What should I say if my interviewer asks me why I was rejected?
You’ve known it’s time to move on to greener pastures, but when you think of the interviews you’ll have to endure, there’s one dreaded question that keeps you shackled to your seat:
Why weren’t you promoted at your current job?
Over the last 35 years, I’ve seen how missing out on productive job promotion interview answers to this question has ruined the careers of many a middle manager. On one hand, it can paralyze otherwise ambitious managers from moving on. On the other hand, managers who come unprepared for this question are destined for the rejection pile. Here’s why:
1. They come out as liars.
Believe it or not, many managers compromise on the truth. In the back of their minds, they’re thinking, “If I tell them that I didn’t get the last promotion at my current job, why would they consider hiring me?” But the problem with not telling the truth is that it shows all over - through the words we use, our intonation, and our body language. And the interviewer is certainly no dummy. They’ll pick up on it right away and will toss you right out of the door.
2. They don’t show self-control.
Some managers, rather than concentrating on productive job promotion interview answers, use this interview as an opportunity to lash out at their company for not promoting them. As such, they spend time putting down their current company. If managers come into the interview charged with anger, even if they consciously try not to bad mouth their company, it’ll still come out. Such managers come off as pretentious and haughty, which of course results in instant rejection.
So instead of missing out on yet another promotion, make sure you internalize these two key points about your own situation:
1. You were rejected for a promotion you thought you deserved. Yes, someone else got your job - but it could’ve been for many different reasons. For example, maybe the other candidate had been at the company for much time and had been waiting longer for this opportunity. Or perhaps the company had other considerations you’ll never even know about or even understand. What’s important to take away is that as soon as you were seen as a suitable candidate, in the end, the consideration of whom to choose wasn’t a matter of good or bad. It was an issue of more suitable for that particular instance. Therefore, the fact that you were actually a final candidate is a testament to your abilities and talents.
2. The company you’re interviewing at is looking for “the perfect candidate.” You might or might not be the one. But there are criteria for the position. And what determines whether you’ll get this job is the match between what the company is looking for and what you bring to the table. That’s it. In fact, there’s probably very little connection with why you were rejected from the last job.
So with this insight, follow these two steps as you prepare and go for your interview:
1. Thoroughly familiarize yourself with the job requirements and then work out which ones you meet and which ones you don’t. Rather than fretting over what’s missing, prepare to highlight the requirements you do meet. Also, take a look beyond the listed requirements. Perhaps there are qualities or experience you bring that would make a valuable contribution to the job? Identify these and make note of them. But please remember: if you find that you neither meet the basic requirements nor can offer any added value, consider rethinking your decision to apply in the first place.
2. If you think you’ve got a fighting chance, prepare a short elevator pitch about yourself that highlights your relevant qualities and experience so that you’ll be ready to tell about them in the interview. Here’s an example: let’s say the company is looking for a candidate with proven experience in complex project management (and you know that complex projects have been an achilles heal for the company). You’d begin your elevator pitch stressing your expertise in managing complex projects, citing relevant experience, such as solving critical bottlenecks or saving key projects from doom. In your elevator pitch, you’d include how you’d been shortlisted as a candidate for a similar position at your previous organization, which you see as a testament to your suitability for this job. However, in the end, since you didn’t get the position and you didn’t see any similar opportunities on the horizon, you decided to move on. Please note the importance of bringing up the fact that you weren’t promoted and to “spin it” as I’ve described above. You don’t want to let your interviewer think you’re hiding any skeletons in your closet.
Dealing with the embarrassment of having to tell an interviewer about a failure can paralyze the best of us. But if you want to manage your career, you can’t let embarrassment take over. Instead, concentrate on gaining a sound understanding of the job requirements and how you can meet them. This, coupled with true belief in yourself, will give you more than a fighting chance at achieving the job you deserve.
And always remember:
Great managers are made. Not born.
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