Job hunting is one of the most stressful periods in a person’s life, right up there with a death in the family, divorce, and illness. There’s so much at stake, and it can be frustrating. In Austin, where we’re headquartered, we operate a popular tech job group where the most universal question is “why didn’t I get the job?” after the interview.
In almost all cases, you’ll never really know why. Sorry. That’s disheartening, but it’s true.
The positive side is that it isn’t always your fault. So, we’ve crafted a massive list of reasons you didn’t get the job interview or job offer that you can learn from if you read from top to bottom (we promise this isn’t the same old garbage you already know).
Don’t let this list get you nervous, the idea is that there are infinitely complex numbers of reasons humans reject each other, many of which can’t be helped. Remember, the hiring person has a lot at stake, and so does the employer (it costs a lot to hire, onboard, and retain employees), not just you.
The hiring process can be inhuman and indignant and your resume goes into a black hole or you never get feedback after a phone or in-person interview, but arm yourself with as much knowledge about the process and avoid as many objections as possible. We’re pulling for you!
It’s the robot’s fault
1. Did you know that if you apply online that your resume goes through an applicant tracking system (ATS)? And if your resume didn’t match the job description (meaning none of the keywords they were looking for were used), the robots didn’t even give your resume to their HR human? Pay attention to job descriptions and tailor your resume to each application accordingly.
2. Sometimes the applicant tracking system (ATS) where you sent your application online kicked out a rejection letter without the hiring manager knowing. It happens.
3. You put your resume on one generic job search site that promises to send it to hundreds of employers (but is really just there to sell your information to third parties). At no point did you apply directly, through a third party recruiter, across various platforms, and so forth. Applying on some of the junk job search sites is not always applying (we don’t mean Indeed or Dice or reputable brands, but the “apply once to a trillion random jobs” platforms – be cynical).
It’s the hiring manager’s fault
4. Sometimes it really isn’t your fault, the recruiter or hiring manager is imperfect. That’s harsh, but you can’t guarantee that person will be perceptive or even professional. The overwhelming majority are really insanely good at their job, but they’re humans too, thus they’re fallible.
5. The hiring manager is petty and/or shallow and didn’t like the school you went to or the purse you were carrying or the car you pulled up in. You’ll never know you received a secret demerit.
It’s the company’s fault
6. Sometimes the company changes the job specifications in the middle of the process.
7. The company might have changed in the middle of the process. Maybe the CEO is on the way out. Or there’s a temporary hiring freeze, but they can’t say that in public. Or their funding status is changing. Or the business just took a big hit and everyone’s scrambling.
8. They were never hiring to begin with and were using candidates for marketing ideas or free labor. It’s a sick practice that some companies commit.
9. Someone who no longer works there told you to start as a contractor and they’d consider you FT after 90 days, but it was never in writing and no one knows what you’re talking about and your contract is up and it’s not going to be renewed. You didn’t really get the job, amigo.
10. Your interview with the Chief Hug Officer about how many stars you give yourself as a leader wasn’t the appropriate number of stars and they didn’t want to hug you after all. Or your phone interview with the 18 year old social media intern where you couldn’t name any Marvel characters rubbed them the wrong way. Companies have unique interviewing methods that involve humans, and some are just plain silly.
11. The company’s not willing to accept your type of Visa or citizenship status.
It’s timing’s fault
12. There was a candidate interviewed before you applied that they really like and are waiting for an offer acceptance from. And now they have said yes and you’re out and sad, and I’m sorry.
13. Someone else took precedent (an internal hire, an ex-colleague, or someone the CEO said they know and is the new hire no matter what).
It’s someone else’s fault
14. Someone unexpectedly gave you a bad reference and you may never know about it.
It’s your fault
15. Let’s start with the obvious repetitive junk you already know – you have a bad resume or cover letter. There are red flags, incomplete information, grammar errors, it is too long or to short, super generic, and/or never expressed how you impacted any company’s bottom line.
16. You couldn’t answer basic questions (“why did you leave your last job?” or “why were you only at X place for 3 months?”). Or you answered any number of interview questions poorly. Or you were asked to critique something about the company and you wailed on their shortcomings rather than offer a positive, followed by a meaningful critique with actionables, closed with a positive.
