How to repair my self esteem and get past the heartbreak of not landing
May 16, 2018 5:11 PM   Subscribe

I recently interviewed for a position in a different industry than the one I am currently in. Interview went so-so, I felt afterwards, didn’t have my hopes up. Few days later, got what I thought was a positive sign from the interviewer, and THEN got my hopes up, against my better judgment… few more days pass, and the position has been filled after I reached out once again. I’m crushed. I feel like I’ve mangled my chances at about 3 different interviews I’ve had over the past year and a half or so. How do I move on and learn from this, help myself feel better about the way things went, and get myself out of a stagnating job and work environment that is making me desperately unhappy? Garbled mess of self-pity within….

The job was perfect for me, being a confluence of my diverse backgrounds and interests of photography/geography/marketing, paid quite well, and was something I could easily see myself enjoying and succeeding at long-term. I easily met/exceeded all of the qualifications set out in the job description, and felt very good about my resume/cover letter.

A few weeks after having applied (past the point where I was expecting a callback), an interview was scheduled, very last minute (same day), so I didn’t have a whole lot of time to prepare. In doing the prep that I could in that time, I know I made a mistake in trying to brace myself for the question of “why do you wish to leave your current position,” which was never asked, and instead stammered/rambled/froze on some other questions that I should have been better prepared for, and gave some wishy-washy “people pleaser” type answers. Despite that, I felt like our conversation went decently well, I asked a lot of questions about the job and the company, and learned a lot in the process. The interviewer was very kind and responded positively to the things I had said. The interview concluded with her handing me her business card, and let me know to feel free to email if I had any more questions, and that she would call me within the week to let me know one way or another. This was on a Monday.

I walked away feeling iffy about the whole thing.. Wouldn’t have been surprised if they’d found someone a bit better qualified, but who knows. The next day I sent a follow up email thanking her for the interview, expanded a bit upon one of my answers to give a more concrete example of something that hadn’t come to mind at the time, and also asked a question about the work itself. She responded on the following Thursday morning, thanked me for following up, responded positively to the point I expanded on, and happily answered the question I had. The kicker, though, was that she signed off on the email with two words that will probably haunt me for a good long while: “Chat soon!”....

Ok, NOW I’ve got my hopes up... Can’t really think of any scenario where Chat soon! Would mean anything besides good news is to come...

So all I could do was wait patiently… Friday rolls around, no phone call, nothing over the weekend, Monday, Tuesday… almost a week of waiting in limbo between anticipation/agony… beside myself with hope and excitement, and it was nearly all I thought about in the days in between.

This morning, after still not having heard back, I emailed again to find out if a decision had been made, and got a call back almost immediately only to be let down.

And here I am. Absolutely devastated.
Now what?
How do I shake the feelings of worthlessness, shame, and regret after being evaluated and ultimately passed over, when I know there’s nothing and nobody to blame but myself? Finding it very hard to avoid thinking of myself as “just not good enough” in some kind of quantifiable fashion, since this isn’t the first one I feel like I’ve blown over the past while.

I am finding it very difficult to even think about putting the effort into searching/applying for other jobs that just plain do not appeal to me as much as this one did, especially given that any I do try and pursue might just end up in another demoralizing failure.. How can I put myself through another rollercoaster ride of emotions like this again??? How do I bring myself to start again from square one?

I do plan on putting some work into improving upon my interviewing skills, and broadening my network in whatever way people say ends up being helpful. For whatever it’s worth I have never once in my life managed to secure another job while already employed, though I’ve always got my eye out for something better. As mentioned above, I am unhappy at the job I am currently at. The work environment is highly aggressive, and I feel walked all over by constantly angry coworkers, doing work I find to be completely unfulfilling and thankless. The pay is decent, though, so which is a big reason for hesitation up to now. But it’s taking a toll on my mental health, and my happiness in general.

I appreciate having learned a bit about the industry, and it is definitely something I would still like to pursue should the opportunity present itself again, but that seems highly unlikely in any local sense… I live in a very small town that is part of a larger region,, but the nearest big city is just over an hour’s drive in either direction (the company in question was based out of one of the larger cities, but looking for a specialist in my region). Opportunities are fewer and farther between around here (anything of this caliber anyway, or jobs that line up closely with my passions). Pay tends to be lower than the bigger cities as well, though so is cost of living. In any case, I am not willing to relocate at this point in time.

How can I reframe my thinking so as to not feel so hopelessly disappointed if this same situation ends up happening to me again? How do I shake the feeling that there’s something glaringly wrong with me so that I can put this one behind me, get back up and try again, and how do I stop feeling so cruddy about the way this one worked out?

