Saturday, October 15, 2011

When You Don't Get the Job...

Although I fully intended (and do intend) to update this blog on a regular basis, I was out of the country for a while recently for a vacation and decided to turn the laptop on as few times as possible! That said, I'm back in action and hope this next article provides some helpful info on how to accept rejection with grace.

You read an ad that not only sounds like your dream job, but one that matches your credentials to a T. You spruce up your resume and send it in, confident that you'll hear from your soon-to-be-future-employer in a short while. Maybe they do call you. Perhaps you go in for an interview and come out feeling sure that you nailed it. But at the end of it all, you don't wind up with a job offer. Which really, really sucks. Perhaps this happens to you once, or many times over. What is the reason? Why were you passed up, and why didn't they see just how perfect you were for the job? How to you proceed from here? The answer may be simple or convoluted, but I'll give you a recruiter's perspective here.

Potential Reasons

We've all read about application blunders... the candidate who shows up totally drunk or accepts cell phone calls during an interview, the guy who sends his resume from an email address that reads something like, etc. I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you are none of these people. Here are some more likely reasons that you were turned down at some point along the way, and why there is nothing wrong with being turned down for any of these reasons.

- You were over or under qualified. This goes without much explanation. Your resume didn't match the level the employer is looking for, or it did but once they interviewed you they realized your experience wasn't at the right place. Trust me when I say that you don't want a job that you're going to fail at due to lack of knowledge/experience. Nor do you want to be bored to tears or underpaid because you're way overqualified. Although sometimes it's worth taking a step backwards in favor of better environment or future opportunities, the employer may not have thought the job would be an improvement for you.

-They were looking for something specific in your resume or interview. If that's the case, you say, why didn't they tell me what they were looking for specifically? Sometimes employers don't want to state outright what they are looking for. They may just want candidates to be honest and don't want to risk leading them towards certain answers (which can often be extremely easy to do during interviews). Imagine you're on a first date with someone you don't know much about. You wouldn't want them to say that they liked all the same things you like just for the sake of feeding you positive answers. You want to know who that person really is! Same goes for job interviews. It's also possible that they don't want to discuss the role in too much detail because doing so might risk giving away something confidential about their game. Regardless of the reason, there's not much that you can do in this case. You should always be honest in your interviews, your resume and application materials, and just accept the fact that you may actually not be a fit for a particular job, perhaps even one that you feel sounds like a perfect match on the outside.

- The competition edged you out. This can and does happen to anyone and everyone, even people who are at the top of their field. The employer just felt someone else was a better match for the job. The potential reasons are endless. Accept that the employer had reasons that they they felt were valid. Those reasons may not even have anything to do with you personally or your skill set. Move on. If you assume your skills could use some improvement, work on them.

- They had a feeling you wouldn't like the job. This happens more than you think. Understand that the employer knows more about the job they are trying to fill than you do! They may think you are brilliant and wonderful and talented, and that, based on your background or interview or whatever, you would absolutely hate this job. Or maybe the job you are interviewing for isn't actually as great as the job you have now. As employers, they have probably had some experience with hiring the wrong person for the wrong job and have learned from those mistakes. So do realize that employers are not necessarily just looking out for themselves. The good ones genuinely want their employees to be happy and don't want anyone to regret coming on board.

When I receive a rejection, how should I respond?

Be courteous and, if you've had previous communication, thank them for considering you. It doesn't feel great to be rejected, but it's not easy to turn people down either. I have to do it all the time and it stinks. But for you, it's an opportunity to take the high road and, not only save everyone involved from feeling terribly awkward, but to leave a great impression by being cool about it. It's possible that you will have a future opportunity with the same people, either at this company or different one, so it's wise to close on a high note.

Why didn't the employer get back to me?

Although I try to get back to all candidates, especially the ones I have spoken to, I have to admit I have been guilty of this one. But unless you were an absolute jerk to the employer in some obvious way (ie; you sent them hate mail along with your resume), the reason most likely wasn't personal. Here are some potential reasons you haven't heard back.

