A reader writes:
I’ve been working for the same company for over 7 years, and recently I applied for a position posted on the company website. It was a training position and I met the qualifications that were listed and it seemed to me I would be a good fit for the job. However, the HR rep emailed me back a week after I applied to inform me that I didn’t meet the qualifications. She listed four qualifications that I did not meet, but none of these were listed on the original job posting.
Is it a common practice to vet prospective candidates based on undisclosed qualifications?
Sure, it’s not uncommon that a job posting doesn’t list every single thing that the employer is looking for. But it’s not typically because they’re deliberately keeping job requirements secret. Instead, it’s one of the following:
1. The person who created the job posting doesn’t know what they’re doing. They’re not clear on what skills and traits they really need, and therefore the posting isn’t either. This often results in postings that require, say, experience in a specific software even though what the employer really needs is someone who can learn that software quickly. Sometimes it results in the truly ridiculous, such as requiring five years of experience with a technology that’s only been around for two years. And sometimes it goes in the opposite direction too — being so vague about the requirements that almost anyone would qualify.
2. The person who created the job posting did know what they’re doing, but there’s some flexibility to the requirements so they just listed the most important things. There might be 10 things they’d love to find, but only 3 are essential and the necessity of the others will vary depending on the candidate’s overall package. For instance, they might be willing to forego requirements 4-10 if your skills and accomplishments in 1-3 are really impressive — in which case, they might just list 1-3 in the ad. And that could certainly lead to them telling a candidate who met requirements 1-3 but still didn’t blow them away that they’re hoping to find un-posted requirements 4 and 5 too (rather than saying, “meh, you just struck us as kind of mediocre”). And that would be true — and it would be reasonable that they didn’t list those requirements in the ad, because they’re not going to be requirements in every case.
3. It could also be that they didn’t list a particular qualification because they didn’t realize its importance until they talked to a candidate who lacked it. For instance, you might advertise for a communications director who has a track record of placing stories in major publications, an ability to craft compelling soundbites, and strong relationships with reporters. Then you might talk to a candidate who has all of that — but she’s always worked for high-profile issues that are easy to get reporters to cover, and you realize that you’re looking for someone with a track record getting coverage of duller, more challenging issues. Or you realize in talking to her that her aggressive, fairly confrontational approach will give your more soft-spoken industry fits. Or everything else is great, but her writing — which just needs to be decent, so you didn’t even address it in the job requirements — is truly terrible. And so forth.
Ultimately, I think your question is about feeling that you were somehow treated unfairly — that the employer is conducting their search process in a less than transparent way. But that way of thinking doesn’t really get you anywhere. Maybe they’re inept at hiring or maybe they’re not — but it can be hard to tell from the outside … and either way you’re better off simply accepting that they didn’t think you were quite the fit they’re looking for — for whatever reason — and moving on.