There’s a good chance that after a valiant job search ends with success (meaning… you got a job), you may not spend too much time reflecting on those opportunities that didn’t work out. That momentary pain that comes with reading an email (personal or automated) informing you that others met the organization’s needs at this time… no thanks. In an attempt to grow/put a silver lining on a situation/pretend to be a mature grown up, you probably didn’t think much beyond how you can improve your future interview responses, application materials, etc. Beyond that, why spend too much brain power on the “what ifs” once you’re on your way to bigger and better things.
But it can be a successful exercise to consider what didn’t work out. Whether or not your current position is good, bad or something in between, you’ve learned something along the way. What opportunities would you have potentially missed out on? Would your life had gone in a direction that in retrospect isn’t exactly what would be best for you?
Let me cover some of the examples of my own work history:
Teach for America: Remember how I mentioned that I left my phone at a bar the night before a phone interview? Yes, I did move on to the final round of interviews, but ultimately was not selected. Did I actually want to be a teacher? Uh, no. I have the same level of patience and control of my temper as a four year old who hasn’t had her afternoon nap. Not the best thing to throw in front of a classroom of economically disadvantaged youth. I have some personal disagreements with this organization for a variety of reasons and I’m certain that these views seeped out throughout the application process. Why apply? The most interesting thing about the opportunity was that there was a chance I’d get to move somewhere new and random. For real. This would have been a painful experience for me and any future students for a variety of reasons. I’m confident that I would not have left that situation with a desire to continue being a teacher or become a pro-Teach for America policy advocate. Lesson: Moving somewhere new and random can be great! But move for other reasons than to take a job with an organization that you don’t respect.
Social media coordinator: While in a different, painful job that I ended up in instead of Teach for America, I applied for a social media coordinator position for a PAC-12 university which I may or may not have attended as an undergraduate. This would be a dream opportunity for some people. Not me, though. I had zero enthusiasm for the nature of the work. And surprise, I got one of those automated rejection emails without as much as a phone interview. Lesson: If you actually don’t give a shit about the job, don’t apply. If you don’t see yourself doing the job: don’t apply. If you’d rather be doing something else, don’t apply.
(Almost) every single assistantship I applied to in grad school: I left The Awful Job when I went to graduate school. Background on the wacky world of academia: Some programs offer graduate students what’s called an assistantship that gives them a stipend, free tuition and benefits in exchange for work in any number of mildly relevant positions. I applied for and was turned down or unable to secure several that would have been critical had I wanted to be a teacher. Which I did at the time. At least one had nothing to do with my own application or interviewing abilities at all, when the funding for this particular position was cut at the very end of the quarter before I was presumably to start. The one position I did get–which, I might add, paid the best by lowly grad student standards–was AWESOME. In addition to having a fantastic office mate, I got to work closely with one of the coolest, most energetic academic leaders on the planet (no lie) and had plenty of autonomy to work on projects that made a huge impact. The position also showed me the importance of internal communications and employee engagement, areas of focus that are tremendous to my current job. Sure, if I continued to attempt to be a teacher then I’d have had a problem. But my perspective changed, and damn, am I glad it did thanks to that amazing opportunity. Lesson: when one door closes another one opens. Seriously.