Why didn’t I get that job?


Often it is down to just two key factors. One you can control, the other you can’t. Recognising the difference is important, not just to the practicalities of job search but also your well-being.

When you get a phone call or an email telling you that your application hasn’t been successful, it hurts. Even when you are in a job, let alone when you aren’t. It is easy to focus on the ‘you’ve failed’ and become deaf to the overall feedback on your performance. Hear it a lot and your resilience and confidence really get put to the test.And the further you go into a process the worse it gets. Get rejected at application stage and you can often shrug it off. Lose out after first interview and it hurts more. Fail at the final hurdle, when your expectation has been raised so high, and it can be devastating.

So why didn’t I get the job?

The first, and most important thing is to ask why. It always amazes me how many candidates decline the offer of feedback. I’ve been involved in two very senior assessment processes recently and only the two successful candidates took me up on the offer a detailed de-brief. The unsuccessful candidates all declined, when arguably they needed the feedback most.

What some of them would have heard was that they were largely responsible for their lack of success. In every recruitment process, there is a minimum bar to be achieved to have any chance of success. I describe that as the ‘absolute’ threshold. And they missed it, in most cases by a mile.

Absolute threshold

The main reason was a lack of preparation. Two candidates were dreadfully late, including one who’d gone to the wrong location despite being sent very clear instructions and even a map. Some couldn’t even remember the names of the people they were meeting and few had bothered to find out more about them.

In both cases the final stage was an assessment centre. And many candidates simply didn’t give themselves a chance. They’d ignored the instructions on what they needed to prepare. Slides had obviously been thrown together the night before and were full of spelling mistakes. Thirty minute presentations in some cases lasted barely ten. While others ran so far over they were ‘gonged out’ long before they reached their climax.

All of these errors could, and should, have been avoided. The candidates simply didn’t invest the time or energy in preparation – despite having at least 10 days’ notice. As with most things in life you get back what you put in.

Relative threshold

There were however two unsuccessful candidates who did very, very well. Their misfortune was to fail on the ‘relative’ threshold. You see the one thing you can’t control in any recruitment process is how well the other candidates do. On any other day, against any other group of candidates, you might have got the job. And that’s important to know. It confirms you are on the right track and will boost your confidence.

So, the moral of the story is this: when faced with rejection you need to know if it is on a relative or absolute basis. If it is the former then your focus needs to be on finding more opportunities to exploit your obvious qualities. If one employer saw great things in you, then others are sure to as well. Talent is talent no matter the employer. Persistence and resilience will be the key qualities.

If the feedback is about relative performance then you need to take a hard look at yourself and get back to the basics. That could mean improving your CV or your interview preparation technique. You may need to update your market knowledge or  delve deeper into the employer’s business. Until you are job search ready your chances of success will remain seriously compromised.

Firing off poor CVs and turning up unprepared to interviews will almost invariable lead to failure. And lots of failure hurts. It is a vicious circle you don’t want to get in to. That way lies the belief that quantity not quality of applications is the road to success. When usually it is the opposite.

Always ask for, and accept offers of, feedback. It might be hard to hear but rarely, if ever, is feedback on a failed application likely to be designed to knock you back. Recruiters and HR people alike want you to succeed. Listen to their advice, it is often the first step on the road to success.

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