Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Walk It Off, Girl

Now that recruiting season for second year MBAs are here once again, it's common to hear one MBA say to another, "Suck it up!" or "Walk it off!" Yes, we do need to suck it up when interviews are scheduled one after another with barely a restroom break in between. And we also need to walk it off (quite more often than we want to) when we get the much regretted rejection calls or emails.

I've been heavily immersed with recruiting preparations for the past weeks now. Networking nights started in early September where we had to dress in suits and chat up company representatives. Of course, we had to do good research before we went to these events. A glass of wine in hand and enough alcohol in our systems to give us courage, we would try engaging a company recruiter by asking (what we hoped were) intelligent questions and sharing our views on their recent company performance or acquisition. The goal: try not to make him/her yawn while you're mid-sentence, and yeah, get an interview invite. After networking nights came resume drops. This entailed making cover letters for each company, which of course had to be tailor-fitted to the industry, the people you spoke with, your company fit, etc. Whoever worked the darnedest in networking and prayed the hardest got the interview invite. Then comes more intensive company research (read: financial reports, company-related news in the past year, executive board resumes, etc.) and interview preparations.

Modesty aside, I think I was quite diligent in my preparations. I've filled notebooks on company research, reviewed relevant school notes for possible technical questions, and smiled my widest during company networking events. So when I received numerous interview invites, I was very happy. However, I was waiting for one particular interview invite. The company was one of my top companies and I had worked my ass off in networking with them. So honestly, I was quite confident I would get that much coveted interview invite. Anxiety got the better of me so I would constantly check my email during ungodly hours to see if they've sent me the invite. When finally they released the interview invites, almost everyone I knew got one. All but me. I knew I was being arrogant but I couldn't believe it. I even emailed our career development office to ask if they might have gotten my email wrong. Alas, everything was as it should be. And that meant I didn't make the cut. For both positions I was applying for. The worst part was that the company invited over half of the people who submitted their resumes--a fairly high yield. A 50% chance of getting in and I wasn't even part of that best half. Not even as alternate.

At that point, I was devastated. I felt rejected and just plain miserable. I had been invited to interview by almost all companies I had dropped for and now this. The ultimate rejection from one of my top companies. When these things happen, you start doubting yourself. You begin asking, "Why am I not good enough?" "What did I do wrong?" "What did I not do?" You start scrutinizing every email you exchanged with the company recruiters. You start reviewing your cover letter for the nth time. I was even almost certain I spelled the company name wrong or put a different company name hence the no invite. But after spending an agonizing hour retracing my steps, nothing seemed amiss. I just had to accept the fact that I wasn't good enough for them.

Then came the tears. And two hours later, the anger. I thought to myself, "Hey, a good number of companies want me so if you don't want me, fine!" A friend suggested I bid my points to still get an interview invite despite not getting it on the first cut. I knew this still made my chances very slim since my resume was not good enough in the first place. But I did it anyway. I bid all of my points to both positions they were recruiting for and prayed again. This time I got the interview invites for both roles but at the back of my mind I knew it was still a second-rate invite--one I had to buy my way in.

With only a few days to prepare, I did my usual company research and interview preparation. For the first round of interviews, I had two 30-minute interviews for each position which meant a total of 2 hours of interviewing. One thing I didn't see coming were the case interviews. The candidates were given hypothetical scenarios ranging from launching a new product line to opening a plant in a new geographic location. We were then asked to share our strategy in each scenario. Some interviewers were more intense in giving us hypothetical numbers to work with. With no calculator or computer available, it was long division all over again.

I did get to the final round for both positions, which was the very next day. This time, each candidate had two 45-minute interviews for each position. For me, this meant three hours. Straight. More cases and more behavioral questions. By my last interview, my bladder was ready to burst and I had my arm propped on the table, supporting my aching head. The interviewer had this amused look on his face, "We've been working you hard, haven't we?" Me: "You have no idea." How I managed to survive is still a mystery to me.

Three hours later, I get a call from the company extending me full-time offers for both positions. I was in total shock. At best, I thought I'd get one offer.

I walked home with a very happy heart. I couldn't thank God enough. But I was still wondering, "How?" How can this one company who did not want me in the first place so as to deny me an interview invite now change its mind and give me two offers (a very rare thing to do)? Is it possible to change a recruiter's mind about a candidate? Is one's resume really not a good picture of a candidate? Or is it perhaps one's persistence and one's determination that makes a well-rounded candidate?

To the first year MBA's out there and those still dropping resumes, don't let an interview reject get you fully down. Yes, it's devastating. Yes, it can be one of the worst things to happen to you in MBA world but hey, it's not the end. Go bid those points and spend it wisely. That's another good shot for you. Show them that there's a whole lot more to you than what your resume or cover letter says. Show them what you're really made of.

So the next time you're faced with rejection, remember: Walk it off, girl.