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In job interviews, just like in sports, practice will pay off

bizO-DautenOdonnel_DaleJanine_BizODEAR J.T. & DALE: I have been on four interviews in the past two months but didn’t get the jobs. Each time, they sent an email saying they went with another candidate. I’m worried that I’m doing something wrong. Is there a polite way to ask them? – Brian

Dale: First, bravo on getting four interviews. Now, step back and ask yourself this: Was I better on the fourth interview than on the first? You need to be learning as you go. It’s like entering a tennis tournament: If you play well and still get beaten, all you can do is keep improving. Odds are, you didn’t do anything wrong. Obsessing about what it could be only will make you hesitant and wooden. Instead, hire a career coach or get a manager friend to do practice interviews with you. If you are doing something wrong, you’ll fix it. More likely, you’ll get sharper and more comfortable.

J.T. : It would be great if you could learn by asking hiring managers why they chose someone else. However, that’s an uncomfortable conversation, and one they are unlikely to want to have. I liken it to you purchasing an expensive TV after visiting five stores: Would you contact the four salespeople who didn’t get your business to let them know why? Probably not. The same applies here. Better to put the effort into practicing between interviews.

Dale : We’ve heard from people who’ve gone through lengthy job searches who tell us that they eventually learned to enjoy the process. Really! It could be that you get a job as soon as you start to enjoy the process, because how you feel about interviewing comes across to the interviewer. It helps if you can think of interviewing as a conversation and come equipped with plenty of questions derived from your research about the company. And there’s this, my personal favorite interviewee question: “What kind of people do best here?” That’s the start of a spirited and useful discussion.

J.T. : What you can do with those “We picked someone else” emails is reply with some version of this: “Thank you for letting me know. I really admire your company and wonder if you can advise me on what I can do to be proactive and stay on your radar for future opportunities?” By showing your character and enthusiasm, you’ll stand out from all the others who got rejected. Who knows? Stay in touch, and they might find another role for which you are an even better fit.

Dear J.T. & Dale: I just joined a company that has a softball team. It’s coed, and the league requires that three women be on the field at all times. They are pushing me to join. I am a terrible softball player, but I don’t want to be seen as not wanting to help my teammates. What should I do? – Maria

J.T. : Join the team. Just be sure to manage their expectations. Be emphatic that you aren’t any good at the sport and that the only reason you would participate would be to help them. Then, go have some fun! You might turn out to be better than you expected.

Dale : The great thing about softball or any other company competition is the chance to demonstrate that you are a good sport. It is my observation that nearly all high-functioning people in organizations, male or female, could be described as being good sports. What does such a designation mean? It describes someone who is open and accepting, likes to joke around, has a ready laugh and is willing to do things like play on the softball team and maybe have a beer afterward. Said another way, successful people in organizations make their colleagues feel comfortable around them while having a dignity and self-restraint that inspires others to do the same for them. So, join the team. And take J.T.’s advice to warn them that you’re terrible. Joke about it, and you’ll win them over – just like that. That’s all it takes to let them know you’re not taking yourself too seriously. You’ll turn colleagues into friends and build an internal network that will be invaluable to you.

Jeanine “J.T.” Tanner O’Donnell is a professional development specialist and the founder of the consulting firm jtodonnell. Dale Dauten resolves employment and other business disputes as a mediator with com. Please visit them at, where you can send questions via email, or write to them in care of King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th St., 15th Floor, New York, NY 10019.