followed by a single yes: but you only need the one yes. To be successful you must learn how to cope with rejection and not to take it personally.

    ‘Make the most of any opportunity you get – don’t always hold out for ‘the best thing’ – sometimes the best thing is not what you expect.’ 
    Graduate Career Story from HECSU 

  • If you are rejected at interview, try ringing the employer while their memory is still fresh, to ask politely why you weren't offered the post. Within an hour of leaving any interview, note down all the questions you were asked, and particularly any where you feel you didn't give a good answer, so you can work out a better response if the question crops up in future. Prepare carefully for the interview, but once you've done this, take the attitude that if you can't get the job, by being yourself (albeit your best self) then the job may not be right for you. So try to relax and be yourself. Also, if you completely flunk one answer, it's OK - very few interviewees give good answers to every question. Also try our Practice Interviews 
    If you get asked about a particular skill you haven't got then answer positively along the lines "No, I don't know how to use a spreadsheet, but I'm a quick learner, and would really enjoy learning this, given a little training". These are what we call "No ..... But ...." responses.

    Dealing with failure.

    Research by Dr Joachim Stoeber and Dr Dirk Janssen from the University of Kent's School of Psychology found that positive reframing (i.e. trying to see things in a more positive light, looking for something good in what happened), acceptance and humour were the most effective coping strategies for people dealing with failure. All these had positive effects on satisfaction. 

    Try to find positive aspects when you fail and reframe these outcomes in a more positive way; e.g. by focusing on what you achieved, rather than on what hasn't been achieved. For example, if you get a rejection letter after interview, consider that at least you got an interview (no mean achievement in the present job market!), and write down all the questions you were asked and work out how you could answer them better next time.

    Dr Stoeber said ‘It’s no use ruminating about small failures and setbacks and drag yourself further down. Instead ... try to accept what happened, look for positive aspects and – if it is a small thing – have a laugh about it.

  • Research, research and do more research! You need to know as much as you can about the employer, job and job sector you are applying for. This detailed research into the role greatly impresses selectors and gives them confidence that you have real motivation and understanding of what you will be doing. Also in the course of your research you may uncover new employers to apply for and new routes to get into the job. See our commercial awareness page for more on this. 
  • Job hunting involves a lot of rejection. Try not to take this rejection personally. It isn't the end of the world, there will be other jobs you can apply for. Try instead to see it as an experience to be learned from.
  • Try creative jobhunting! A creative career search involves a creative, active approach to researching careers and making job applications. Rather than being passive (surfing the Web) and reactive (waiting for a vacancy to appear before making an application) you take the initiative in finding out what is involved in a career or about job opportunities using techniques such as information interviewing, networking and being extra creative. It sometimes can help you get round the barrier of poor academic qualifications, can be combined with traditional jobhunting techniques, and is a lot more fun. See our creative jobhunting page
  • There is almost no long term graduate unemployment. Many graduates, especially those from Humanities and non-vocational social sciences take a year or so to get into a "good" job, but almost all graduates eventually achieve this


One third of UK office staff have taken a nap at work due to lack of energy, according to a survey by Lucozade Revive. 22% have napped for between ten to 60 minutes with Wednesday the most common day to nod off. 10% had fallen asleep in a meeting room or office bathroom and 18% had fallen asleep at their desks. 91% of staff in accountancy and financial services said they have an afternoon nap. A separate study by Champneys found that more than half British people felt continuously tired.

John Rosekind of NASA found that a 26 minute nap during the day improved pilots performance by 34%, also one night’s loss of sleep in soldiers resulted in a 30% loss in cognitive skill.

When people are sleep deprived, their ability to utilise the food they consume falls by a third. A 30 year old allowed only 4 hours sleep per night for 6 days exhibits the body chemistry of a 60 year old.

Professor Derk-Jan Dijk says we need to look at sleep in the same way as exercise. "We should look at sleep as an active process. Getting enough sleep is a positive thing which will help you perform in all aspects of life." Sleep loss diminishes attention, executive function, memory, mathematical ability, mood, logical reasoning and manual dexterity. Sleep allows us to consolidate the previous day's learning: lack of sleep disrupts our ability to learn. See Brain Rules by John Medina.

  • Exercise releases endorphins and serotonin which make you feel happier. People who are more active show lower levels of anxiety, depression and stress. Exercise also improves learning, concentration, abstract reasoning, memory, organisation, planning, and ability to juggle different tasks. It even stimulates brain cell regeneration! If you don't like to do formal exercise, sport, music and dancing will have similar benefits. Walking in a group (e.g. Ramblers Association) will help you to make new friends, and walking alone gives you a chance to think things over and come up with solutions. Exercise doesn't have to be frenetic! Walking and gardening confer much the same benefits as strenuous exercise. Research suggests that contact with nature improves your health and well being and helps to prevent illness and stress. For environmental volunteering opportunities see the Employers and Links tab at
  • Get plenty of sleep. When we dream our brain processes memories, consolidates new skills and solves problems and lack of sleep is a well known contributory factor in feeling down.
  • Eat healthily88% of people tested found a significant improvement in their mental health after improving their diet. When your blood sugar is too low, you feel tired and irritable. Don't skip breakfast as doing this affects your memory and attention. See "Eating bad food leads to depression"


