“If you change your mind, I’m the first in line, Honey, I’m still free, Take a chance on me”
This is the story of a candidate who refused to let me reject him.
My company needed summer interns in our sales department. We secured a table at a university job fair and posted our position. We sorted resumes and selected the most appealing candidates for interviews on campus.
We were looking for candidates with customer-facing experience. This position would have high interaction with customers, and interpersonal skills were critical.
Grades weren’t everything, but with so many candidates, we didn’t need to stretch for someone with poor marks.
On the first day, we worked the table, selling our company and meeting candidates who had yet to see our online posting. We left a few slots open in our interview schedule the next day, in case we met interesting candidates at the fair.
I met a young man who immediately made an impression on me. He had a great personality and did his homework on our company.
He learned about us from a friend who spent a summer with us as an intern. He confidently told me, “This is my dream internship.” It sounded like a cheesy pickup line but after a day of boring conversations; his energy was appealing.
I scheduled him for an interview the next day.
Personality Only Gets You So Far
Within twenty minutes of the interview, it became apparent to me that my guy was all sizzle and no steak.
His grades were terrible, and he couldn’t offer a compelling explanation. He didn’t belong to any organizations, wasn’t working his way through college and didn’t have a personal situation that hurt his grades.
His work experience was incomplete. Most of his experiences were small odd jobs, working small stints for family and friends.
After the interview, he was the only candidate to ask me for the job. He asked me point-blank, “Do you think I have what it takes for his job?” It was charming, and I liked him enough to give him a direct answer.
“Not today. Your grades are horrible, and the only reason I can discern is that you haven’t made much of an effort in your classes. You want a career in sales but have yet to apply to a position where you might build those skills. I don’t see any effort to join an organization or extracurricular activity that might broaden your skills.”
Taken back by my direct answer, he paused and persisted, “Thanks for being honest. What do I need to do to change your mind next summer?”
He dropped a follow-up, open-ended probing question. Dang, my team had experienced sales-people who didn’t handle rejection that well.
“First, show me that you can take school seriously. String together two solid semesters in your classes. Second, find a job where you can work directly with customers. You could work at a call center, restaurant or retail shop. Find something where you have to work hard and communicate with customers.”
He wrote furiously while I talked.
“Thanks. Can I have your card and keep in touch with you? I plan to do all of this and keep you informed of my progress.”
He asked for permission to stay in touch and provide further evidence, another key trait of great sales reps (and a skill that was lacking with some on my team.) I gave him my card, and he promised to keep in touch.
If you need me, let me know, Gonna be around, If you’ve got no place to go, When you’re feeling down.
Rejection Is Only The First Position In A Negotiation
I assumed I would never hear from that kid again. He proved me wrong.
A few weeks later, he sent me an email. He found a job as a greeter at an Outback Steakhouse on campus. He thanked me for the suggestion and promised to follow up later.
One month later, he reached out again to tell me that he had been promoted to a waiter position, and was now earning tips. He shared a few stories about difficult customers and what he was learning.
Shortly after the new year, he reached out again to tell me that he made Dean’s List for the semester, and offered to mail a copy of his report card. I let him know that wasn’t necessary and encouraged him to keep working.
He kept emailing me into the Spring semester.
- He joined a marketing organization and ran for an office position.
- He was named ‘Employee of the Month” at Outback.
- He read a sales book and shared what he learned from it.
He wouldn’t let me forget his name. I started to wonder if the interns who were starting that summer were as excited about my company as he was.
I received that answer soon enough. Two weeks before our interns were set to start, I received an email from one. She had an opportunity to spend the summer in California with a friend. She would not be joining our company.
I emailed my guy and asked him if he was ready to step up from Outback. He emailed back and thought I was joking. I called him and told him that if he was half as persistent in sales as he was in pursuing that internship, he would make a lot of money.
He started two weeks later.
‘Gonna do my very best, And it ain’t no lie, If you put me to the test, If you let me try.”
How To Respond To Rejection
If this is your dream job, you won’t quit after the first rejection.
How many married couples share stories about how one rejected the other the first time they were asked out? You can count this writer in that fraternity, given how many times I had to ask my wife before she let me take her out.
- Ask the person who interviewed you for feedback. Most companies will attempt to reject you via letter. It is efficient and leaves a paper trail. If you are persistent enough, you can get your interviewer on the phone. Ask the question, “What do I need to work on if I want to be considered for this position in the future?”
- Follow up in writing with a summary of everything you learned from that conversation. “From our conversation, I learned that I need to work on these five things to be considered for a future position. This is how I intend to act on your advice in the coming months.” Document your plan in writing and be appreciative that this interviewer was willing to coach you.
- Set a reminder to follow up every month, without fail. Write a summary every month with what you are working on in your career. Tie that email to some piece of advice the interviewer gave you.
Managers value persistence over just about any trait. Business is tough, and resilience is often one of the first attributes that leaders mention when describing their top performers.
Every time you send a follow-up email or leave a voice message, you demonstrate an attribute that your prospective employer covets. You might catch them on a day when they are frustrated with a lack of resilience on their team.
Business is constantly changing. A company’s hiring needs today could be completely different in three months. Companies grow and require more positions. People leave companies and positions open. Make it easy on that manager to pick your name the next time a position opens.
If it is your dream job, you won’t quit with the first rejection.