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Recruiters Reveal: Top 10 Reasons You Didn’t Get the Job

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You may be familiar with some of these issues – others may surprise you because very few interviewers are willing to share honest feedback with candidates. In Part 2, Melisa talks about mistakes that sabotaged so many of my interview coaching clients before they learned how to fix them.

So you landed yourself a face-to-face interview! Congratulations! With so many candidates applying online and seeing their resumes disappear into “the black hole,” you’re doing great.

This means:
1) Someone actually read your resume
2) They thought your resume indicated enough relevant experience to call you
3) You passed the phone screen –- you said enough of the right things to show you’re well-qualified enough to justify the time for the hiring manager (and perhaps others) to meet you in person

Fantastic! Now, all you have to do is close the deal in the interview.

Unfortunately, that’s where a lot of qualified candidates run into trouble. Maybe you never heard back after the interview, maybe you got a frustratingly vague rejection email, maybe you got called back for another round only to get rejected later.

Rejection sucks. It is particularly frustrating when you know you’d be great in the job.

If you don’t know what you’re doing “wrong,” you can’t fix it. Most interviewers will not take the time to give you honest, useful feedback about why they decided not to hire you.

However, based on my experience , I can tell you that it probably had something to do with one of the following issues.

The Rookie Mistakes

These are mistakes you should already know to avoid making, but they’re worth mentioning before we get to the more complex issues that can sabotage you.

Your Timing was Off

Everybody knows that you should never show up late for a job interview. Right? This is a tough mistake to overcome, even if you had a good reason for being delayed. Right away, a manager will assume you’re not serious about the opportunity or worse, you’re just not reliable.

If you do happen to be late, your only chance of redemption is to own it. Acknowledge you were late, apologize, and then thank them for their willingness to still see you. You made a mistake, we all do. It’s how you handle it that will help them get a glimpse of your character. The worst thing you can do is to pretend they didn’t notice. Trust me, they noticed.

But did you know that arriving too early is almost as bad as showing up late?

You’re excited. You’re anxious. You’re eager. But you’re way too early.

You meant well. We know that. But by showing up too early, you inadvertently annoyed someone or stressed someone out. They know you’re out there…sitting…waiting….people are starting to ask, “who is that person here for?”

Showing up extra early can also convey a subtle whiff of desperation.

It sounds silly. I get it. But it’s real. You don’t want someone who is already annoyed by your actions to be determining whether you are the right fit for the position; unfortunately, they probably already decided that you’re not and will be using the interview to justify that decision. It’s not fair or logical, but it happens.

You want to come across as excited, not desperate. A good rule of thumb is to arrive no more than 15 minutes prior to your scheduled time.

Of course, give yourself enough time to account for unforeseen delays, but once you find the building, if you’ve got time to spare, head to the nearest coffee shop or hang out in your car if you need to. Use this extra time to collect yourself, review the job description, and go over your notes.

You Were Rude…to the Receptionist

Consider yourself under the microscope from the moment you arrive. Your every move is being assessed. I should not have to tell you that being polite and cordial is the right thing to do. Someone once told me, “It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.”

Some managers will purposely ask the receptionist or administrative assistant for their impression of you. Hiring managers are working to build a cohesive team and a healthy work environment. If they get the sense that you are not going to play nice with others, they are not going to risk the team dynamic they’ve already created

You Didn’t Follow Instructions

Many companies will ask you to bring certain items with you to the interview. For example, an application, ID, references, proof of education, 5 million copies of your resume. Whatever it is, they are requesting it for a reason. If you cannot follow these instructions or if you’re making up excuses for why you’re not prepared, you can bet they view that as an indication of how you will respond to job duties. This was your first assignment and sadly you failed.

And by the way, failure to follow instructions is one of the primary reasons for candidates getting rejected at the application stage and never making it through to the interview as well.

You were Unpolished

Industry and company culture will influence the attire you choose for an interview, but sloppy is sloppy no matter where you go. Little things can make a big difference when you only have 20-30 minutes to make an impression. Unkempt hair, wrinkled or stained clothes, body odor or strong cologne/perfume scents, shuffling through an unorganized bag are all indicators that you don’t have your act together.

