You didn’t get the job … Now what?

What happens when you don\'t get your dream job. Jeff Neal, a former chief human capital officer, shares his own story in a new commentary.

Commentary by Jeff Neal
Founder of
& Senior Vice President, ICF International

This column was originally published on Jeff Neal’s blog,, and was republished here with permission from the author.

(Photo courtesy of Jeff Neal)

One question I get a lot is, “What do I do when they select someone else for my dream job?” It is a great question. We often set our sights on a goal, thinking if we get that one job we will be where we want to be. Goals can help focus attention, provide insight into what we need to do to advance, and give career moves some purpose. When everything works out, it’s great.

I can say from personal experience that it does not always work out. How we react when the dream job does not materialize is just as important as the preparation that gets us to that point. In my case, I wanted to be the HR director for the Defense Logistics Agency. It is a great agency and I had worked there for five years as a GS-14 and GS-15. When the HR director position became available, I eagerly applied. I made the best qualified list, was interviewed twice and waited for the decision. They selected someone else who was already an SES in another agency. Needless to say, I was crushed.

Like anyone else who does not get selected, I was faced with a choice. I could complain. I could grieve. I could pout or I could do take action to make my own opportunities. I chose the latter. Within a few months, I was selected for another SES position as the deputy HR director for the Department of Commerce. It was the first time in my career I had worked outside the Department of Defense. I learned a lot about the world of civilian agencies, worked with a number of high-ranking political appointees and learned how to make things happen in a highly political environment. For the first time, I got exposure to the Hill. The experience I gained in that position made me a far better candidate for the dream job as DLA HR director, which I was offered two years later. I served in that role for nine years, then went on to be offered a political appointment as Chief Human Capital Officer for the Department of Homeland Security.

If I had gotten what I wanted originally, I most likely would not have been as effective at DLA and I would never have been selected for the DHS position. That is why I always offer the same advice when people are turned down for a job they really want. It is not the only job for you. Take advantage of the situation and keep moving. Much like water flowing into an obstacle, go around it and look for the next opportunity. It will almost certainly be there. There is nothing to be gained from holding a grudge, whining or lashing out at the people around you. In my case, my experience brought me back to the job I had wanted, and then on to something even bigger. Every time I have had a major career disappointment, the result has been the same. I found something better. I learned and I grew. Anyone else can do the same.

Jeff Neal is a senior vice president for ICF International and founder of the blog, Before coming to ICF, Neal was the chief human capital officer at the Department of Homeland Security and the chief human resources officer at the Defense Logistics Agency.


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