The difference between failure and success when job hunting

Failure seems to define job hunting and it's not hard to see why. Most of your applications will fail. At the same time, recognising the successes along the way could well determine whether you will survive the ordeal and achieve that ultimate success - a job.

Shona Owen published a post on Medium titled “Inspiration from a Joker” about her search for a job and her realization that failure is inevitable. I decided to expand on my initial response here.

View story at Medium.com

I’m in a similar position. I’ve been job-hunting for almost 5 months now and, reading Shona’s post, thought a little more about success and failure in the context of my search for work.

I have a very long list of companies that I have applied to. Many of those companies are terrific companies and anyone would be fortunate to be employed by them. I also have a somewhat shorter list of companies that invited me to interviews, and a fair amount of frustration and disappointment on the side.

Failure is inevitable

Failure is definitely part of the process, it almost seems to define it. It’s more likely that most of your applications will fail. If you measure success by being employed, failure is probably going to be all to familiar to you.

The real challenge is how you respond to this apparent failure. I saw “apparent failure” because, although the ultimate success of a job hunt is being employed, it isn’t the only category of success in this arduous process.

Success often goes unnoticed

Each new application you send, despite knowing that it will most likely not result in an offer, is a success. Why? Because it means you haven’t succumbed to the feeling that your efforts are in vain.

Every CV you send out is an act of defiance, a statement that it will take more than that additional “… we are moving forward with other candidates …” to shut you down.

Some days, writing a motivation to support yet another job application feels like trying to stand when your personal gravity field has increased tenfold. Getting that done and clicking “Send” is not another admission of defeat, it is another little success because you are still standing.

I started responding to particularly disappointing rejections with a private refusal to accept defeat (well, after first expressing appreciation to the company concerned for considering my application). I’d make a point of going back to the job listings I track and finding at least one or two relevant positions and sending my CV off.

Somehow, it seemed important to immediately continue my search after a rejection. It doesn’t make the rejection ok but taking another step forward means it is simply another milestone along the way.

Thinly veiled successes

So, on one hand job-hunting is a process characterised by repeated failure. On the other hand, it is, in itself, fueled by a series of small wins and successes. These somehow sustain you until you eventually receive an offer you can live with (or, better yet, that thrills you) or you abandon the idea of formal employment altogether and leap into the entrepreneurial jungle[1].

At times whether you perceive rejections as personal failures or successes can make a profound difference to whether you get back up and take another step forward.

You can rarely change an adverse decision taken against you but you can always change your response to the decision. Make the choice that sustains you.

Featured image credit: David Marcu


  1. That is another dimension of success and failure altogether …  ↩

Plotting a course around business failure

6 course corrections for businesses to follow if they want to avoid business failure.

Nathan Jeffery is an entrepreneur, developer and speaker (among other things) who I have mentioned a couple times in the past (including when he basically saved this blog after I almost killed it). He recently published a series of blog posts that essentially plot a course around business failure that every entrepreneur should read – yes, every single one! 😉 – and I want to share them with you:

Micro Failure

Nathan tackles the popular notion that failure is something to be embraced, even sought after. While there is certainly value in the lessons you learn when you fail and not repeating those mistakes, it is a mistake to romanticize failure. As Nathan puts it:

When you fail in business you lose money and often wreck the lives of your employees. The current flippant and arrogant approach to failure is disrespectful to everyone who works with and depends on you for their livelihood.

Do what you love

I believe strongly in doing work you are passionate about. When you do work that doesn’t challenge you and doesn’t tap into your passions, it can be soul destroying (almost literally). At the same time, there are some practical considerations and a different way to think about fulfilment in your work that aren’t usually mentioned in the myriad articles about doing what you love.

You need to get satisfaction from producing quality work; this is especially true for the creative industries. Your clients will hardly ever comprehend how much effort you’ve put into your work, and quite often they won’t really care, many won’t even thank you. You need to be happy within yourself and get joy from the work you do.

Take Ownership

This short piece is really about taking responsibility. When you take responsibility for what you do, take ownership of your decisions, you make the choice to take more control of your life.

Taking ownership, to me, is more than taking responsibility and being accountable for your actions or lack thereof. You need to constantly be learning and questioning situations, especially when things go awry.

Focus and Commit

There are many ways to distinguish between businesses and one perspective that is increasingly relevant is to distinguish between businesses is between those that specialise and become experts and those that try to do everything and don’t do anything particularly well. I thought about specialisation and hyper-specialisation often in my previous career and I see it in my new industry.

Do one thing, maybe two but whatever you do, do it so darn well that it’s all you need to do. You can expand your service offering once you have a big enough team to handle it. There’s enough work out there for specialists to exist.

Hire a boutique accounting firm

Accounting is not even remotely something I enjoy dealing with or even have a clear handle on despite needing to understand legal accounting in order to set up a practice as an attorney. At the same time, having your books in order is essential if you want your business to function effectively so make the right decisions about who manages those books.

You need to know and understand what is going on in your business’ finances. Accountants can make mistakes. By understanding what is going on in your business’ books, you’ll not only be in a better position to manage your business but you’ll also have a better chance of spotting mistakes in your financial statements should your accountant slip up.

Pay for good contracts and use them

On this I am more than a little biased. In my previous career (and in one aspect of my current role), I wrote contracts for my clients that were intended to give their commercial relationships better structure and protection.

Unfortunately contracts are perceived as largely superfluous, to a large degree because they are often badly written and poorly understood and, as a consequence, regarded as “necessary but preferably no longer than 1 page”. Contracts are a critical component in business, it is worth having them done properly.

Hire a good lawyer, pay for good contracts and use them.

Image credit: Map by Unsplash, sourced from Pixabay and released under a CC0 Dedication