Handling a Turn-Down

Posted by The Editors on June 16, 2011
Handling a Turn-Down

We'd be remiss if we didn't acknowledge that in every job search, a little rain must fall. Not every interview will lead to a job offer. Sometimes you won't want a job offer from a given employer. And sometimes you will, and it won't materialize. In those cases, there are a couple of things you can do to turn those lemons into lemonade.

Seek Feedback

Suppose you've been interviewing for your dream job, an international market-research position at a hot athletic equipment company. Your would run focus groups, show video clips of ad mock-ups featuring various sports idols, and test reactions to the ad concepts. The job would make excellent use of your language skills in French and German, appeal to your interest in psychology, and provide travel opportunities and a liberal expense account. You know that at least 20 people have interviewed for this position, but you've handled yourself well, been complimented on your presentation, and been given reason to believe that an offer is forthcoming. You await the mail each day with great anticipation.

Soon, the letter comes-but the contents are crushing:

Thank you for taking part in the interview process for the market-research position in the International Marketing department. Your credentials are impressive and you presented yourself well. Unfortunately, we have decided to hire another well-qualified individual for this position and therefore cannot make an offer to you at this time. We will keep your resume on file.

What would you do in this circumstance? Would you cry? (Possibly.) Would you whine to others? (Probably.) Would you continue your job search and try to forget about your disappointment? (Maybe.)

No--you do the smart thing and write this letter:

Dear Ellen,

Thank you so much for the opportunity to interview with you and the members of your international marketing team. Everyone seems committed, intelligent, and enthusiastic. I learned a great deal meeting with them and with you-and was hopeful that I might be able to become a member of your group and a key contributor in helping you reach your goals.

As I understood the position, it required the ability to approach strangers, to quickly build rapport, and to conduct meetings that obtain legitimate and useful information while giving participants a positive impression of your organization. It is essential to seek out statistically valid participation and to be alert to between-the-lines information-something that requires sensitivity and fluency in the language spoken by the focus-group participants. If done effectively, I'm sure the research will make your European advertising even more successful than it is today. I'm confident that I could have delivered exactly what you need, but I also understand that you have made a thoughtful decision in selecting another person.

What I would truly appreciate would be the opportunity to meet with you again to obtain your valuable suggestions regarding my presentation and my ongoing campaign to secure a position in market research where I can use my existing skills, gain valuable experience, and make a real contribution.

May I call you in a few days to see if this would be possible? I would truly appreciate it, as you seem to have such a fine perspective on what it takes to succeed in international  marketing today.

Sincerely yours,
Julie Machoute

What does such a letter say about Julie? Most people would see Julie as:

.  Polite and gracious, even when disappointed
.  Accepting of Ellen's decision (or at least not argumentative)
.  Persistent in striving for her goals
.  Open to suggestions
.  Eager to learn from someone she respects
.  Knowledgeable about what the position required
.  Confident of her abilities and yet willing to learn
.  Articulate in expressing herself

All these attributes would theoretically make her a valuable employee, especially in a high-profile marketing position. Unfortunately, the position is already gone! Why bother? Here's why:

Shortly after receiving Julie's letter, Ellen gets an unpleasant call. The call begins: "Ellen, this is a very difficult call for me to make. As it happens." The candidate hired instead of Julie has just learned of another opportunity, the perfect opportunity, the opportunity that she just couldn't turn down. Or perhaps her current boss made her a counter-offer that was too good to be true. Bottom line: She won't be coming to work for Ellen.

Now Ellen is on the spot. Her market research is due to begin next week and she has no one to send. Her options? Begin interviewing all over again or try to figure out which of the other 19 candidates she might consider again after having rejected all of them. No one but Julie wrote a thank-you note after being rejected or made it so easy for Ellen to get back in touch. All Ellen has to do is pick up the phone and agree to see Julie again-and tomorrow would actually be the most convenient day. By Wednesday night, guess who's on her way to Europe?

Is this for real? Count on it. According to a survey of career counselors, one-third of well-written thank-you notes for a job turn-down have resulted in a job offer into the same position, a lead into another position with the same company or a lead on a position elsewhere, usually with a laudatory introduction from the person making the referral.

If you can somehow show that you are likable, can work under many different situations, and won't crack during a crisis, you can win positions over individuals who may have some advantage in knowledge or experience. A follow-up note like Julie's is one of a number of ways to demonstrate such qualities.

Submit a Proposal for Services
If the above scenario doesn't quite describe your position, consider whether the following scenario is more apt: Suppose you do not fit the position the company is currently trying to fill. However, you see a need that exists outside the scope of any current role. You've worked to define the nature and importance of this need and feel that you have the resources to address it. Why not submit a proposal letter? Here's an example:

July 22, 2008

Dear Leona,

Thank you for the opportunity to interview for the position of research administrator in your research services organization. I think we came to the same conclusion-that the position is not a great fit for me, as much as I would like to work for you.

However, I think we both noted that documentation of discoveries is a real need that is not being fully addressed. As a result, Vee-Trex stands to lose priority and patentability on some of its expensively acquired results.
Documentation of discoveries holds compelling interest for me, and I think I'm quite well prepared to handle such a role. I was trained as a chemist, as you know, but you perhaps did not know that I also wrote the science column for my college newspaper, on my own initiative. I have some ideas about how a documentation of discoveries position might function within your organization. Obviously, we would need to discuss them in depth before you could consider creating the position.

I will plan to call you in a few days to see when we can get together.

Sincerely yours,

Susan Rosenburg

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