Dealing with rejection: When you don’t get the role you want
Going through the interview process can be tough, especially when you’re genuinely in need of another role. The process can be draining – from customising every application, to selling yourself and having to be at your sharpest at every interview – unfortunately they’re all necessary steps if you’re going to land the role you want. But when you are going through the interview process and you’re faced with rejection at some point in the pipeline, it can literally knock you off your feet. Yes its devastating when you’re down to one-of-two candidates, only to find out that the other candidate has been chosen. But what’s even more frustrating is when you’re faced with that rejection from the get go, when you’ve literally just applied for the role. When you know in your own self how experienced you are, how much you can deal with, and all the challenges you’ve faced that have made you the assistant that you are today, yet you find yourself literally being ‘judged’ by some inexperienced recruitment consultant who wouldn’t know jack about being assistant if it hit them in the face. To be told you don’t have enough experience for a particular role is nothing but insulting, especially when you know you’re more than capable of doing it. Yes it’s frustrating to be told by others who really don’t know what it takes to actually be an assistant, that you haven’t got what it takes, especially when we all know as assistant’s, that it really only comes down to the quality of the relationship you have with that manager, over and above anything else. Let’s be honest, it’s not rocket science being an assistant, but what comes with experience is the maturity that you inherit and the ability to be able to anticipate other’s needs. The fact of the matter is though, if you ask the right questions when starting with a new manager you can actually work out what their expectations are from early on in the piece, that is if they’re willing to cooperate with you on this (let’s face it we all know there are managers out there that just ‘expect’ you to know what to do and take ‘mind reading’ to a new level). But regardless, if you’re starting a new role, every manager should pay you this courtesy anyway.
So you don’t have CEO experience?
The most common complaint presented to me is those that apply for EA to CEO level roles and subsequently get told that they don’t have any ‘CEO’ experience. What a load of jack I say. From one manager to the next, it takes the same skill set as an assistant, no matter who you look after. And if we want to look at things technically, the only skill you really need to have at that CEO level is experience compiling board reports, a skill that is not hard to learn. Yet those recruiting these ‘assistant to CEO’ roles seem to only consider candidates that have previous experience supporting a CEO. That to me is rejection, right there, and blatantly just a slap in the face. The fact is, if you’ve previously done EA roles supporting Executives of large teams, there is no difference to that of supporting a CEO of a mid-sized company. I often hear complaints too of those assistants that have previously supported CEO’s in small companies who have taken on a role in a larger company supporting a General Manager or Executive, and feel that they’ve taken a step backwards because they no longer hold that CEO title. Not true, I say. All things considered, you need to look at the team size that the manager heads up, as that will determine what level of experience you have and what you are equipped to deal with. The CEO title is just that, a title, and nothing else, and whether it’s listed on resume or not, it shouldn’t discount you from roles that you apply for. So how do you deal with this rejection? And what can you do to eliminate this problem when applying for those roles you want?
Get your cover letter right
First impressions last, so it’s really important to get your cover letter right so that you can explain your experience before they delve into your resume, and see what titles may or may not be listed. So detail your experience in your covering letter and explain how it relates to the role you’re applying for (yes you will need to customise each letter to each role you apply for!). Be really specific, so if you don’t have CEO experience for example, but do have experience compiling board reports, then say so. You really need to sell yourself, so do your research on the company (if it’s listed in the job ad) and present it in your letter how your previous experience would be applicable to that company. They might, for example, be going through a transformation or might be a growing business, and if you’ve had experience in those areas previously then this is the place to say so. Treat your cover letter as your first interview, so even if you don’t get an actual interview, you’ve had an opportunity to say everything that you would have, had you had one.
Tweak your resume
Now I don’t encourage anyone to outright lie on their resume, but it’s important that you tweak it for the role you are applying for. We all know that C-suite level roles apparently require candidates with C-suite level experience, so if it’s not clear on your CV that you’ve got C-suite experience, then adapt the titles to reflect this. So if it means putting the word ‘Chief’ in front of a title, then so be it, but only do this if the role was genuinely a C-suite level role and reporting into a CEO. These days Executive titles can be all sorts of things – from Directors to Executive General Managers – but are all still considered to be C-suite. You’d be surprised how many recruitment consultants will genuinely think you’re less experienced than you are because of this so edit your CV accordingly.
