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Friday, April 25, 2008

"But I'm qualified for that job - why did you reject me?"

There's an interesting discussion going on over at Evil HR Lady about whether it's okay to ask for feedback when you don't get a job, with a lot of people pointing out in the comments section that when they've agreed to give rejected candidates feedback, it inevitably ends with the candidate trying to convince them that the feedback is wrong and they should get the job. (I think it's great when candidates ask for feedback, but that's precisely the reason I'll only give it via email and not over the phone; I don't want to get trapped in that conversation.)

Anyway, it made me think about how often candidates are convinced that they are precisely right for the job and they become baffled when they don't get an offer. Sometimes they even become aggressive and hostile, but that's another post.

There are all kinds of reasons for why you might not be chosen for the job, no matter how qualified you think you are, including:

1. Your qualifications aren't as strong as you think they are. 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. (It's odd how often candidates shocked that they didn't get the job overlook this possibility, which is one of the most common.)

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 did a phone interview with a guy today who really did have an impressive business background and kept referencing examples from it -- but the job he's 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 is way more clerical than he realized).

4. You're well qualified, but you have some other characteristic that would cause you big problems here, such as an inability to listen without interrupting, or trouble answering questions clearly, or a hostility problem. I'm not going to knowingly put someone in a job that they're likely to run into problems in -- both for the manager's sake and the candidate's sake.

So don't become shocked and irate if you don't get a job you thought you were perfect for. After all, chances are good that the hiring manager knows better than you do about who will thrive in the position. That is a good thing, because you do not want a job that you will not excel in.

People do make hiring mistakes, of course, but in general, it makes sense to respect the opinion of the people who work there, who know the needs of the job intimately, and who know better than you whether or not you're likely to be a good fit for this particular position with this particular boss in this particular culture in this particular company.

None of which is to say that you shouldn't ask for feedback. Just be sure you're asking out of a sincere desire to know, not to try to argue your case.


Anonymous said...

Super timing for me. I finished interviewing candidates this week and am just starting to think through my reasonings for not only the non-selects but to make a decision between the top two. This is very helpful. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

FIT is very important. If I think a department will eat a candidate alive because they appear too passive rather than assertive I just might go with another candidate.

Anonymous said...

Don't even get me started on aggressive or hostile candidates...I fail to understand a person's thinking behind yelling at or telling off the person who rejected you for a're just re-affirming to them that their decision was!!

Anonymous said...

I agree with HR Wench. Fit is so important and all else being equal, sometimes one work style or personality type will fit better on a particular team than another. That is the kind of nuance that candidates can't possibly know and need to take on faith that you know what you are talking about.

I recently had a candidate (that I didn't even interview, just didn't think his experience as seen on his resume was a good fit) tell me that he didn't mind the rejection because his next step was to "get at" our founder and our Managing Partner so that they could evaluate his credentials. I of course told him to go right ahead with that tactic knowing that both people would immediately send the resume to me for my evaluation without even looking at it.

Anonymous said...

I just finished interviewing for my "dream job", and didn't get an offer. I sent the hiring manager an email thanking him for his time and asking for feedback. I received a very thoughtful and supportive response in which he confirmed I was qualified, and commended me on my interviewing technique, but ultimately someone else was more qualified. His response has helped make this a more positive experience while leaving open the possiblility for future consideration.

Happy Employee said...

The most frustrated candidates I met were those who regularly make it to the final interview round but never get the job.

And the most annoying ones are those who can't accept that we make decisions and that sometimes the non-negotiable decision is "no".

Anonymous said...

^ Agree completely with previous comment. What about times when you pass the final interview with flying colors, continue to get positive feedback, but are still left in limbo about the decision? What should I expect about my chances of winning the position when I'm really given no direction either way? That to me is ridiculously frustrating and awful. I suppose HR at these large companies doesn't have the time to have sensitivity towards the needs of every individual candidate who applies. Nobody really cares! I guess that is the world we live in.

Anonymous said...

totally agree with anonymouse on June 15th!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

I am both an employee seeking to receive an offer of a dream position and an HR professional that has had to make the tough decision of hiring the right person. I would like to encourage those of you that are in a situation to fill a position not to confuse Authority with Duty. Just because your company has deligated the duty of filling a position does not mean that your decision is the right one. a little humility, as I see being Preached, may make you a better Interviewer.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps it might be better to give/receive the response by email. This removes all the emotion from the equation and feedback is feedback.

Anonymous said...

Most of you hiring idiots need to be on the other end of the table, out of work and looking for a job. Scarier is the fact that most of you morons don't even have a background of what the candidate is applying for, and then judge him/her on whether or not you think they are qualified.

I've already had one employer who treated me with disrespect; lose business because I knew someone who is their large customer. I told this person of the treatment I received and he is doing business with this employer's largest rival.

Something you employers had better understand: Watch the job seekers you crap on today, because it might cost you allot of money tomorrow.

Anonymous said...


Why would this candidate want to go around you and speak to the managing partner and founder? Have you thought that maybe you weren't "LISTENING" to the candidate when you should have been looking at his knowledge, skills and abilities?

I hope you become unemployed soon if you aren't already and experience what job seekers are going through.

Erik said...

Greetings, I know this thread hasn't been touched in awhile, but I just wanted to get some feedback. I have been working in a Service Desk position for 4 years (with another 2 years experience at another location) and just recently, they decided to open up a Service Desk manager position. I met pretty much all of the qualifications, except education - 2yr degree instead of 4yr, but occasionally working on the 4yr when time allows.

After they had reviewed all the resumes, I was not even offered an interview, just a heartfelt, "You are qualified for the position, but I don't think you would get the respect you deserve from your subordinates."

I think this is a crappy way to treat someone who has provided 4+ years of service and instead will hire outside of the company, however, before I jump to conclusions, I wanted to see what you might think about this situation. Should I be contempt with working under someone who doesn't know the inter workings of the company or should I take this as a sign that I should move on? Thanks for your help.

Egregius said...

Erik: just my unprofessional guess, but could it be they were giving an honest and maybe even accurate assessment of the amount of authority you exude?

Giving a company 4 years of service doesn't automatically equate to having the appropiate skills/abilities for the job, even if it *seems* unfair.

Anonymous said...

What should you do in the event that you don't get the job, but they offered a similar position that is freelance instead of being directly hired on. This is the third time with the same company I've encountered this situation.

I first applied for one position, interviewed over the phone and they said someone more qualified had filled it. Then, they called me back, I flew to them, interviewed, went great, even interviewed with the girl who had filled the 1st position I applied for, and then was once again rejected via voicemail. But during the voicemail the HR Manager had mentioned a temporary freelance position that I would be a good fit for, and would allow me to get my foot in the door.

I'm going to take the freelance offer, but I want to know what an appropriate way to ask why I wasn't the candidate for the 2nd position. feedback???