Job Search Stories: What’s a Runner-Up to Do?

Job Search Stories: What’s a Runner-Up to Do?
Photo by Andrii Yalanskyi/Getty Images

During the month of March, 10.4 million people filed for initial unemployment benefits.  Not surprisingly, the March unemployment report released on April 3 indicated the unprecedented string of 113 consecutive months of job gains abruptly ended.


But here’s a number worth repeating: 151.7 million people are still working.  That’s more than were working six months ago!


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Good companies are always looking for good people, but competition is intense – at least 200 applicants for every posted job, based on recent research, with up to 20 candidates receiving phone interviews before five to seven finalists are chosen.


Regrettably, many very qualified candidates will be told “no thanks” as the hiring process unfolds.  It happens every day, even in a strong economy.  After failing to land a coveted job opportunity several years ago, my son reminded me of one of the first lessons he learned in college athletics: We learn far more about ourselves from failing than from winning.


An unsuccessful job interview can be a tremendous learning experience, but you will probably have to work at it to get useful feedback. Many recruiters feel it’s not their job to tell candidates why they were not successful, and there may have been other factors influencing the selection process besides the strength of your résumé and the quality of your interview. Strong internal candidates and "cousin-deals" have derailed many outstanding job seekers. Nevertheless, here are several tactics to help you rebound from an interview setback.


How to Follow Up

Start by writing a thoughtful turn-down letter to the person in the hiring process with whom you made the strongest connection. Key elements include:

  • Thanking them for their courtesy during the interview process.
  • Acknowledging that you're disappointed, but expressing hope that they found the right person because you care about the organization and want them to be successful.
  • Reaffirming your continuing interest in the organization and asking to be considered for future opportunities where your skills and experience may be a good fit.
  • Finally, asking permission to stay in touch and to add this individual to your network. This unexpected outreach may prompt a response and provide an opening to continue the dialogue.   


A few weeks after writing your turndown letter, contact the organization and respectfully push for feedback on your performance during the selection process. Hiring managers, friends and former colleagues inside the organization, board members, and even major investors are potential sources of quality feedback.


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Ask well-prepared, neutral questions where answers are more factual and less disputable. For example: “Was there anything that made me less competitive?” or, “Tell me about the experiences of the person who got the job.”  Use this discussion to explore other potential opportunities and emphasize your continued interest in the firm.


Showcase the Right Skills

Recognize that many hiring managers are looking for an extremely close fit between the skills and experience on a résumé and what is specified in the job description. Next time, tailor your resume so that it closely matches the job description. Emphasize experiences that directly relate to a prospective employer’s requirements and make sure your résumé and cover letter (or cover e-mail) detail sufficient proof of your accomplishments. In addition, ask a trusted colleague who is familiar with your work history to review your résumé and the description of the position you are seeking to ensure they are closely aligned.


If you’re fortunate to make it to a live interview, focus on nailing the first 30 seconds where many hiring managers unconsciously form indelible impressions regarding a candidate’s suitability. Essential elements of a positive first impression include a firm handshake, attentive eye contact, professional appearance, executive presence, and erect posture to optimize voice quality. Make a special effort not to dominate the conversation. If you want to be heard, sometimes it's helpful to be deferential to others at the table.   


MOAA Can Help

Finally, MOAA is responding to the current unemployment crisis with a series of virtual events and webinars focused on every aspect of the job search and self-marketing process. So, whether you are finding your way through a challenging telework experience, worrying about your job security in these uncertain times, on the hunt for new employment in a changing economy, or assessing the potential impact of decreased military benefits, MOAA is here to help. 


Register for future events at the link above or at; join MOAA to hear strategies and tools to accelerate your job search, delivered by some of the best career management consultants and military benefits experts in the business. If you can’t attend the “live” session, still register and we can send you the link to view the recorded webinar. 


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About the Author

Capt. Jim Carman, USN (Ret), CAE
Capt. Jim Carman, USN (Ret), CAE

Capt. Jim Carman, USN (Ret), CAE, serves as MOAA's Vice President, Council/Chapter and Member Support. He is a Certified Association Executive and served as a Navy pilot for nearly 25 years.