When You Don’t Get the Job

Job Most of us realize that we won’t always get selected for every position that we apply for.  But what if you have been coached and mentored to move into a role, and then another candidate is selected.  This happened recently to a colleague.  Her executive nurse leader was a strong believer in succession planning.  She had often told her what a great candidate she would be for the role.  She was strongly encouraged to apply when it became available.  Then quite unexpectedly, a highly experienced candidate applied for the position and was selected.  Should I stay or should I go……what should I do next?, she asked me.

It is very disappointing not to get selected for a position.  This is especially true when you are an internal candidate who is being groomed for leadership advancement, as in the case of my colleague.  What you do next after this happens is extremely important and will shape how others view you in the organization.  The following are a few tips that can help:

1.  Be gracious and don’t over-react

It is important not to act impusively or say anything inappropriate when you are not selected.  Take the time to calm down before you respond.  Offer congratulations to the candidate who was selected and let everyone know that you plan to continue to be a team player.  Send a gracious email to those who interviewed you such as:

I would be dishonest if I said that I was not very disappointed that I was not your final choice for this position.  But I know how professionally these interviews were handled, and I am grateful to have been on your short list of the best candidates. I appreciate that your job of selection was very, very difficult.  I hope you will keep me in mind for future leadership openings.

2.  Reflect on the interview experience

Candidates who are interviewing in their own organizations sometimes make the mistake of not preparing enough for the interview. You need to carefully consider how you prepared.  Did you take the time to learn as much as you could about the deparment and the role?  You should approach every interview in the same way whether you are an inside or outside candidate. Internal candidates sometimes approach the interview process in a very casual manner and don’t take the time to dress for success. Don’t schedule an interview to follow a 12 hour night tour and don’t wear scrubs to a leadership interview.

3.  Seek feedback

If you have the opportunity, ask for feedback and information about what you could do differently to be more successful in future interviews.  Some good questions include:

  • What were the deciding factors in the selection process?
  • Would could I do differently in a future interview that might make me more successful?
  • Were there skills that were considered that I did not have and should develop?

4.  Reframe the experience

Amy Gallo offers some great advice about reframing the experience in her Harvard Business Review Blog.  She suggests that people often look back on setbacks in their careers and see them as great moments. Keep it in perspective and try to see it from a different angle. Perhaps there were good reasons you didn’t get the job and you now have the impetus to work on improving your skills and gathering new experiences. Maybe you were complacent and this is an incentive to start focusing more.  Ask yourself what you really wanted from the job. Some people get overly fixated on advancing because they want to prove themselves. If you get passed over, ask yourself whether you really wanted it. Or, were you spared something? Would the job have required more hours or entailed more stress? If you conclude that you indeed did want it, ask yourself what about the promotion you most coveted: the respect, the title, the money. There may be other ways to get those things without the promotion.

After a disappointing setback, it is a good time to consider all your career options and build a professional network.  It is also important to realize that the interview itself was good practice.  Interviews get easier the more you do them. You’ll get more confident with each one. This was just another opportunity to practice your skills—and practice makes perfect.  Often, you will find that in hindsight you are glad you did not get selected for a position because an even better opportunity came along for you.


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