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12 Reasons You Didn’t Get The Job

Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from Tom Wolfe’s book, “Out of Uniform: Your Guide to a Successful Military-to-Civilian Career Transition.”

Dear John,

We regret to inform you that we are unable to offer you a position at this time. Although your background is impressive, your skill set is not compatible with our requirements and we have identified another candidate who is a better fit for our opening. We will keep your résumé on file and contact you in the event a more appropriate position becomes available. We enjoyed meeting you and wish you well.

The dreaded “Dear John” letter. You are surprised. You thought the interview had gone well and you would like to know what went wrong. Well, start with the language in the letter: “your skill set is not compatible with our requirements …” That must be the reason, correct? Probably not. Your résumé indicated the minimum skill set or the interview would have never happened. There must be another reason and identifying it would be a good lesson learned for future interviews.

Does the company owe you a more specific explanation? If so, will it be shared with you? No and no. In the past, companies were forthcoming with concrete reasons for rejection, but as our society has become increasingly litigious in nature, the willingness to share rejection feedback has all but vanished. Rather than risk a lawsuit, the company uses the terminology above.

During my career in recruiting and placement, I kept track of the most common reasons for rejection. Here are the 12 most common ones:

1. Failure to show interest. This is a classic. Maybe you were not interested and it showed. Maybe you were very interested and failed to let it show. Regardless of how you feel, the perceptions of the interviewers become their reality.

2. You are overqualified. This is a polite way of showing you the door—complimenting you as they send you on your way. Sometimes it is genuine. If the interviewer senses that the job will bore you or that you will become impatient, he or she can legitimately label you as overqualified or unqualified for the position.

3. You are under qualified. As important as a well-written résumé is in any successful job search, sometimes it can oversell. Perhaps you presented your collection of qualifications accurately, but the interview exposed some problems in the depth of some of those qualifications. This does not necessarily mean that you misrepresented yourself. Sometimes the potential employer is guilty of a little wishful thinking when reading a résumé.

4. They liked someone else better. This is quite common. How can you argue with it? People either like you or they do not. If they do not, there is nothing you can do to change it.

5. You were beaten out for the position. As long as there are great jobs and great candidates for those jobs, you will have competition. As good as you know you are, it would be a mistake to assume that you are the only qualified candidate for the job.

6. The yes votes were not unanimous. Rarely is the decision in the hands of one person acting alone. There are many people in the interviewing process and they all have input. Whether they vote on or off the record, their votes will be counted. In some cases, consensus or a majority decision is enough. In other cases, it is all or nothing.

7. You failed to sell yourself. As you leave the interview, ask yourself what impressions you left in the minds of the interviewers. Do they see you in the job, doing it well, and with a big smile on your face? If so, congratulations. If not, then Dear John.

8. You breached interviewing etiquette. Were you on time? Dressed appropriately? Polite and courteous? Did you treat everyone you met with respect and courtesy, or just those people in the powerful positions?

9. Not prepared. How much homework did you do? Were you knowledgeable about the company? The industry? The position? The company’s competitors? Yourself?

10. The position was filled before you got to the interview. This happens frequently. Many companies would rather go ahead with the interview than cancel out on you at the last minute. While it might be too late to recover most of the money they have already invested in the interview process, they can file you away for future openings.

11. Too much me. Human beings are by nature selfish—they care about themselves, their needs, and the needs of their dependents. Do not ignore your selfish side, but be time-sensitive about it. Showing that self-interest too early in the interviewing process will increase the odds of rejection. When is it safe to broach those selfish issues? After the job offer is on the table.

12. You seemed more interested in the future than the present. Let’s say you asked twenty questions during the interview. Five of them concerned the position at hand and the rest were focused on the jobs to come. Sounds like you view the initial position as simply a stepping-stone. Is that the signal you meant to send?

Some of these are within your power to control, while many of them are not. With proper preparation, interviewing empathy, and strong self-knowledge, you can minimize the chances that they will be used against you. In most cases it is a combination of reasons that causes your downfall. So, what can you do? Learn from your mistakes, think positive, be prepared, control the controllable, and accept the fact that the rest is out of your hands.

Copyright 2015. Tom Wolfe, author; all rights reserved; excerpts from Out of Uniform: Your Guide to a Successful Military-to-Civilian Career Transition; used with the permission of the author and publisher,