We all like to dream and think about how amazing it would be to be earning a huge six figure salary, especially when we see those roles pop up. But let’s be honest, we all know that roles that are pitched at that level are going to be very difficult to obtain. So if really don’t have the experience to warrant applying for them, then don’t open yourself up for the rejection in the first place. But don’t be discouraged, if you really feel like you’ve got what it takes, then give it a red hot crack. Just keep in mind though that you will need to take those steps that I have previously mentioned and consider even picking up the phone to ensure you stand out from the thousands of other applicants that those high paying jobs attract. This will also be an opportunity to educate who you speak with, which leads me to my next point.
As I previously mentioned, it’s not uncommon to deal with recruitment consultants that wouldn’t know what it takes to be an EA if it jumped up and bit them on the bum. And when these types of recruiters are filtering through the masses of applications for the role they’re recruiting for, they’ll be looking for specific skills and ‘titles’ of those that you have supported previously. These criteria will be what gets you through to the first round interview stage. So if your resume is lacking in that respect, it’s best to pick up the phone and have a conversation with them about your experience and how you’d be well suited to the role, despite your lack of ‘CEO’ or C-Suite experience. This is also your opportunity to educate these recruiters on the reality of the EA role and how skill sets are transferrable, whomever it is that you are supporting. It really comes down to perceptions, and what they perceive is needed to support someone at that level. And if you’re lucky enough to get through to a first round interview or even a screening interview with the recruiter, you can continue to beat that drum. The goal here is to drum the message into them, so that they will then relay that message on to the decision maker in the company. Ultimately you want the recruiter on your side, so that they’re your biggest advocate.
Ok so you didn’t make the cut. Perhaps it was at the initial stages, or could have even have been at the final stages, either way it’s important to seek some feedback and to understand why it is that you weren’t selected. This can be difficult especially when you don’t even make the initial screening, as most won’t even give you the courtesy of even letting you know that you weren’t successful (don’t even get me started on that!). But if you legitimately feel that you would have been an appropriate candidate for the role, there is no reason why you can’t follow up with them to find out why you weren’t considered. For all you know, the reason you weren’t shortlisted may not be what you thought. There may be something glaringly wrong with your resume that you just cannot see, but meanwhile you’re thinking you just lack experience (or perhaps you think you’re over-experienced). You must remember that these recruiters see thousands of resumes on any given week and also see the calibre of your competition, so it’s important to understand where you could improve yourself for next time.
Don’t take it personally
In this rather cut throat process of seeking employment, it’s important not to let it get you down. For every role you get considered for there will be twenty that you don’t (maybe more), and with odds like that it can leave you wondering whether you’re as good assistant as what you thought you were. But don’t take it personally, and don’t let rejection take your confidence down. When employers seek assistant candidates they will usually be looking for someone in particular to fulfil the role. They’ll be looking at your previous employers and questioning whether you will be a good fit, whether they’ll match your expectations and whether you’ll match theirs. Most of the time they’ll have a certain candidate in mind that they want and they’ll do their best to match that. So if you don’t match that ideal then there isn’t much you can do about it. You could have the best experience in the world, but if they’re looking for a twenty-something that lives in the area, and you’re a forty-something that lives on the other side of town, then you’re not even going to get a look-in. What I’m trying to say is, you just don’t know what individual employers are looking for, so don’t start questioning yourself when you get rejected.
For those of you that believe in fate, you’ll agree that if it’s not meant to be, then it’s not meant to be. So when you’re job seeking and faced with rejection time and time again, try to stay positive and trust that the right role will come through eventually – when the time is right and the role is right. But look on the bright side, if you’re applying for role -after role -after role, and you are fortunate enough to progress through the interview process, you’re actually getting the best experience you can that will inevitably arm you with the skill set to nail the interview process for the role you really want. And for all those roles that you didn’t get, or didn’t even get considered for, if they couldn’t see the value in you, then you probably wouldn’t want to work for them anyway.