A couple of weeks ago, I had just completed two interviews for what I still believe would have been my dream job. The first went phenomenally, and the second wasn’t spectacular, but it was solid. I knew the company inside out. I felt qualified. My answers were prepped. My references were impeccable. I thought the women I would be working for were fantastic. I asked the right questions, sent thank you cards (Paperless Post for personalization and efficiency), the whole nine.
Then I had a third interview. For whatever reason, I was nervous, the questions were tough, and I stumbled. It wasn’t a complete disaster certainly, but I hung up the phone feeling much less confident than I had previously. It was Friday, and as they were hoping to find someone to start immediately, I was told I would hear early the next week.
Monday, I was hopeful. Tuesday, I was a nervous wreck. Wednesday, I was convinced they would give it to someone else. Thursday, the job posting was taken down from the website. Friday, I got the dreaded email, which still felt like a punch in the stomach.
I was absolutely devastated. It certainly wasn’t the first rejection in my life or even the first for a job, but it definitely hurt the most. Never before had I felt so confident or been so thrilled about an opportunity and fallen short by such a small margin. I spent all day Thursday beating myself up for less than stellar responses, for forgetting to mention specifics, for not doing enough. Even still, I felt like I was missing something.
I just want to ask what I could have done better, I thought. But I can’t do that.
And then it dawned on me: Why can’t I?
So when I got the email Friday morning saying they had gone in a different direction, I went for it. What did I have to lose? After all, it was the first interviewer and I felt we had a great connection. I emailed her back, thanked her again for their time and consideration, and then wrote:
"I know this is somewhat unconventional, but I’m wondering if you would mind telling me where I could have done better in the interview process. I know I stumbled on a couple of questions for one, but really anything you could tell me would be incredibly helpful in my job search going forward. I would so appreciate it."
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Now to preface this, we’re talking about the publishing industry here. I’m not going to go making generalizations and say this is a good idea in the world of investment banking or finance. I’m not sure—I’ve never done it. Second, this is obviously an exceptionally kind and generous individual we’re talking about.
That being said, it was the absolute best thing I could have done.
I got a response a few hours later asking if I had time for a phone call. She said she would love to offer some feedback, and good for me for being proactive. When we talked on the phone I did feel a bit embarrassed and hurt, but she was not only incredibly kind, but completely honest and unbelievably helpful. She pointed out some of the specific reasons they chose someone else for the position, things I wouldn’t have realized if I had continued to beat myself up for weeks (I may have). Additionally, she said she’d like to meet for lunch and that she would be sending a recommendation to HR immediately.
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I hung up still disappointed, but encouraged and with a sense of closure. Not only was she encouraging about seeing me in a different role, but I had come away with priceless insight. She helped me see clearly the specifics I had faltered on or failed to convey, things I am already working to improve for next time.
That’s not to say there won’t be more rejections ahead, but with the insight I gained from simply asking, I feel prepared to move on and land my new dream job. Stay tuned.
This article originally appeared in Levo League, and is reprinted with permission.