Every so often, something you read triggers a reflection. For me, a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, Didn’t Get the Job? You’ll Never Know Why, by Lauren Weber, published on June 5, 2013, brought to mind the experience I had in my career when I didn’t get a job, but I did know why.
The job was my dream job – one I had thought for many years that I could do and do well, managing an HR department in a large corporation. I was working in another HR role in the company at the time, but this would be a promotion for me. Although I was relatively new in working in the HR division itself, I had worked as an advisor to the division for almost twenty years, and had had almost daily contact with the HR personnel who would report to me if I got the job.
I had great interviews with two senior HR executives, one the person I would report to (Executive A), and the other a long-time HR director in the division. Both of them made me feel like I had the talent and skill to develop the HR department in question beyond its traditional function.
My competitor for the position was a long-time HR manager and a peer of mine at the time (Peer X). He was good at what he did, and had more experience than I did in HR, but he was bound by “old school” thinking – in my opinion, and (from what I gleaned in my interviews) in the opinion of the senior HR executives who interviewed us.
The reason I was given devastated me. Executive A, who would have been my boss, told me that he would sleep better at night if Peer X got the job. I had never failed at any job I had been asked to do, and I couldn’t believe my performance in this job would keep Executive A up nights.
But what could I do?
Peer X got the job, and I was moved into his role, which was also a good HR position reporting to an excellent manager. I learned a lot in that job about management, leadership, and HR. I could have continued to be happy in that role for another couple of years, but a year after Peer X got my dream job, Executive A asked me to take on a special HR project for him, which gave me visibility to executives around the company, and I agreed to take on that project assignment.
A year after that, when Executive A had grown disappointed in Peer X’s performance, Executive A negotiated some moves across HR, and ended up asking me to take the role I had been passed over for two years earlier, while Peer X was moved to a different job.
You can bet I asked Executive A whether he would sleep well at nights with me in the job two years after he had told me he wouldn’t.
I took the job, but it turned out to be a disappointment, rather than being my dream job. This HR function no longer had as high a profile as it had historically, and what Executive A really wanted was not to have to worry about it – that’s really what he had meant by “not sleeping at nights.” And that’s why he hadn’t been happy with Peer X – Peer X waited for too much direction, which Executive A didn’t want to bother with.
I didn’t wait for direction from Executive A, so we got along fine. But the job was not ideal, because all the stuff Executive A didn’t want to deal with got dumped on me. Moreover, without Executive A’s support, I couldn’t move the function in the direction I thought it should go. We were stuck in the traditional mode of operating, without the historical prestige.
So, what did I learn from this experience:
- If you don’t get the job you want, find the next best thing. It may end up being a better thing.
- There is something to be learned in every role you have. I had a better manager in my “fall back” role than in my dream job, and I got better visibility from the special project. Thus, in the two years between being turned down for the job and later getting it, I had two great experiences.
- There is no such thing as an ideal job. There are upsides and downsides to any position. You make of each job what you can.
What have you learned from not getting a job you wanted?