542: Persevering Through Interview Rejection by Upgrading Your Mindset

Discover how James turned Amazon rejections into his dream role with a resilient mindset. His story unfolds a roadmap from setbacks to success, proving that mindset is the key to career change success.



James Sannan, Program Manager at Amazon

After 12 years with Boeing, James felt his career growth had been capped, so he set his sights on Amazon and didn’t give up until he landed a role with his dream org!

on this episode

James had identified Amazon as the company he wanted to work for. His values aligned with the organization and he was extremely excited about their company culture, but he kept repeating the same cycle. He would land an interview with Amazon (woo!) only to be told they “went a different direction” after interviewing with him (ugh).

This happened multiple times.

Others may take this as a sign, or decide the effort wasn’t worth it, but not James.

James had put in the work to define his ideal career, and he knew Amazon was the right fit for him. So he doubled down.

He began connecting with Amazon employees and setting up conversations with them. These connections provided valuable insights and helped him refine his interview skills to be exactly what Amazon was looking for. James honed his ability to articulate his strengths and aspirations, ultimately landing a role with Amazon!

So what does James contribute his perseverance and resilience to? Mindset. In this episode, James reflects on his own evolution, from feeling the sting of rejection to strutting into interviews with a newfound confidence. This is a story that resonates, showcasing the power of self-reflection and a commitment to constant improvement.

Whether you’re navigating career changes or trying to shake off the ghosts of rejections past, James’s story serves as a beacon of hope. With a sprinkle of persistence, a dash of positive thinking, and a generous helping of learning from every experience, he proves that setbacks are just pit stops on the road to success.

What you’ll learn

  • How to navigate career change obstacles with resilience and strategic perseverance.
  • Gain insights on leveraging networking for impactful career transitions.
  • The vital role of understanding and embracing company culture during job search and interviews
  • The importance of networking and mock interviews for success
  • How to communicate passion and alignment during job interviews effectively.

Success Stories

All the stars aligned and I ended up finding the right thing at the right place at the right time, and it was you guys! Everything that you said was speaking to me and the things that you had done in the job that you had transitioned out of and into. Also how finding work that you love is your passion for people! Honestly, it was you Scott, I mean, the way that you talked about it, how passionate you were, I was like, there's no way he's gonna put out a faulty product. So I'm gonna try it, you know… I recommend you to all my friends, you know, even if they don't realize that they're looking for a new job, I'm like this is the first step, let's do this! Even if you maybe don't move out of this career. This is going to help!

Maggie Romanovich, Director of Learning and Development, United States/Canada

as I was diving into the bootcamp at Happen To Your Career, and I was really trying to think broadly, I had this moment of thinking, "Okay, should I even should I be a lawyer? What should I do?" so I worked with Happen To Your Career really started trying to dig deep and lay a foundation… it was helpful to have Lisa through the interviewing process, and all the little events like "oh, someone responded like this, how should I respond?" How should I deal with all the steps along the way? I also had a tendency to form myself into what I thought they were looking for and Lisa helped me be who I actually am in the interviews.

Rebecca Maddox, Attorney, United States/Canada

James Sannan 00:00

I think that was the hardest to basically be rejected. But then to try to internally make yourself better and then try again. So be rejected, but then just be persevering, and keep trying again and again and again.

Introduction 00:20

This is the Happen To Your Career podcast with Scott Anthony Barlow. We hope you stop doing work that doesn't fit you. Figure out what does and make it happen. We help you define the work that is unapologetically you, and then go get it. If you feel like you were meant for more, and you're ready to make a change, keep listening. Here's Scott. Here's Scott. Here's Scott.

Scott Anthony Barlow 00:45

Some people are content with just showing up for work and doing the same thing for year after year, years on it. If you're here listening to this show, Happen to Your Career, of all places, I'm guessing that's probably not you. I'm guessing instead, you want to keep learning, growing both personally and professionally. But when you're looking for opportunities to learn and grow in a role no longer is providing that for you, it's really easy to lose your sense of fulfillment.

James Sannan 01:13

I got to the point where I wasn't learning. I got to the point where it just felt like I was... stuck is kind of the best word I can describe. I got bored. And I wasn't excited about my role. I didn't want to tell people about my role, even though I think a lot of people would probably say my role was pretty cool at the time. And it was all internal. It was me just not being satisfied with where I was at.

