By Kerry Sanderson

Always the bridesmaid, never the bride. This has been my experience with interviews lately — I hear of an opening that seems like a perfect fit for my skill sets, and I start to think this could be the one! The interview process commences, sometimes involving two or three rounds of meetings. And in four out of the five cases, I have been the runner-up. I am the one that made a great impression, but there was this one other person who just had a specific type of experience or was somehow a better fit. I get that dreaded email, “Thank you for your interest but we have decided to move forward with another candidate.” Sometimes the hiring manager is gracious enough to share the details of why I was not chosen. More than once I’ve found out that there was an internal candidate. How do you compete with that?

This economy is giving me some tough love, teaching me valuable lessons that perhaps I needed to learn. More than I thought.

I had a heartbreaking experience early in my job search with an organization that I thought was “The One.” My first meeting was with the CEO, the next was three hours with the vice president of HR, and the final was a fabulous lunch with the hiring manager. After that meeting, I was ready to pop the champagne that was in my fridge. It turned into several weeks before I heard anything. In the meantime, I passed up some leads that might have been attractive had I given them more attention. I ended up getting the rejection email and was devastated. Now, I am playing the field with any possible options available and won’t allow myself to fall in love with one position.

As much as I can, I try to become the internal candidate. Networking and connecting has always been important but I am finding it’s critical not to just have conversations, but to demonstrate my value. I take as much contract work as possible and volunteer, doing rather than just talking. I’m finding it’s not who you know, but who knows you. If I can be seen as one of the team, I may just have an edge.

Still, I try not to take anything for granted. The information I’m gathering is important, even if it comes in the form of a rejection. I might feel emotional for a bit and my pride takes a hit, but then I get over it and move on, directing that energy into finding the next interesting thing. Some of the folks I’ve met through interviews have become new connections, and I make the effort to stay in touch with them. They actually know me pretty well from the interview process, and you never know when something else might open up in their company. You never know who they know.

That bottle of champagne was cursing me, so I opened it recently to celebrate my boyfriend’s promotion. I have a clean slate. I am thinking that maybe it would be fun to do something totally different. I may have to get creative about how I make a living going forward and the work I do may not look how I initially imagined a dream job. It’s out there and I am remaining realistically optimistic.

Kerry was manager of community relations for Jobing.com before her position was eliminated in March 2009. Ms. Sanderson, 43, was previously director of employer relations and business development at Thunderbird School of Global Management. She earned an MBA at Rice University’s Jones School of Graduate Business in 2000. She lives in Scottsdale AZ.