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What to Say When You Don't Get the Job




Paul Freiberger

Paul FreibergerIf you’ve applied for a job and haven’t made the cut, you’re in exceptional company. So don’t let a job rejection stop you in your tracks. Let’s identify some lessons from and responses to career setbacks that make sense when you consider:
  • Madonna’s first effort was declined by a major producer who should have known better.
  • Andy Warhol’s “Shoe,” a drawing of – of all things – a shoe, was rejected by New York’s Museum of Modern Art even though he was offering it as a gift.
  • RSO Records rejected U2 as “not suitable” in a single paragraph, though they did wish the band luck.
  • The Atlantic Monthly had no interest in Kurt Vonnegut, whose manuscripts were returned as part of “the usual summer house-cleaning.”
  • Rand McNally declined the first “Tarzan” book, only to watch Edgar Rice Burroughs squeeze 25 sequels out of the ape man’s jungle exploits.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Almost all of us have been relegated to the also-rans at one time or another, and almost all of us have wondered how and why it happened.
Employers don’t like to give reasons for their decisions, and that’s nothing new. Even the earliest rejection letters kept it awfully vague. Your efforts don’t fit with our plans. You’re not ready yet. Your work is not quite compelling enough.
And always, we wish you the best and thank you for your interest.
Surely, that closing must have greatly softened the blow.
In reality, of course, this is all enormously frustrating for those applicants. You’ve put yourself out there. You’ve sweated over this application and given it your all. You deserve some feedback, but you get none, not even the courtesy of a personal explanation, just “NO.”
It’s maddening.
You’re absolutely right. You DO deserve feedback. U.S. New & World Report, which publishes reams of career advice, agrees and thinks you should ask for it.
It’s your turn to say “No,” as this is just plain wrong, and it’s wrong in the worst possible way. A demand for feedback can actually do more harm than good.
Here’s how that happens, and, because your real goal is to keep doors open, how to manage the situation properly:
  • Keep negative emotions in check. A rejection may leave you feeling bitter, angry, defeated or even vindictive, but this is not the time to give those negative emotions, legitimate though they may be, on public display.
  • Do get back in touch. Send a simple note of thanks, expressing your gratitude for being considered and your understanding of how difficult it is to hire the right person. Not every candidate will do this, but it’s the mark of a of a grown-up, someone to keep in mind for future reference.
  • Don’t put them on the spot. A note that asks for an explanation of the decision is going to feel like a demand for answers, and that won’t endear you to a hiring manager.
  • They won’t tell you anyway. Even if the recipient responds, you’ll never know if you’re hearing the truth – if they know the truth to begin with. You can’t rely on this information, and you certainly can’t put it to use.
  • They can’t tell you anyway. In part, employers are tight-lipped because explanations can cause problems, up to and including litigation. In an unsurprising excess of caution, companies withhold even the most innocuous replies.
  • Don’t bombard them. Your note of thanks doesn’t need to go to everyone involved. Write to the person who seemed most involved in the process or, failing that, to the hiring manager.
  • Keep it simple. Two short paragraphs should be enough: the first to express your thanks for the opportunity and an acknowledgement of the difficult job they had to do; the second to indicate your willingness to discuss opportunities in the future should your willingness be genuine.
  • Be specific. While keeping it simple, mention of something company-specific. Don’t give the impression that you’re sending so many of these notes that you qualify for bulk mail rates.
Consider one exception. If an interview included discussion of a knotty problem facing the company or industry, and the interviewer showed great interest in the issue, you can follow up on that subject if you come across something on point. Be sure, though, that the interest was genuine and that what you’ve found is not just relevant but compelling.
  • Above all, burn no bridges. You never know what will happen. Perhaps the person hired doesn’t work out, and you get a second chance. Perhaps there’s another opening for which you’d be considered if you left a great impression. Perhaps another company is looking for someone just like you, and your name might be passed along for that position. Neither venting nor demanding an explanation will help.
Rejection can be hardest to take when you get to the very end without getting the job. Your resume passed muster. You thought your interview was great. When you’re rejected in the early rounds, you can blame the decision on flawed automation or the incompetence of a novice screener. The sting is less personal.
As difficult as it is, there’s a benefit to getting as far as you did. You now know that small changes can make a very big difference, and you don’t have to start from scratch. You didn’t accomplish your goal, but you know what needs work.
Seen in that light, there’s reason to send them your thanks – even if “grateful” is last on the list of what you’re feeling when you get the news.
Paul Freiberger is co-author with Michael Swaine of Fire in the Valley: the Birth and Death of the Personal Computer (Pragmatic Bookshelf, 2014). For career help (including resumes and job interview prep), contact him at Paul@ShimmeringResumes.com.



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