Sloppiness makes you look like you don’t care enough to prepare. Many managers will also see lack of polish as an indicator that they wouldn’t be able to trust you to positively represent their group or the company.

If you’re a real mess, they may even be too distracted to concentrate on your responses.

Shallow? Maybe. But these visual (and olfactory) cues make a difference, sometimes even on a more subconscious level.

The Trickier Issues

The rookie mistakes described above are easy to avoid once you’re aware of them. These next issues are more complex. You may be inadvertently sending messages that raise red flags for your interviewers.

If you’re walking out of interviews feeling like it went reasonably well, then getting rejected or vague or unexplained reasons, one of these issues may apply to you.

Avoiding them will take more subtle tweaking of your approach.

They Don’t Think You Would Stay

You studied marketing and PR in college, interned for a media company and have a fashion blog. This is all great stuff but you’re interviewing for an entry-level customer service position in healthcare. Your interviewer is going to have doubts about whether this is the job that you really want.

You need to convey that you want the position and would be motivated to excel in the role long-term. If you’re only interviewing for this job because you need the paycheck, that’s going to come through if you’re not very careful.

It looks bad for a manager to hire someone who leaves after a short tenure – or who just can’t be bothered to give the position their all. High turnover also costs companies a lot of money.

Sure, you probably could do the job if you’ve made it to the interview stage. Now you also have to sell them on why you’re excited about the position. In fact, commitment and enthusiasm can help a less-qualified candidate get hired over someone with more experience.

Many companies are willing to look at transferable skills and will train and invest in their new employees, but they need to know that this is what you really want to do and that you will commit. So you have some dots to connect and some convincing to do.

Maybe this isn’t your dream job. Maybe you’re looking in several different directions and aren’t sure which is the best fit. Maybe you’re making a career change.

In these cases, you need to be able to channel the part of you that can get excited about the position.

If you decide later that the job’s not the perfect fit, you can always turn down the offer. However, you’ll never get the offer at all if you can’t show some enthusiasm and commitment in the interview.

Your Non-Verbal Cues Betrayed You

Maybe you can get away with a weak handshake. Maybe. But a weak handshake and poor eye contact, probably not. Your body language sends a loud message. Good posture, smiling when appropriate, making eye contact and leaning forward are all positive ways to express your interest in the job.

Avoid behavior that is socially awkward like keeping your coat on, holding your bag in your lap, or changing your shoes before heading out on your commute.

Practice in advance so that you can avoid distracting behavior like fidgeting or verbal tics like “ums” and “uhs” and making your statements sound like questions?

These non-verbal cues may be the natural result of anxiety. Savvy interviewers won’t be too quick to dismiss you for being a little nervous. However, don’t underestimate the power of confidence, even if you have to fake it.

A little fidgeting can be a deal breaker if it comes down to deciding between you and another equally-qualified candidate who better projects confidence and rapport-building skills.

And remember that too much confidence can backfire too. Be careful of behavior that may be considered too casual or, for some interviewers, rude. For example, bringing in a cup of coffee or keeping your phone out during the interview. There is a line between confident and arrogant. Don’t cross it.

You Didn’t Click

You thought the interview went great. You had an answer for every question, you maintained eye contact, and your experience was perfect for the job. So what went wrong?

Well, you probably made it through at least a few rounds, but ultimately got passed over based on factors beyond your resume. In a competitive job market, you have to do more than show you could do the job reasonably well. You also have to make your interviewer(s) want to work with you.

They liked you, sure, but somebody else managed to really engage the interviewer and things ‘just clicked’.

It’s hard to control this “click factor.” Sometimes, interviewers are making knee-jerk judgments about your personality that aren’t fair or accurate.

And let’s face it, sometimes you’re better off because working with the interviewer would have been a nightmare for you.

However, if you develop your interview skills, you can find a way to connect with just about any interviewer.