Scott Anthony Barlow 01:39

James worked in the aerospace field for many years. Like you and many people we work with, he thrived on learning and growing. Well, there were many learning opportunities for him as he transitioned into different roles within his company, which by the way, a lot of people have heard of. He quickly came to a dead end in his growth, even described it as feeling stuck. That's where we got to meet James. And that's also where we got to help with his next career change. Here's the thing, I want you to listen for this later on in the episode. He was able to find the growth that he needed, but he had to figure out what really worked for him and what growth meant. Pay attention later on, you'll hear him describe exactly how he found that and how you might be able to find it too. But to see what led to his most recent change, James takes us back to his early days in aerospace.

James Sannan 02:29

I started out of school as a mechanical engineer. I wanted to get into aerospace– airplanes seemed cool to me. So basically, I've been with Boeing for about, I want to say we're close to 15 years. And nothing against Boeing– Boeing is a great company. And I think some of the teams I worked with customer support, I was a deputy fleet chief at one point in time, then they made me a product manager and a program manager, where I did some really cool things with a software teams. I was jumping around within the same company. And every time I jumped it was motivating. It was fun. I was doing something new. But I got to the point where I was saying, "I've done all the best jobs at this company. I want to try something new, and no other team within this company excites me." And quite frankly, even if I did make those jumps, I wouldn't be learning a whole lot because I kind of understand this business now. I understand airplanes. The thing that excited me the most, and part of this was my experience working as a product manager at Boeing, was I really liked the software aspects of building a product from the ground up that really helped people. And knowing that, I said, "Really where I should be looking." So I had this passion of trying to kind of enhance my skills in product management and kind of looking at different firms outside of aerospace to do that. But that was a huge leap. But when did I know it was time to leave Boeing? It was basically when I stopped learning. I stopped basically being excited about the incremental bit of knowledge I would get changing from position to position to position, even changing from one aerospace to another aerospace, I just didn't find the incremental knowledge gap to be very exciting. I wanted to do something entirely new. That was exciting.

Scott Anthony Barlow 04:22

So here's what I'm super curious about. You had this really wonderful background, what most people outside looking in is like, "Hey, you would be crazy to leave all of this experience you've built up and all of these wonderful, you know, sets of..." and, we have a tendency to do that, I think, as human beings. However, I remember having a conversation with you. You and I got... I don't get to chat with everybody, but you and I got to chat shortly after you found us, right? And I remember one of the things that you said is, you know, "Honestly, this was really, really wonderful" and you were having the time of your life in many different ways for a number of years, but then at some point, it sounded like it was no longer as wonderful. And you were experiencing less growth, if I remember. So I'm wondering if you could dive into a little bit of that, like what caused it to be less wonderful than what it used to be at one point?

James Sannan 05:17

It's interesting. I used to think it was just the fact that I'm just very ambitious. And I have to continue to grow in some way. And every time I would make a growth leap within that company, that started a new position, I'd get a level promotion, it was just awesome. And I was very, very happy. And then I do this new role, and all of a sudden, I'd be learning a lot of new things and that would make me incredibly satisfied. But I got to a point where I wasn't learning. I got to the point where it just felt like I was... stuck is kind of the best word I can describe. I got bored. And I wasn't excited about my role. I didn't want to tell people about my role, even though I think a lot of people would probably say my role was pretty cool at the time. And it was all internal. It was me just not being satisfied with where I was at. And, further reflection after I moved on, I think it came down to the fact that I just wasn't learning anything anymore. I was kind of, at a very mature state in my company, I was more or less educating other people on processes and history. And I just don't see myself going anywhere. And I think that's why I was getting down on myself and I was frustrated.

Scott Anthony Barlow 06:35

I think that's such an interesting place to be. First of all, it's not necessarily a fun place to be, let's acknowledge that first, like, when you're there when you're experiencing that, and you are bored, everybody else thinks your job should be exciting, but it's not feeding you in that way, then that's not a great place to be all the time. That said, I think it's really fascinating because so many people tend to underrate what they need in terms of growth from a... if we're looking at it from a fulfillment standpoint, like, what I heard you say is that, like, at some point, you know, you shifted and you are now teaching other people and no longer getting that rate of growth, which you'd grown accustomed to. But I would also argue that you really need it otherwise, you know, it dropped off the other side, and it was no longer a great situation for you. So on one hand, I think that's fascinating. And then, on the other hand, I'm curious, what did you learn about yourself out of that experience?

