The job seemed perfect for you. You met all the qualifications, it was exactly in the field you specialize in, and the interview went well. You had rapport with your interviewer, they seemed to like you, and at the end of the meeting, they promised they’d be in touch soon.
And then … rejection. Or worse, total silence. What happened? Why did an opportunity that looked so promising fizzle out?
No matter how qualified you are for a job and how well the interview goes, you should never count on getting an offer. Until you have a written offer in hand, you should never let yourself think it’s in the bag. Here’s why:
1. No matter how qualified you are, someone else might be more qualified. In this economy especially, hiring managers are flooded with highly qualified candidates for almost any position they advertise. You might be a fantastic candidate who interviewed impressively, but if someone else fits that description too and there’s only one open slot, one of you is getting rejected.
2. They might be looking for something you haven’t picked up on. Because job postings are crafted by imperfect humans, they don’t always tell the full story. Even if they said the main qualifications they’re seeking are X and Y, it’s possible that they also really want Z—which you don’t have. Or they might have made it pretty clear that they want Z and you brushed that aside in your enthusiasm.
3. Even when you are well-matched with the job, there can be some other problem. For instance, you have an abrasive personality that rubbed your interviewer the wrong way, or didn’t answer questions clearly, or didn’t once make eye contact. Sometimes this can be something that isn’t “wrong” but is just wrong for the job, such as that you’re soft-spoken when they’re seeking someone more assertive. And sometimes this is something completely subjective, like that you remind the interviewer of a former co-worker he didn’t get along with.
4. Things change. Budgets get cut, positions get reshuffled. The opening that was a sure thing this week could go away next week. This is the kind of thing that doesn’t always get communicated to candidates, even though it should.
5. No matter what your working style, there’s an organization or boss out there that it would clash with. Often one personality type will simply fit better into a team than another, 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 no matter how promising things look, don’t count on a job until you have an offer in hand. As doctors like to say, hope for the best but plan for the worst!
Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Leader's Guide to Getting Results and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development. She now teaches other managers how to manage for results.