Don’t be afraid of a “No”


I was talking to a good friend recently who lost his job during the pandemic crisis happening in the US, and with a mortgage and a new baby was remotely looking for new work. While a challenging time for many, searching for a new job and interviewing remotely over video to join a team is extremely stressful. In his travels around Zoom, he got a few companies and people that said “no” and it got me thinking about the positives that come out of that. Thankfully he landed a new role and is happier than ever. During the search I wanted to share some thoughts I gave him, and find myself sharing with others often below.

Much like searching for the right investment partner, next job, or partnership opportunity – most will not work out. The power of getting to a no quickly can be both empowering and helpful in your search. Another friend once told me

If you are getting all the jobs you are applying for, you are not aiming high enough.

My good friend from college who is now a lawyer.

I kept this with me when thinking through BD partnerships at Foursquare and beyond. The ability to ask the question, even if the answer is no, is a powerful place to be.

My thoughts to my friend while job searching:

  • The “experience” section of a job posting is always a stretch and should be a guide not gospel
  • The compensation + stock is always an outline – for the right person adjustments will be made
  • Titles are almost useless – finding great people is priceless
  • Is this a time to learn or earn? (Incredible Mark Suster post about choosing between the two)
  • My favorite prompt; What is next after next? which is about optimizing for the job AFTER this one

The above hopefully provides some needed perspective during the stressful moments of a search. Trying to lock in a job or a partnership deal can be daunting, and you don’t want to miss the bigger picture. Thinking about what comes AFTER this role or where this leads you can be very helpful.

The other benefit of a no is getting to move on fast. The headspace of thinking about hypothetically options can get full very fast. A clear no can free you up to focus on what is really an opportunity. A great VC once taught me that ripping the bandage off and having a conversation about the WHY is the most important part of a no. Get to the answer, then get to the feedback. Many people are afraid to get an answer because without one they have “schrödinger’s job” or “schrödinger’s investment” a sort of non-answer gives them hope. I often look at kanban boards of investors and the “stage” founders put each firm in. With a quick email or conversation they could probably get a clear answer (yes or no) quickly, but don’t want the clarity (rejection!).

Since you can’t get what you don’t ask for, being in limbo feels better than rejection. I always try to emphasize the push to know the path (even when that’s a no so you can pick yourself up and move on) faster.

Next time you find yourself waiting for some answers or “hearing back” don’t forget to be direct, get to a no – who knows, it may just be the yes you are looking for.

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