What We Learn When Left At The Altar

There is an old English idiom: Always a bridesmaid and never a bride.  You might be asking yourself why are we talking about weddings and what do they have to do with a discussion about job search and career transition?  The bridesmaid idiom relates to that poor individual who gets close but never fulfills the ambition of wearing the wedding dress.  She may crave the spotlight but unfortunately never manages to get the recognition she so rightfully deserves.

For many who have been romanced by the possibility of a certain employment position during their job search, the bridesmaid analogy might be a bit over the top but after all, we do need to get your attention on these matters.  Unfortunately, every recruitment or search only produces one winner leaving all that remain to contemplate what they could have done to make the end result more favorable for them.

There are numerous reason for a selection committee to choose one person over another and of course there are times where there are no reasons at all for such a decision.  Many of the individuals who receive the phone call or e-mail that alludes to how difficult such a process this has been and that the decision was virtually impossible to make is not comforted by such rhetoric.  A rejection is clear and simple a rejection and what an individual really wants to know is why such a decision was made and what they can do to improve the odds next time around.

I recall discussing such a matter with a headhunter, who once told me that there was a group which once could not make up their minds between two candidates for the CEO job so they flipped a coin.  There obviously has to be a better way for such an important determination.  If this is the approach of the governing body, the true winner in this story might be the individual who didn’t get chosen for the job by the coin flip.

But of course if we don’t know why a decision was made how can we make sure that in the future we can be considered for such a position?  Could they have decided on the ultimate candidate because:

*  There was an internal candidate.  The person they know is certainly more attractive than the person they don’t.

*  Does age, gender or appearance have anything to do with the decision?

*  Maybe the eventual winner addressed the concerns of the organization more effectively?

*  Maybe the new hire was more engaging and articulate than others?

*  Preparation should never be discounted and maybe the new CEO was just that?

*  Or finally there might be no one outstanding reason for such a decision.

A “bridesmaid” in the job search process can drive themselves crazy attempting to find rationale for a decision when in reality there just might not be a cogent answer.  After all, when people are involved there is always the X factor – bias, expectations and prejudgment.  Decisions and determinations are not made by infallible people – if that was the case there would never be any openings to apply for in the first place.

Selection committees, like juries can be wavering and can turn on a dime because of any one particular reason.  Rarely is there a clear-cut choice (in those cases we thank the Lord for making the job so easy), rather it becomes the task of the selection committee to find the best candidate and that sometimes can be grueling at best.

It behooves a candidate who did not receive the nod for the job to ask why.  Of course be prepared to never receive an answer.  Most selection committees and recruiters will not want to discuss such a matter outside the conference room.  In today’s litigious environment no legal counsel will ever allow such decisions to be discussed in the light of day.

Probably the only possibility for an insight into the choice might be to contact the ultimate winner of the selection committee and see if you could prod some information from him/her over lunch.  If you know or know of the person, such a possibility is more likely than if the individual is a pure stranger to you.  Such an approach is worth trying but might also not be fulfilling at all.

You keep telling yourself that you cannot take a negative employment decision personally, though saying it and meaning it are two different things.  The selection committee was doing their work and unfortunately went a different route.  Hopefully you can learn from the experience and move on quickly.

Despite the fact that you might never determine why a decision was made, your involvement in the interview process can be a valuable benefit for the future.  Sure, you might not have been chosen for this job but you have learned from this experience and you will be able to use those learnings for the next interview.  Who knows, the next time you might be the one walking down the aisle!

Dan Borschke is a Certified Association Executive who has been a CEO for 3 distinct trade associations in his career.  He is one of only 230 Association Executives worldwide who has been granted the prestigious designation of Fellow by the American Society of Association Executives since 1986.  He currently is between positions and has written more than 50,000 words and 100 blog postings on the topics of job search and career transition.  He can be contacted at:  dborschke@yahoo.com.

Copyright:  MMXI.  Reprint of this article is permitted if the above paragraph is included.

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