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by Sarah E. Needleman | March 10, 2009


Passed over for a job you really want? Hold off throwing in the towel just yet.

"If there's an organization you really want to work for, don't let your first rejection be your defining moment," says Shelia Gray, director of global talent acquisition for International Paper Co., a forest-products manufacturer based in Stamford, Conn. "Continue to pursue the organization."

Within days of being denied a marketing-associate internship at L'Orial USA Inc. last spring, Andy Rah, 32, urged recruiters in an email to label him a backup candidate. "I said that I was really disappointed because the company was my No. 1 choice and asked them to reconsider me if somebody backs out or if another position opens up," says the M.B.A. at Georgetown University's McDonough School of Business. A week later, the New York-based company retracted its rejection and offered him the job, which he accepted, he says.

Here are four tips for staying on recruiters' radars for new job opportunities.

1. Keep cool following a rejection.

Being turned down for a job can hurt, but avoid expressing anger or resentment toward recruiters, cautions Melissa Shober, general manager at Professional Document Solutions Inc., a Xerox Corp. sales agency based in Fort Collins, Colo. "Some people almost act like you owe them an apology," she says. "You never want to tell recruiters that they were in the wrong."

Ms. Shober says she recalls an email from a candidate accusing her of making a mistake by not hiring her for a sales position. Up until that point, "I was impressed with the gal and thought about calling her back in a few months if a position opened up," she says. "But her email took away that chance."

2. Write a thank-you.

Ms. Gray says she once received a thank-you from a candidate after he'd been denied a director-of-engineering position at a high-tech firm where she was a recruiter. "He acknowledged that it would've been a great company to work for, but that he understood he was not the right person for the particular opportunity," she recalls. "Most recruiters remember great candidates, and that letter kept him top of mind." When another engineering position opened up at the company a few months later, Ms. Gray invited the former candidate to interview for it, and he was subsequently hired, she says.

A thank-you can help reinforce your strong desire to work for a company, adds Jennifer Randolph, vice president, organizational development at Courtroom Television LLC in New York. "Hiring managers want to see how interested you are in the job," she explains. In 2003 a junior marketing executive quit the media company after three days on the job. For a replacement, Ms. Randolph turned to a runner-up who'd called to thank her soon after being rejected in an email. The candidate had made it clear that she really wanted the job, she says.

3. Send friendly reminders.

Keep in touch with recruiters after being passed over for a job, advises Susan McWhirter, staffing manager at InBev USA, a manufacturer and distributor of premium beers. In July she notified three candidates for a junior-level customer-service job that the Norwalk, Conn.-based company was putting the position on hold. One candidate followed up in an email about a month later, she says. Coincidentally, the company was ready to fill the position around that time, and he was offered the job. "This was someone who just kept us informed of his status and interest level in the company," notes Ms. McWhirter. "He asked us to consider him in the future and we did."

In some cases, following up may require several calls or emails over time, says Ms. Shober. One a month is sufficient, she says. A job hunter who was denied a sales position at Professional Document Solutions in March called Ms. Shober once a month for three months afterward. "She took a risk again and again, which showed determination and confidence," she says. "She was professional and polite, each time thanking me for taking her call." When the company later decided to create a new sales position, the former candidate was offered the job, and she accepted, says Ms. Shober.

4. Request feedback.

Following a rejection, ask interviewers for advice on how you could have performed better, suggests Andrea Hough, senior vice president, recruiting manager, at Wachovia Corp., a banking institution based in Charlotte, N.C. "You might say, 'If I were to show up again, what would you want me to do differently?' That demonstrates a sincere interest in personal development and career progression," she explains.

Be professional, even if you don't like what you hear, warns Ms. Hough. She recalls a candidate for a middle-management position who took issue with feedback he'd received after being declined a job. "He started to argue some of the developmental points, which showed a lack of maturity and a true lack of commitment for personal development," she says. He might have gotten the job had he reacted differently, she adds, because the winning candidate declined it.


Filed Under: Job Search

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