Why You Didn't Get Hired

A hiring manager details several common reasons that a job candidate doesn't get the job.

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Alison Green
The job looked perfect for you. The description matched your experience and skills so perfectly, you could almost visualize yourself at your new desk. But now you're staring at a rejection E-mail and can't figure out what happened.

No matter how qualified you think you are for a job, there are all kinds of reasons that you might not have been chosen. Here are some of the most common:

1. Your qualifications aren't as strong as you think they are, so your assessment of your skills isn't in line with the reality of the situation.

2. Your qualifications are very strong, but someone else's are stronger. In this economy, hiring managers are getting flooded with highly qualified candidates for almost any position they advertise.

3. You don't have an accurate understanding of what the job is all about, and therefore your opinion of how well-matched you are is based on an erroneous foundation. This one is surprisingly common. For instance, I had a phone interview recently with a candidate who really did have an impressive business background and who kept referencing examples from it--but the job he was applying for wouldn't make much use of those skills. He picked out a couple of smaller aspects of the job description and focused on those, missing the larger picture (which is that the job was far more clerical than he realized).

4. You're well-qualified, but you have some other characteristic that would cause problems in the job, such as sloppily-written communications, or trouble answering questions clearly, or a hostility problem.

5. Your working style would clash with the department or manager you'd be working with. Often one personality type will simply fit better into a department than another will, and that's the kind of thing that's very difficult (if not impossible) for a candidate to know. Remember, it's not just a question of whether you have the skills to do the job, it's also a question of fit for this particular position, with this particular boss, in this particular culture, in this particular company.

So don't spend too much time agonizing if you don't get a job that you were convinced you were perfect for. People do make hiring mistakes, of course, but chances are good that the hiring manager made a solid decision about who was most likely to thrive in the position. And that's a good thing, because you don't want a job in which you won’t excel, or a culture that would make you miserable. And that’s the kind of thing that can be very difficult to see from the outside.

Alison Green is the author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Leader's Guide to Getting Results. She is chief of staff for the Marijuana Policy Project, a nonprofit lobbying organization, where she oversees day-to-day management of the staff as well as hiring, firing, and staff development. Her writings have been published in the Washington Post, the New York Times, Maxim, and dozens of other newspapers. She blogs at Ask a Manager.