If you didn’t “click,” it’s probably because you weren’t able to convey enough about your personality or experience to help the interviewer envision working with you. You kept your answers too general or you weren’t able to relax and be yourself.

Better preparation will help you relax and be more authentic and specific in your responses. (See Big Interview for more on how to do this)

You Were Forgettable

Your average interviewer will talk to a lot of candidates before filling the position. You have to be able to stand out from the crowd if you want the job offer.

This forgettable factor often goes hand in hand with inability to “click” with the interviewer (see above). Your answers were too general or unsophisticated. They lacked the substance and examples that you need to set yourself apart from the competition.

Sure, you could probably do the job but the manager isn’t looking for someone who can just fulfill a list of tasks, but rather someone who can take initiative and make an impact.

You may be memorable and engaging in real life, but is it coming through in your job interviews?

You Shared Too Much

A job interview is not the place to discuss personal matters. But what about when a personal matter relates to why you left a position or why there’s a gap in your resume?

The real test here is if you are able to discern what is appropriate to share. If you share too much, you risk steering the interview off course or coming across as unprofessional.

This is why it’s so important to prepare your speaking points if you have a tricky issue that could come up in your interviewers. For example, what if you took time off due to illness or a family matter? You know the topic will come up, so plan how you will address it.

Usually, it’s best to keep it brief and general. Avoid the impulse to get defensive or over-explain. Remember to reinforce that you are ready to commit to this position now, even if you had to take time off in the past.

It’s also possible to overshare about previous positions. We’ve heard it time and time again: “Do not speak negatively about your past employers.”

However, candidates still make this mistake often. Vent to your family and friends, not to the interviewer. Many people think they can be excused with making negative comments because they started the sentence with, “I don’t want to talk badly about anyone but…”. It doesn’t work that way.

Negative talk will only distract them from your positive qualities.

You Flubbed Asking Questions at the End

Have you heard the old cliche that “there are no stupid questions”? Well, in a job interview, there are. The objective of an interview is for you to convey that you have the experience and skills necessary to fulfill the job while assuring the interviewer that you are prepared to commit, work hard and be successful in the role. You want them to know that you have a strong understanding of what the job entails and that you are prepared to take on the challenge.

At some point in almost every interview, you will likely be asked if you have any questions. You want to be sure that you have questions and that they reflect well on you.

There are many questions that you can ask that will support your objective. You want to show that you are interested, smart, and have done some homework on the position.

Avoid questions that don’t add any substance to the conversation. Don’t ask about topics that you should have researched already. Don’t ask questions about schedules, hours, vacation, and benefits (save these or after they already love you).

Take this opportunity to show you want to learn more about the interviewer’s vision for the role, obstacles they foresee, and career opportunities that may exist.

All of these mistakes can be avoided with the right practice and preparation.

It’s well worth the time to analyze where you may be falling short and how you can strategize to make a stronger impression.

After all, no hiring manager is going to tell you exactly why you didn’t make the cut. However, if you’ve been interviewing and not getting offers, it’s very likely that one of these mistakes is to blame.

HUMOR: Here is a clip from Borat where he’s getting interview feedback from a recruiter.

Written by

Melisa Balestri-Eassey

Melisa Balestri-Eassey is a seasoned NY recruiter who spends her days interviewing candidates and helping companies make hiring decisions.

29 Comment to Recruiters Reveal: Top 10 Reasons You Didn’t Get the Job

  • These are some common mistakes. But still, if you are having trouble figuring out why you are not getting hired, it can be helpful to enlist the input of a career counsellor, a friend, or a professional.

  • 看看您的博客!

  • alex rudy

    Is it okay to have a notepad with questions you would like to ask the interviewer or should you memorize the questions?

  • Pamela Tucker

    Should you mention something that you are in the process of correcting but is painfully obvious at the interview likea scar, bandage or being overweight? Or should you just try to be as charming as possible and hope they trust you are taking care of it? Or just reschedule?!


