if I didn’t have enough experience, why did they bother to interview me?

A reader writes:

I found out a couple days ago that I didn’t even pass the 20-minute phone screening to the next round of interviews for a job I applied for, and it’s really a huge blow of confidence.

I applied to a position a couple weeks ago at a dream company and I got an email saying the recruiter was interested in setting up a phone screening. I spent days practicing potential interview questions, and I thought I answered pretty well the day of the phone call — despite the recruiter being five minutes late to call me after our scheduled time. I honestly felt confident I should at least move on to the next round. LinkedIn calculated that I was within the top 10% of applicants who applied, although I am aware not all applicants apply through LinkedIn.

Then I got the rejection email with some boilerplate information about the competitiveness of the selection process, how ultimately I wasn’t a match, and how I should have more experience (it’s an entry level job with one year of experience minimum — I have about 10-11 months of professional experience with proven results).

I wasn’t sure if it’s a generic email sent to all rejected candidates or if my recruiter was being serious about the “getting more experience” part, so I wrote a gracious follow-up email thanking her and using tips you recommended on writing a post-rejection, follow-up email asking for feedback.

She responded by referring me to their company’s hiring guidelines, which list criteria such as academic, leadership, experience, etc. that come to play and urged me to apply again next year.

What’s bugging me is that I provided all the information that was asked in the pre-phone call screening logistics. She knows my experience from my resume and I elaborated on them in the interview and she has copies of my transcripts and my GPA (3.8). If I wasn’t a match then, why allowed the phone interview to take place? Wouldn’t it save them 20 minutes of talking to a candidate they weren’t going to hire?

I’m just so disheartened I didn’t even make it pass a phone screening. I get and respect that ultimately I may not be their ideal candidate, but the whole process felt like me jumping through hoops for something I was never going to get.

Can you offer any perspective on the HR side of things that I may not be taking into consideration?

Yes. Hiring is always about grading on a curve. You’re being compared to other candidates. No matter how qualified you are, there could be a dozen candidates (or more) who are more qualified.

It’s not “if you meet all the criteria we’re looking for, you’ll move forward to the next stage.” It’s “if you’re in the top five (or whatever) candidates we’re looking for, you’ll move forward to the next stage.”

It sounds like you were on the low end of experience for what they were seeking — “a year minimum” means that other candidates probably had two or three years experience. That doesn’t make you a bad candidate; it just means that other candidates might have been more competitive.

You’re wondering why they bothered to interview you since they already knew your experience. They interviewed you because you looked promising enough that they wanted to learn more. But after they talked to you, they decided that, compared to the other candidates they were talking with, you weren’t as strong as others.

That’s a normal way for this to work out. Sometimes you get a candidate on the phone who was borderline on paper and they’re amazing on the phone. Sometimes you get on the phone with someone who was really promising on paper, but way less impressive once you talk with them. Sometimes you get a candidate who’s strong on all fronts, but four others are even stronger so you end up not pursing that first one.

That’s why we interview people! Otherwise we’d just hire off of resumes alone — but resumes are just a starting point. Resumes say “okay, this person could be plausible” but they don’t say “this is the person to hire.” Most information that leads to a hire comes out of actual conversations — where you learn more about how people work, how they think, how they communicate, where they’ve thrived, what they’re looking for, and so forth.

Plus, the curve that I mentioned earlier. You could be good on paper and good in the interview, and still lose out to someone who was simply better. Better at the work, better at some specific thing they want for this job (that they might not have even realized they wanted until they saw it in someone), better at communicating on complex topics, better at forming quick rapport with people — all sorts of things. It doesn’t mean you weren’t a solid or even strong candidate. It just means they happened to talk to someone else who was a stronger match.

You can look at this and be frustrated that it didn’t work out, or you can look at it and be pleased that you were strong enough to get an initial interview and have a chance to tell them more about you, even though it ultimately didn’t work out.

It’s better for your mental health to do the latter — and to go into a job search expecting that there will be lots of these situations, and that it’s just a normal part of the process, and that’s okay.

