why you got rejected for a job you’re perfect for

The job seemed perfect for you. You met all the qualifications, it was exactly in the field you specialize in, and the interview went well. You had rapport with your interviewer, they seemed to like you, and at the end of the meeting, they promised they’d be in touch soon.

And then … rejection. Or worse, total silence. What happened? Why did an opportunity that looked so promising fizzle out?

No matter how qualified you are for a job and how well the interview goes, you should never count on getting an offer. Until you have a written offer in hand, you should never let yourself think it’s in the bag. Here’s why:

1. No matter how qualified you are, someone else might be more qualified. In this economy especially, hiring managers are flooded with highly qualified candidates for almost any position they advertise. You might be a fantastic candidate who interviewed impressively, but if someone else fits that description too and there’s only one open slot, one of you is getting rejected.

2. They might be looking for something you haven’t picked up on. Because job postings are crafted by imperfect humans, they don’t always tell the full story. Even if they said the main qualifications they’re seeking are X and Y, it’s possible that they also really want Z—which you don’t have. Or they might have made it pretty clear that they want Z and you brushed that aside in your enthusiasm.

3. Even when you are well-matched with the job, there can be some other problem. For instance, you have an abrasive personality that rubbed your interviewer the wrong way, or didn’t answer questions clearly, or didn’t once make eye contact. Sometimes this can be something that isn’t “wrong” but is just wrong for the job, such as that you’re soft-spoken when they’re seeking someone more assertive. And sometimes this is something completely subjective, like that you remind the interviewer of a former co-worker he didn’t get along with.

4. Things change. Budgets get cut, positions get reshuffled. The opening that was a sure thing this week could go away next week. This is the kind of thing that doesn’t always get communicated to candidates, even though it should.

5. No matter what your working style, there’s an organization or boss out there that it would clash with. Often one personality type will simply fit better into a team than another, and that’s the kind of thing that’s very difficult (if not impossible) for a candidate to know. Remember, it’s not just a question of whether you have the skills to do the job, it’s also a question of fit for this particular position, with this particular boss, in this particular culture, in this particular company.

So no matter how promising things look, don’t count on a job until you have an offer in hand. As doctors like to say, hope for the best but plan for the worst!

{ 22 comments… read them below }

  1. Mike C.*

    The comment about cultural fit is something I need to keep reminding myself about. It’s easy to go crazy after applying and interviewing for tons of jobs where they tell you how great you are, and then hire someone else.

  2. Anonymous*

    I remember reading an article in a magazine about why interviewers selecting certain candidates. The one which is etched on my memory is the girl who came into the interview wearing exactly the same jacket as one the interviewer owned herself, so obviously they were going to work brilliantly together!

  3. A.K*

    Definitely have to agree with all of those points mentioned in the article. Once a manager was hiring for several open positions and had many great candidates, but the ones who got the offer had the qualifications and had done volunteer work in the community. Obviously, the volunteer background wasn’t advertised but it fit in with the company culture and position.

    I wish you had posted the article alongside with this about why it might have been a good thing candidates were rejected (i.e manager saved you from a positon or work culture you would have had clashed with, etc).

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Ooooh, you might have just given me my next U.S. News topic. Let’s see — reasons to be grateful you didn’t get the job: the manager is crazy, you would hate the culture, they’re about to layoff that whole department … what else?

      1. Anonyymouses*

        Ummm….if the job is in a less than ideal neighborhood? A friend of mine got held at knife point after work one time. Naturally, she quit A.S.A.P.

      2. Kyle*

        You were settling. I know a lot of people aren’t getting jobs right now because they are over-qualified, and i’m sure a lot of over-qualified people feel this is wrong because they need a job… but there are reasons not to hire someone who’s used to making twice what you can pay.

        1. Mike C.*

          This happened to my dad when I was young. The employer told him he couldn’t afford to pay him enough to raise a family on and told him to look elsewhere. It was a different time where work could be found so it turned out ok.

      3. Anonymous*

        Once I interviewed with a small business owner and it was clear there was some hesitation. There was a project she needed assistance with so we both came to an agreement that I would work with her team until the deadline (for pay) and then we would reconvene and decide if it was a good fit.

        I was grateful for the opportunity because it gave me a chance to see the software and organizational flow. Software was painfully out of date and the workflow could have been streamlined (granted, I was basing this from prior experience in a position very similar to this). Her staff was current on the latest imaging software, but the owner had no desire to update and learn new skills. Learning that I realized I couldn’t work beyond the deadline. To me a business should be looking for ways to innovate and stay competitive!

        1. Anonymous*

          Ugh, small clarification- I deleted a sentence that stated “The owner also scoffed developing a web presence for the company even though most publications had embraced it.” That went before the innovative and competitive comment.

  4. Lorin*

    Good piece! I recently heard Peggy McKee say something that I thought was very helpful, and that applies here. She suggested that during the questions at the end of the interview, it’s a good idea to say something like: “Based on what you’ve said, this strikes me as a good fit. But what do you you think? Are there any areas that you’re concerned about?”

    At that point, the interviewer might, for instance, say that she’s concerned about how far you live from the workplace–and you might be able to say that you’re planning to move. So it might help; and even if it doesn’t, as McKee points out, it gives you a better chance of knowing where you stand.

  5. Construction HR*

    Several years ago I came across a job posting at CareerBuilder which looked like it had been written from my resume. I applied.


    I followed up.


    That kind of cemented my opinion that most of the the “jobs” being listed on CB were actually posted by recruiters attempting to build their databases.

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