James Sannan 07:40

You know, I did a lot of self-reflection. I recognized I wasn't getting anywhere on my own. I think when I tried to network with my internal network, I was basically told, "You know, there's lots of aerospace companies out there. There's all these startups you could get into, you're an airplane guy, you know, you'd be great in this sort of role." And I knew, personally, I had to make a big giant leap, try something new entirely. Because I think deep down inside, I just knew I had to kind of exponentially grow my growth mindset. I needed to try something entirely different. I didn't want to do something that was pretty much similar to what I was already doing just with a different company. And so I had this goal of mine, right? So I had this goal, and I knew what I wanted, but I didn't necessarily know how to get there. And so when you talk about self-reflection, I think I was stuck then I eventually reached out to your team. Because all the networking advice I was receiving was, "Don't make a jump. You're not well equipped to make a jump."

Scott Anthony Barlow 08:42

For all the things that you want to do, yeah, don't do that.

James Sannan 08:46

Stick with what you know. You're gonna do great with what you know. And I needed somebody to tell me, "No, you can do this. Right? You can make this jump. This is how to do it." And so I think I had a lot of learning opportunities when I was working through your team to understand what my network wasn't telling me. This is how you kind of make those incremental steps.

Scott Anthony Barlow 09:11

Well, here's what I'm curious about then, if we fast forward to the end, it turns out well for you– you ended up getting an opportunity that it sounds like when we were chatting just a little bit before we hit the record button here, it sounds like it's hitting on some of those growth pieces that you need, which is amazing. But what I'm curious about is, as you think back to the process of making this change, and what you were struggling with initially versus what actually happened in the end, what would you say were some of the hardest portions of it or hardest parts for you to make the change?

James Sannan 09:48

The biggest challenges I had was trying to, well, twofold. I'm gonna say, one, is having to deal with failure. I'm not good at dealing with failure. And a good example would be, I work with Amazon. But it wasn't the first interview I had with them, I think I had two other interviews previously with them. And I did not make it through those rounds. And so I think a lot of people, when they don't make it through the rounds of a company will say, "The company doesn't want me, I don't want them, you know, we're just not a good match. Let's move on. And let me look somewhere else."

Scott Anthony Barlow 10:23

It's not for me. Peace. I'm out.

James Sannan 10:25

I knew I really wanted to work for Amazon. And so I didn't have that mindset. But at the same time, I felt incredibly rejected every time I didn't make it through. And so in some ways, I think that was the hardest to basically be rejected, but then to try to internally make yourself better, and then try again. So be rejected, but then just be persevering, and keep trying again, and again, and again, and use that as an opportunity to make yourself better. So I think that was one challenge I had to overcome. And it definitely impacted me at the heart just feeling rejected again, and again, again. And you know, honestly, it wasn't just the interviews I was being rejected from, sometimes I'd apply for a role I would think I was really good for, and then I would never be called for an interview. That was rejection in itself. So even though that individual never met me, I still felt rejected. So there's a lot of, I think, rejection.

Scott Anthony Barlow 11:18

Layers of rejection can happen in the career change process. So here's what I'm curious about, though, as you pointed out, many people would get rejected once or twice or three times, and in one way or another, through those layers of rejection that we've now uncovered, and they wouldn't keep going. So what did you do? What worked for you to allow yourself to keep going through the process? Because let's be honest, that's hard. It's much easier to sit here and say, "Oh yeah, I just need to keep going" than it is to actually functionally do it. And I know, you know that, but what did you find worked for you?

