What to do when you come in second

By Scott Westerman

Listen to an audio version of this message.

“It’s OK to fail. If you’re not failing, you’re not growing.” ~H. Stanley Judd

“We’re giving the job to someone else.” That stung. This was a gig that I really wanted, with a company that had I had fallen in love with during the interview process. Hearing that I wasn’t getting in the door was a huge disappointment.

One month later, I was working there.

In an increasingly competitive world, where the best jobs are often filled before they are posted on the human resources website, it’s easy to be an also-ran.

It’s also possible to pull victory from the jaws of defeat. Try some of these ideas.

Don’t burn the bridge – Express gratitude for the chance to tell your story. The decision maker obviously selected someone that felt like the best fit. Trust their judgement. Be glad that they were able to find the right solution.

Seek feedback – When I didn’t get the job I wanted, I said something like this. “Now that I’ve had a chance to learn more about you and the company, I know that this is a place where I want to add value. What should I be working on so I can be better prepared to be the winner next time you have an opening?” If the leader is truly the kind of person you will want to work for, he or she will likely give you some helpful feedback.

Recalibrate – Not getting the gig is a great way to get a clearer picture of exactly what they may be looking for. You may have seen another position that interests you. Or perhaps you missed a selling point during your conversations that you can better highlight next time. If you came up short because of a lack of experience or skill, think about doing things that will check off those boxes.

Add value anyway – Your interview created the beginnings of a relationship with someone in the company. If you prepared well for the visit, you know what their challenges are. As you find articles, web links or ideas that can help drive success, share them. If you happen to know the winning candidate, help them to succeed. Word will get around and you’ll be noticed.

Find a twin – Now you now more about the kinds of things you like in a leader and a corporate culture. You know what you need to do to have a better chance of getting hired. Look for other firms that have the same qualities. And chase opportunities there.

Don’t give up – When I got my rejection phone call, I closed the conversation by thanking my future boss for the chance to get to know the company better. And my young, perhaps over confident mind came up with one last statement. “I am determined to be the right guy the next time you have an opening. I am starting tomorrow to work on the areas where you think I can improve. And with your permission, I will keep in touch.” Only say this if you absolutely want to work for that person and that company. Authenticity is key in conversations like these. You can’t sound sincere unless you really are.

The day after I didn’t get my dream job, I started to act like the person I wanted to become; the person who could succeed in the position I was seeking. I thought long and hard about the feedback I got and started immediately to work on the weak spots. It was less than a week later when I got the phone call. “We may have something else that might be a good fit for you.”

“I’m there,” I said. “What are the next steps?”

There were another round of interviews. I recalibrated based on the feedback I received and was better able to tell my story. 30 days later, we were packing the U-Haul so that I could start my new job.

Every great runner has come second.. a lot. The winners who sustain a track record of success recalibrate, celebrate and learn from other winners, work hard to improve their skills, and keep coming back for more.

As some unknown road warrior once said, paraphrasing Ecclesiastes, “The race is not always to the swift … but to those who keep running.”