“The sale begins when the customer says no.” That was the motto of a top salesperson at Merrill Lynch when I worked there. At the time I thought the saying was corny, but now I would recast it as simple yet brilliant. And it applies not only to the sale of products and services but to individuals during job searches. Many of us move-on quickly when we don’t receive a job offer. But a decline may be an opportunity for you to build a relationship that could change your future.
I’m not suggesting you harangue the company representative when you hear that you’ve been rejected, but a soft-pedaled follow-up could be productive. After your last interview, consider a scenario where the business unit manager calls you with bad news. You should be prepared to have a conversation with her that will lay the groundwork for an ongoing relationship. Perhaps suggest that you would like to stay in touch because you value her career advice. Flatter her but avoid being obsequious (steer clear of words like “mentor” and “role model”). Ideally, you want to remind her of her younger self. Your approach, delivered correctly, will make her happy to keep in touch. Very few individuals can turn down the opportunity to give advice.
If your rejection call comes from the Human Resources representative, be very polite and then call the business manager who would have been your boss. Similarly, if the rejection arrives via email or letter, follow up by phone with the manager. If her assistant screens the call or you receive her voice mail, leave enough of a message that makes the executive realize: a) she needs to call you back, it’s not just a thank you call; and b) you are not challenging her company’s decision. You might leave a message saying you are appreciative of the time she spent with you and would like to quickly ask her advice on something.
And make sure you initially develop the post-rejection relationship with a phone conversation. Email is nice, but you need to develop a more personal rapport right after your decline. You can then follow up periodically by email. As far as timing of future contacts, once every couple months is appropriate. You want her to think of you as a mentee, not a pain in the neck. Let her know when you land a job and if anything significant happens in your career. When you have established several months of contact, ask if you can come by her office or meet her for coffee or a drink. If you end up at a company in her same industry, you might email about an interesting development in your field, but don’t assume you are providing her with any new information. As a senior executive in the industry, she probably heard the news before you did.
There are plenty of instances of successful corporate relationships that developed out of seemingly non-productive interviews. If you receive a rejection from your ideal company or job or even manager, your follow-up may get you there eventually. Begin the sale, as soon as they say no.