James Sannan 11:56

Okay, so I started to say, "What could I do differently next time? What did I do wrong?" And honestly, I think I overanalyze it a lot. And sometimes I feel like, "maybe I could do this differently, or I could do this differently." But the first thing that I think I started to do that was on the right path was... network with people within the company. And I started to actually cold call people on LinkedIn, at the company in these groups I thought I was a good fit for. And that was also a little bit of a learning process, because quite frankly, if you don't have any connections with an individual you're trying to connect with via LinkedIn, chances are, they're not going to respond. But I actually did have some successes there, where people did get back to me, and people actually had set up information interviews with me. And if none of those information interviews actually panned out, even though I got recommendations out of them, where the individual was, like, they had my back, and they wanted to refer me, and honestly, they didn't work out into roles, but I think what I learned from that was I became a lot more comfortable trying to network and talking to people about their jobs and being a lot more natural about it. And also in the process, I started learning about the company. And so there's all these abstract things I was getting out of this networking that weren't necessarily leading to a job, but it was definitely better preparing me next time I did an interview for the company. And so I look back on it. And you know, I was just at the playground the other day, and my kids were taking their bikes out and learning to bike and I met some of the other dads there, who are also, have kids in similar age, and they're biking. And turns out, I was talking to a CTO of a startup tech firm, who just got like $250 million raised out of Series B and we were just chatting and I got a chat with him about his job. And we really hit it off. And I'm just thinking about how far I've come to where I used to be, where I was somewhat awkward talking to people about their jobs and learning about their industries to where I am now where I love talking to people about their jobs and their industries and finding about their journeys and it doesn't necessarily lead to a job, but it leads to knowledge and that knowledge is gonna prepare you so much better when you do want to take those sorts of leaps.

Scott Anthony Barlow 14:20

I think that's fascinating. Because what I took out of that is, even though in your case, most of those meetings didn't necessarily lead you anywhere directly, they were still a critical part of learning, not just about the organization, although that sounded like it was beneficial, and not just about reinforcing what you wanted to do or where you wanted to go, but also the act of practicing the skills that you needed to accumulate to make everything else happen. So that's really interesting because I think most people when they think about a career change of any kind, they're thinking about, like, how do I just take the skills that I have and then move it over? Not, how do I upskill and then practice those skills in order to actually functionally make the change and turn something from what was potentially not possible into now possible. If you had done zero skill development, you might not have made it– I'm not 100% sure, but it's possible that you might not have accomplished your goal. But that skill development along the way, in addition to all the other pieces that you're doing, all of a sudden makes it possible. So when you look back on this, first of all, that story, standing there at the playground with your kids, now able to functionally talk to other people about their jobs, like it's no big deal. Yeah, that's amazing. That really does illustrate how far you've come. And at the same time, it also makes me curious for, what did you see in... why did you keep pursuing Amazon? You knew that you wanted to be there. But what did you see in Amazon, that you latched on to that you felt, "Hey, this could really be a right place for me" that caused you to keep going?

James Sannan 16:11

You know, the more I studied the company, the more I realized that they have a very unique culture that has not changed a lot in the last 20 years. And they have, I think, these 14 leadership principles that typically they ask you to clearly understand before you interview, but even after the interviews, those leadership principles are instilled in every meeting, they actually bring them up constantly, they make you take classes on these leadership principles. But in a lot of ways, those leadership principles were absolutely awesome, because I could read about those leadership principles. And I got to the point where I memorized those leadership principles. And I realized, too, this company was. This is at their core, who they were. And I felt, almost to the point where it became like a passion, I was very passionate about their leadership principles. And I said, "This is exact... This resonates so well with me. This is exactly where I want to be." And I could actually look at examples of other companies where I had worked and said, "They don't have this sort of principle. And I've had issues because they don't have these sorts of principles." And so I think, in that way, it made me much more passionate about the company. And I got to the point where I was trying to say, "Look, I know I'm right for this company. How do I convince them I'm right for this company?"

Scott Anthony Barlow 17:36

That's a completely different mindset than I think what most people go through. Most of the time, I find that when you are... When the power dynamic is where the company holds the majority of the power, many people think about it as okay, like, "are they going to accept me?" And to be able to switch to the type of mindset that you just talked about, like, "Hey, how do I show them that I'm actually right for this company?" I already know it's true. Like it just needs to be a product of coming out on the other side, where that they now know it as well, because you had, not because you just wanted the job, but because you'd already done all the research, because you had already had many conversations, it was no small amount of reinforcement that led up to that conclusion, I would imagine. So having gone through that and putting what sounds like a ton of research and time and effort into understanding whether or not this organization is in fact right for you, what would you advise other people to do or think about as they're researching organizations?

