Failing Well: What To Do When You DON’T Get The Job

Failing Well: What To Do When You DON’T Get The Job

Failing Well: What To Do When You DON’T Get The Job
Psychotherapist and performer Bill Harrison’s column on life as an artist.

There’s plenty of advice out there on how to succeed at auditions, from Michael Shurtleff’s classic Audition to our own Jane Brody’s recently published Actor’s Business Plan and a thousand articles and blog posts in between. Dancers and musicians have their own sets of literature devoted to helping them secure jobs or advance their careers. (The best advice I ever received before an audition was “Don’t suck.” That was helpful.) So there’s no need to waste your precious time re-hashing audition suggestions. I want to talk about how to succeed at not getting cast.

You know the old adage: Auditioning is an actor’s vocation; working is your vacation. Depending on where you are in your career, there’s a good chance that you spend the majority of your professional time preparing for and going out on auditions. If you’re very good (and very lucky) you might get hired 50% of the time – if your agent only submits you for roles you are perfect for. Most of the time and for most actors, your batting average is going to be substantially lower.

Since you are going to ‘fail’ (i.e., not get booked) most of the time, it seems like it would be a good idea to know how to fail well. Let’s assume that you always arrive on time and are thoroughly prepared for every audition. You know how to manage any performance anxiety you may have and usually do excellent work in front of casting directors. And yet, most of the time, you’re still getting passed over for the roles you’re being seen for.

First, here are some of the better-known guidelines for surviving the audition process:

  1. Don’t take it personally. If you know you’ve done your best, the rest of it is completely out of your control. You might not be a good ‘fit’ for whatever reason. You might be too tall for the leading man, or you might remind the director of his least favorite uncle. Who knows? Most of the elements of the hiring process are unrelated to your talent and skills.
  1. Don’t generalize. Each audition is its own beast; you might not book ten jobs in a row but this is not an overall assessment of your abilities.
  1. Commit yourself completely to each audition – then forget about it as best you can. Next!
  1. If you didn’t do your best work on a particular audition, acknowledge your mistakes but don’t dwell on them. Remember to also notice the things you did well. Use each audition as a learning experience.

To these bits of wisdom I would add:

  1. If you’re disappointed about not booking a particular job, don’t push the feeling away. The only way through it (as with all emotions) is through it. Once you’re out of the theater or studio, allow yourself to feel whatever you feel: anger, sadness, fear, frustration. Let it out.
  1. The ability to bounce back from a perceived rejection is a skill that requires practice and time. The more you audition, the easier it will be to actively forget about each one and move forward.
  1. Make sure that your needs for affiliation, acceptance and connection are met outside of your professional life. If your sense of self-worth hangs in the balance every time you audition, you will not last too long in this business.
  1. Nurture your resilience. 

I would very much like to hear what kinds of techniques YOU use to ameliorate the potential negative aftereffects of not being hired for a job you auditioned for. Please use the comment section below.


Bill Harrison is a contributing writer for PerformInk who’s past INNER MISSION articles can be found by clicking here.

About author

Bill Harrison MA, LCPC

Bill Harrison is a psychotherapist whose primary interest is working with people in the performing arts. He is also an accomplished musician and an occasional actor. You can find him at