You should always ask for feedback.
The MPW Insiders Network is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for, “How do you deal with rejection when it comes to landing a job?” is written by Erica Galos Alioto, SVP of local sales at Yelp.
About seven years ago, a vice president role opened up at my company. Although I was a sales leader at the time, I had previously made a transition from practicing law to doing sales at a startup. I figured I had the right skill set for the position, so I decided to throw my hat in the ring.
The interviews came down to two final candidates: an external candidate and me. After we both presented a final presentation in front of the interviewing committee, I was informed that the other candidate was getting the job.
I was devastated at first. I thought I was perfect for the role and believed the company must not see my value if they didn’t want me. I wondered whether it would affect my ability to move up in other roles within the company; after all, if they didn’t see me as a fit for this VP-level job, would they ever see me that way?
When the COO gave me the news, he finished by saying, “We hope you’ll stay with the company.” What did that mean? Was one expected to leave a company after being passed over for this type of role? Did they not think I could handle the rejection? The questions ran rampant through my mind.
Once my initial feelings of despair began to fade, I asked the hiring manager for feedback about what I could have done differently. He gave two main reasons for me not getting the position: As someone who had been at the company for four years, they weren’t sure if the culture was too ingrained in me to be able to think about things from a fresh perspective; and secondly, my presentation was too vague. I wasn’t specific enough about how I would approach the role, and that meant I probably hadn’t thought it through well enough. When I went back through the presentation, I realized they were right. I discussed things like my approach to training and development, but I didn’t present a specific enough plan. Because of that, they weren’t sure if I had the skills necessary to be successful in the role.
I didn’t leave the company (I couldn’t blame them for my own shortcomings, after all). In fact, just a few months after the role was filled, I was asked to take on another role that involved moving to a new city and opening up a new office. Looking back, I can’t imagine how much different my career—and my life—would have been had I not taken the role I ended up getting. It brought new experiences, new friendships, and a big life change for us that was much needed at the time.
My biggest lesson from the experience? Every rejection is an opportunity to learn and improve. If you follow up with the people who interviewed you and ask for candid, specific feedback about how you can improve, you will be better off the next time you interview. On the other hand, if you are defensive about it or if the interviewers sense you can’t handle the feedback, they may just give you a vague, “We found a better fit.”