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Coming Second is Okay in Recruitment

Sometimes you come second.

It’s a fact of life. The winner ran faster, thought quicker or simply was in the right place at the right time. Winning is always a combination of dedication, experience, and circumstance. We see life as a race to get where we want to go to, and we assign ourselves these “labels” when someone gets there before us. Coming second somehow doesn’t feel as fulfilling as coming first, but we were nearly there and we redouble our efforts for the next time.

Such comparisons are (relatively) fair when you are comparing apples with apples. You wouldn’t expect a sumo wrestler to beat Usain Bolt in a 100m race, but you equally wouldn’t hold out much hope for Usain in that ring (no matter how self-confident he might be). You simply can’t compare – their backgrounds are too diverse.

Now, coming to the question of recruitment I would like to get inside the head of a candidate for a minute. Let’s say that they are a Financial Director, and they are going for a prestigious job at a big blue chip. They know that some of their peers will be applying for the same role, and they naturally assess the strengths and weaknesses of their competition. I have more experience here, but he has more experience there, etc.

They see it as a race to reach the prize.

This is entirely understandable, but in my experience, you are rarely comparing apples with apples. In a selection process, you should not compete against each other, you should simply try to show off your experience in the best possible light. You will never fully know the hiring criteria, so that is all you can do, just be yourself and don’t worry about everyone else. If you “fit” the bill, you will get the job – when the criteria are as moveable as many recruitment criteria are, this is the best that you can do.

A 100m race has clear requirements – don’t fall over, stay in your lane, move one foot in front of the other (very swiftly) and finish ahead of everyone else. In recruitment, however, decisions can hinge on tiny factors, and the “best” candidate is the one who meets these factors. They might not be the most experienced, but they might live closest to the office, have the right personality or show the most ambition. It is these “extra” factors which mean that no recruitment process will contain a contest of apples against apples. Every candidate is different, they all have positives and negatives, and the person who gets chosen will be the one who is deemed “best” for the role.

But it doesn’t mean that they have “won.”

Sometimes not getting a job (that isn’t right for you) is the biggest blessing that you can receive. To my mind, this can’t be called coming second, it is simply another stepping stone on your journey. It might seem easy for me to be philosophical about this, but if you throw away the competitive mind set and focus on yourself, you will give yourself every chance of finding that perfect fit.

A job search isn’t about other people. It isn’t about winners and losers. It is about finding the “right” job for you. That nearly always requires the (misguided) feeling of “coming second” along the way, but I hope you’ll agree that it isn’t really a race.