I Survived Rejection after an Internal Interview, and So Can You!

I Survived Rejection after an Internal Interview, and So Can You!

by Laura Birkenhauer

Laura BirkenhaunerIt’s a worst case scenario for most, combining some of our greatest fears: fear of rejection, fear of failure, fear of being inadequate.

Imagine: Your dream job opens up at the library where you already work. You interview for the position with a panel of coworkers who work closely with you every day. You prepared and practiced for weeks… and they reject you.

How will you ever face them again? Right now, you’re an awkward combination of frustrated and mortified and, as much as you might like to, these aren’t strangers you can strategically avoid seeing for the rest of your life!

It may feel like the end of the world, but I promise you will survive. From dealing with all the feels to the question of “Now What?”, I have some tips for getting back on your feet after an internal rejection.


Stay positive

Your eyes scan the rejection email: “Unfortunately, you have not been selected to advance…” Your stomach flips and you suppress the urge to call off sick for the rest of the day. Or the rest of the week. And, why shouldn’t you?

Why? Because it is so crucial to manage your reputation during this time, in these hours, days and weeks after rejection. All eyes are on you, waiting to see how you will react.

It’s easy to become negative, bitter or embarrassed, but resist these feelings. Instead, show off your resilience! Whether you blew the interview or you were simply passed over for a more qualified candidate, demonstrate that you can rise above rejection. If you bombed, own up to your mistakes, don’t place blame and avoid excuses. If you were passed over, show that you are not naive to the realities of today’s job search: too many candidates, all with stellar credentials and not enough open positions. As much as you’d like it to be the case, there are no “gimmie” jobs in the library and information science field. No, not even if you’re an internal candidate. Leave the attitude of entitlement behind. It’s not “your job” just because you already work there.

The show must go on

If, like me, you were rejected after a phone interview, there are still a number of steps in the process before a candidate is actually chosen and hired. In academic libraries, one of these steps is an all day, on-campus interview with each candidate. You may feel that after rejection you should step aside and bow out of this process, but I encourage you to get involved and pitch in. One of these librarians will be your new coworker, after all, so you deserve to have a say in who it might be! Attend candidate presentations. Offer to lead the library tour. Host a break or lunch with the candidate. And, when it’s all said and done, offer feedback about each candidate to the search committee.

I just want to warn you: It’ll be about this time that you realize your coworkers did a great job and picked some pretty awesome candidates for this position. They maybe even more awesome then you (gasp!). These interviewees are talented, charismatic and experienced. They manage million dollar budgets and have been in the field for years. Your library is about to hire someone fantastic and, hey, they can probably even teach you a thing or two, about instruction and…

“Yeah, yeah,” you interrupt, still fresh from the sting of rejection, “they’re great and all, but what about me? What’s next for me?”

Seek a “promotion in place”

Sure, you didn’t get the official promotion that you were hoping for, but there are often other options. Can you let your supervisor know that you’d like more or different responsibilities? What new activities and events can you get involved in? Is cross training a possibility? Can you instruct? Supervise? These things don’t come with a new office, fancy title or a salary bump, but will likely bring you a far greater sense of job satisfaction.

Reignite your passion

If taking on new responsibilities is not an option, explore attending in-person or virtual job enrichment activities that will reignite your passion for your current position. You may not have the perfect job, but chances are there was something about it that appealed to you when you applied and accepted it. Attending conferences or participating in workshops and webinars where you can network, build your skills and get inspired often translates into a newfound excitement for and energy in your day to day job.

Prepare for next time

If you are determined to stay and advance within your current organization, or are geographically restricted in your job search for any reason, keep in mind that there will always be a next time. This will not be the last job opening at your organization. People retire and people quit. Your coworkers want to advance in their own careers and may leave your institution to do so. New positions are created.

Knowing this, prepare for the future by asking for feedback on your interview performance. It may be cringeworthy to think about, especially if you feel that you performed poorly, but ask those coworkers who interviewed you for constructive criticism and advice! Chances are, they already know you and your strengths and weaknesses well, and want to help you succeed.

