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Career Column: Failure to thrive

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I have failed. This isn’t new for me; I fail frequently. When I was being considered for my current position, the recruiter asked me what I needed to be successful. I told her I needed to be in an environment where I wasn’t afraid to fail. I truly believe I can, and do, build and manage successful programs, but the process is wrought with obstacles. Sometimes it takes more than a few attempts to clear hurdles. Falls are painful, but also valuable. They force me to step back to reassess the situation and generate creative solutions. Failure is as temporary as success, and how we respond to it is predictive of future failure or success. Job search failures are no exception.

The job application process has become progressively more complex. Submitting a single application may take hours, and most applicants will receive an automatically generated response, if the company responds at all. All of the rejection takes a toll. I’ve sat with many a distraught jobseeker recounting a litany of rejection. The toughest part of my job is pulling the dejected out of their despair. While a good cry is cathartic, wallowing in defeat is not productive. After a short melancholic period to release frustration, disappointment, and anxiety, it’s time to refocus our energy.

Rejection of an applicant is not usually a rejection of the person; it’s a rejection of the application materials. If a jobseeker isn’t offered an interview, the problem lies within the search and application process. This is an opportunity to be creative and experiment. If your traditional resume is not generating a response, try a nontraditional resume. I like to approach the application process as a challenge, which can actually be fun and exciting. Make multiple versions of your resume, ranging from totally traditional to wildly creative. Research the culture of the company before choosing which resume to submit to a particular opening. Having a few options readymade will speed the application process and make it feel more manageable, but be sure to make minor adjustments to tailor each resume to a specific position. Options may also reduce feelings of hopelessness after repeated failure, as feedback from material reviewers isn’t likely at the application stage of the hiring process, though it’s always a good idea to ask for it.

The best opportunity for constructive criticism is upon rejection after an interview. Another generic response may be automatically generated, but meeting personally with the hiring manager opens the door to further communication. It is absolutely appropriate to contact the interviewer to thank him or her for meeting with you and provides the opportunity to ask for feedback. Most interviewers will feel uncomfortable answering questions about what you did wrong. Instead, ask what you could have done differently to secure the position. This will reduce some of the discomfort the interviewer may experience in this situations, as well as soften the rejection for the candidate. Rather than ruminating on what you did wrong, focus on what you can do right.


Stephanie McWilliams is Director of Career Services at Charter College, Fife Campus. She can be reached at (253)252-4232 or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).