- The employer cannot respond to every application. There are times when I've received more than 100 applications per day for weeks at a time. Sometimes there honestly just aren't enough hours in a day to respond personally to everyone. And if time machines existed, they would surely be put to use in more productive ways.

- The employer doesn't want to open the door for arguments. This really has to do more with not hearing the specific reasons you were turned down for a job, as opposed to just not hearing back at all. If an employer tells a candidate the specific reasons why they were rejected for a job, it's possible that the candidate will openly disagree with those reasons, or try to argue their way back into a favorable position. These efforts are generally futile and just leave everyone feeling uncomfortable. Sometimes the reasons are awkward to state, especially if it's something like a potential personality clash. It's possible that the employer just wants to avoid hurting anyone's feelings. It's totally appropriate to ask the employer for feedback, but try not to be too upset if you don't get very clear answers back. Just move on and keep looking for the right job.

- The employer got busy. Yeah, it sounds like a terrible cop out, I know. But it happens. Sometimes hiring even gets put on the back burner due to other needs. If you haven't heard back in a while, it's fine to politely check in. If you continue to hear nothing but crickets over time, it may be best to just back off and let it go. The employer will contact you again if they are interested.

- They don't want to make a decision about you just yet. Sometimes employers don't get back to candidates because the job needs keep changing. You might look like a decent candidate if it the job needs turn out to be this or that. Or you might look like a good fit for a job that's coming down the pipe. There could be plenty of other reasons why an employer wants to wait and see. It can be common for a candidate to hear back from a company weeks or even months later. If you need to make decisions on other job offers, it is totally appropriate to let the employer know about your situation. Hopefully that will get them to make a decision right away.

Is it appropriate to apply in the future after being turned down?

Yes, and keeping in touch can be a great way to stay on their radar. But you might consider waiting a while after being turned down. Some good reasons to apply again in the short term would be if you see a new job posted that might be a better fit for you, if you've gained some really significant experience, if you've shipped a game and can finally show new stuff, etc. But otherwise, it can't hurt to just let the dust settle. It CAN hurt to keep applying to the point where the recruiter feels somewhat harassed, or where they just skip reviewing your application because they've seen it so many times (and thereby may miss something new and relevant you've added). But if you do apply again in the short term, explain the reasons why you were compelled to apply again so soon (ie: "I may be a better fit for this new job you posted than the one I applied for," "I shipped a game and can show you new stuff that was under NDA when I applied," etc). All in all, remember to use common courtesy as well as common sense.

What should I do if I run into the recruiter/manager that I interviewed with?

Be friendly and polite, of course! Chances are if you feel awkward, they do too. Here's your chance to break the ice and to let them know there are no hard feelings. As I said earlier, it's possible that you will have a future opportunity with the same people, either at this company or different one, so it's wise to try to leave a good impression (genuinely so, of course!).

Buck up, champ!

It's not fun to feel like you've missed an opportunity, but chances are the job wasn't really right for you anyways. Taking a job that is wrong for you may mean that you miss out on one that is right! At the end of the day, it's better to not get a job than to take on (or get fired from) one that wasn't a good fit for you in the first place. Keep looking and you will find something that works for you. When it doesn't work out, accept with grace and recognize that this happens to EVERYONE, even the best of the best. And never give up! There is always room for great people with skills in the industry.


  1. This is great advice, Kristin. It sucks to get rejected (or to never get a call-back) but there are lots of jobs out there. Sometimes it just takes a few interviews before you find the right fit.

    Here are some related articles that will also be helpful on this subject:

    Rejected… Again? How To Cope With Job-Search “Thanks But No Thanks”

    Why the Recruiter Didn’t Call You Back (And the Hidden Silver Lining)

  2. Tks very much for your post.

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  3. I was looking for something like this…I found it quiet interesting, hopefully you will keep posting such blogs….

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