Adviser on the Edge

careers in island communities: research, theory and practice

When not getting a job is a good thing…

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There’s a saying in the Highlands and Islands’ that ‘what’s for you won’t go past you’. Now, when it comes to helping students and graduates prepare for job interviews this is a phrase I often hear – normally at the end of a conversation, almost as a kind of self-reassurance by the student that if it’s the right job they’ll get it and if it isn’t they won’t. The phrase may be reassuring and placating, but it doesn’t seem very logical or scientific and can seem to sit uneasily with my work, given that I spend a great deal of time helping students prepare for interviews, polishing and practising answers to give themselves the best chance possible. However, when it comes down to it, I do fundamentally believe that ‘what’s for you won’t go past you,’ and that sometimes not getting a job is the best outcome.

I’ve been thinking about this recently after a conversation at the airport with a friend who was returning from an interview where she had been unsuccessful. What we were talking about is how if you present yourself as the best version of you, if you show the employer what you have to offer, and then you don’t get the job, then it is probably because of a poor fit between you and the employer. And that this is okay.

We like to think of our careers as a linear progression, but sometimes being 'knocked back' can be very helpful

We like to think of our careers as a linear progression, but sometimes being ‘knocked back’ can be very helpful

What I admired in my friend was the effort she had gone to preparing for the interview, and then travelling down (it took two days from Orkney), only to find out within minutes of the interview starting that the job wasn’t what she wanted. And that rather than feeling angry or frustrated with the time she’d spent preparing, the loss of holidays she’d had to take, and the expense of attending the interview, she seemed calm and relaxed. This, for her, was a good experience. She could see that preparing for the interview had allowed her to remind herself of her strengths and skills, by going to the interview she had remembered what kind of work she liked and had got a different perspective on her current job (valuing it more than she had previously). Going for a job and not getting it had actually helped her focus on what she wanted, what she was good at, and helped her to see a way forward in her current job.

I’m not sure that personally I could have been as calm as she was, but I do know that in my past not getting jobs has sometimes been the best thing that could have happened – not getting a job in Devon ten years ago meant, for example, that I applied for work in Orkney, and now I have a job I love in a place I love and a lifestyle that I love. Whether I didn’t get the job because it wasn’t a good ‘fit’ for me, or whether it went past me because it wasn’t for me doesn’t really matter – what matters is that it worked out in the end. It can be very painful at the time especially if you are rejected for a job (rather than turning it down as my friend had), but being resilient, flexible and optimistic strike me as important attitudes to cultivate if we can.

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