James Sannan 18:43

You know, I think the key learning that I had is, sometimes you relied too much on resume. You look at the job records and the requirements of the job and you look at, "Do you require an MBA? Do you require..." and of course, you think if you meet all those requirements, you're a sure fit. And that's not true, and I can tell you firsthand. Every job I applied to, I met all those requirements. And most of them, I did not actually get interviews for. It's really the personality that really gets you the job. And so when you get interviewed, they're looking at you as a person saying, "How well does this person fit into the team? Do they... Are they passionate about our culture? Do they understand us? Do they do the research before they interview?" And I think the interview itself is so much more important. And if you do your homework, and if you really show that you're passionate about their mission, their company's mission, I think that's going to take you so much further than, you know, just making sure you have all the right skills. And then how do you get to that point? How do you get to the point where you really stand out in an interview? A lot of prep. Make sure you get people at the company who can kind of give you mock interviews, for instance. And I had several people who actually gave me mock interviews, and give you feedback on how you come across in your mock interviews. Make sure you're clear and concise, but make sure most importantly, that you understand what that team does, and specifically, what they are trying to achieve. And then make sure you kind of answer those questions with that in mind.

Scott Anthony Barlow 20:23

I think that's a great example of what actually makes it feel relevant. If we're in any kind of setting, not just an interview setting, but even if you and I were meeting over coffee or something like that, and we're talking about the potential of you coming on board to this team, or this company, or whatever, you know, I think that what you're talking about is how do you translate it into what's relevant for them. And when you put it in the context of their problems or challenges, what they're trying to accomplish, what they're trying to achieve, which I heard you say earlier, really, what you're doing functionally is you're now making yourself relevant to their world, which is really any kind of marketing or sales or whatever, at its very, very core. So, one, really nice job doing that. Because when you and I chatted a year ago, it's been about a year, right? We just figured that out, you and I chatting. And I would say, please correct me if I'm wrong, I would say, you felt a lot less confident about being able to do that sort of thing in that type of environment compared to what I'm hearing, you just roll off the back of your tongue now.

James Sannan 21:37

Yeah. I look back to when I first met with you guys. And by the way, during that time, I think I had interviewed at Amazon twice. And I look back at those first interviews, and I look back at the interview where I actually made it through. I look at where I've come. I was an entirely different person by that time, not literally, but I had learned so much during that time, about the company, about what they were trying to achieve. And that's honestly what got me through. It was that journey between that first interview and that final interview, where I just really spent a lot of time invested and trying to learn about the company because I knew that's what I wanted. And in the end, I think it carried through and the team who was interviewing me saw the same thing.

Scott Anthony Barlow 22:23

What surprised you the most as you went through this career change journey? What was different than how you thought it would be?

James Sannan 22:31

I think the people who helped me out, the people who actually reached out and gave me the mock interviews, how they would take me on as almost like a... they didn't have to take me on. I had this guy from Microsoft who worked at Amazon who I had worked with briefly for maybe, you know, just a few hours, I reached out to him on LinkedIn. And he connected with me and he spent hours doing mock interviews with me. He helped me with salary negotiations, told me I should be more aggressive with my salary negotiations. And I mean, this guy really, really had my back and I just... I think that's what surprised me the most is how much people in your network, even people who haven't really worked with you that much, can really have your back and support you and be on your team. And in some ways, I feel like forever in their debt, like, I feel like how can I ever pay these people for how much they've helped me. But I think just the goodness in people. And I think in the end, too, kind of I had this original perception of this big, monstrous company, Amazon, just projecting everyone who applies to them. And in the end, I realized that, you know, they're just like you and me, they're just trying to do their jobs. They have a lot of people applying and they're just trying to make heads or tails of who's the best fit for the team. And it's definitely not personal. And honestly, if you're that passionate about it, they probably want you to be on the team.