{ 157 comments… read them below }

  1. Kms1025*

    I’m really sorry OP…it sucks that’s this is the way of the world, but there it is. There’s something better out there for you…just keep your head up and keep looking.

    1. OP*

      Thank you to everyone who responded with positive vibes, great insights, and shared their stories and experiences. It means a lot and I really appreciate it!

      1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

        Your take away should be that the HR person said you should apply again. Even if everything else was boilerplate, you don’t have enough experience, many other candidates, etc, the person who actually spoke to you is willing to talk to you in the future.
        That’s not based on your resume, that’s based on the impression you gave from the 20 minute phone call.
        Well done.

        1. Annonymouse*


          Hiring is a curve and it looks like someone had you beat. But they like you so much that they want you in the future.

          Most rejections are straight “other candidates better fit / not successful this time around.”

          If you had a bit more experience they would have gone with you. Take this as a HUGE confidence boost.

  2. Cobol*

    What’s worked for me OP is to immediately assume you’re not making it to the next round as soon as you finish a step (obviously follow up after interviews). You can’t control the in-between, and the worst thing that can happen is you let a previous rejection keep you from going after the next one.

    1. Close Bracket*

      Yup. I regard job hunting as a fire and forget process. Obviously, if I promised some kind of follow up, I do it, but once a step is finished, I put the whole thing out of my mind until I hear that they are interested in the next step.

      1. MissGirl*

        I agree with putting it out of your mind, but do follow up if you haven’t heard either way (give ample time first). My new coworker didn’t hear back after making it to second round interviews in our company. She wrote it off as rejection but her brother encouraged her to reach out. Turned out our department recruiter had quit and my coworker had fallen through the cracks. My manager had thought an offer had been extended and my coworker thought she’d been rejected.

        1. MM*

          Something like this happened to me too–I’d been interviewed, hadn’t heard back, was talking with another lead but wanted the first one more, and at the urging of my father I reached out to ask if I could get a sense of the timeline. Turned out someone had written down my email wrong and I’d never received the offer I was sent.

    2. Ali G*

      Yup, I got into a habit of once I made it to a step in the process (i.e. phone screen), I immediately seek out 2-3 other jobs to apply for, that way there is always something else in the pipeline if/when that one doesn’t work out.

  3. Anon From Here*

    Sometimes, you can hit all the metrics of a job’s requirements, but the person or team interviewing you will simply decide that you don’t have a je ne sais quoi for the position. Nothing to be done but to keep applying elsewhere.

    1. BF50*

      We just passed on a candidate who was really great. Everyone liked him and wanted to work with him… in theory… but he wasn’t great in the way we needed for this job. He would be great in Job A, but only a lovely coworker and decent at Job B and we were really looking for a superstar in Job B.

  4. Bea*

    Also take into consideration that this was a recruiter. Their job is to cast a large net and pick through the findings because you just never know until you start talking to people. They’re not viewing those on the lower end of the qualifications as unworthy because you just never know until you kick the tires. You find a lot of things not on resumes by talking to a person.

    The disappointment is a natural reaction. It sucks that it’s so hardwired into most of us to hate rejection.

    1. Dust Bunny*


      Interviewing isn’t “we interview everybody and all of them who meet X requirements get a job”; it’s “we interview everybody and pick the person who does the best for the *one job* we have open”. So, yeah, a lot of people who are qualified don’t get the job.

      I really do not miss jobhunting.

    2. designbot*

      Yep. Plus this process of resume review, screener, in-person, possibly a second in-person, then background checks, each level of that is designed to weed out some candidates and get them closer to a single offer. If they put everybody through to the next step, the screener call wouldn’t be doing its job.

    3. Kyrielle*

      I try to pretend I was their “Sue” even if I wasn’t (name made up). At a previous job, we were trying to hire someone to the chocolate teapots engineering team. We had good coverage on the team overall, but we were a little light in lids specialists (you want people who know every part of the process so if someone is out sick you don’t wind up having trouble making lids that fit!) and a little heavy on the handle specialists (but again, we had “enough” of either for the moment, and could cross-train people as needed).

