In the job hunt, it’s as much about next time as it is about this time

In a search today for something I didn’t find, I came across a 40-year-old letter that illustrates a principle students and job-seekers of all ages should bear in mind:

When you apply for a job, the experience may be not so much about the job open right now as it is about the job that’ll be open the next time. Or the time after that.

Exhibit A: This kind and constructive rejection note I received as a college student from then-program director John Platt at now-legendary Chicago rock station WXRT-FM.

No, mine hadn’t been a formal job application; I’d merely submitted an entry in a college radio DJ competition, and John was considerate enough to write me a note telling me why I’d lost.

But when I graduated from college the next year and was seeking a job, you’d be right to bet I quoted that letter back to John in an application to work at WXRT. (“You… have quite a future in radio,” I reminded him he’d said of me.)

You’d also be right if you bet John didn’t hire me then.

Nor did his then-news director, C.D. Jaco, hire me six months after that.

But …

  • 2 1/2 years after that first contest rejection note;
  • 2 years after John didn’t give me a job; and
  • 1 1/2 years after C.D. passed me over …

In July 1979, in one of my career’s most fortuitous turns, John and C.D.’s successor, Neil Parker, hired me for what became a 10-year run at ’XRT.

The lesson: If you really, truly want to work at a place, be prepared for rejection. Maybe several rejections. But each connection with an organization — even a connection that doesn’t lead to a job — is a building block in the foundation of a relationship.

Be a good sport. Learn what you can from each encounter.

Then return as a candidate stronger than you were the time before.

And here’s something managers can learn from John Platt’s original note to me:

Taking the time to tell a rejected candidate how he or she might improve can reap rewards down the road. The best of them will take that advice to heart and show up at your doorstep the next time better prepared to do what you need them to.


It’s that time of year when college students ask me for career advice. Which I’m happy to give. Want more? You’ll find it here (from 2012) and here (from 2016).

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