“No one who has gotten second place at a Grand Slam is ever like, ‘Yeah, now I feel fine about it.’ Everyone wants the other trophy. But it inspires you to work harder and get yourself in that position again so that you can use what you’ve learned.”
– Madison Keys United States Tennis Player
The job you interviewed for was perfect. You were a finalist. The interview went very well, and you were confident the job was yours.
You were not selected.
Disappointed does not begin to describe what you are feeling. Rejection leading to dejection. Denial, anger, and envy are in the air. The decision is hard to accept, and unfortunately your interview feedback was minimal and vague. You feel defeated and undervalued.
Race car driver Dale Earnhardt once described second place as the “first place loser”. I respectfully disagree. Finishing as a runner up in a competitive job interview is not easy, yet it is full of valuable lessons.
Three valuable lessons from finishing second:
- Building Character – everyone is watching your reaction to difficult news and a graceful response builds your career capital.
- Career Aspirations Check – a wake-up call as your ambition may have exceeded your skill set.
- New Knowledge/Network – you learned a great deal about the role, department, and key leaders during the interview process.
These three lessons are important to rebounding with a positive mindset following rejection. Hold your head high, reflect on realistic career goals, and continue to expand your expertise and connections.
Beyond the lessons, an important step is to identify why you were not selected. Receiving the message “another candidate selected” is not feedback – it is an obvious, empty statement. In fact, if I received that message following an interview, I would seriously question whether that was the work environment I wanted to join.
Feedback requests often begin by acknowledging you were a very competitive candidate. Accept the praise that you interviewed well, and be resolute in getting specific, written feedback on your competitiveness. It is appropriate and worth the effort. Ask the following questions:
- Was it your knowledge and skills?
- Was it your fit with the team?
- Poor interviewing skills?
- Lack of experience?
The real question is “what are they not telling me?” Feedback can be difficult to deliver, and the facts can be diluted. To get to the source, ask a mentor in leadership who may be able to find out more background on why you were not selected.
As feedback is given to you, be open and receptive. Avoid the victim trap. I have had clients who blame the process and deflect personal accountability. They are convinced the other candidate was selected for other reasons (gender, ethnicity, age, etc.). As a candidate, you control one thing – yourself. Your focus should be why you were not selected – not why someone else was.
3 keys to effectively managing job rejection:
Close the Process
- Congratulate the selected candidate and work with support them in their new role.
- Thank the interviewers for the opportunity.
- What skills and experience did the selected candidate have?
- Where are my skills and experiences gaps?
- Sharpen your interview skills – we can all improve.
- Develop a new plan for your next opportunity and prepare for your next opportunity.
We all experience rejection. In our relationships, sports, careers, and all our roles in life. While the answers “I will marry you, you are hired, and you made the team” are the responses we seek, our true growth often comes through the answer no. Get yourself in position to win the next time. Your rejection can lead to a winning selection.
Leading Your Team
Great leaders understand empathy is an important quality to lead others. Here is a link to a quick quiz to assess your ability to demonstrate empathy. Empathy Quiz
Read to Lead
Leaders benefit from being active readers, long reads not just social media posts and news feeds. A deep read builds concentration, strengthens your intellectual capacity, and offers wisdom you can share. As you refresh or build your reading habit, diversify your experience – old, new, fiction, non-fiction, audio, hard cover, and e readers.
My February 2023 favorites:
Take Control by Gary Burnison
Gary Burnison is the CEO of Korn Ferry and a leading expert on leadership development. His book encourages readers to take control of their careers, offering many practical ideas to identify and find your calling. A great resource for individuals new in their career, as well as experienced professionals. Check out his weekly newsletter Gary Burnison Korn Ferry Newsletter and his website for leadership.
Rough Sleepers by Tracy Kidder
Tracy Kidder is an author who steps into worlds many of us do not understand. His book Mountains Beyond Mountains features Dr. Paul Farmer who has worked all over the word to help eradicate health issues. Kidder’s latest book digs deep into homelessness in the Boston area, providing faces and names to those on the fringe of society. As leaders, we need to be conscious of those beyond our immediate circle to truly understand the issues and our impact.