Not moving forward.

Those are words you did not think you would hear. Indeed, they are words you hoped you would not hear. Next, they become the only words you hear.

You want to tune it out and move on to what is next, but that proves easier said than done.

You had a good phone interview – maybe even two of them, because this is how so many are doing it nowadays – or so you thought. You felt like you breezed through the technical part with the manager, after you were given something to look over and prepare for as part of the interview. You were certainly prepared, all right, and it showed. You felt like the rest of the conversation was quite free-flowing, which should be a plus, and it was wide-ranging, even talking about philosophies and practices.

When you arrived at the company office for the on-site interview, you were confident. Not over-confident as if you felt you already had it in the bag, but more confident than you usually feel going into one of these, when you usually feel nervous. But you also know that anything can derail the opportunity. Unfortunately, you have been there and done that, and even bought a few t-shirts. (You always end up buying some t-shirts you never wear, or later on wonder, “What was I thinking in buying this?”)

The stage was set. You did all the prep you could. You went over technical topics that could come up. You long ago brushed up “brain teaser” questions that some companies love to ask, although that seems to happen less frequently these days. You thought about questions you could be asked. You found out a good deal about the company, and not just that they have a job opening, and you were ready to weave that in when it made sense.

Just after you get into the room with the person you hope to report to, you’re given a problem to solve. You take notes to make sure you have the information you need and can refer back so as to not pound the interviewer to repeat everything. You reason it out, talk it through, including all the considerations of possible solutions that come to mind. You make sure you understand what is being asked of you. Along the way, you elaborate on what comes to mind and what you come up with, and you’re told that a problem of this nature actually came up and took quite a long time to fully solve, and that the team went in a couple of directions before settling on their ultimate solution. You feel like this is a good development, because how many share that level of detail with a job candidate?

When you are finished and appear to have a satisfactory result, you talk it over more. You think of how it might be done in a different way with a different technology. You think of the details because you know this well.

Afterwards, you talk more about your work history. It leads you to talk more about some big picture topics that would come into play on the job, and you speak of them happily. You add in some of the knowledge you gained while researching the company, including something that might help you out later on.

You get taken around the facility and even see the lab with some of what is happening there. The manager gives you some details on activity there to give you a feel for it. You meet another engineer who is hard at work.

Finally, it is over. You are led back to the lobby, where you may or may not have to sign out. You leave feeling hopeful, feeling it went well, even if not quite as well as you felt the earlier interview went. As you go, you’re reminded of the remainder of the process, so you leave with clarity on that front. You go on with the remainder of your plans from there, hoping for the best but knowing you can’t stop your job search as if you know you have it.

Now the waiting game is on. It’s no fun, especially when you want this job, need this job even. It checks a lot of boxes for you and at just the right time. It’s nerve-wracking. It might even feel like there’s more pressure now than there was during the interview, amazingly.

Then you find out, a bit earlier than expected in fact. They are not moving forward.

The opportunity is gone.

It feels no good at the time. When you learn more about why they chose not to move forward, it almost feels like a punch in the gut, even if it was not done in anything remotely resembling such a fashion. It starts a vicious cycle, because now you go back and replay the entire interview process.

You think back to the phone interview(s) and wonder if you said something that gave them pause. Sure, they invited you in after that, but maybe with some reservation.

You think back to when you went on-site. Was there some body language you weren’t conscious of that didn’t sit right with them? Was there something you said that gave them pause – too much of it? The interview is a setting with a lot of pressure, and it could be easy to not think of something that doesn’t help.

You think back to the technical parts of the interview(s) and wonder if you really handled them as well as you thought or were led to believe.

You replay all of this in your mind and start wondering what you might do differently. You second-guess yourself. You wonder if you should have prepared a little differently.

Most of all, you second-guess your judgment, your intuition. You thought it went well, but the end result suggests otherwise. What did you miss? What did the manager feel so differently about than you did? How much else will you second-guess from here on out?

The last question is the biggest one of all, and points to where this can have a big effect. In the immediate, you take time away from your job search to replay everything and second-guess yourself. You get frustrated, thinking of how unfair it all seems, to have just one chance and that forms the entire impression. In the long run, your confidence may be shaken, whether in yourself (not good) or in companies or managers (also not good, but a different consideration). You can second-guess your future actions based on this; we all adjust what we do in many contexts based on our experiences. We are human beings, after all, not robots.

It’s easy to say that you have to just move on to what is next, but that doesn’t come easily here. You were an athlete in another life, so you had the “next play” mentality that this play is over and you can’t get it back, but there’s a next play. The problem is that in a game, there are many more plays, unless it’s in the final seconds; there may not be a “next play” interview for a while.

“Not moving forward.” Three simple words. They feel like three million words to move on from.

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