Monday, April 19, 2010

Turn A Rejection Into A Job Offer

It can be done if you make the right moves.

by Susan Adams,
The woman was interviewing for a lucrative position as director of a sales team. After having three great meetings full of lively conversation about how she'd handle the job, she was optimistic. But then came the fourth and final interview, with the company's executive vice president. Things were going swimmingly until the interviewee asked a question designed to lock in the offer: "Do you have any issues with my candidacy?"

"Frankly, yes," the executive replied. "You're good with people, but you don't have the analytic background we need. Not only would you need to steer the sales team, but you'd need to analyze information and data too." Shocked, the woman left the meeting realizing the offer she'd thought was in the bag was gone.

In a high-pressure job search, is it ever possible to turn a no into a yes?

Absolutely, says Robert Hellmann, a career coach at the Five O'Clock Club, a career counseling firm, who also teaches career development at New York University. Hellmann was coaching that very woman, and he helped her turn the situation around.

After every job interview, Hellmann advises, you should write not a thank-you note but what he calls an "influence letter." In this case, that letter became his client's key to getting back into the running.

The letter should always address the conversation you've had and your skills and experience. First, in the interview, you should ask what challenges the company is facing and what the new hire will need to do as soon as she starts work. In the influence letter, address those challenges concretely, ideally by describing similar challenges you've tackled at a previous job and how you handled them.

If, like Hellmann's client, you've been told there's a specific issue with your candidacy, deal with it head-on. Hellmann's client asked the executive to provide her with a set of data on which she could do the kind of analysis he'd said the job required. At first he didn't respond, but a week later she received a terse two-word e-mail--"OK, here"--with a spreadsheet attached. She spent the following three-day weekend attacking the spreadsheet, and on Monday night she e-mailed back a thorough analysis, with a request that he save a slot in his calendar for her to come in and discuss what she'd done.

At their next meeting the executive was enthusiastic. Then the candidate asked the second question Hellmann recommends all job-seekers raise before concluding an interview: "How do I stack up against the competition?"

"Frankly," said the executive, "you're one of our top two candidates." Goal scored. She was back in the running. But then he added that the other candidate had already held the exact sort of job he was filling, and he didn't see why he shouldn't hire someone he knew would be ready to hit the ground running. Given the other candidate's ideal fit, the executive asked, "why should we hire you?"

Deflated again, the woman went home and started a second influence letter, describing how she would bring a unique competitive advantage to the job. She stressed her ability to rally team members and motivate them to outdo themselves, describing specific instances when she'd done just that in previous jobs. She gave several examples of how her leadership strengths boosted performance and surpassed goals. Then she sent off the letter and waited. The executive called her shortly thereafter and offered her the job.

She had turned a "no" into a "yes."

Hellmann advises you not only to carefully craft an influence letter after each interview, but also to watch yourself carefully during the interview itself. A common pitfall is bad chemistry. Hellmann had a client once who arrived in a suit and tie at an interview where the manager quickly removed his jacket and made himself comfortable. The nervous candidate kept his jacket on and failed to relax.

"The manager was sending a message, but my client didn't want to pick up on it," Hellmann observes. Even though he wrote a strong influence letter after the fact, the candidate didn't get the job. The lesson, Hellmann says: If the chemistry is lacking, do your best to pick up on and mirror the interviewer's vibe.

Another common mistake: bad writing in the influence letter. Some of us just aren't great wordsmiths. But usually we know it, and help is available. Even good writers realize it's best to let their copy rest overnight before a final review and revisions. If you're a lousy writer to start with, find a friend who's better and ask for help.

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