Beth was certain she was a shoo-in at her dream company. The web administrator had gone through several interviews and even met with the company’s CEO. During each interview she was told that she was an excellent candidate and she was perfect for the job. Everything seemed to be going Beth’s way and she began to think there was no way she wouldn’t land the job. After receiving great feedback from her potential employer for a month, Beth quit searching for other jobs. She even turned down interviews and offers from other companies to focus solely on her dream job. Several more weeks passed and Beth received a phone call. The Web Administration job at her dream company had gone to a stronger candidate. She was shocked and devastated. She had put all of her job prospect hopes on one position at one company and the position fell through. Nearly two months had passed and Beth suddenly found herself having to rebuild momentum for another job search.
In Beth’s case she originally had momentum going into her job search. Momentum in the job search is like a steam train. It takes a lot of preparation to get the train to start moving and to get the fire hot enough to boil the water. Once that train starts, it takes less and less effort to keep it going. When you know there’s a mountain up ahead, you put a little extra coal into the fire to keep the train moving. It gets tougher toward the top, but once you reach the pinnacle, it’s an easy road down. Depending on one opportunity to come through, no matter how certain you are, is like getting the fire going to get the train moving, and then expecting that fire to create enough steam to move you up a mountain. The only thing about a mountain is you know when it’s coming, you have a map and can see it in the distance. In your job search, a mountain can be any obstacle and you don’t necessarily know it’s coming. In that respect, it’s like any challenge or unexpected change in life. In a job search, anything can happen, and as a former recruiter I can tell you with 100% certainty that nothing is 100% certain.
The moment Beth thought her dream job was a sure thing she slowed down her momentum and stopped exploring her other options. In short, she placed all of her hopes on one job prospect, and when it fell through, she didn’t have another job offer lined up or other prospects in motion. Candidates can be turned down for a number of reasons and it’s always best to assume the job isn’t yours unless you’re actually offered the job.
Now, let’s re-imagine Beth’s scenario- Beth has a dream opportunity, and several other opportunities. She really wants the dream opportunity, but doesn’t want to slow her job search momentum. She uses another offer to entice her dream company into action. They might make her an offer just to prevent her from accepting a competitor’s offer, IF they really want her. And, if they don’t and they’re a good company, they will be fair and give her the information she needs to make a well-informed decision about her other offer. That company will set her free. This is an ideal scenario for when you’re seemingly a shoo-in for one company you love, but you also have strong prospects at other companies.
Don’t let your train run out of steam
Getting a call for an interview and acing several interviews can definitely build confidence in your job search. After all, getting called back for an interview and landing several more interviews means that an employer is strongly considering you for the position. That said, it is folly to believe that a few rounds of interviews automatically translates to securing the position even with spectacular feedback. You want to believe the position is yours, especially if it is your ideal company. At this point in the game, it may be tempting to put your job hunt on hold in order to focus on that one position. If there’s no offer, there are still concerns, questions and potentially other candidates. Former Marketplace host, Tess Vigeland describes being a shoo-in as the next host of NPR’s Weekend All Things Considered, only to not get the job.
Limiting yourself by focusing on one company means that you are potentially missing out on other great opportunities, and you are limiting your income. You have the ultimate leverage when a company really wants you, but another company gives you a great offer. (Note: there is a tactful and professional way to approach this, as well as a way that will cause both companies to revoke their offers. Proceed with caution.)
Even if you’re convinced that a possible employer is the very best fit for you, it is impossible to be certain without fully exploring your options. An employer who is a better fit for your criteria may offer you a job opportunity. If your current job pursuit is going extremely well and you love the company, nothing is truly a done deal unless you’ve signed an employment contract and have a start date, and even then I’ve seen job offers fall through. Focusing on one employer also means you’ve slowed down your job search momentum and potentially caused that momentum to grind to a half if you aren’t the final candidate. Here’s another scenario to consider: You could drop all of your other employment prospects to focus on one job, research the company and discover you don’t want to work for that company. Now you have to restart your job search. This extends the time, money and effort you have to expend to land your ideal job.
Why promising candidates are turned down
Promising candidates are frequently turned down for positions even if they seem to be a perfect fit. The most common reason why candidates are rejected is because someone more promising or qualified is given the position. Having a series of great interviews and being told you’re a great candidate may just mean you’ve made it to the final round of the job hiring process. You may find yourself as the runner-up, despite being a very strong candidate. Imagine it from the employer’s perspective- you’ve just had a great interview with a strong candidate and that prospect matches all of the criteria for the position. The decision process is coming to a close and at the last minute you interview someone else. Now you have two very strong candidates in the final round. Both candidates have great qualifications, but you go with the job seeker who’s a better cultural fit and has better chemistry with the team. If you have your employer’s best interests at heart as a hiring manager, naturally you’re going to choose the candidate who’s the very best match for the company. In fact, team chemistry really matters in the hiring process. I’ve seen SO many job seekers believe they were a shoo-in for the job because they felt amazing chemistry with a team and a boss. They aren’t able to see how another candidate can come in and have even better chemistry.
Other reasons for being rejected can range from surprising to petty.
- The funds for the position were never there, are reallocated, or spent
Perhaps the hiring manager was given the green-light to interview for positions, but they never received the necessary budget to actually hire a candidate. The job seeker and the hiring manager go back and forth, and it seems like a done deal until the funds for the position don’t materialize in a timely manner. When the funds and the position are finally available, you have given up on the job and moved on.
