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Troubleshooting Your Job Search (Part 3 of 5): How to be a finalist who gets the job offer

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As a recruiter, one responsibility I take very seriously is telling a final-round candidate they are not the one receiving a job offer. It’s a particularly sensitive conversation when I know they’ve been a finalist for more than one position. (It brings to mind the obnoxious and gendered phrase, “Always a bridesmaid, never a bride.”)

Even in our professional lives, rejection can hurt—after investing time in numerous rounds of interviews or (especially) after being told you’re one of two finalists. So what can you do differently to receive the job offer after having that final set of conversations with an employer?

Cultivate Relationships

The individuals participating in the interview process will become your colleagues, should you receive and accept a job offer. Approach late-stage interviews as “pre-onboarding” so you’ll have connections on your first day of work.

Start by recalling your experiences with those you met previously. Keep memorable exchanges “top of mind,” and be prepared to continue those conversations if you speak with those individuals again. These could be work-related (e.g., “I was reflecting on the question you asked me about how I would approach calculating loan-to-value…”) or lightly personal (e.g., “You had shared that you were having solar panels installed on your home. How did that go?”)

Next, research the backgrounds of individuals you’ll meet for the first time. Start with the organization’s “Our Team” page, then look at their LinkedIn profiles. Consider an Internet search for the hiring manager and those in leadership. Be prepared to mention connections or to express your admiration for projects they’ve done or awards they’ve received.

Know Why You Want the Job

The ability to convincingly articulate why this role is an “obvious” next career step is a primary differentiator between a finalist candidate who receives the job offer and one who does not.

It’s not enough to be enthusiastic about wanting to work for the organization. The hiring team wants to know why you want to spend 40+ hours a week performing the duties and responsibilities of this job in the next phase of your professional life. Articulating this is even more important if it’s not an obvious next step “on paper”—that is, it’s not a similar job to your current role nor a clear move up the next rung of the proverbial ladder.

Meanwhile, it is equally important to convey your alignment with the organization’s values, mission, and programs. An outstanding finalist can explain both “why this job” and “why this organization.”

Curate Your Reference List

Select your references carefully. There is a difference between a “reference” and a “verification of employment.” Your references are close colleagues prepared to talk up your positives and downplay or contextualize your negatives.

I’ve conducted a surprising number of reference calls in which the reference shared negative anecdotes about the candidate. In some instances, these were appropriate responses to my direct questions—the reason for my call, of course! But sometimes, they were irrelevant, unnecessary, and frankly surprising. Occasionally they are clumsy attempts to stop the candidate from making a change. (More than once, I’ve been told, “I’m not even sure why she would want this job.”)

DO: Give your references as much information as possible about the job and why you want it.

DON’T: Provide contact information for a former supervisor or colleague who may not have your best interests at heart unless specifically requested.