update: can I make getting to the final round of interviews – and not getting the job – count for something?

Remember the letter-writer in May who kept getting to the final rounds of interviews but not getting a job offer? Here’s the update.

I wanted to send you an update after receiving your advice a few months ago on how to continue the job hunt when getting so close and yet so far on a number of occasions.

I have a new job!

Next week I start my new position as head of marketing for a “teapot-making” company. As my background is in writing about the industry as well as having trained in being a “teapot maker,” I knew I was a strong contender for this role. This confidence allowed me to answer some very tricky interview questions with some ballsiness and, on receiving the job offer, to negotiate hard on the salary. Your advice in this area on your website helped me to secure an extra £5k per annum.

In my original letter to you, I described my frustration at getting to the final two in a job interview and how to make it count. So, what did I do differently to successfully clinch the role?

I took a hard look at my CV and really made sure it spoke of results and achievements, rather than just job descriptions. I followed up with a previous company I had interviewed at for more feedback, though they chose not to reply. Fair enough. I also made sure that the references I gave were fully briefed on the role I had applied for and gave them context. I know at least one of my references was contacted and the response they gave was very much tailored to singing specific strengths.

Over a year of personalising cover letters and attending interviews also made me sharpen up. Not a pleasant learning curve, but I came to learn particular answers and phrases that went down well. I also better understood the mindset of the interviewer. In the case of the successful job interview, it was very clear I was preempting upcoming interview questions and able to talk in a way that appealed to their bottom line and need for a return on investment, and showed I really understood their business. I could tell this was extremely reassuring to them and helped to set me apart from the other candidates.

One of the interview questions was, “why shouldn’t we hire you?” and I repositioned it as “why wouldn’t you want to work here?” By that point, I knew what was important to me and so I was able to be very clear when asked about my salary expectations and to express what I wanted from my new job in terms of office culture and level of responsibilty. When one of the interviewers also casually dropped in a major job function that was not mentioned in the advertisement and is not something I would want to do, I also had the confidence to draw my line in the sand and state that.

I think the main reason why I secured this new role though was that it so clearly fits my career background and interests. On reflection, I had applied for many jobs where I had to mould and adapt myself to fit all of its criteria and be enthusiastic about an industry or job description that wasn’t really “me.” When the job search becomes desperate, as mine had, sometimes this is a necessary evil. But being able to sit in an interview and talk openly and honestly about why I was passionate to work for the company and in that particular industry definitely worked in my favor.

There are infinite factors that come into play in a job hunt and not all can be controlled. Your advice, however, certainly helped steer my search and give me the tools to persevere. It is with huge relief that I can now spend my weekends enjoying them without spending hours writing cover letters or dreading the week ahead at a company I hated. I feel like I finally have my identity back and can now be proud of my career.

I wish I could give the formula for a successful job hunt to your readers as I know there are those who are as desperate as I was to achieve a happy work life. All I can offer is hope. In those dark days at my desk or receiving yet another rejection email, I had very little of it. I hope readers will find comfort and inspiration knowing that if they continue to try and make the most of your advice that they will reap the rewards they deserve.

Thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

{ 44 comments… read them below }

  1. AW*

    One of the interview questions was, “why shouldn’t we hire you?” and I repositioned it as “why wouldn’t you want to work here?”


    I know that’s not much of a comment but I wanted to call that out in particular because that struck me as really impressive.

    1. Sheep*

      I didn’t really understand this point – to me that seems like a completely different question. Or? (Regardless, it’s a mean question).

      1. Technical Editor*

        I struggled with this comment, too, but after thinking about it for a few minutes, I think I understand. So instead of answering what’s wrong with her, she talked about qualities that might not fit in with their business/culture. She apparently did a lot of research on this company, so hopefully she had a good idea of fit ahead of time. If I were in this interview, I might have said that I prefer to do work however I can to get it done, and may not work the best in an environment that relies on strict processes.

      2. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

        She’s answering their question by talking about the reasons she might not be a good fit for the role (i.e., reasons she might choose to turn the role down).

        For example, I interviewed for a role as policy director with a civic engagement organization at which I’d worked early in my career. I knew the hiring manager (my former boss) well, so we were able to talk really clearly about what he wanted out of the role. I said to him something like this: “Look, if you’re looking for someone like [Former Policy Director], a policy wonk who is going to go the Capitol and lobby for policy positions, that’s not me — you know that. But if you’re looking for someone to bring a new vision for how you engage people in developing those policy positions, that’s what I’ll do in this role.”

        I gave a clear answer about why they may not want to hire me (and they didn’t; they hired a lobbyist), but I was really talking about what I wanted to do with the role.

        1. Stranger than fiction*

          So basically it’s really risky but will prevent you from taking or getting a job that’s a poor fit?

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I don’t think it’s risky — it’s smart, because it’s part of your screening/vetting them/the job/the expectations, to make sure that it’s a good fit (so that you don’t struggle or get fired or end up miserable).

              1. Zahra*

                And yet, when I did it for my current job, friends (who are hiring managers) looked at me with horror. Oh well, it’s a good thing I don’t work for them!