Thanks, as always, kind Metapals <3
posted by wats to Work & Money (12 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I know the feeling, and what helps for me is to remember that several people didn't get hired.

Keeping the ball rolling by applying more places works far better, though.

Anyway, already having a job isn't nothing, too. It's just a grind, best to numb yourself to it and go through the motions until the puzzle pieces match up.
posted by rhizome at 5:18 PM on May 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: There is probably little to nothing you could change or improve. This is much more likely about the whims of the hiring committee and the competitiveness of the market than a failure on your part.

Consider that an interview isn't always about finding the best candidate for the job. Companies are...shit, even good companies are shit, and management is routinely shit and full of power-players, and part of what they're looking for in a candidate might be that they seem easily manipulable, or unaware of their value, or hot in a very specific way or otherwise desirable to a specific member of the hiring committee, or someone was prejudiced against some facet of your existence. There's a bunch going on that you cannot control and can't control for, because you can't know what's going on behind their closed doors.

For all you know, you just dodged a bullet. OR, they opted for someone they're going to regret, for arbitrary or stupid reasons. Or there was you and there was someone else and you were both great but the other person happened to have One Weird Skill that's really hard to find, or went to the same college as one of the interviewers, or wore a shade of blue that reminded someone of their childhood home.

It's tough out there. This happens. I think you'd be better served just focusing on keeping your hustle up than beating yourself up and trying to figure out how to guarantee a win at what is mostly a game of chance. Something even better than this might be right around the corner, you just have to keep moving or you definitely won't find it.
posted by Lyn Never at 5:35 PM on May 16, 2018 [9 favorites]

would it help to hear that for every position I have hired I have had to turn down good qualified people?
Try to think of it as a meeting to practice skills on and to learn more about that company and industry.
posted by calgirl at 5:35 PM on May 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

How do I shake the feelings of worthlessness, shame, and regret after being evaluated and ultimately passed over, when I know there’s nothing and nobody to blame but myself? Finding it very hard to avoid thinking of myself as “just not good enough” in some kind of quantifiable fashion, since this isn’t the first one I feel like I’ve blown over the past while.

I really, deeply wish that anybody who ever applied for a job also had the experience of hiring for a job. Only then can you understand how meaningless not-getting-hired is as a barometer of your self-worth.

The fact is that people are terrible at making hiring decisions. Almost all of us default to hiring someone we know, someone known by someone we know, or someone who reminds us of ourselves in some way. The best hire I ever made was against my instincts, but I went with the recommendations of others on my team. The worst hires I've made have been the ones I've been most confident of. You simply cannot accurately judge a person by a piece of paper and an hour's worth of conversation.

I've also been part of hiring committees, and as terrible and fallible and capricious as my judgment has been, I've seen firsthand how other people's judgment is even worse. People don't hire someone because they remind them somehow (hair, name, mannerisms) of someone they don't like. They don't hire because the other candidate is hotter. They don't hire because they interviewed you before lunch and they were grumpy.

I guess in summary: it's terribly unhealthy to let other people's opinions of you determine your self-worth (in general: friends, family, dating) and that goes extra for the extremely narrow circumstances of job hunting.

That's not to say you shouldn't do things to improve your attractiveness as a candidate -- have pretend interviews with your friends, so you don't get as nervous. Research the company. Tailor your resume. Do professional development. Just keep sending out resumes, and don't take not getting hired as an excuse to indulge your worst instincts for catastrophizing and over-the-top self-castigation. Think of someone you like and admire. Recognize that if they didn't get hired for something you'd think it was the company's mistake, not theirs. Apply those feelings to yourself.
posted by mrmurbles at 5:53 PM on May 16, 2018 [11 favorites]

Best answer: What these folks above have said goes for me as well. I'm a oft-frustrated job candidate who has pretty much had to do the "IKEA job interview process" for every time I've been hired since I left my family business: build my own chair to sit in before interviewing. Lest that make me sound brilliant or something, it just makes me feel like no matter how successful I've been I feel like I'm a lousy "conventional interview" or something.

And in my current position, I hire people, and gosh it's chaotic and stupid decisions get made. I also get asked to start spooling up interviews before a position is quite gelled, which frustrates me to no end (I've increasingly tried to put my foot down about it, but I still get the wool pulled over my eyes internally).

So my advice, FWIW:

- you're going to have that "I'm 6 years old and no one came to my birthday party" feeling after unsuccessful interviews. All you can try to do is plan fun stuff and distractions around those times and keep plowing.

- learn to not read anything into friendliness or lack thereof in interviews. People are not real systematic about their communications, and yeah, they say things like "talk soon!" regardless of their intentions. In my own experience, I've also said very positive things to candidates thinking that I was about to be able to hire them, then had the rug jerked out from me internally.

