Sometimes It Really Is the Luck of the Draw

When I was in high school, I participated in speech team, meaning I got up at the crack of dawn every Saturday to perform a prepared piece in front of judges. Everyone would perform for three rounds and then wait while their scores were added to see if they made it to finals. (Between this, choir, and theater, I really embraced my nerdiness in high school.)

Later, after college, I spent a few years being one of those judges, and I finally understood how the same piece performed by the same person could get wildly different scores from round to round. There was very little prep given to judges, and I ended up judging categories I knew nothing about. It was clear which students were just terrible, no matter the category, and who was extremely gifted, but mostly I had a hard time figuring out how to rank people.

I've seen this same lesson play out behind-the-scenes in job searches. As I've compiled feedback for a number of search committees, I've been amazed how one person can think a candidate is perfect for a job while another gives her low scores and has a long list of concerns. And it's not unusual for someone to be asked to conduct an interview without many clear guidelines of what to ask or what to look for.

I share this because I think it's important to keep in mind that everyone experiences job rejection, and it's not necessarily because you did anything wrong. Certainly, if you are seeing a pattern in the feedback you're getting or where in the process you keep getting stuck, that's important to pay attention to. But you shouldn't beat yourself up over a single rejection. It's possible that there was heated disagreement about whether to hire you between people who were looking for very different things, or you only interviewed with one person who just didn't happen to be the one who would have clicked with you.

Every candidate, including you, has strengths and weaknesses, and which aspects receive the most weight sometimes come down to a person's own preference. Remember that some things are simply beyond your control.