During a job search it is hard to predict how the process is going to play out. There are so many variables in a job search that it is difficult to control or predict what factors create which outcome in that process. But, many of my clients call me when they are told that the company that they were after has decided to make the job offer to someone else and that they came in as their next choice; they were #2 in the final candidate ranking.
In many cases the clients that achieve this status in the selection process are, indeed, disappointed and are tempted to walk away from that frustrating experience. Many decide to go in a different direction or even stop looking further altogether. However, what they do not realize is that if you are told that you were their next choice, you still have about a 30% chance of getting that job at a later time if you learn to do the following at the right time.
This 30% chance of getting that job after a company has already made an offer to someone is an average from my own experience after having worked with thousands of clients during the past 14 years as a career coach. This estimate is more accurate for middle-management jobs. For individual contributors and for senior executives this number can be considerably different (lower). The reason a #2 candidate in the selection process still has a chance of getting the job stems from the vagaries of the selection process, too many false positives, and the expectation mismatch that can occur when two parties finally come together. Often, too, some candidates are great at interviewing, but lousy at delivering.
Having observed this during my career as a coach here is my guidance for those who are told that they were # 2 in the final candidate ranking:
- When the recruiter or the hiring manager calls you with the bad news telling you that you were #2, they are signaling that they liked you in many ways and that they have not found a perfect candidate as a result of their process (no one ever does). So, rather than expressing your disappointment—or worse—the best response is to thank the caller and ask them in what areas important to them you came up short.
- Listen carefully to how they respond to that question. In many cases, since you were close to winning that race, the caller will tell you where the other candidate aced you. In many cases this perception is mistaken or is compounded by how you responded to some inferential questions, not directly exploring your fit.
- Without getting defensive the best response to this surprise should be for you to say that you are sorry that you were not able to communicate that well to the interviewer and probe further to see if you can get more information on where and how you came up short. Do NOT argue with the person and complain that they got this wrong in any way whatsoever. Not at this stage. Just listen first.
- Thank the person for calling and say again that you continue to be interested in their company and that job. Show interest in similar jobs if they open up in the future.
- After you hang up send a note (email, card, letter) to the person who called you and thank them for letting you know of the outcome and for responding to your queries. Make a brief statement of the unfortunate circumstances that led to their conclusion and fortify your statement with some quick examples that support your claim: “I do not know how I left some interviewers thinking that I have not led large teams (of 10 or more). Two years ago when I inherited a derailed project I assembled a team of 15 and completed that project on time. Currently, I am leading a team of nearly 20, and some contractors in addition.”
- After you state your case in brief narrative specifically state that you continue to be interested in that position and if anything were to change you’d be open to consider it again. Make sure that this is how you close your note.
- Depending on the job level contact the same person in about 4-6 months after you send this note. In that discussion you can jog that person’s memory about your last encounter with them and express your continued interest and ask if anything has changed since you last talked.
- If their selection was based on a false positive and if the incumbent has not worked out well, by this time the hiring manager should have decided if they need to correct their mistake.
- Wait for a few days or weeks and see if they come back and approach you to consider joining their team.
- If they offer the job do consider negotiating their offer and present the terms that you find acceptable. Since they do not have to go through the entire selection process again they are likely to bring you on board on your terms or at least meet you half way!
The advantage of revisiting a rejection with you as #2 candidate is that it is a win-win for both sides. It has worked for my clients in many cases (15-30% depending on the job level) and is a good way to change jobs without putting a significant job-search effort all over again!