I spent eight years as an assistant principal.
Those eight years provided a great learning experience. I handled all of the responsibilities that go with being an AP such as behavior, scheduling, supervision, evaluation, and instructional leadership.
Although I enjoyed the role, like most APs I had a dream of one day running my own building. There was always something about having the opportunity to put my own “touch” on a school that was appealing.
During my time as an assistant principal, I applied for numerous head principal jobs. While other colleagues got their shot after a single interview, I didn't have nearly the same luck.
My first twelve interviews ended in rejection.
That's right. I didn't get my chance until my thirteenth interview.
Dealing with rejection can be difficult. Given most leaders are accustomed to success, not being selected for an administration job can be a humbling experience.
Unfortunately, enduring several interviews before reaching the next level is typical. Whereas sometimes it appears school administration "gatekeepers" are playing a cruel joke, the reality is most jobs are highly competitive with dozens of applicants.
Like many others, I struggle with rejection. I feel anger towards the district and jealousy towards the person who was selected. Furthermore, my confidence takes a blow as I doubt my professional abilities and question my effectiveness as a leader.
Worse yet is not getting a job that has gone "public." When districts publicly name administrative finalists, candidates face added pressure as not being selected could result in "loyalty" questions in their current district.
Despite these challenges, know that time heals everything.
Eventually disappointment subsides and confidence returns. When this happens, focus on what you can control: How can I perform better in interviews? What weaknesses need to be addressed? Where can I grow in my current job?
Rather than blame others for your misfortune, prepare for your next opportunity: Create artifacts highlighting your achievements. Recalibrate your leadership core values. Request new challenges in your current position.
Also, remember that everything happens for a reason.
Reflect on the jobs you haven't been offered. Are you really that upset you didn't get the job? Often people realize they are much happier with how things played out in the end.
One job stands out in particular. I felt I interviewed amazing and was the most qualified candidate. I was so certain this job was mine I began house hunting! But after a couple weeks of hearing nothing (not even a phone call!) I realized I didn't get the job. I was stunned.
Now as I look at the position, I am thankful I was not selected. My philosophy does not fit the district culture and my strengths would have been limited by the position. Finally, I would not have been happy working for their district leadership.
Often, not getting a job can be a blessing in disguise.
John "Jocko" Wilink is a retired U.S. Navy SEAL officer and the author of several leadership books including Extreme Ownership and The Dichotomy of Leadership.
Jocko is also the host of the Jocko Podcast. In episode three, Jocko discusses how he deals with failure. He explains when things go bad, there’s always something good that will come from the experience:
How do I deal with setbacks, failures, delays, defeats, or other disasters? I actually have a fairly simple way of dealing with these situations, summed up in one word:
Oh, mission got canceled? Good. We can focus on another one.
Didn’t get the new high-speed gear we wanted? Good. We can keep it simple.
Didn’t get promoted? Good. More time to get better.
Didn’t get the job you wanted? Good. Go out, gain more experience, build a better resume.
Got beat? Good. We learned.
Unexpected problems? Good. We have the opportunity to figure out a solution.
That’s it. When things are going bad, don’t get all bummed out, don’t get startled, don’t get frustrated. Just look at the issue and you say:
As painful as the process was, I am happy I was rejected twelve times.
Rejection provides motivation.
Rejection opens doors.
Rejection gives perspective.
Rather than treat rejection as a bad thing, treat rejection as a good thing.