You Didn’t Get the Job… Now What?

frowny-face-illustraties_421989One question I get a lot is “What do I do when they select someone else for my dream job?” It is a great question. We often set our sights on a goal, thinking if we get that one job we will be where we want to be. Goals can help focus attention, provide insight into what we need to do to advance, and give career moves some purpose. When everything works out, it’s great.

I can say from personal experience that it does not always work out. How we react when the dream job does not materialize is just as important as the preparation that gets us to that point. In my case, I wanted to be the HR Director for the Defense Logistics Agency. It is a great agency and I had worked there for 5 years as a GS-14 and GS-15. When the HR Director position became available, I eagerly applied. I made the best qualified list, was interviewed twice, and waited for the decision. They selected someone else who was already an SES in another agency. Needless to say, I was crushed.

Like anyone else who does not get selected, I was faced with a choice. I could complain. I could grieve. I could pout, or I could do take action to make my own opportunities. I chose the latter. Within a few months, I was selected for another SES position as the Deputy HR Director for the Department of Commerce. It was the first time in my career I had worked outside the Department of Defense. I learned a lot about the world of civilian agencies, worked with a number of high-ranking political appointees, and learned how to make things happen in a highly political environment. For the first time, I got exposure to the Hill. The experience I gained in that position made me a far better candidate for the dream job as DLA HR Director, which I was offered 2 years later. I served in that role for 9 years, then went on to be offered a political appointment as Chief Human Capital Officer for the Department of Homeland Security.

If I had gotten what I wanted originally, I most likely would not have been as effective at DLA and I would never have been selected for the DHS position. That is why I always offer the same advice when people are turned down for a job they really want. It is not the only job for you. Take advantage of the situation and keep moving. Much like water flowing into an obstacle, go around it and look for the next opportunity. It will almost certainly be there. There is nothing to be gained from holding a grudge, whining, or lashing out at the people around you. In my case, my experience brought me back to the job I had wanted, and then on to something even bigger. Every time I have had a major career disappointment, the result has been the same. I found something better. I learned and I grew. Anyone else can do the same.

2 thoughts on “You Didn’t Get the Job… Now What?

  1. Well said, Jeff. It’s getting harder and harder to find people who are willing to wait for their next “break.” Everything is instantaneous gratification these days, and if you aren’t a GS-15 by age 30 you shut down. JFK’s “ask not…” quote resonates with me, not with the “me first” types.


  2. This is another chapter of blessing in disguise. DLA is a great organization which I had been an employee for the past five years. I can witness that upward mobility is hard at DLA and going outside the realm of DoD is even harder because Supply jobs (2010 PD) is not a very demanding field comparing with contracting or tech quality. So at this point in time I am seeking deployment opportunities and would like to enjoy some new places. I wish I could do a 5 yr rotational career plan just to stay away from the mundane routines and experience new people and cultures. Good article!!!!


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