- Someone actually read your resume
- They thought your resume indicated enough relevant experience to call you
- 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, apologies, 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 the 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?
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.