I actually experienced this first-hand. In 2002 I was looking for a recruiting job for 10 months. During that time a company that I really wanted to work for told me that I was the strongest candidate, and the only candidate, but the company was undergoing a reinvention, as did most companies during that time in order to survive the recession. For months I followed up weekly, eagerly hoping to hear that the position was ready to go. This was also true of another small recruiting company. I was the lead candidate, but was the position really open?
It was too tenuous of an economy for any firm to know if another recruiter was really necessary. I lived this and learned from this experience myself. Within those 10 months there were three jobs that I not only felt strongly I would land, but was the ONLY candidate being considered. It took me 10 months to learn that momentum was critical to optimizing my chances at landing a job, and I became more proactive AND responsive to EVERY job lead and introduction.
After finally landing, I was laid off again three months later, but the next time it only took me five weeks to land, because I had learned my lesson. Even if you have 10 to 12 months worth of savings in the bank to cushion a longer transition, that’s 10 to 12 months of income LOST instead of saved or invested for your retirement, your ultimate vacation or your own business. Learn from MY mistakes and save yourselves nine months.
- You had a bad reference
The position could have very well been offered to you, but near the end of the hiring process one of your references spoke poorly of you. A bad reference could have come from a client, co-worker, or a previous employer. This could be especially true if you left your previous job on a less than positive note. A bad reference isn’t always malicious. They might have said something as innocent as, “Yes, they were late more than three times.” BANG. You’re out of contention. It is also not uncommon for former bosses or co-workers to give a potential employer their opinion about your performance, especially if he or she didn’t like you. Or, a reference may not have been expecting a call, and a potential employer has a difficult time contacting them. This could also reflect badly on you. Recruiters can also call people NOT on your reference list. If they have their own contacts, they’ll be resourceful enough to reach out to people they know. Making sure you have references that are willing to say positive things about you, and letting them they will be contacted can help avoid inadvertently getting a bad reference. If you know you a former employer won’t provide a good reference, you may to warn your prospective employer about that reference. A quick tip: Stick to the facts and keep it simple; don’t go into your “story” about what happened.
- Someone at your potential employer recognized you
You could have aced all of your interviews, had great references, and you could have been the very best candidate for the job, only to have a former co-worker ruin your prospects. A co-worker you didn’t get along with may have landed a position at your potential employer. He or she may have recognized you during an interview and later told the hiring manager that you’d be a bad fit for the company. They could have not liked you, genuinely thought your work was subpar, or they may be jealous of your talent. Whatever the reason, they had enough sway within the company to completely halt the hiring process.
Recovering from a job rejection
No one likes rejection. It is easy to internalize a job rejection and see it as a personal failure. Feelings of depression and doubts about your self-worth can set in, sending you on a downward spiral. I wrote about positive ways to deal with job rejection in a previous article. It is important to remember that your ability to quickly land a job isn’t directly tied to your worth as a person. Job rejections are common and you’ll hear “no” several times before someone says “yes.” If necessary, give yourself a little time to recover from your rejection. You may need a few days or as long as week. Focus on your accomplishments and move forward in your next job search. You may have not gotten your dream job, but the opportunities to land another job are plentiful, as you search smartly and target your next employers.
It can be easy to become fixated on one dream job at your ideal company. In reality, it is best to have several job prospects. You want to be in a position where several companies are extending job offers to you, instead of assuming you got the job without an actual offer. This means researching companies and making sure they meet your list of criteria, networking with and connecting to people at a potential employer, and it also means being the candidate employers don’t want their competition to hire. This can be accomplished by presenting a strong résumé, crafting a personalized cover letter, and having a positive social media presence that establishes you as a thought leader in your industry. Being a desirable candidate and having multiple job prospects at once ensures that your job momentum doesn’t slow down, and that you’ll always have additional opportunities if you ultimately aren’t selected by a particular employer.
Being a shoo-in for a particular job is a great feeling. The danger of being a shoo-in is that you may be tempted to ignore other job prospects in order to focus your energy on one job. Expand your self-image to see yourself as a shoo-in for multiple jobs, in a position of empowerment and choice. Your opportunities will be abundant, and you’ll never be limited to just one job. You won’t have to face the disappointment of not possibly getting that job. Think of it this way- your train is steaming ahead and a mountain is fast approaching. You know the mountain, like any challenge in life, has the ability to cause your job search to lose momentum. You want to keep your train moving, so you carefully stoke that fire to help you get over and down the mountain to your next destination safely with your valuable cargo. Don’t place all of your hope on one dream job at the expense of other jobs. It takes extra work to keep multiple job searches going, but the results are well worth your effort. Having more opportunities means you’ll recover from setbacks quickly, land your next job faster, negotiate the salary you want, and enjoy the freedom that overall financial well-being can bring.
One response to “The Shoo-in Trap”
[…] We’ve addressed before how easy it can be to stop your job search efforts once you have one or two great opportunities, but that is a trap. You might have received strong indications that you’re the front-runner for a position, and still anything can happen. You better believe that the company has continued to make sure they have a backup candidate just in case anything happens to you, and you would be wise to continue your job search efforts. Killing your momentum by quitting your job search activity will mean that you have to start over from scratch should anything fall through, and in my experience as a recruiter, things fall through most of the time. As much as you want to believe you are a shoo-in for a job, you cannot just go by great feedback. It only takes one person’s feedback to alter the course of a hire, and any type of organizational shift will change what they need and want. Until you have an offer letter, have decided to sign and accept an opportunity, continue your QUALITY job search efforts. […]