Don’t Reject Yourself in a Job Search

dont-reject-yourself-canstockphoto19270108If you want to speed up your job search, adopt the mindset of a successful salesperson. Sales professionals know a few things about rejection that can help jobseekers. They know you shouldn’t assume rejection if you haven’t heard back from a prospect. They know that it’s often possible to overcome an apparent rejection or hesitations about the services you are offering. And they know how to skillfully keep in touch when there’s no interest now.

Many of my new job search clients, however, are too quick to see rejection and give up. They explain away their long searches by saying things like “they never got back to me,” or “they turned me down so that’s that” or “we lost touch.” When I hear these explanations, I think about missed opportunities.

If you can adopt the mindset of a sales professional, you’ll shorten your search through seeing and creating new opportunity in the face of rejection. Once you’ve created your powerful resume and LinkedIn profile, use these examples as a guide to adopting the sales mindset that will help you land and ace interviews.

They Turn You Down After An Interview

When someone you’ve interviewed with tells you “we’ve decided to move forward with someone else,” you may feel like you’ve just wasted a lot of time trying to land this offer. It’s only game-over, however, for this one role. Try to turn their rejection into a networking opportunity that can land you an interview somewhere else. Ask “well now that you know what I can do, is there anyone else at your organization, or elsewhere, who you can suggest I speak with?”

One of my clients did just that. She had several interviews for an SVP role at a Fortune 500 firm, yet they ultimately decided to go with someone else. Adopting the “sales professional” mindset, she called the hiring manager at around 8:15am, before the day’s meetings started, to improve her odds that he, and not the administrative assistant, would pick up the phone. And it worked. Once on the phone with him, my client turned this rejection into an offer in another part of the company by using the following approach:

  • She was gracious. She wished the hiring manager success with the new hire.
  • She asked and received feedback about the interview. It turns out that they liked her personally but she was missing some key experience.
  • She then said “well now that you know what I can do, can you suggest anyone else at your firm, or elsewhere, who I might talk with?” He gave her a referral to someone in another department.
  • She suggested they keep in touch, and the hiring manager became a valuable new member of her network.

The story doesn’t end here. She followed up on the referral and obtained another interview, but they rejected her for that position as well! So she repeated the process, and got yet another referral. On this third try, she got the offer that she accepted.

Note in this example how my client followed up by calling rather than emailing. You can try emailing and ask for a 10 minute conversation to gain feedback that could be helpful for your search. You’ll find, however, that usually the hiring manager (perhaps feeling uncomfortable after having just rejected you) won’t respond to the email or will give you a vague, non-committal answer. If you call and get them on the phone, however, you’re putting them on the spot, and enabling something different to happen. If you’re gracious and wish them well (and assuming they liked you personally), they often feel bad they rejected you and want to help!

This approach won’t get you an interview in every situation, of course. Nevertheless, you have nothing to lose by trying, and a job offer to gain.

The Interview Was Three Weeks Ago And You Haven’t Heard Back

Maybe they truly aren’t interested in your candidacy. Or maybe it’s something else; the hiring manager is on vacation, or they are re-assessing their needs and budget, or the wheels just turn slowly at this organization.

If it’s been two-plus weeks since your last communication, reach out to the person you met with (ideally the hiring manager, i.e. the person who cares the most that this job gets filled) and send them a short message, forwarding your last correspondence so they remember you. The message should a) remind them of your strong interest, b) suggest that you won’t be around forever (“While conversations are moving forward with other organizations…”), and c) offer additional help, e.g. “I would be happy to provide additional information to help with your decision-making process…”

Don’t reveal insecurity by asking “what’s the status” unless you need to know because you are about to receive another offer (and in that case let them know). Otherwise, the question will only hurt your chances of getting the job. If you have several other opportunities in the works (which you should, as the search is ultimately a numbers game), you’ll feel less of a desire to ask this question.

Other variations on this follow-up email include sharing additional thoughts about how you can help or sending a link to something you think would be of interest. If you do send a link, make sure it’s truly of interest. Otherwise you’re just showing them how you can waste their time.

When You’ve Emailed Them And They Don’t Respond

If you’re trying to tap into the hidden job market by building relationships with people who can hire you, good for you! If you don’t get a response to your initial email, it doesn’t automatically mean they are not interested. To ensure you’re not rejecting yourself:

1. Wait three business days for a response. Then forward the email you sent previously, changing the “Fw:” to an “Re:” in the subject line. Write a short, two sentence message: “Hi Julie, though I would follow up on the email I sent a few days ago (see below). Do you have a few minutes to discuss?”

2. If you still don’t hear back, pick up the phone. Countless clients have landed meetings because of the call they made following an email. Often the target of your call will be apologetic, or even grateful for your persistence, and will immediately set up the meeting (some people just aren’t particularly responsive with email). Again, try calling before 9 a.m., when they are more likely to be around.

When You Apply And Don’t Hear Back, Or Get Rejected

You may feel you are the most qualified candidate on earth for a role, but they still sent you a rejection form-letter. Often the reason is not because you aren’t good, but rather that their screening process is flawed. The hiring manager is most likely not doing the initial screening, for example. Instead, a computer or an HR manager screens the resumes, i.e. someone (or something) that doesn’t know the job well. This less-than-optimal screening process can miss great candidates like yourself. So take the extra step and reach out to the hiring manager directly with a persuasive email (don’t even mention the job posting, there’s no need).

I’ll never forget one client’s experience when he applied for a CFO position. After submitting his resume and cover letter with the application, he took the additional step of finding the hiring manager’s email address and persuasively making the case that they should meet. After following up with a phone call, he got the meeting, which ultimately led to interviews and an offer. While I was helping him to negotiate their offer (which he ultimately accepted), he received one of those automated rejection letters from the HR applicant tracking system!

When There’s Nothing Available Now

Well that’s that, back to the drawing board, right? You know the answer. The key here is to stay in touch with the hiring managers that you’ve met, so when something does open up in their group or in their colleague’s department, they think of you. When you’re in a job search, stay in touch every three to six weeks by sending a simple, short, “hello and update” email; don’t ask if they’ve heard about anything, they know what you want. Just update them on your progress and thank them once again for talking with you. Other variations on this keeping in touch email include sending additional thoughts, or sending them a link to something that you think would help them.

When They Have Objections To Your Candidacy

They tell you that you don’t have a certain skill that they are looking for, or another candidate has more experience in a certain area than you do. Armed with this information, you now have an opportunity to turn this apparent “no” into a “yes.” Influence the outcome through writing a persuasive follow-up email. Do whatever it takes to close the deal. Don’t just write a “thank you” letter, that’s the bare minimum that won’t differentiate you from the competition or overcome any issues they have.

My clients have changed the outcome in their favor through this kind of follow-up. The key is to surface objections to your candidacy in the interview (e.g. ask “how do I measure up against the other candidates?”), listen carefully for problems they face that you can help with, and then address all of this in your follow-up. Clients have even written proposals, offered to demonstrate value through helping with something specific prior to receiving an offer, or described what they would do in the first 90 days on the job. You don’t have to do these things, these are just ideas that worked in their specific situations.

One Caveat

You do have to know when to call it quits. Some people may simply not be interested, period (it’s not personal, just business). If you continue to bother them, you are burning a bridge to future opportunities, or worse. If they give you a clear message that they aren’t interested, let it go. And make sure you don’t leave lots of messages, leave just one or two.

If you do ultimately get rejected for a position, learn from it and keep moving forward like all good salespeople do; each failure is just one more step on the path to success.