Ask PEGA: Interactions After A Failed Job Search

Welcome to the fourth installment of Ask PEGA, an advice column for all PEGA-SIS members. Just a reminder all questions can be submitted here and will be answered on a rolling basis by our anonymous pool of upper and middle managers from law libraries of all types and sizes.

Q: I was an unsuccessful candidate for a few positions before landing my current role. In my new position I know I will I find myself interacting with a number of people from my previous failed job searches. What is the best way to navigate these potentially awkward situations?

A1: Law librarianship is a small profession. It’s not long before you start interacting with people in multiple capacities. It’s great when those are positive — I used to work with you, and everyone left on great terms. We worked on a program together and it was delightful! We were on a committee together and everyone pulled their own weight! Obviously that is far from the only experience people have. I think you have two choices: either address it outright, or pretend it never happened. Some people would be more comfortable pretending it never happened, but that would wear on me, on a daily basis. I would probably steel myself and sit down one on one with the person I’ll interact with the closest to clear the air. I would just say “Look, I know we’ll be working together, and right now it’s a little awkward for me, because I interviewed for that job. I just want you to know I don’t have any hard feelings about it or anything, so I hope there’s no issues for you.” (Hopefully you *don’t* have any hard feelings, and if you do, please work on them ASAP!) You may not have to sit down with more than the one person because word will probably spread around that things are hunky dory. If things do feel tense with individuals, repeat as necessary.

A2: First, I think you might be overestimating the awkwardness felt on the interviewer’s side and I would gently encourage you not to feel awkward yourself. There are many reasons that have little to nothing to do with you why you might be an unsuccessful candidate for a position. For example, someone else may have better filled a niche they needed at the time. I have met so many people who have later become professional friends through the interview process. Some of them have helped me get on other committees or see other opportunities. I think it’s important to see the interviewing process as a chance to get to know and network with others in addition to as an opportunity for a job. Wave and say hi when you run into these people; don’t bring up the interview; and you’re fine.

A3: I would say don’t make much of it. Treat those interviewers from the failed job search like future colleagues, the same as everyone else. Just because you weren’t right for that job doesn’t mean there won’t be something right for you down the line. As an interviewer we have to choose a candidate. It doesn’t mean we didn’t like the candidates but we had to choose one. This is a small profession. Librarians need to be okay with competing with people they know or are friendly with for jobs. They need to be okay with interacting with librarians who they rejected for positions, or who rejected them. That’s just part of the profession.

A4: You’ll be interacting with people who all had their own failed job searches too. I don’t know anyone — literally I cannot think of one person I know — who has gotten every single job she has applied for. I currently work at a place where I was a finalist for a different job and was not hired. It just means that I wasn’t the best candidate for the job at the time they were hiring. I think the best way to navigate these situations starts with knowing that everyone’s been there. Nobody is judging you as a person because you weren’t the best fit or the strongest candidate, or simply had a little less experience than the person selected. You were clearly the right fit for the position you did get — so do that work to the best of your ability and let that demonstrate the wisdom of the people who hired you.

From the interviewer’s side: It’s never fun to tell someone you’ve interviewed they didn’t get the job, but you can do them the courtesy of telling them promptly and letting them know why they weren’t selected. Our HR department recommends constructions like “We were seeking a candidate with strong X abilities and experience in Y. You have strong X but another candidate also had more extensive experience in Y.” This factual, concrete feedback, tied to the job description, helps everyone (hiring manager and committee, and successful and unsuccessful candidates) understand why the decision was made. It helps everyone understand that these decisions, even when they turn on a small difference, are grounded in facts, in the job description, and in the candidates’ qualifications.

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