Coping with change

When we are faced with a major change in our life which is outside our control (such as unemployment or under-employment after university), most people starting with negative feelings and then go through a number of stages:

  1. Anger. When change happens that we can't control we are often initially angry and feel a sense of injustice.
  2. Denial. Next we may enter a stage of denial. We stick our heads in the sand and ignore the problem, hoping it will go away.
  3. Reluctant experimentation. When we finally accept that the situation is here to stay, we explore new approaches, try to do things differently, find better ways of dong things.
  4. Acceptance. Finally we feel more in control and ready to embrace the change
We maintain the same levels of happiness thoughout our life. A traumatic experience willl depress our levels for a short period and then they will bounce back to their long-term set point.

Professor Mansel Aylward


When things are certain and predictable life tends to be easy. But the world we live in isn't static. We're constantly challenged by uncertainty and the new. You need to be specific, to pinpoint the aspects of the change that is causing negative feelings. Allowing anger or depression to dominate can make you incapable of action, so don't lose sense of perspective

Developing a plan of action will help you to feel back in control. Try to map out several paths to your goal, then if one becomes blocked another is available: build flexibility into your planning.

What we think we become

Your mind is a garden.
Your thoughts are seeds
You can grow flowers
Or you can grow weeds!

Watch your thoughts; they become words. 
Watch your words; they become actions. 
Watch your actions; they become habits. 
Watch your habits; they become character. 
Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.

Lao Tse

Cognitive Therapy

  • In a study of depressed patients Professor Martin Seligman found that cognitive therapy, a technique that is about learning how our thoughts create our moods, changed the style of the patients from pessimistic to optimistic, and that the change persisted one year after therapy ended. 
  • The process is simple, but it takes time and practice: you are creating a new habit, after all. It needs practice every day, like exercise. Each day, regularly stop and evaluate what you're thinking. If you find that your thoughts are mainly negative, try to find a way to put a positive spin on them.

    Examples of typical negative self-talk and how you might apply a positive spin include:

    Negative self-talk Positive spin

    I've not done this before.

    I can learn something new.

    It's too hard. I'll try a different way or break it down into smaller steps
    There's not enough time. See our time management page

If any of the following habits seem to apply to you then try to stop them.

  • Filtering: you magnify the negative aspects of a situation and filter out the positive ones.
  • Personalizing: when something bad happens, you automatically blame yourself.
  • Catastrophizing: you automatically anticipate the worst.
  • Polarizing: you see things only as either all good or all bad.


BBC article on the benefits of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

University of Kent Counselling “self-help” pages

Research at the University of California and Duke University found that practicing positive activities lasting improvements in mood and well-being, were found for six months. A review of brain imaging studies suggested that practising positive activities may boost dampened reward/pleasure circuit mechanisms and reverse apathy.

Effective positive activities included
  • writing letters of gratitude and thank you notes,
  • counting your blessings,
  • practicing being optimistic
  • performing acts of kindness
  • meditating on positive feelings toward others
  • using your signature strengths


Most libraries will have books on cognitive therapy if you wish to find out more.

  • The only place where success comes before work is in the dictionary. Vidal Sassoon
  • The elevator to success is out of order. You’ll have to use the stairs … one step at a time. Joe Girard
  • Whenever I find the key to success, someone changes the lock.
  • You can’t change the past, but you can ruin the present by worrying too much about the future.
  • If you fill your mind with the regrets of yesterday and the worries of tomorrow, you will have no today to be thankful for.
  • If your happiness mainly depends on the actions of others you may have little control over your life.
  • The wind does not blow to make trees dance, but to test their roots
  • The best way to cheer yourself is to cheer somebody else up. Mark Twain
  • Adversity never breaks a good man, it fines him down like gold so he rises up a better man. You should never be afraid of adversity, it's what you do about it that counts. I've had my share. I've had to climb the mountain again. Geoff Boycott
  • If you think you are too small to be effective, you have never been in the dark with a mosquito.
  • Others will appraise you at the level of your own self image: they will tend to agree with you about yourself.
  • If at first you don’t succeed, then skydiving definitely isn’t for you.

Zig Ziglar quotes

  • The real test in golf and in life is not in keeping out of the rough, but in getting out after you are in!
  • Failure is a detour, not a dead-end street.
  • Remember that failure is an event, not a person.
  • If you learn from defeat, you haven't really lost.
  • Sometimes adversity is what you need to face in order to become successful.
  • See our Determination page for more about this



Careers and Employability Service - © University of Kent

The University of Kent, Canterbury, Kent, CT2 7ND, T: +44 (0)1227 764000 ext. 3299

Last Updated: 08/09/2017