If you're trying to pivot in careers, is there any possibility of doing some contracting or consulting in the field you want to get into? Just a stray thought, as the professions you mention are pretty big on those kinds of ways of being employed.
posted by randomkeystrike at 6:12 PM on May 16, 2018 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for taking the time to help me feel better everyone,, that all really does help.

I guess the biggest thing I'm struggling with is that it seems like such a once-in-a-blue-moon opportunity that I've missed. How's this for irony: I'm married to an actual employment counselor.. he very kindly sends anything he thinks I might be remotely interested in my way, but nothing's ever come anywhere close to this one in terms of fit for me. I guess I feel like I'm... mourning the loss of what seems like a one time shot at this particular path??

Freelancing in this field may be possible, but not without significant monetary investment/risk, and a killer instinct/hustle that I just do not possess. Definitely a traditional employment type of person..
posted by wats at 7:49 PM on May 16, 2018

Best answer: I just got done being on a hiring committee. Let me tell you what it was like:
(a) Nine candidates chosen for interviews, two flaked and bailed.
(b) One thought the job started six months from now and was already employed during the summer, another had to leave the country during the summer.
(c) Two of them were more or less just okay, seemed nice enough but didn't really stand out for the position specifically one way or the other.
(d) #3 we liked but found out there was another issue going on with him that may mean he leaves the job earlier than expected.

Of the last two, I really thought one (call them B) was delightful, reminded me of myself, would love to hang out with them. A was also a good candidate and really interested in the stuff I do, but due to security reasons they would actually be straight up forbidden from doing that aspect of the job. Those two got called for second interviews. Much to my sad, B turns out to be an extreme extrovert and essentially said they NEED to be working and talking in a group all the time or they can't get anything done. This is a fairly "working by yourself" job and that raised red flags with everyone, even including me. A has been offered the job, but we'll see how they feel about not being able to do the part of the job they were interested in doing.

That's generally kind of how it goes. Some folks are just fine but don't stand out in any particular way. Some folks are awesome but some other thing comes up that means we can't hire them. Some folks say they really love ABC aspects of the job but we really do XYZ and figure they are going to be disappointed and not like it if they get it. Sometimes it's only the slightest of things that do you out of a job in a field of people who are fairly equal.

I've lost out to other coworkers in the same office. I've lost out on multiple jobs because my current job doesn't do X at all and they straight up say they don't want to train anyone in how to do X even though I took a class in X and it's not that hard. One time I lost out because I haven't worked enough with a certain population. And that's just the stuff I know about.

Not getting hired doesn't mean you totally suck (and I say this as someone who thinks she sucks 24-7). It's more of a near miss these days than anything else. Someone else was probably a slightly better fit than you in their eyes as far as they could tell, and shit happens. It also seems worse when your current job sucks and you feel like you can never get out of it. I can't help you on that last aspect of it, but while it sucks to lose a potential escape route, it doesn't necessarily mean you're awful.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:47 PM on May 16, 2018 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I know that feeling of getting *so close* to a job that feels like a perfect match... and then not getting it. When I was looking for a job I interviewed at a place that seemed like it had a perfect job for me... and I didn't get it.

I found two things helped me.

First, just having the interview let me know I was moving in the right direction. Like you I was changing my field (somewhat); going from an arts&culture organization to a social justice/advocacy organization. I felt engaged and excited about the job - so that helped me know I was/am doing the right thing in pursuing the field. Even if I didn't get that job, I know where I want to get to.

Second, I continue to follow the organization via their social vehicles. I think from seeing them regularly enough, I realize that job is - well, a job. Whomever has that job is doing it, regularly pumping out their work, is having bad days and office spats and probably feels exhausted and irritated. Because its a job. It may seem perfect in those heady moments of interviewing, but its not.
posted by RajahKing at 8:16 AM on May 17, 2018 [2 favorites]

Best answer: How do I shake the feelings of worthlessness, shame, and regret after being evaluated and ultimately passed over, when I know there’s nothing and nobody to blame but myself? Finding it very hard to avoid thinking of myself as “just not good enough” in some kind of quantifiable fashion, since this isn’t the first one I feel like I’ve blown over the past while.

My last company relocated halfway across the country and I wasn't inclined to move. I have a decent background and track record of success and I am a (mostly) normal person. I signed a nice severance deal and thought that my next job was just a matter of me polishing up a resume and then dropping my line in the water.

I was out for 13 months, and grew increasingly depressed and self-doubting as the months ticked by. In that time, I applied to 85 jobs. I'd estimate that 65 of those went into a black hole, 10 had a little nibble of interest and then went into a black hole, 5 had some sort of interview and then went into a black hole, and 4 were real live opportunities where I went pretty far down the line in interviews and then went into a black hole. The last one is the job I am in now.

