A reader writes:
I have a job interview in the next few days. When it’s time for me to ask questions of them, is it too inappropriate to ask whether they are likely to want a more experienced person for an entry-level role?
I’ve been told three or four times now that while I was great and my references gave good reviews of me, they went with the person who is moving from another branch of theirs to the one I applied to, or someone who had two years of work experience, etc. I am all too aware it’s a line used by HR departments to reject people, and I don’t want to over-think whether they were lying or not or I will drive myself mad. But I’m at the end of my tether feeling like I gave it my all and did my research, only to be told they went with experience at the end of it. (Side question: shouldn’t you figure this all out before you start interviewing people if indeed it is true?)
I wouldn’t ask it. It’s not going to help you show how you’d be a strong candidate for the job or help you figure out if the job is the right fit for you, and that’s really what the interview time is for — not getting info to manage your own expectations. And really, that’s what you’d be doing by asking this question — trying to prevent yourself from feeling the sting of rejection later on, right?
There are times when it makes sense to ask that sort of question, but this doesn’t sound like one of them. For example, if you’re interviewing for a job and start to realize that Responsibility X will be a big part of the role, that you have little to no experience with X, and that X is generally thought to be pretty challenging, it’s reasonable to say something like, “Do you foresee my relative lack of experience doing X as an obstacle?” But that would be about your own genuine desire to discuss that, as part of your own effort to figure out if this is a job you’ll thrive in. That’s different than just asking if they’re likely to reject you for someone with more experience, which is more about reassurance or getting ready for rejection.
As for the whole “we went with a more experienced candidate” line that you’re hearing, it’s true that it can be a boilerplate rejection without a lot of meaning to it. It’s also possible that it means exactly what it says. But you’re obviously qualified enough to get an interview, which is good, and the fact that others are beating you doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong. It just means that they had multiple qualified applicants and went with the one who was the strongest match. Four post-interview rejections is pretty par for the course (although it also wouldn’t hurt to reflect on your interview skills and preparation routine and make sure you’re doing all you can in that regard).
As for whether they should figure out if they’re going to want someone more experienced before they start interviewing: not necessarily. That’s the point of interviewing — to get to know more about candidates and figure out who will be the best match.