This column is part of Globe Careers' Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab.
This may be the toughest question of them all. You went to the interview (or likely a series of interviews), they all seemed to go well, the people you met gave every indication of liking you, there were no indications that you weren't up to the task, and in the end you didn't get the offer. So, what happened?
There are so many possibilities that it's difficult to know where to start. They may have chosen someone younger or older. They could have hired someone with more experience or less. They may have gone with someone taller, shorter, heavier, or thinner. Perhaps they selected someone of a different sex or ethnic background. There may have been an internal candidate who was always their first choice. It's possible that you made absolutely no mistakes and could have done nothing better, but they may have simply preferred someone else. Unfortunately, it's highly unlikely that you will ever know why you weren't the one they wanted. Due to the litigious nature of modern society, nothing will ever be revealed to you that might form the basis of a civil action.
In the early years of my career, I worked for a company that had seven sales representatives, each a white male, tall, slender, over 50 with great hair and a deep voice. After a few months of working there, I asked the sales manager if there was any particular reason why these guys were all so similar. Without a moment's hesitation, he replied that the company's policy was to have only people of this type representing them. The reasoning was that they would be accepted as authority figures and no one would look down at them or question their credibility. That was a long time ago, but some employers might still have such policies (although they probably won't admit it now). Even if it's not an official company policy, most people in positions of hiring responsibility will privately admit that they have an image in their minds of what type of person makes the best choice for almost any type of role.
More recently, I dealt with a young man who was being considered for a position as a financial analyst with a boutique investment firm. All was going very well, from what he was telling me. He had several interviews, the last one with the president of the company, and was most anxious to get the offer.
It didn't come.
Instead, he received an e-mail to say that he wasn't the successful candidate and thanking him for his time. He was completely baffled by this and felt that he needed to know why. Since he had said that his meeting with the president went extremely well, I suggested that he politely request a meeting with him. The president agreed to his request and set an appointment. My client and I set a meeting that would immediately follow it.
He showed up for our meeting absolutely livid. He was furious, almost unable to speak. It turned out that the president of the company had nothing but good things to say about him. Everything was perfect. He could not have been a better choice. Unfortunately, there was another candidate about whom he said exactly the same things. They couldn't decide which one to hire, and only had room in the budget for one, so they flipped a coin. My client happened to be on the wrong side of that coin. The only good part of that was that he established himself as a great choice for future opportunities in that firm or if their first choice didn't work out, but it was still an incredibly tough pill to swallow.
It's completely understandable to think that you may have made some sort of mistake during the interview process if you don't get an offer, but the truth is that there may be no reason for you to feel that way. While it's possible that the employer may have chosen someone with more experience or skills, it's also possible that it was more of a subconscious decision than anything else. After all, you wouldn't have been invited for an interview in the first place unless you seemed to possess the appropriate strengths for the position. When all else is equal, people generally hire those whom they like. In fact, people will sometimes hire individuals who actually have less in the way of hard skills but seem to fit better, in terms of personality and attitude. Skills and abilities can be taught and developed, but attitude is forever.
There may be times when you can actually get some feedback from a potential employer after missing out on a job, but you will have to be careful in your approach. If you exhibit any sort of anger, disagreement, resentment, or dissatisfaction at the result, you can be sure that you will be greeted by a wall of silence. You may have a better chance with a recruiter, though, as there is a degree of separation there.
They put you forward as a candidate, which shows that they were satisfied with you, but it wasn't their decision to hire someone else. Either way, if you have an opportunity like this, don't try to turn it into a last-ditch effort to get them to change the decision. It won't happen, and all you will do is cause them to regret having given you the time. Take what they say under advisement, thank them for their time, and wish them well. You may learn something that could help you in the future, especially if it had anything to do with your presentation. If nothing else, you want to be remembered favourably in case other opportunities become available. You might be the best choice for something else, and they already know you.
Nobody gets an offer every time they try for a job. That would be wonderful, but all you can really hope for is that you are the right person for the right position at the right time. Do everything right and your chances of getting the offer are good. However, be prepared for the possibility that you won't get it, and that you may never know why. You can only give it your best shot and hope for the best.
Gordon MacKay is a senior career advisor and a certified career development facilitator with more than 20 years of experience in the manufacturing industry.