    These HR folks have their hands full, I understand, but there is so much indignity nowadays with the way hiring is handled. Back in my mother’s day, you would get a carefully worded letter delivered to your home. Now it’s some form letter generic bullshit or being treated like you don’t exist in the first place, all because the economy sucks and they want unicorns instead of real people willing to grow and learn.

  • This article assumes you’ll get an in person, face to face interview. You might, but there could be a round or two of intense phone screenings and formal phone interviews prior to you ever actually seeing anyone in person (assuming you ever will.)

  • I so miss the old days where if it was down to two people, each would be hired on an interim basis and whoever worked out the best would be hired permanently. Many people talk a good game, but actually suck at performing the jobs they are hired to do. Others really aren’t great at interviews much like not everyone is great at taking tests, but they would be awesome at the job if given the chance to do it. 9 times out of 10 the wrong person out of the finalists is hired only for the position to be vacated a short time later.

  • One thing to consider is just because someone conned and/or finagled their way into a position that has them conducting job interviews, it doesn’t always mean that they are a people person. So the blame for a bad interview should not always be placed on the shoulders of the person being interviewed. I often found myself taking the lead in interviews with interviewers who were nervous and uncomfortable, who when I asked them how they were doing they said “fine” without reciprocating the question. I’m sure many of them have felt threatened by the person they were interviewing and felt that the person if hired was going to take their job or perhaps leap frog over them and this perhaps impacted their hiring decision. Also, perceived slights and disrespect that exists only in the mind of the interviewer or any other little, small trivial thing can cost you the offer. It’s really rather ridiculous if you think about it. How many talented people who would have been phenomenal hires just simply walk out the door because of a bad interviewer with no eye for talent or who has an eye for it but feels threatened by it.

  • Also, that whole deal about you being “too nice and too good of a person to work there” is more or less nonsense. You are supposed to be professional and well mannered (usually) when you go into an interview. It’s insane for the interview to assume that you “wouldn’t have the stomach to do what needs to be done” were you to get the job based solely on you acting as you should during an interview.

  • Ryan Platt

    Did preliminary paperwork – pre employment etc… Even did tax credit survey. Not a word back (clean background) – not sure – nor do i care – at this point I’m tired of never doing ‘enough’ to please others. This is why I’ll start my OWN business over again. Three interviews, seemingly did great, apparently they didn’t though – since I’ve not hear back. Carry on, nothing to see here folks, other than the same old shit.

  • Jone Quest

    Hi Pamela, nice article! Most of what you said is true, but there are many HR recruiters who don’t know how to conduct a job interview, or even don’t know anything about the skills one has.

  • Yep it happens 🙂

  • Robin Mckay

    The way I see it is that when you go for an interview, its not going to determine whether you can do the job or not. Also, everyone is not the same, so whilst I understand what is trying to be conveyed, you simply aren’t going to get, for example, in a customer service, face-to-face environment, a bubbly individual, all the time. As long as the duties are carried out efficiently and courteously, that should be enough. You are going to get some people in life in jobs who are obnoxious, but they still keep their jobs. I’ve been out of work for two years and I am ready to give up searching, but know I need to keep on trying – I’ve had a fair few interviews in two years, but its never worked and this is for someone who has over ten years experience in the field they advertise for – it takes the mick to be honest. I know this can’t go on much longer, more to the point where I can now consider starting up my own type of business, just to make ends meet, with support, hopefully, because I don’t intend to be on benefits for the rest of my life, just because I didn’t get a job because an interview told me I wasn’t good enough, which, for anyone, is absolute tripe. Its also well known some people interview badly AND get the role and vice versa, but those who do interview well, don’t always do a good job. Therefore, there needs to be a serious rethink about how it all works. The economy might be poor, but it is also extremely costly to people and has a way of causing unfair demoralisation, when it is totally unnecessary.

  • Miamigirl

    Went through an interview today for a job I really wanted. They said that they would remember me because of my upbeat personality and that if they wanted to hire me would call by 5 p.m. It’s 8 p.m now and alas- no call from them. I’m so disappointed it’s not funny but I guess it wasn’t meant to be as I may have talked a little too much(?) or been too excited(?) I feel I was dressed the best and most qualified than all the other people who showed up to interview. Guess it just was not meant to be.

