Career Tips

Feeling Rejected? Play A Different Game!

By Dave Isbell

Recently, a Spartan I had coached briefly in the past sent me an email that basically said “I thought I had a good interview but I didn’t get the job, can you please look over my documents and help me to understand why?” This type of question is common for me to receive, and I thought maybe someone here might be able to get a few ideas from my response.

First, let me say that I’m sorry things didn’t work out for you. Really I am! I know you took time to develop your documents, to prepare for the interview, and to go in there with the right attitude and get it done. It is likely that, unless you ended up lying, crying, or cussing, your side of the interview was probably sufficient. I know it is frustrating, and disheartening, to be “rejected” but I want to suggest for you to reframe the idea that you were rejected.


It doesn’t really matter why. The interviewing game is just like that, THEY hold all of the power to make the decision and you have none; THEY make the rules, you don’t. THEY know what they are looking for, you don’t (the job posting is just a hint, it is not the reality.); your qualifications don’t matter as much as THEIR subjective opinions (though most interviewers try to be objective, it is impossible. People are not machines, they get “gut” feelings and whether they know it or not they often build a case to see what they want to see to support their “gut,” and you can do nothing about it in an interview.) After all, it is THEIR game, not yours. As long as you are going about the process of sending resumes to job postings and showing up for interviews you have to play by their rules. It is really a game of chance, not unlike the lottery.

There is another way to look at this. Instead of playing by their rules, how about opting out of the game?


You see, it’s all about perspective. If you don’t worry about trying to get the job, and instead put yourself in front of the company as a consultant who can solve their problem, then you are no longer a “job seeker.” It is true that as a consultant, sometimes the client buys, and sometimes they don’t. It doesn’t matter what they choose. What matters is that your perspective has shifted from one who is asking for something to one who is offering something. It is now YOUR game instead of theirs!

How can you make this work? For starters, limit who you put yourself in front of. For example, what would happen if you only put yourself in front of people who you think need what you can deliver and with whom you want to collaborate on the problem at hand?

What if your advertising was mostly based on word of mouth?

What would happen to your “business” if you gave out alot of “taste tests” and, once in awhile, you give the whole enchilada, free of charge?

What if, instead of a “job seeker,” you were a “fan” of the place/people you want to work with/for? How would that direct your discussions and interactions with them?

What if, as a fan, you presented to them not just the passion of “fandom” but also concrete solutions that would help to improve their product/service or to turn other people into fans of their business?

Does it work? Only for the right kind of people!


Why does this method work? Well, there’s research that proves it works (the core of this is all about being prepared, being present, and sustaining relationships.) But I’m not a data person, so I could care less about that proving it with numbers. Instead, let me share with you some of the characteristics of the people who this works for:

  1. They put a ton of work into developing skills and even more into applying them.
  2. They put a lot of work into understanding who they are as people. They know what makes them tick and they know what ticks them off. Even more important, they have  spent time trying to work on solving the problems that do both of those things whether they are paid for it or not.
  3. They don’t limit themselves to only one occupation, job, employer, or “career path” but they do have clear parameters around what they are capable of/interested in (see the aforementioned “ticking” statement) and can clearly annunciate that to people.
  4. They are visible enough. This means that they take time to build and maintain relationships with diverse types of people (both online and in the real world) so they are known by what they do, they have been seen doing it, and people know that they are genuine and authentically concerned about more than just their own concerns. They also know how to say no to commitments that are outside of their sphere of influence.
  5. They don’t brag about their own successes, instead they make it a habit of under-promising and over delivering. Other people do the bragging for them!
  6. They don’t spend a lot of time trying to develop their weaknesses, instead they capitalize on their strengths and surround themselves with people who they can trust to be the experts in the areas where they are weak.
  7. They read a lot about a variety of different subjects which not only helps them to be able to insert themselves into conversations but also helps them to synthesize the information into how they work, and to understand people who may work differently. It also helps them to see or to make opportunities that other people may be missing and therefore allows them to create a niche that only they can fill.

Let me end by saying that this is a strategy, but if that it all it is then it is not likely to bring strong results. The long and the short of this rests on the person’s ability to believe in and to apply these ideas consistently, so that s/he can present authentically.

In short, this is a way of being that extends beyond the ability to follow a list of “to do’s.” If you are looking for a list of “to do’s” with all of the “right” answers, there are hundreds of experts, books, blogs, and websites who would love to take your money in order to supply you with them. Not that those are necessarily bad, it just depends on whether you prefer to play someone else’s game or to write the rules of your own!


Dave Isbell is the Alumni Career Service Coordinator at Michigan State University. He has been a Career Coach since 1999. He is also pursuing a Master’s in Social Work/Family Studies at MSU. When he is not working or studying, he is enjoying domestic bliss with his wife and kids, or playing rock music on his bass guitar. You can find him on Twitter (@helpingspartans) and sometimes he writes about compassion, collaboration, and career for this blog, which he owns and begs other Spartans to write for.



  1. deb 8 March, 2013 at 08:15

    Dave – Very well done; it is about what you have to offer and relationship building…..with some concrete “soft skills” thrown in. Thanks for sharing…Fras

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