You know the drill. You’ve made it through to the final interview for an executive-level position in the life sciences only to fall at the final hurdle. The position you thought was in the bag is offered up to another candidate, and you’re left to lick your wounds and remiss about what could have been.
It’s a frustration all too familiar to many job applicants and, one could argue, part and parcel of job hunting, especially for those seeking senior management and executive level roles. You see, the hiring process isn’t perfect. Despite what you might have read about artificial intelligence (AI) revolutionising the hiring process, interviews are still conducted and hiring decisions made by humans, quirks and all.
Put simply, organisations bypass extremely qualified candidates all the time. For the majority of positions, there can only be one victor, and only then, when the Hiring Manager has convinced themselves they’ve found the right candidate for the role. Every interview leading up to that decision is essentially a knockout process. Someone has to go home. Whether that is you will depend upon the factors we discuss in this article.
1) Don’t take it personally
It’s not always easy to shrug off rejection. In fact, according to phycologist Guy Winch, the pain of rejection is not so dissimilar to the pain of a physical injury. However, when you’re interviewing for executive-level positions, whether in the life sciences or related fields, it pays to have a thick skin.
Gather your thoughts and put things into perspective; the hiring manager is not the bad guy here. They are merely doing their due diligence to find the right candidate for the role. Get it wrong and they face the mammoth task or trying to recover from the missteps and management of a bad hire.
If you must vent your frustration, lean on your personal support system; those friends, family or colleagues whom you trust to keep your job search discreet. Ensure that, under no circumstances, you frustration filters through to your wider network. Even though you were not made a job offer, you don’t want to burn bridges with the hiring manager. Who knows if you’ll be made an offer later down the line? In short, keep it professional.
Finally, though you should never let your executive job search truly lapse until you’ve secured a job offer and have started in your new role, consider taking a day or two to reflect and build up your self-esteem. A negative attitude brought about by rejection can manifest itself in cover letters and interviews, sabotaging your chances of success in other hiring processes.
2. Reflect on what was
Every interview is a learning opportunity. So, with that in mind, what could you improve on next time you’re interviewing for an executive-level role in the life sciences?
Let us introduce you to a lesser known feedback model called the W3 technique. It stands for:
- What worked well?
- What did NOT work so well?
- What could you do differently?
While there are hundreds of feedback models, the simplicity of the W3 technique lends itself to personal and performance reviews. Let’s assess your interview performance now.
What worked well?
The W3 technique allows you to sing your praises. People have a tendency to give themselves a hard time following rejection and dwell on the negatives. The W3 technique provides balance and context, allowing you to acknowledge areas where you excelled during your interview as well as where you might improve. As the adage goes, if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.
Acknowledge where your personality shone through; when you felt confident in your delivery and gave concise, structured and informative answers to questions. While you’re at it, jot down any interview questions you recall being asked. Next time you’re invited for interview, be sure to prepare and rehearse concise answers to these questions as part of your interview preparation.
While you might conclude that the interview was executed to perfection and you’re still shocked and wheeling from the outcome, read on through to gain further insight into the W3 technique.
What did NOT work well?
Now you’ve acknowledged where you excelled, it’s time to highlight areas for improvement. Perhaps you stumbled on a tricky interview question. Or felt the attention of the hiring manager wonder. Maybe you felt a little too comfortable and let your professional standards stumble. When brainstorming what did not work well, ask yourself the following questions:
- Did I sell myself short? Don’t ruin your chances at interview by glossing over or downplaying your accomplishments in a misguided attempt to appear approachable and humble.
- Did my personality shine? To boost your chances of landing a job offer, you need to demonstrate that you don’t just have technical prowess but can influence, lead and fit in.
- Did I apply for the right job? If you constantly fall foul, take a step back and ask yourself if you are applying for a role that matches your skill set, personality and passions.
Don’t forget to scrutinise the questions you asked the hiring manager. Hiring Managers frequently acknowledge that questions posed by leadership-level candidates during interview offer telling insights into their character, emotional intelligence and cultural fit. In hindsight, did you make the best of this opportunity to paint yourself in the best possible light?
What could you do differently?
Hindsight is a great teacher. Don’t become defeatist when reflecting on what was. Take it as learning opportunities to hone your interview preparation and performance going forward. For every aspect of your interview performance you identified as below par in the step above, brainstorm ways you could improve upon your preparation and delivery next time around.
Should you identify shortcomings that are a direct result of your lack of experience in a particular skill set, consider ways you could structure your answers to show related experience or demonstrate a willingness to expend your learnings in this area. However, if the desired skill set is mission critical for the role, you might need to consider alternatives next time.
One area that many senior management and executive-level candidates fall foul of is forgetting to thank and follow up with the hiring manager post-interview. All it takes is a courtesy email or letter thanking the hiring manager for their time. The thank you email/letter should be considered part of your personal brand. It serves to differentiate you from your competition and, presuming you were not successful at interview, ensure you are top-of-mind if and when the hiring manager considers making new hires in the future.
Accept that you can’t influence everything
If you’ve never hired before you could be forgiven for believing that the hiring process is a relatively straightforward process. Create a job specification, find willing and qualified candidates, interview them and offer the best candidate the role. However, from the hiring managers perspective, each of those steps is a milestone and thwart with complications and hurdles.
The bigger picture includes internal politics relating to resource allocation, internal promotions and lateral moves. The hiring manager must also consider employee referrals, pipeline candidates from past interviews and strong contenders among their personal network. Finally, hiring freezes or budget blowouts can stop the hiring process in its tracks at a moments notice.
You can’t influence these internal factors; only give your best during interview and all subsequent communication with the hiring manager, so don’t agonise over circumstances out of your control.
3. Keep Up The Momentum:
As the saying goes: ‘never put all of your eggs in one basket’. Don’t put a stop to your job search just because you’re interviewing for a position. That way, should you be unsuccessful on this occasion, you may already be in the running for another. The pain of the rejection is also minimised as you focus your energy on the latest opportunity. As one door closes, another door opens.
Even if you receive a job offer, continue networking and job searching until you’ve settled in your new position. This may sound contradictory, but the truth is that there are many instances where things can go awry. You may realise you’ve made a mistake, that the job specification does not live up to expectations, you don’t ‘gel’ with your coworkers or you fail probation. To minimise the risk of a defeating setback, keep up your job search until you are confident that the role and organisation is a good fit for you and you don’t wish to seek opportunities elsewhere.
For more job search advice tailored to senior managers and executives…
* Fraser Dove International is a talent consultancy operating exclusively across the life sciences industry. While our roots lie in executive search, we provide more than the traditional recruitment services. Uniquely placed within the market, we have been providing cutting-edge talent solutions and insight to organisations at all stages of their journey – from start-up to established leaders – since 2013.