The real reason you didn’t get the job

By Jeremy Wilson December 01, 2014 Industry news

No doubt if you’ve been in the job market then you’ve tried for a role and been unsuccessful. You’ve then possibly received some feedback from an HR person or recruiter.

Now here’s the rub: the reason may be genuine, but conversely, you may have been fed a line because the truth hurts and no one likes to be the bearer of bad news.

I think it’s easy, and therefore tempting, for employers to use a cliché rather than explain to someone in-depth why they were unsuccessful and offer workable feedback.

So how can you learn? What can you do to improve your chances of success in the job market? The best way might be to reflect frankly on why you possibly didn’t get the role.

Typically, the reasons look like this:

• You just showed up – Nothing more nothing less. You put on your typical work clothes, rocked in and winged it. Your attitude was: it’s just an interview, I’ll go and give it my best shot. Only, you didn’t. It was just another day, another interview, another meeting. You know it, and even worse, the employer knew it.

• You didn’t prepare – You had a look on their website and that was it. That’s exactly what every other candidate is going to do. It’s not enough. You didn’t bring smart, insightful questions about their market and their company. In other words you failed to convince the employer that you had the preparation skills and commercial acumen to really warrant a place on their team.

• You didn’t fit the culture – There’s a candidate tendency to insist they have the skills do the job, no matter what. And yet, skills are only 50% of the equation – cultural fit is the other. And it’s the hardest part for both parties to accurately measure. So you must take pains to spell out your suitability. If you didn’t question their culture and then explain how your profile matches their culture, you may have failed.

• You didn’t build rapport – Failing to get to know the people sitting in front of you and only focusing on the role could have been your error. Remembering that people like people like them, did you do a great job of this? Interviews are not a reactive meeting – you are required to be proactive in building rapport. Put it this way, if you didn’t get the job and then ran into the interviewer in a café would you have anything to talk about?

• You didn’t grasp the key requirement – Every role has a key requirement. There’s an undercurrent, a vein, a key purpose. Call it what you will, it’s there, and you have to match your experience to it. If it’s a management role, is it really? Is it more of a leadership role? If it’s a sales role, then what sort of selling is required? You may have missed out because you hadn’t dug deep enough, or just assumed you knew what it was.

• You weren’t memorable – People want to buy passion. If you went in too speculative or didn’t approach the position with enthusiasm or illustrate your drive and ambition then the chances are you were beaten hollow by someone who did.

• The devil is in the detail – There may be a solid chance that you didn’t provide enough detail with your answers. Don’t expect anyone to prompt you here; in an interview you must provide the detail to the questions. Overachieved your sales budget? Great, by how much, at what margin, and with what clients? Completed a tough technical challenge? That’s fantastic, but at what cost? What assistance did you utilise? What was the end result for the company? If you’re not providing adequate detail, you’re not providing reasons to recruit!

So in reflection, as you can see, the reason’s you really didn’t get the job can be pretty varied. There are some deeper considerations, for example separating your strategies between first and second interviews. (The second should be based on presenting why you are suitable for the role given the information you received in the first, for example.)

By and large though, nailing the points outlined above will drastically increase your chances of being hired.

And, here’s an idea. If you don’t get the job, give it two or three weeks, then call the most senior person you interviewed with, and ask for feedback on your performance. What you learn could be eye opening!


Jeremy Wilson is General Manager of Build People, a search recruitment business with contacts across hardware, consumer goods, electronics and FMCG. Call 021 732 788 or visit for more information.

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