I interviewed once for the job of my dreams…and didn’t get it. Now you have to understand: this wasn’t just an interview. This was months of engagements with the company. I was a candidate for the Chief Marketing Officer of a major restaurant chain. The job was truthfully a stretch given my experience, but not much of a stretch. I interviewed first with the headhunter over the phone. Then I traveled to NYC for the in-person interview with the headhunter. He loved me. I was a perfect “stretch” candidate. It made him look good just to present me to the client because all headhunters need a good range of candidates. Next, I traveled two hours by flight and had my first round with the company: three one-hour interviews, excluding the CEO. After days of agonizing, I heard from the headhunter. They wanted me to proceed to the next round. I flew from the East Coast to the West Coast to meet with their external psychiatrist. Eight hours of testing later, I flew home. A week or so later: they wanted to see me again. I flew two hours for a full-day of interviews, including the CEO. Two weeks later I was informed that I was a finalist. The CEO wanted to spend the day with me. (Did I mention that this job paid nearly twice what I was currently making?) I knew I needed to break through in this next meeting. I decided to conduct a focus group of current and lapsed users of the brand. I developed a PowerPoint of key learning and recommendations from my research. I spoke to everyone I could network within the restaurant business. I went to the interview prepared. We spend four hours together, just the two of us. We ate at the flagship store. We walked around their headquarters. We talked philosophy in one minute and specific actions I would take in the next. I was on my game. I wanted this job.
Two weeks later I got the call. They gave the job to the other candidate. He had five years more experience than me. But they really did like me. Ouch.
Now, about ten years later, I can reflect on this experience and try to draw some lessons that may be applicable to you if perhaps you “lost” that dream job for which you were competing.
- Even if the job is a stretch, go for it. My basketball coach used to say, “you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” You will regret not trying. Even though I did not get the job, I was thrilled to be in the hunt.
- Have no regrets after the process. I prepared as much as I could. I fully invested myself in the process.
- Learn from it. This interview process was the first time that I truly grasped the concept of my need to communicate what I would do for the company. It changed the way I interviewed for any other job from then on . I learned to focus on the buyer’s needs (perhaps I learned this late in the process).
- Use the experience to build allies (supporters). Even though I did not get the job, I developed advocates from two contacts at the company and the headhunter. I could still call the CEO today and I believe he would take my call.
- Leverage the experience into a similar one. Before this interview I had never really considered the hospitality industry. After the experience, I felt prepared to interview with other companies in the industry and I did. In another similar experience, when I lost an election for an office, I used the awareness I had built to land another, equally prestigious office.
- If you didn’t get it, and you still want it, determine what interim step you need to take to get there. Perhaps if you were not as qualified as another candidate, consider what you could add to your resume through a different summer job, a consulting assignment, or an “interim” job that would make you a better candidate the next time around.
- Ask for feedback, but don’t expect much. In this case, the feedback I received was all positive, but that the other candidate was more experienced. Nothing I could do about that. Left me feeling a bit dissatisfied.
- Pick yourself up quickly, and move on. Perhaps you need to go through the four stages of grief, but don’t give yourself much time at each stage. If you are “in play,” your brand is probably at its peak, the market is ripe, so don’t fall out of the market. Go on to the next one.
- Remain confident. Just because someone told you that you were not worthy, doesn’t mean you aren’t. There are so many factors that go into a decision that are beyond your control. You are a superstar. You did great things before you came to Darden. You got into Darden. You have survived most of the first year. Very few people in the world have accomplished what you have. The next one is yours.
Poetic justice: the person to whom they gave the job lasted less than a year; they reopened the search. By then I had moved on. They gave the job to an internal candidate.