Having managed a fellowship program, I know what it’s like to meet an applicant and think she’s awesome—but not quite as qualified as someone else. Often, I would go out of my way to help these candidates—pointing them toward other resources or, if they really impressed me, introducing them to the manager of another program or someone at Career Services.
Turns out, this can happen in the real world, as well.
Many would say that, when you interview for a job and find out you don’t get it, that’s the end of the story. But think about it: If you’ve made it to the final rounds of an interview process, you’ve clearly impressed the hiring manager. And, having spent several hours discussing your work experience, skills, and goals, you’ve built a professional (albeit new) relationship. So, why not use this person as a tool in your ongoing job hunt?
Recently, I did just that. After a great (but not so great that it landed me the job) interview process, I networked with my interviewer and asked him to connect me to other positions. And it worked.
Read on for my story and the steps to take if you want to try this approach for yourself.
Step 1: Rock the Interview Process
Every stage of the hiring process is an opportunity to make your best impression. For starters, I stepped out of my comfort zone and wrote a more creative cover letter than I ever had before. (I referred to this article while I wrote it!) I wanted to get noticed—and I did.
My application skipped past the job I was applying for and was sent to the CEO. He said he’d like to talk to me about a different position—designing and running the program I’d applied to write for.
I took copious notes during my phone interview, after which I was asked to submit a proposal for how I’d run the new initiative. I’d been burned by such an assignment a few weeks prior: I’d been asked to come up with solutions to fix a program as part of a hiring process—and the person interviewing me took my ideas and cut off all communication. But this ask felt a lot more legitimate, and I decided the opportunity was worth the risk. I couched it in a way that made sure I was still the piece that made the proposal work together, but made it enough of a window into my thinking that he could tell that I could hit the ground running and do something special.
I submitted the proposal, made it to the final round, and then, I didn’t get the job. It could have ended there—but it didn’t.
Step 2: Look for Positive Reinforcement
Here’s where got me thinking: You always hear that your network is a critical piece of your job search, because your network is made up of people who believe in you. So, what happens when you win someone over, make her believe in you, but simply aren’t applying for the right post at the right time? What happens when she thinks you’re talented, but that you just couldn’t do a specific job as well as someone else?
Over the course of this hiring process, he got to know me better than someone I’d meet at an event and follow up with over coffee. He had insight into my critical thinking, people skills, writing ability, and strict adherence to deadlines.
I knew this CEO believed in me, because he told me so. He told me he loved my cover letter, because it showed passion. When I submitted my proposal, he praised me for being the first applicant to turn it in (despite being the last one to interview and therefore having the least amount of time). When he reviewed the proposal, he said I had great ideas. Even when sharing that I didn’t get the job, he took the time to tell me that he had no doubt I could do it, but I had lost out to a firm who already had an entire staff in place. He even ended my rejection email wishing me success and saying, “I hope our paths cross again.”
So, I knew he was a fan of my candidacy.
To be clear, if you follow up with someone who hasn’t told you he believes in you, you’re wasting your time as well as his—and can easily cross into nuisance territory. It would be downright awkward to try to call upon an interviewer as a trusted connection if you never established a connection beyond setting a date and time for the interview.
But if you did have that connection? Proceed.
Step 3: Follow Up
So, I had just received an email that told me I did great, but didn’t get the position. I had three options: I could not respond; I could write, “Thank you for letting me know,” and leave it at that; or I could ask if he knew of any additional opportunities. Part of what inspired me to go with the third option is that I’d originally applied for a lower-level role.
So here’s what I wrote:
Thank you for your email and kind words. I enjoyed learning more about [company], and should there be a more appropriately suited writing or editing opportunity in future (including freelance and/or part-time), I hope you'll keep me in mind.
It was brief. It was proportionate to the connection. And, best of all, it worked.
Four minutes later, the CEO emailed me back that he’d be happy to make an introduction to the firm he’d given the contract to. The next thing I knew, the co-founder of that firm emailed to say that I’d been referred by my new contact. She requested writing samples and said that she’d love to have me join her team.
Basically, the CEO had done the legwork for me. He vouched for my candidacy, and I ended up landing the job he referred me for.
Even better, that job gave me my start in the sector, and opened the door for additional paid writing and editing opportunities down the road—which I plan to tell him when we meet for coffee this week.
The moral of the story is that every opportunity is a networking opportunity, and every job interview can lead to a job—even if it’s not the one you applied for. So put your best foot forward, and if you know someone is in your corner, ask him to help.
Oh, and regardless? Always say, “thank you.”