  • Experienced Professional

    The real reasons you didn’t get the job? These are all just excuses for hiring managers and HR to stay in their phoney comfort zone of moronic preconceptions. Overt displays of excitment and enthusiasm prove nothing about commitment or competency . No wonder they “can’t find the right people” and are scared stiff of bad hires.

  • Sherry Sutherland

    What I don’t understand,is why can’t you be yourself, after all it’s what they have to work with daily.

  • Sherry Sutherland

    Same ol shit is so true, be yourself. Their loss, they probably have to keep firing to find the right person,when they could have hired you.

  • Apparently that doesn’t fly. The hiring managers typically have a narrow view when it comes to the kind of person they envision filling the position. If you aren’t exactly who they are looking for, you’re out as there is no bending. Let’s say someone is looking to hire a housekeeper, they have Mary Poppins in mind and Tony Micelli shows up. Chances are Tony Micelli isn’t going to get the offer and probably will never even be seriously considered. Somewhere out there is a hiring manager looking for Tony Micelli but their paths never seem to cross.

  • sarahlizard

    OR they loved you, you were perfect, but then someone came in with reasonably the same experience but under your salary requirements. Oh well, when that’s the case the company will get what they pay for.

  • BettyBoop

    I just received my dear Jane email from a job I interviewed for almost a month ago. This was a customer service job with Dow Chemical. I had done this job before and also made sure I told them I still had 18 type written pages of notes for the position. The week after I interviewed I saw the job posted again. They were hiring 4 people. When I walked into the interview the person that greeted me was a CSR Team Lead that sat behind me when I worked there prior. I honestly said to myself…why…why did it have to be her. She was good to her team but treated our team like dirt because we were outside contractors.

    The questions they asked during the interview were very obscure. It was a behavioral interview so they wanted to know how you react in certain situations. I agree with the person that says its not how qualified you are…its whether they like you. The person I interviewed with did not treat me well before so maybe I was lucky that I didn’t get the job.

    Flash forward two weeks later and I interviewed for a job and was hired on the spot. This is the second time this has happened to me including the job I held as contractor at Dow.

    I understand everyone is not going to like you but to not give someone a chance for whatever reason is unfair..and the reason why most employers are complaining about the quality of work being done. But by all means…don’t hire people that are qualified. Hire the one that seems like they would be your best buddy.

  • Janet Aldrich

    I wouldn’t mind even a generic “thank you, but while your qualifications were strong, we’ve gone in another direction” letter. At least then you’d know where you stood! It’s the “twisting in the wind” part I hate!

  • Janet Aldrich

    I don’t see why it would hurt to have written questions. It’s easy, in the heat of the moment, to forget something critical because 1) the interview went in a different direction, or 2) you get nervous, etc. You probably won’t memorize everything about your job, should you get it. Why should an interview be any different?

  • One option is that they hired internally and had to interview a certain number of people from the outside to make it legit. Or, the project budget got cut/was never approved so they had no choice but to cut the role.

  • I hate it when they send an automated email months later for an interview I forgot about! Thanks for making me feel bad months later.

  • I bring written ones. Just don’t look like you’re reading them. Make it conversational.

  • Daniel Burke

    Get a sense of humour. You need that in a good job.

  • Daniel Burke

    I’ve found all the interview help to be waffle. The truth is… if they like you or feel that they can manipulate you into being a slave – or both – you will get it. If you come across as witty, intelligent, and nice – even that can fail if they see you as a threat to them. It’s just how pathetic humans are. Most of them.

  • Daniel Burke

    And then you have candidates who know people in the company. Like the one I just attended. Five placements, but three of them openly talking about how they have family working there. YAY!

  • Daniel Burke

    Same has just happened to me. They seem to want a perfect candidate – with perfect being defined as “we hope you are a mind-reader”.