What To Do If You Don't Get the Job

OK, you’re bummed. Finding a job is hard enough, but sometimes, you may not even hear back from the employer at all, despite follow-ups. What went wrong? 

Let’s assume you were honestly qualified for the job. And you did all the right things: created a strategically written resume highlighting your strengths and accomplishments; integrated keywords throughout, to get through the company’s applicant tracking system (ATS); established an online LinkedIn presence that aligns with your resume; and networked your way in.

You really wanted this job. You’re wondering what we can possibly say here, right?

Maybe all you can think are thoughts like these:  

a)     It’s over, they made their decision.

b)    I thought the interview went so well!

c)     I didn’t even get an interview.

d)    I wasn’t good enough.

e)    It’s too late.

We’re going to invite you to think differently. Let’s look at some basic truths about the world of work and job hunting.

What Hiring Managers Look For

It’s not a deep, dark mystery. There are three basic things all Hiring Managers, Recruiters, and HR professionals look for in a candidate, regardless of industry or level of experience. 

1)    “Can you do the job?” This is about qualifications: ability and capability. Do you have the knowledge, skills, experience, creativity, strategic thinking, and industry familiarity to do the job you’re expected to do, and do it well? (Note: there’s a fine line between realistically assessing your qualifications and disqualifying yourself prematurely due to deep perfectionist standards.)

2)    “Will you do the job?” This one assesses your commitment, passion, follow-through, dependability, resources, and professionalism. Can we clearly get a taste of your energy and commitment at a glance from your resume and/or LinkedIn page? Do your examples back it up? 

3)    “Can I stand being around you 8-10 hours a day?” This is about fit, whether they like you, and whether they can imagine you easily integrating with the existing team, management, clients, and/or vendors. Don’t underestimate this one.

These are the questions lurking in the minds of company decision-makers, though not necessarily in this order. How you think about not getting the job, and how you respond to that, is entirely up to you. This can be a great opportunity to reflect, learn, and improve your job-seeking and relationship-building skills, both for future interviews, professional networking opportunities, and career management in general.

Key takeaway: You always want to make yourself memorable, in the most positive of ways.

There could be many reasons you didn’t get the job. Some may have nothing to do with you. Maybe the position was already promised to an internal candidate, or a colleague’s brother.

Maybe whoever was hired will be gone in a few months; that happens sometimes, too. Maybe a better position for you within the company hasn’t opened up yet. Don’t you want them to think of you when it does?

It’s true that you only get one chance to make a strong first impression. But it’s just as important to make a strong lasting impression. If it’s your dream job, the one you really wanted and were qualified for, with the company/organization you’d be proud to be part of, shouldn’t they remember you for the future? How can you influence that? 

Instead of “No,” Think “No for Now”

What if you considered not getting this job as a temporary thing?

What if instead of thinking of it as a permanent no, you thought of it as a “no for now”? In that case, what might you do differently? 

Instead of just disappearing as so many job seekers do, you might want to try this:

1)    Follow up with a thank you note, either handwritten, by email, or both. Thank them for the opportunity to be considered; let them know you wish them well with their new hire. Then graciously remind them how much you still want to be part of their team, and how you remain confident that you could add great value to the company/organization, and you’d like to stay in touch. Wrap it up by saying something like, “When the next hiring opportunity arises, I certainly hope I will be among the first people you think to call.”  

2)    Do your part to stay in touch. Periodically share an article that is relevant to the business or company, with a brief note saying you found it interesting and thought it might interest them, too. It shows you are thinking about them and their business, and you want to share something relevant and newsworthy with your team, as if you already work there. The other good thing about this is that you’re not asking for anything; you want to share or give. If the article you send is well-chosen, this counts for a lot!

3)    Continue networking in an effort to connect and learn more about the company from the people who work there, and from those who used to work there…these are often the best people to ask about company culture, what they liked and didn’t like about working there, etc. because they are likely to speak more candidly with you. Meet some of them for coffee. They can provide useful information to help you present yourself for the next opportunity that arises more strategically as a solution to the company’s specific needs. Knowledge really is power and getting it from insiders can be very helpful. In the spirit of reciprocity, remember to ask how you can help them, too.

4)    After you’ve established more relationships at the company, you will hopefully have a bigger “fan base” to verify the value you can add --- and what a good fit you might be.

5)    At some point, reach out to the Hiring Manager again to ask about opportunities and remind them of your continued interest in joining the team. If you haven’t met in person before, consider offering to come in and do so, so you can talk about their needs and provide a sense of how you might be uniquely able to help.

It’s All About Building Relationships

Don’t be a mystery candidate that disappears. Some HR folks and Hiring Managers like to keep a file of strong backup candidates in case the person they hired doesn’t work out. Or when a new opportunity arises, instead of starting over at zero, they can start with the people they already know something about and liked. Wouldn’t you like to be in that group?

If it’s the job or the company of your dreams, do what you can to make it so.