17. You made a mistake on your application (you worked at Google from 1904-2006?) or you straight up lied. Some companies do basic employment checks prior to requesting an interview, so you better get your story straight from minute one.
19. You’re not a culture fit. But wait, it’s not what you think – you’re not unlikable, they’re just looking for a puzzle piece. Their division might be in chaos or the there’s already an A-type on the small team. Hiring managers deal with truly complex situations and it isn’t personal if you’re not the right puzzle piece, despite your incredible pedigree.
20. You raised major legal red flags. Nothing says you plan to sue like vaguely saying “I have schizophrenia, is that going to be a problem?” or “I’m not sure working for a male boss is a good fit, do you have someone I can answer to that is female?” or “what is your policy on sex in the workplace?”
21. Speaking of legal red flags, you put your picture on your resume which tells sensitive employers “I’m doing this so later I can say I didn’t get the job because of my [gender, race, etc.]” Discrimination is no joke. It happens, and you don’t want to put an employer in an uncomfortable situation – your picture’s already on LinkedIn. That suffices.
22. To “where do you see yourself in five years?” You said “in your job” to be clever or “President of the company” without explanation. Come on, people. How you answer that demonstrates your intent on longevity in the company, your willingness to move up, your desire to be a leader, not supplant your interviewer.
23. You applied to basically every role in the company and now they take you seriously for none.
24. You applied for a Senior-level role when you’re barely entry-level.
25. You asked nothing about the company or role during the interview. This is sadly common and so easy to fix.
26. You knew nothing about the company during the interview. Do your research, people.
27. You failed a required technical test or psych profile and there really is no coming back from that. Objective requirements are just that – objective.
28. Your work history is unstable, too short to be applicable, and/or filled with holes you can’t (or didn’t) properly explain.
29. You’re missing a certification or education level the employer wants (either publicly or secretly).
30. You’re too educated – your PhD is scaring them into thinking your salary demands might rapidly increase even if you’re currently amenable to minimum wage. This is based on endless studies and experiences of people settling – they don’t stick around for long.
31. You forgot to include your continuing education (coding courses, professional leadership retreats) because you thought they were irrelevant. They’re not – they show that you take initiative and eager to always learn more.
32. You ghosted at some point or were slow to respond.
33. You arrived (or called) way too early or way too late.
34. You were rude to the receptionist.
35. You were overly familiar during the interview because you’ve done so much research and feel like you know the company so well. This trait says you’ll be an unruly team member and will likely disqualify you. Be a pro, even if you know the hiring manager personally – anything else is disrespectful.
36. Someone random in the company met you at a networking event 10 years ago and when politics came up you called them a moron. They didn’t forget, and you’ll never know it was even a factor. But it might have been.
37. You briefly dated the hiring manager’s dramatic best friend and over drinks, you come up and she tells horror stories about you – you’ll never learn this was the reason, but seriously, it’s possible.
38. You were sweaty (if that’s a problem, wear a sweat-wicking shirt under your top).
39. You had a smell – either body odor or too much perfume/cologne/axe deodorant.
40. You had a limp or overly aggressive handshake – some people are really sensitive to that and you may culturally offend someone.
41. You looked at (or stared at) your phone during an interview when it wasn’t ringing. Or your smartwatch.
42. You weren’t memorable – some people are just boring or try to be overly calm. Remember you’re connecting with another non-robot human, so try to be at least human.
43. Your desperation permeated the entire process. They could smell it on you and it wasn’t appealing. Why? Because they know you’re going to take the job so you can pay rent, but you’ll still be job hunting and they’ll lose you quickly, so why bother?
44. You live in the wrong place – they may be unwilling to pay for relocation and may screen accordingly.
45. Salary negotiations went awry. They demanded your previous salary and you refused or they didn’t like the number or you’d done too little or too much salary research, or maybe the job listing said a range and you demanded triple (or they offered less than the range).
46. You asked questions at the wrong time – don’t lead with “so what are the benefits and how much time do I get off?” Wait until you know that they like you already. Asking pay as the first question, although the most important, can disqualify you. This is a delicate dance.
47. You failed some simple (probably stupid) test like a sales role being offered half salary and being tricked into negotiating their way up, or somewhere on the job listing it asked you to “Like” their page on Facebook and you didn’t, who knows?
