The One That Got Away

Sometimes the jobs you don’t get is the best thing for you and your career.

Finding a job never an easy process. The convoluted path to a job offer is full of pitfalls, uncertainty, and doubt. For people that are unemployed, or in a toxic or downright dangerous workplace, the urgency only adds to the stress level.

One common psychological effect common to many jobseekers is to latch onto every job opportunity and to invest their whole being in what may not be the right job for them. If & when they ultimately get rejected, it is a huge blow to the ego, and amplifies the sense of panic and anxiety surrounding finding a new job. It can cause people to lower their standards and start applying to jobs they are overqualified for, or undervalues their worth on the job market.

Getting rejected from those jobs causes the cycle to repeat and magnify.

I often see this with professionals that are transitioning out of the military, or people seeking to change industries or disciplines. Not being a 1:1 fit for a position increases the likelihood of rejection, sometimes at the hands of an automated system that is scanning for key-words. The self-doubt can be tough to shake. I know, I have been there myself.

Earlier in my career, I was in a position that was a horrible fit for my skills and personality. It was a job that offered a big fat paycheck, and I ignored many warning signs in taking the job. I’ve always had a bias for action – to get things done – to solve problems and get to the root cause of the problems and fix it. The role I was in I had no authority to fix anything. I spent every day running around putting out fires I did not cause and could not prevent, even though the causes were obvious.

I was often working 12-16 hour days out of either necessity or lack of planning. Nights. Weekends. Getting called in on my few days off. I went home exhausted physically, mentally, and emotionally.

I hated it.

I made the decision to find a better job.

Finding a new job while working 80-hour work weeks was no easy task. Compounding that, the economy at the time was sluggish, and interviews were few and far between. I finally landed an interview for a job I could easily do – it was running a parts warehouse for a big industrial company.

The place was mess - literally and figuratively. Inventory problems. Housekeeping and safety. Out of control overtime. They had blown through three managers in 18 months. In the absence of leadership, the employees they least wanted in charge had stepped in and created a culture of doing as little as possible each day. The phone interview with HR went well and he invited me to meet with him onsite the following week.

We met and the hour-long interview stretched to three hours. We walked the warehouse floor and I was able to see many of the issues they were having, from basic housekeeping, layout, and a few obvious safety issues. It would not have been easy, but a turnaround was well within my abilities and experience. By the end of the interview, the HR manager’s language had changed from “if you came to work here” to “when you get started…” If it were up to him, he would have hired me on the spot. It wasn't up to him, however. I would have to win over the hiring manager, who worked in another state.

I was confident in my ability to interview and sell myself as to why I was the right person for the job. I relished the idea of being able to resign from my awful job soon.

Two weeks later, the HR guy called me and apologetically explained I would not be moving forward in the process. The hiring manager rejected me outright because I didn't have a Sigma Black Belt, a certification that was not important for the role, but a merit badge he wanted the manager to have. (The three previous managers in the role all had black belts but they flamed out for lack of leadership skills.)

I was devastated. Crushed. Despondent. Desperate. I called the recruiting company that helped place me when I left the military and told them I would take any job they could find for me.

To my surprise, the same recruiting company offered me a job in business development, “selling” people like me to other companies. I'd never had a sales role before but took the job. Truthfully, I really took the job more to get away from my old one more than out of any desire to get into recruiting. Most people who try their hand at recruiting don’t like it, are not good at it, or move into Human Resources. I found out that I LOVE RECRUTING.

By accident, I stumbled into a profession that gives me purpose. I had found my why.

Had the hiring manager for the parts warehouse overlooked the missing merit-badge on my resume and brought me in, the entire arc of my career, and the thousands of professionals I have helped along the way to find new jobs, would have been different.

Getting rejected for a job I could have done on autopilot ended up redefining the course of my career and led me to owning my own business.

If you are looking for a job, you need to have a faith that things will work out in the end. I’ve heard so many stories from professionals about “the one that got away” that meant all the difference, from the next opportunity being 1000% better, to meeting the love of their life.

That does not mean I am giving you permission to be passive in your job search. Far from it. Give every job opportunity your absolute best, every single day.

Prepare for every interview with the mindset that you are the perfect candidate for that job. You were put on this earth to do so. Do your best, that's all you can ask of yourself. If you don't get the job, it is probably for the best. It would have not been a good fit in the long run.

Avoid investing your whole self in any one job opportunity, to protect against the blows to the ego if you don't get it, or maintaining objectivity if you do get the job, but they make you a substandard offer.

Keeping as full a pipeline as you can in your job search makes that easier. Getting rejected for one when you have four more next week is better than wading through a 12-week interview process only to be told “thanks, but no thanks” and not have other opportunities to pivot towards.

If it helps, just think of it as you are the star in your own movie – and every good story has a few twists and turns. If Luke Skywalker’s aunt and uncle had just let him go to Tosche station with his buddies, he never would have become a Jedi Knight. (I know I’m dating myself with that reference.)

Stay after it, every single day. You’ll get a great next chapter in your story. I promise.

As I said at the beginning, finding a job, or finding the right people is not easy. Every layer of technology that has been added only makes it harder. If you are looking for a new role, or someone to fill one on your team, I might be able to help. I’d love to hear from you. Likewise, if you landed in a role that you never expected and it’s a good story, let me know that too.

I always like a good story.

Thanks for reading.

The Rivet Group is a recruiting company that specializes in leadership roles in the United States.