Job Interview Reject = Billionaire

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Four years ago, my old college dorm neighbor, Brian Acton, was looking for a job. Up until that point, he had spent 11 years at Yahoo in a variety of engineering jobs.

He landed an interview with Twitter — but they didn’t give him an offer.

He interviewed with Facebook — and they too did not give him a job offer.

I didn’t know Brian all that well back in school. We would say "hi" in the hallways and we had several friends in common. He was a nice guy, one of many computer science type majors on campus, and seemed socially relatively conservative. My guess is if he had landed an offer from Twitter or Facebook 4 years ago, when those firms were hot in Silicon Valley, he would have taken it.

But, that did not happen.

Sometimes in life and in one’s career when a door to an opportunity closes, a window to another opportunity opens.

As the late Steve Jobs said (I’m paraphrasing), in the moment it is hard to see how a particular moment in your life make sense. But looking back many years later, you’ll often be able to connect the dots and see how everything you went through was critical in leading you to the place you are now.

It turns out this was the case for Brian.

With no great job offers in hand, he and a former Yahoo colleague started a company called WhatsApp.

You may have seen WhatsApp in the news over the last few days. That’s because Facebook announced that it would be acquiring the company for $19 BILLION dollars.

That is billion with a “B”.

(The company has no revenues and only 55 employees… but is poised to exceed 1 billion users for its messaging application -- a milestone only matched by the likes of Google, Facebook, Skype, and Yahoo.)

Forbes estimates Brian’s net worth at $3 billion. He will now become an employee of Facebook — the same firm that rejected him 4 years ago.

Among Silicon Valley recruiters, his name is becoming a catch phrase. As in, "hire this person, because if you don’t, she’ll be your Brian Acton — and it’ll cost you $3 billion to hire her later."

While there is a natural appeal for showing up someone who rejected you before, the perspective I want to share is to take anything you perceive as a career “failure” with a grain of salt.

It’s easy to focus on what you do not have, and lose sight of what you do have. In Brian’s case, he didn’t land the job offers he wanted, but he did have an opportunity to work with a colleague in building a new startup.

Arguably, getting rejected by Twitter and Facebook was the best thing that could have happened to him.

My own career has had numerous failures and setbacks (of which someday I will share with you, but for the moment am way too embarrassed to do so) and with the perspective of time, those failures were critical to getting me to a place in my life and career today that I very much value.

(But boy, were some of those failures extremely, extremely painful.)

Sometimes the failure would send me in a new direction because the original direction was a dead end. Other times, I needed to learn an important lesson and the failure was the “tuition” paid to learn that lesson — a lesson that would be wildly valuable 5 to 7 years later.

If you happen to be going through a period of rejection, defeat, or a setback in your career, try to remember that it is not the end of the world. Focus on the many opportunities that remain, not the one that is now gone.

If you have not had a major setback in your career, which may be the case especially if you are only in your first few years out of school, try to not judge harshly those who have “failed.” Consider being compassionate -- someday, that person could be you.

Sometimes it is easy to fall into the trap of looking down, thinking less of those who have accomplished less than you. It is a faux way of feeling better about oneself — but doing so is both short-lived and at someone else’s expense.

Failure is a part of life. That’s especially the case if you set big goals. The bigger the goal, the more likely setbacks are to occur. The easiest way to never fail is to never try anything of significance.

I’ll bet Brian Acton was glad he didn’t let his rejection from Twitter and Facebook hold him back. And just in case he forgets, he has 3 billion reminders to help him remember that lesson.

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8 comments… add one
  • Dat Mar 6, 2014, 2:50 am

    Awesome article! It really hit me because I can definitely relate. This article provided motivation for me to keep forging ahead. Please do share some of your failures; would love to hear about it and learn from it. Thanks.

  • Em Vi Mar 31, 2014, 3:57 pm

    It would be awesome to learn from you

  • Meeta May 7, 2014, 11:50 am

    Thanks for this encouraging article. It seems that I have been getting this same very message from several sources now and that is “Accept this moment that you are in as a perfect moment, there is reason you are in this situation, accept it, embrace it and learn from it!”

    Although, from outside I may not seem like a failure, but inwardly I feel like I am not where I should be in life. I feel that I am so capable and talented, but I am not able to always convey that (part of it might be my confidence….thanks for the video of “Projecting Confidence”). I am fortunate to land a job where I am working with a great team and have the opportunity to learn about a new industry and a new area of business.

    I read the article on WhatsApp cofounder Jan Koum in the Forbes magazine. I was so inspired by his rags to riches story. Your site is so insightful, encouraging and motivating. Although based on what you have written, I will probably never land a job with McKinsey or one of the top firms, I find your tools very useful in my corporate career and I want to thank you for continuing to provide new tools and articles that are so valuable!

    • Victor Cheng May 9, 2014, 7:27 pm

      Meeta,

      One of my favorite sayings is “I am exactly where I am supposed to be right now.”

      My attitude is if I am not where I want to be, there must be something I need to learn, a skill to develop, or an attitude to adopt that has prompted recent events.

      -Victor

  • Ivy May 9, 2014, 6:26 pm

    Thank you for this article, it really helped lifting my spirits. I just got out of a round of interviews for a job i really really wanted and i didnt succeed at case studies although they all liked my personality ( apparently there was a pretty tight debate over me). I realize now i certainly wasnt prepared enough though it didnt seem that way before… Anyway i am still very disappointed and angry at myself for not finding your website earlier …but your article is really helpful . Thanks

    • Victor Cheng May 9, 2014, 7:32 pm

      Ivy,

      If you got that close as to warrant a tight debate, most likely you lost the offer by less than 10%. While I’m sure this is incredibly disappointing, consider the underlying message:

      1) Your inherent talent IS sufficient to work for the firm in question. (This is NOT true for many people who apply)

      2) You didn’t practice enough (either due to insufficient time, awareness, scheduling priorities, etc…)

      3) You have the option to apply again in this field and with sufficient practice to yield ideally a 15% – 25% improvement (to give you a greater margin of error), you have a good chance of landing an offer.

      I have received a great many messages from others in a situation like yours…BUT two years after the fact where they took another shot at it, and landed job offers at 2 of the top 3 firms.

      The one commonality amongst those who go for it again down the road, they definitely go “all out” on practice and preparation.

      Try to consider the long term view point, not just the immediate one.

      -Victor

  • Nani May 16, 2014, 5:45 pm

    Excellent article Mr. Cheng.
    I am greatly motivated and inspired by this article.

    I also want to say Thank You for the numerous free resource you have provided on you website. I believe my success story aided greatly by you is taking form.

    Thanks again.

  • Matt Dec 20, 2014, 8:28 am

    I am interested in landing a job in consulting and would like to maximise the odds of me suceeding.

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