Scott Anthony Barlow 23:55

Yeah, absolutely. I think that's such great insight. When you think about the goodness in people, is what I think I heard you call it just a minute ago, that's something that has perpetually surprised me over and over and over and over again. I think that people are... if given the opportunity, so willing to be kind and helpful and good. And that's one of the most fun things for me to see over and over and over again, especially in the work that we do here is just that there's so many wonderful people out there, and they don't always have opportunities and outlets, and in many different ways, I would be willing to bet, I don't know, you might go back and ask this person that helped you out. But I'd be willing to bet he was getting something out of that too. I bet it was good for him at the same time, and not in a transactional way. But I bet he legitimately enjoyed being able to help you and coming from a place of help. I bet it wasn't just like, "Oh, I gotta go meet with this James guy. Help him get through the, you know, the..." I bet it wasn't like that at all, right?

James Sannan 25:09

You know, and I think you're right, Scott. And I'm sure you're like this, I'm also like this– where someone's gonna reach out to me, I'm always gonna respond to them. And then that might change as time goes on because I'll just get too busy. But I always, I kind of want to help people out. I feel like I've been helped out and so I need to return the favor. And not only that, but it's kind of enjoyable, helping people out to make them happy and be part of that. I'm sure not everyone's like that. But you know, at least I feel that way. So I can relate.

Scott Anthony Barlow 25:38

For sure. Okay, so confession time. I spent... someone had messaged me on LinkedIn. And we, at this point, really, really fortunate to have way more messages than I can actually respond to. However, I spent, like, 25 minutes trying to write this thing out to help this person. And in the scheme of things, I probably should have been spending my time elsewhere, but I love it so much. And it really is... I feel an obligation to try and help those people that are in need in a variety of different ways. And so yes, I probably should have been doing something else technically for the business. But also, that's what it's all about, you mentioned the humanity earlier, like, that's where I think the humanity comes in, right?

James Sannan 26:31

That's the best part of your job, right?

Scott Anthony Barlow 26:33

It is. Like, that's kind of the reason we exist in many different ways. So if I'm never ever willing to do that, then, you know, why even do it per se. But you know, all that, to wrap back around to your journey, and I think one of the things that was really, really interesting, and your coach pointed this out, too. You know, I asked, "What did James do really, really, really well?" And he said that you were one of the most persistent people that he worked with. You mentioned the rejection earlier. He mentioned, you know, continually coming back and continually learning from each and every, what you might call a setback. So if you think way back to one of those times where things weren't working very well because we've got a lot of people that are listening to this right now that are in the midst of a career change, and probably not everything's working particularly well, but what advice would you give them that might help them or helped you to keep going in that particular moment when it's getting hard and you're getting those rejections or your things aren't working as you anticipated here?

James Sannan 27:46

I would say, "persistence always pays off". I think if that's your goal, don't let anyone get in your way, don't let anybody say you're not good enough. If you know you're good enough, you need to keep after it. And eventually, trust me, I know, I spent a year doing this, being persistent with this company, but it pays off. You'll get there. So I think persistence does pay off. But you can't just make the same mistakes over and over and over again. Look back internally, try to take each setback as a learning opportunity, and figure out what you can do differently next time.

Scott Anthony Barlow 28:30

Hey, if you love this story where we talk through and walk you through step by step how someone got to more meaningful work, then you'll absolutely love our audiobook– Happen to Your Career: An Unconventional Approach to Career Change and Meaningful Work. I even got to narrate it, which was so fun. And something that I really enjoyed doing and will definitely do for future books as well. But it also contains firsthand accounts from career changers on how they made the move to more meaningful work, just like we include on the podcast here. And actually, it's been called the best audiobook experience ever by some reviewers. You can find those reviews, and the book itself on Audible, Amazon, or any other place where books are sold. Seriously, just pause this right now and go over to Amazon or Audible or wherever you want and download it. You can be reading it and started on your career change in literally seconds.

Scott Anthony Barlow 29:24

Now, here's a sneak peek into what's coming up next week right here on Happen to Your Career.

Scott Anthony Barlow 29:30

Okay, what are signature strengths? Well, they're the truest representation of you and most essential to who you are. They're the combination of your innate talents and how they have developed over time based on your environment and your experiences. They're the most foundational pieces of how you operate and how you behave. Okay, great, but how does that help you?

Scott Anthony Barlow 29:59

All that and plenty more next week right here on Happen To Your Career. Make sure that you don't miss it. And if you haven't already, click Subscribe on your podcast player so that you can download this podcast in your sleep, and you get it automatically, even the bonus episodes every single week, sometimes multiple times a week. Until next week. Adios. I'm out.

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