There are lots of reasons why people don’t get hired. So often it is that case that you are certain you deserve an interview, or you have an interview and conclude it thinking that you’ve bagged the job, when the opposite is true. Employers only rarely will explain why they reject candidates, which only adds to your frustration.
Left to conjecture, a common response is to assume the worst in others and blame them for our own situation. Dejected candidates often say something like, “I can’t get a job today because I’m … [Fill in the blank]: White/Not-White, too old, been out of work too long, disabled, gay, transgender or too-whatever-else.
If you’ve been looking for your next position without success, you might actually be a real victim of demographics, bigotry or circumstance.
Note to hiring authorities: If bias has influenced your decision-making, aside from the legal aspects, you are sabotaging your own company. You are depriving it of people who are highly motivated and quite capable of bringing excellence, value and loyalty to their employer. In short, you're acting in a self-limiting way by favoring your own prejudices over your own bottom line. Get over it, and diversify your workforce.
Note to rejected job seekers: Despite your suspicions, it might not be about discrimination. It also might be the case that you just aren’t presenting yourself as effectively as you might. No matter what, you aren’t absolved of your responsibility to reflect on how you present yourself and always work for self-improvement.
Employers are entirely justified in rejecting you when:
1. It doesn’t seem like you care about the particular opportunity or company. People who review résumés for a living are accustomed to being blasted by certain companies who build and blast generics résumés, and charge job hunters handsomely for this service. They swap stories among themselves of the cover letters they received that have some other company as the intended recipient. They would far rather engage with a candidate who shows why this particular job is a great fit for both sides.
2. You demonstrate sloppiness. It can take many forms, from a poor or inconsistent résumé format, to a rumpled appearance at an interview. It can be a résumé that isn’t spell-checked, or one that still has errors present even when it has been spell-checked. It can be a sloppy description of what you’ve done, how you’ve done it or what you’ve achieved.
Employers would far prefer to engage with candidates who look and sound their best. You don’t have to look like a movie star, but you should look and sound professional.
3. You don’t connect the dots. Employers aren’t interested in your entire biography. It’s not their responsibility to look at your résumé and to try to match it to a particular job opening. They can easily pass you over when you don’t somehow relate your experience, skills and successes to their needs. Never make an employer wonder: “The candidate says she did X. Does that mean she can do Y?”
4. You talk about your responsibilities rather than your successes. Whether in a cover letter, résumé or interview, stress the changes that resulted from your actions rather than simply relating what you were expected to accomplish as part of a job.
5. You demonstrate that you are more concerned about what the employer can do for you rather than the value you offer. Everyone knows that you want the job and want to be well paid for doing it. But delay your questions about salary, benefits and any other special consideration you want until you’ve first demonstrated your ability and desire to excel at the job. It’s ALL about that until the employer figures out that you are the absolute best candidate, and only then does the momentum shift in the other direction.
6. Your nerves get the better of you. There is no getting around the fact that there is a lot riding on every job interview, whether on phone, video or in-person. But when you bring into that situation all your anxieties, your performance is affected. When your answers ramble on without coming to a clear point, or when you fidget or show other signs of excessive nervousness, you harm your own cause. If you're the kind of person who gets rattled when you're in the hot seat, get a coach to help you through the process with lots of practice interviews.
7. You do poor or no research. You can bet that your interviewer is well prepared for the conversation, and you need to be as well. Interviews are not a time for unstructured conversation. When you believe you can talk your way through anything without preparation, you sow the seeds of your own destruction. Think of every interview as being about your demonstrating that you know what you're getting into and how you will handle it.
Take time to devour information from the company’s website, LinkedIn and Facebook company pages. Look at your interviewer’s LinkedIn profile and scan those of others who work at the company. Go about the process of discerning what you have in common with them.
When you ask something that you can find out easily elsewhere you may as well say, “give me that rejection letter now.” But when you ask a question based on the information you already have to learn more about a given situation, initiative, etc., you can show that you're well prepared and focused on this job at this company.
Of course, there are many other mistakes job seekers might make. But the point is this: when you scapegoat others or your circumstances for your lack of success so far, you do nothing to bolster your chances for success in the future. When you take the time to carefully and cogently present yourself with poise, success can and likely will follow.
Arnie Fertig, MPA, is passionate about helping his Jobhuntercoach clients advance their careers by transforming frantic “I’ll apply to anything” searches into focused hunts for “great fit” opportunities. He brings to each client the extensive knowledge he gained when working in HR staffing and managing his boutique recruiting firm.