A few years ago, Johannes Haushofer published a CV of failures. In it, he lists all the grants he wasn’t awarded, positions he didn’t get, papers rejected.
I think that people need to be more open about failure. None of us are perfect – despite what our social media presence says – and all of us suffer rejection. But, by being open and honest about it, we make it easier for others to realise that they’re not alone.
In that spirit – here, in no particular order, are the recent jobs which I failed to get. I’ve lightly edited most of the employer details.
Head of Open Source – Social Media Company
Bit of a long shot. Role was based in the USA and I’m not. But everyone is remote now, right? I thought I was an excellent match for the job spec, and I was genuinely eager to help them improve.
Perhaps I’ve been too snarky about them on Twitter, or perhaps my CV wasn’t as enthusiastically American enough – but didn’t even get to interview stage.
CTO – Large Government Department and Small Government Department
This is the sort of role that I think I want in the future. I didn’t get an interview for either of these. But the process of applying was extremely instructive. I chatted with some of the team members and recruiting manager, found out more about what the job was likely to entail by speaking to people who did similar roles, and some friends sent me their own CVs to review.
Again, I didn’t get interviews. But, I wasn’t expecting to. Part of the application is letting recruiting teams know that’s the track I’m on so – hopefully – they consider me when I’m closer to the goal.
Deputy Director – Small Government Department
An immediate rejection! But, crucially, with excellent feedback. They wanted someone with more financial / Treasury experience. Not much I can do about that, and good to know where I might be lacking.
More importantly, it came with an offer to discuss future opportunities. Some of the best people I’ve hired have applied for one job, but have then been asked to apply for another. Putting your CV in front of decision makers is always a good idea.
Deputy Head – Fairly New Government Department
If I’m honest, this was a bit of a dream job. It sounded like a lot of technical fun in an interesting growth area.
The interview panel asked me to prepare a 5 minute presentation on a specific subject. So, of course, I panicked and spent far too long on that and not enough time reading up about the department and their priorities.
I thought the interview went well. I’ve sat on the other side of the table enough times to know when a candidate is bombing.
Of course, afterwards I realised all the stupid mistakes I made. I misunderstood one of the questions and had to be course-corrected. I thought one of the panellists was someone else. I gave a crappy, rambling example when asked a simple question.
I waited patiently, then got this response.
You have reached the required standard, but we are unable to offer you a job immediately.
We have placed you on a reserve list from which future appointments may be made.
Well! OK! I’m aiming at the right level but someone pipped me to the post. That’s slightly annoying – but shows I’m on the right track.
Deputy Director for Technology – Internationally focussed Department
BZZZT nothing. I stressed my extensive international experience, and my work with startups and large corporates. With no feedback to go on, I’m not sure what I was missing. Oh well!
Deputy Director for Telecoms Policy – Take a Wild Guess!
I had mixed feelings about this one. I spent a decade working in the mobile industry on 3G and 4G deployment issues. Did I really want to go back to that world for 5G stuff? On the other hand, wouldn’t it be good to have someone with practical experience in the role? Or is that too “poacher turned gamekeeper”?
I contacted the hiring manager beforehand to get a sense of what they were looking for. They tried to set up a call, but there was never a convenient time. Either I should have been a bit more proactive and persistent – or they already knew who they wanted to hire.
I thought my CV showed the right mix of telco and government experience. But, the panel didn’t agree! Immediate rejection. I’d love to know what I should have done differently.
I appreciate they have hundreds of applicants, but it’s hard to improve without feedback.
Deputy Director (Opportunities Across Government)
This was a “general call” to recruit Senior Civil Servants. I was expecting the competition to be fierce, and it sounds like they got a tonne of applicants. So they whittled them down with the dreaded online aptitude tests!
The verbal reasoning tests were so interesting. The tests are adaptive – changing their difficultly depending on how you do. By the end, I was being asked really tough questions. So I think I did OK – but I felt like I was answering “the data are ambiguous” too often. Maybe that’s what they want?
The maths test were much more fun to do than the verbal tests. Lots of data manipulation. Again, I second-guessed myself for lots of the answers. I hate taking exams – and this reinforced that hatred.
A few weeks later, I got the “I regret to inform you” email. Interestingly, they gave me my test results back:
Numerical Reasoning test
Your score was 84%, meaning that you scored better than 84 percent of other SCS applicants who completed the test.
Verbal Reasoning test
Your score was 95%, meaning that you scored better than 95 percent of other SCS applicants who completed the test.
How about that! My self-assessment was back-to-front. I’m rather happy with those scores – although I obviously need to practice my maths more. I can’t help wondering if they only wanted the top 1%, or whether it was something else in my application which turned them off.
Like The Murphys
Although it’s slightly cathartic talking about this publicly, I’m not bitter about my experiences. In some cases, the role wasn’t right for me. And, in others, I wasn’t right for the role. I’ve recruited enough people to know that there’s nothing a candidate can do if there are hundreds of CVs to review and theirs just doesn’t hit the right keywords. And I’ve interviewed enough people to know that sometimes one candidate just shines.
Spending several weeks searching and applying for jobs is stressful. And I’m glad that I’m doing it from a position of employment.
Every person you admire, every person that you think is a success, is standing on a towering pile of rejection letters.
So, what have you failed at this week?