I was just like you describe: doing the math each day and waiting by the phone and checking e-mail every 20 minutes to see if something came in. Every time that nothing did, I convinced myself that it was my fault for messing up the interview questions, or that my resume had the wrong words on it, or that my cover letter stunk, or that I should be out there having more lunches with my "network," or that I was too fat when they met me, or that my voice was annoying, or that the little yellow tooth from when I got hit with a baseball as a kid was distracting, or that my clothes were not up to par, or that or that or that or that. The reality was that it most of the time it was none of those. They didn't not like me; they just liked someone else, too.

I got over the shock and cruddiness of applying for a job and just never hearing anything back (but I still think that sucks), but I never got over the places where I got down to the end and they said "you'll hear from us soon" and then they never called. Recruiters and HR people will tell you that it's just an unavoidable consequence of modern-day hiring, where you get a zillion resumes for an open position and can't possibly keep up on a personal level. But after you've made a personal connection, I think you owe it to a candidate to do better. Chalk it up to the atrocious-but-somehow-accepted modern recruiting norms rather than anything you have done or not done.

I know the news stories talk about historically low unemployment, but it's a sneaky tough job market out there for professional jobs, and like everyone said above it's often wholly arbitrary how they get filled. Know that it's not you, and know that it's normal to have this doubt and frustration, and keep up hope that you'll find something right for you. Good luck.
posted by AgentRocket at 8:26 AM on May 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The wrong people get hired all the time and end up leaving after a few months, or getting fired during a "probationary" period. Just because you weren't hired doesn't mean you suck.

IF you can, without getting your hopes up, I would drop your contact at the company a line in a few months to say that you are interested in the field / company and see if they have any available openings then.
posted by WeekendJen at 11:31 AM on May 17, 2018

If you didn't get the job there was probably something there that you didn't fit and as a result if you had gotten the job you would have hated it.

Maybe they were the wrong kind of people and wouldn't have liked you. Maybe the job would have required you to do on site up-selling and you didn't mention selling but it was an integral part of the job; and you didn't realise that because selling is something you are uninterested in so much that you missed it.

There was something wrong with the job. That's why you didn't get it.
posted by Jane the Brown at 1:18 PM on May 17, 2018 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Oh man, I really wish there was some way I could impress upon you how deeply this (by which I mean not getting this job) is 1. not your fault and 2. not a reflection on your worth as a person, or even as a job candidate.

What the others are saying about hiring being a crapshoot is so true. I've been part of dozens of hiring decisions and I'd say we absolutely made the best choice maybe two thirds of the time if I'm being generous. I've seen "great hires" that wound up struggling in the role, and I've seen people that the hiring committee was unsure of (but went ahead with for whatever reason) that turned out to be amazing at their jobs. It sounds like you had one interview, which is really not enough for someone to know conclusively if you'd be good at the job. Honestly, it sounds like a pretty old-fashioned and not very effective hiring process, if that helps at all.

That said, I did notice you observed you weren't as well-prepared for your interview as you would have liked. This is a great and helpful observation you can build on. If you keep applying for jobs, you'll keep getting interviews and you can get good practice. You'll start to notice what questions are common in your field and be able to start to develop your stock answers for them. Personally, when I'm preparing for an interview, these are the things I get ready to talk about (YMMV):

- Why I'm interested in that role and organization
- A few examples of professional successes
- An example of a professional failure and what I learned from it
- My strengths/greatest skills and weaknesses/skills I am working on developing
- I'll look at the job description and think of a few examples of different ways I've used the skills they're looking for, or work I've done that's comparable

The kinds of questions asked in your field might be different, but generally, being able to talk about your skills/experience, as well as the organization/role, will set you up to do at least OK.

I also think it's a good idea, if you want a new job, to always have 2-3 applications going. So that means either something you've applied for in the last week or so, or something you're in the process of interviewing for. Even if it's not your dream job on paper. One, it'll help you feel better about your current shitty job. Two, it keeps you in practice. Three, it helps keep any one opportunity from getting blown up too much in your mind. If that kind of pressure makes it harder for you to do well in interviews, then alleviate that pressure for yourself by having multiple irons in the fire.

To that point, I would urge you to at least consider applying for those jobs that are farther away. Maybe you could work remotely at least a few days a week. Maybe they'll surprise you with a higher salary offer than you're expecting. Applying for a job doesn't mean you have to take it, but keeping up with applications, even for jobs that don't seem ideal, helps create momentum.
posted by lunasol at 5:48 PM on May 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

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