Advice shows up in the darnedest places!

For my birthday last August I received a gift subscription to National Geographic, a magazine that, I confess, I’ve managed to pretty much ignore for my whole life. I’ve discovered, however, that in addition to some pretty amazing photographs, they have really interesting articles. I don’t have a lot of personal reading time when classes are in session, so I’m several months behind, but this morning I read an article about the value of failure—yes, the value of failure—in the September issue. The piece of advice that jumps out of this article is from Samuel Beckett, a world-renown Irish novelist, playwright, and poet. He said, “Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

This is really relevant to anyone seeking a job, because it is highly unlikely that you will succeed with the first job application or the first draft of your resume or the first job interview, but you can learn, and then improve, with each attempt. The way to learn, however, is to identify what went wrong. Sometimes this is easy—you recognize that you were not really a good fit, that you didn’t meet all the requirements, or that there likely were applicants who were more appropriate than you. But sometimes you might not understand why they didn’t call you back or invite you for a second interview.

This is where you have to develop some self-assurance and ask, “Why? Who you need to ask can vary, and may not be limited to one person. First, ask yourself what went wrong—go back and re-read the position announcement and see how many of the criteria you met, go back and re-read your resume or your cover letter and see if you did a good job demonstrating your skills. You may also want to ask a trusted friend or family member to take a look at your application materials, describe the job to them, and see if they can help you figure out why you weren’t chosen.

But it’s frequently also possible to talk to the people who didn’t choose you. If you were brought in for an interview, and then they call you to say you didn’t get the job, ask (politely) if they would mind telling you what the other candidate(s) offered that you didn’t. If you send a resume and get no response, wait a week or two, then call, and—if you can get someone on the telephone—ask them what was missing from your resume.

Another option is to do an information interview (you can read more about them in Tip 6 Conduct Information Interviews and Appendix A Formulating questions for the information interview) with someone in a position comparable to the one you wanted, and ask their opinion of your resume or cover letter.

If you’re still in college, take advantage of your career center to get advice on producing application materials. Also, you may be able to do a mock interview with a college career counselor, which is an excellent way to learn what you do well—and what you need to work on—with regard to your interview skills. These are skills that must be developed, honed, and perfected if you want to excel (and succeed) at the job search process.