48. You dressed poorly at the interview or were way overdressed.
49. When asked if you’re a night person or morning person, you didn’t say you’re flexible, you said you’re terrible at mornings, and now this company that is really serious about productivity starting at 8:00am, is no longer interested in you.
50. You fidgeted or shook during the interview.
51. You were awkward during the interview, maybe you held your bag in your lap or kept your winter coat on.
52. Your nerves got the best of you – you spoke too quickly or quietly or couldn’t stop saying “like” or “umm.”
SIDENOTE: Being introverted or socially anxious is a challenge, so during an interview, gently express that so it’s not misinterpreted. “I do tend to be introverted, but I want you to know that I am enthusiastic about this opportunity even if I sound a little shaky and nervous.”
53. You didn’t thank the interviewer (or act interested) at any point.
54. You sent an extravagant thank you gift to the hiring manager that disqualified you as it appeared to be a bribe, not the kind gesture you meant for it to be.
55. You followed up too soon and too frequently.
56. You were too cocky or too insecure.
57. You were too eager and it came across as insincere.
58. Your body language was off (you used practiced/disingenuous hand steepling, or you slouched, or maybe you couldn’t make eye contact).
59. You were too scripted – you obviously regurgitated scripts you studied online (a good HR pro can see right through that – they’ve read them, too).
60. You sneezed into your hand and wiped it on your pants, then offered it to shake at adios time. Gross, bye.
61. You trash talked a former employer or coworker (or the interviewer’s favorite sports team, or their religion, or them).
62. You didn’t laugh at the CEO’s joke during a final interview.
63. You shared way too much personal info – not stories about vacay to humanize yourself, but like made sure they knew you have irritable bowel syndrome.
64. You were overly apologetic about your past rather than calmly explaining that you took five years off to be a stay at home parent, but you’ve kept your skills sharp by studying [X].
65. You kept talking about why their competitor is awesome.
66. You accidentally called them by their hated competitor’s name during an interview.
67. You kept calling the interviewer “Jacob,” but his name was always “Jason” and now he thinks you can’t tend to standard details (or is just butthurt).
68. You’re trying to pivot from one industry to another and you do a poor job of explaining that in any way, you just hoped you’d get an interview (but it doesn’t work that way).
69. You’re painfully ugly or overly hot. Sorry, it’s possible.
70. You’re overqualified and that means you might leave when a sexier offer comes along.
71. You’re underqualified which means they’ll have to pay for your learning curve (which they won’t).
72. Your credit is awful and you’re applying to a highly regulated industry like finance or law enforcement, which may hold you back.
73. You didn’t know that your criminal or credit history might not be a disqualifier so you didn’t even try. Sometimes companies are open to certain types of offenses, or you can explain the illness in the family that destroyed your credit.
74. You failed a drug test – this is one of the few instances where you’ll know what happened.
75. You pressured them on social media (you started “IBMShouldHireMichael.com” or started #IBMHireMike and had friends use it on Twitter endlessly, which is clever and has a slight chance of working if applying to a digital media role, but almost always just comes off as annoying and overly aggressive – not worth the risk). Plus, if you depended on that being your hook and they didn’t even notice, it was a hugely wasted effort.
76. You’re so addicted to internet jargon and slang that you used it on your resume or during an interview (“btw, your shoes are on fleek”). Save it for your tumblr, folks.
77. Being cute with videos, online resumes in infographic format, and so forth, forces an employer to investigate you outside of their normal parameters and could land you in the trash bin. Do those things in addition to the traditional resume requested.
78. Your social media accounts are offensive, filled with garbage, or overly sexualized – lock it down while on the job market.
79. You bitched about the company on social media “phone interviewer at X company was straight up retarded” — uh what!? This actually happened recently.
80. You didn’t express interest after the interview. In fact, you may have closed with “well I have several more interviews to complete, so I’ll have to get back to you,” hoping to prove value but really pissing off the employer.
If you’ve read this far, you know that sometimes it’s you, sometimes the stars just didn’t align properly. Sometimes you’ll get feedback, but most of the time, your secret demerits will remain locked in someone’s brain.
But now you know some of the pitfalls that you can fix, so you will. You can only control what you can control, the rest you simply have to let go of.
Let this information empower you, not discourage you.
Good luck during your job search, and don’t let the robots hold you back!
This story first published in April of 2017.