As you’re seeking external feedback, it’s also crucial to self-assess. Write down all of the interview questions, especially those you struggled with, and honestly pinpoint any knowledge gaps. Brush up in these areas by reading or attending job enrichment activities. Or, if you felt you had the knowledge and experience but your delivery was lacking, determine why and what you can do about it. Were you nervous? Look into meditation, breathing exercises or other forms of stress relief. Not a natural monologuer? Take a public speaking or improv class, or practice with a trusted coworker or friend. Get comfortable with your credentials and talking about yourself!

Laura Birkenhauer graduated from Miami University (Love and Honor!) with a BA in English-Creative Writing and from Kent State University with a MLIS. She returned to work for her undergraduate alma mater in 2011, shortly before finishing her MLIS, and has been working there ever since. She is employed by the Miami University Libraries as a Senior Library Technician, i.e. the only paraprofessional staff member of the Reference and Collection Services department. This means most of her time (35 hours/week) is spent working at the Information Desk, which she loves! She gets to interact with students and assist them with everything from finding a book to developing a research paper. Learn more about Laura’s education and experience in her Linkedin profile.

In her spare time, Laura enjoys reading, hiking and catching up on her latest TV obsessions. She resides in small town Oxford, Ohio, with her husband, Josh.

  5 comments for “I Survived Rejection after an Internal Interview, and So Can You!

  1. Lydia
    May 15, 2015 at 9:07 am


    That’s amazing that your institution offers “promotion in place” as a pay increase, and that you were able to negotiate that raise. Good for them, and better for you. Too often, that’s not the case.

  2. Lydia Willoughby
    May 6, 2015 at 11:20 am

    As a librarian in contingent faculty position, I was really glad to see Laura Birkenhauer address the mixed feelings and confusing professional status that can occur when you decide to apply to an internal position. Whether the internal position is open due to a retirement, restructuring, or simply someone else moving on, when a position opens up within your organization, the decision to apply is one that internal candidates have the privilege (and unique deliberation!) of intense evaluation prior to any application process. This is part of what can make it challenging during the interview process, especially if you don’t get a pass on to the next level. However, I give pause in consideration of one’s personal career and for the workloads of your colleagues at your current institution to react to rejection from an internal interview by offering to take on more work for no more pay; that’s neoliberalism in higher education at its insidious, exploitative slipperiest slopiest. (see: http://libraryjuicepress.com/ILSJ-front.pdf)

    The viewpoint of “promotion in place,” does everything to benefit the institution as a function of capitalism, but nothing to honor your own human capital–as a capable, dedicated and innovative library or information professional. It’s not a “promotion in place,” it’s “voluntary exploitation;” quite simply, you’re not getting promoted, so your colleagues won’t really see it as a promotion. It’s almost like saying, “I didn’t get the job? No worries! I will volunteer for more responsibilities instead, for the sheer experience! Gain “skills” while doing more work for absolutely no pay increase!” This attitude creates generational conflict, needlessly pitting assumed-expertise-through-experience Baby Boomers against the marginalized-for-their-perceived-lack-of-expertise/experience Millenials in the work place. It creates generational strife because by agreeing to take on more for no pay, you raise the bar for what the minimum expectations are for the labor of your peers, with none of the workplace benefits of pay or authority.

    Rather than take on more work for no more pay, it can also be useful to speak with colleagues about how you might improve for future positions, and whether you can pick up some of those skills in the meantime is something to consider, especially if you can be relieved of other duties in the meantime. I guess my whole point is: don’t take on more, take on what will be best for you to get you where you want to be. And leave the rest behind.

    • Laura Birkenhauer
      May 14, 2015 at 3:56 pm

      Hi Lydia,

      Thank you for your response; you give great advice. Take on what’s right for YOU. I perhaps should have chosen different wording. “Promotion in place” is actually a term that is used at my institution, and – while it may not indicate a shift in status – it does mean an increase in pay. This isn’t an option everywhere, of course.

  3. Sara
    May 6, 2015 at 10:44 am

    great article…recently didn’t go for an internal job – one I feel I was qualified for but knew I was not the “kind” of librarian they wanted. It was a hard choice but a good one. I don’t think I could have been as gracious as you were…I will definitely take the advice to heart though. Thank you!

    • Laura Birkenhauer
      May 14, 2015 at 4:00 pm

      I’ve passed on applying for internal jobs for the same reason, Sara, when it’s simply not the right fit. And it’s hard to sit back and not apply, but if you were hired no one would end up happy in that scenario… not the institution, not you!

      Best of luck to you!

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