          2. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

            You just have to be clear on what you want or need from a job — and then it’s not risky at all. It’s similar to knowing your bottom line on salary. If you wouldn’t take the job for $40,000, then there’s no risk in saying that. And if you wouldn’t take the job were it focused on lobbying, then there’s no risk in making that distinction clear.

        2. TootsNYC*

          I took it as more “why -your company- wouldn’t be a good fit for me.”

          Like, “don’t hire me if you guys are micro-manage-y.”
          Or, “If you’re looking for someone who will thrive with a lot of individual oversight, then I’m not your best bet.”

          I have said, “I’m a strong copyeditor; I know when something needs an editor’s input, and when I can make a change without discussion. And if this is a place where I have to ask permission for every change I make to the copy, then you don’t want to hire me, and I don’t want to work here.”

          1. Rocky*

            TootsNYC, thank you from the bottom of my heart for articulating ‘don’t micro manage me’ in a professional and courteous way. I’ve been trying to come up with that wording for weeks!!

          2. Colin*

            Hello! Yes, to explain: they asked why shouldn’t they hire me. A horrible question! I reworded it in my head and instead saw it as: here are my deal breakers and reasons of why I wouldn’t want to work for you.
            They were, for the record: don’t hire me if you don’t want change brought to your business and don’t hire me if you have staff that aren’t motivated to progress forwards.
            It went down well!

  2. MissDisplaced*

    “I wish I could give the formula for a successful job hunt to your readers…”

    Well, I think you just DID! As you said, there are many factors and sometimes it is a bit of a trial and error to see what works and what doesn’t. And even then, it may change over the course of a year. I’m recently “looking” again myself, and I found that my CV from 2 years ago wasn’t working well anymore for positions I want now. It’s great advice and for those who are in the same boat, if what you’re doing isn’t working, try something different. I always find too, that confidence is a great seller. And you obviously found that when you found the right fit for you.

  3. hayling*


    I like the way you repositioned “why shouldn’t we hire you?” — I hate questions like that! I would love more tips from Alison on how to answer other tricky questions like that.

  4. What's In A Name*

    Congratulations – this was so well written! I am actually bookmarking it in case I ever find myself in a job-search again!

  5. Bowserkitty*

    Hurray, OP!!!! That makes me happy. :)

    On a side note, Alison – did you know that your advertising package displays political ads for certain…orange-ish political candidates? I just found it amusing.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      No, and it’s not supposed to. Thanks for letting me know — I’ll get it removed! If anyone happens to get a screenshot, that would help me track it down!

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            They told me this: “All political ads should be blocked, but my guess is that the campaign is using less than honest tactics to get the ads through the filters. I placed it as a high priority and the block should start populating shortly!” Very interesting.

  6. TootsNYC*

    it was very clear I was preempting upcoming interview questions and able to talk in a way that appealed to their bottom line and need for a return on investment, and showed I really understood their business. I could tell this was extremely reassuring to them and helped to set me apart from the other candidates.

    This echoes the advice I often give people, and that I’ve used.

    Know the job, and what they will be looking for. And then say, “I know you will want someone who can do XYZ. I have this story about how I can do XYZ.”

  7. azvlr*

    I can’t echo enough your sentiment about the difference between having to tailor your resume for roles that are close, but not quite and identifying what you are really skilled/passionate about and seeking those roles. In the later case, the fit becomes natural and job feels right for both.

    If you are experiencing a lot of rejections, make sure you have identified what you really want to do and target your job search accordingly.

    1. MegaMoose, Esq.*

      I have, after many years of resistance, recently succumb to the bullet-point resume format I’d been avoiding (I am honestly not sure why) and I instantly found it so much easier to really see where I could best target my experience. I’ve only sent it out a couple of times so far so I can’t really tell if it’s helping, but fingers crossed – a couple of great prospects just popped up and one is resume only, so I’ll put it to the test.

  8. MegaMoose, Esq.*

    Thank you for the update, and congratulations! I have been in a similar boat more or less ever since starting law school back in 2009 – I get the interviews fairly easy, but the hiring part is more difficult. The jobs I have managed to get I was a very strong fit for, but it’s been a couple years since one of those jobs actually bit. I’ve been spending a lot of time here, really working on the cover letters and resume, but it does feel like there’s some interview wall that I have so much trouble getting over. I’ve gotten some feedback that I come across as stiff and awkward, so I’ve tried to focus on that part, but it’s hard – I am pretty stiff and awkward until I get to know people!

    In any case, it’s good to know there’s hope out there.

  9. NASA*

    Great update!

    So many people say, why aren’t things changing?! And yet, never do anything/very little about it. Been there…
    You put in the time and effort and dedication and you reaped the rewards. Congrats!
    Best of luck on your new adventure.

  10. Frustrated Optimist*

    With my job search dragging into a year+ (15 months), this type of letter is one I have fantasized about writing here. I, too, have been a finalist yet not selected.

    Your observation about doing something in our “leisure” time besides combing online postings and crafting cover letters, etc., rings very true to me as well.

    Your tips and examples are good — thank you for the reassurance that I am basically doing all the right things and just need to wait for a good job match to come along.

  11. Colin*

    I’m the OP and just wanted to say thank you for all the goodwill and congratulations! Thanks very much :)

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