      It came down to two excellent candidates, “Karen” and “Sue” (names made up). We really, really, REALLY wanted to hire both of them, but we only had one open position. Both had about the same level of expertise and background, both were congenial and professional, etc. etc. But you guessed it. Karen had a bit of lid-specific experience. Sue had a bit of handle-specific experience.

      We hired Karen. We never regretted hiring Karen. But we did regret not having an open position for Sue.

      I don’t imagine Sue liked being rejected. I hope she was able to frame it as ‘someone was better for the opening than I was’ and not that we were unimpressed by her or anything.

      1. Greg NY*

        I think the OP wouldn’t have felt the way they did if this rejection happened at the final stage. There, they know it may have come down to one better data point or even one intangible. This was at the very first stage. If you are eked out at the first stage, you aren’t in the stratosphere of the true top candidates. The OP should take solace in the fact that they were nowhere close to getting the job and their only issue should be the time they spent preparing for and conducting the phone interview.

        I think a sports analogy works well here, although not perfectly. If you lose a close game in the first round of the NCAA basketball tournament, you may be a bit upset that you couldn’t win that game but you also know in your heart that you stood very little chance of beating even stronger teams you’d be facing later on. If you narrowly lose in the championship game, that’s gut-wrenching.

        At every stage in the hiring process, you are up against progressively stronger candidates. I don’t bat an eye at a phone interview or a first in-person interview. I only begin being even a bit upset after a bare minimum of two interviews. The time expenditure stinks, but just like with dating, that’s the only way it can be done.

    4. Nonsensical*

      I don’t take hiring personally. I started following this blog over 7 years ago when I was having trouble getting a job my sophomore year of university. It took trial and error, and I finally learned after 6-7 interviews how to get a job. After that I landed one at Disney.

      I’ve learned to cast a wide net, practice interviews and know your field. Sometimes it is just not a fit. The funny thing is that I got both job offers when I was applying and didn’t care if I got an offer or not. Don’t get too emotionally invested in an interview. Keep searching, polishing your resume.

      1. IntelligentAmoeba*

        Not taking it personally is a huge help. Being rejected from a position feels personal but on the other end of the process, it’s really not.

    5. Courageous cat*

      Yeah dude. I have never once had a job opportunity from a recruiter pan out. They typically just waste my time. :|

  5. Namast'ay in Bed*

    Sorry about that OP, it totally sucks and I get the frustration and disappointment.

    What really burns my bread is that an entry-level job wants at least a year of experience, and Allison (probably accurately) guesses that the people who made it through had 2-3 years of experience…how is that entry level?

    1. Bea*

      What? A year experience is most certainly entry level position. It’s not an internship. Do you find many places who hire without some experience required? Most jobs as crappy as it is don’t want to be the ones teaching you how to use printers and assorted universal software.

        1. Lil Fidget*

          I definitely do hear the recent grads that I coach complain that, at the *truly* entry level (no experience), they can’t get any jobs at all. I try to remind them that internships do count to some degree.

          1. Bea*

            Work study helps too if they have that.

            It’s the long standing Catch 22 of working. “It says experience required but to gain experience someone has to hire me.”

            Then you grow into “I have 5 years experience…they want 7…fml”

            1. JM in England*

              At an interview during the year between graduation and landing my first “proper” job, I felt something “snap” and said to the interviewer “Wasn’t there once a time when you had no experience and someone gave you a chance?”

              Needless to say, didn’t get that job! :-)

              IMHO, if we don’t let the school leavers into the workplace, the world will be in a bit of a pickle when all the experienced people retire…..

                1. Forking great username*

                  And if you’re someone whose financial position forces them to work full time all through school, meaning something like retail or food services with no time for unpaid internships…then what?

                2. Marion Ravenwood*

                  Not for everything, at least not in the UK. Granted it’s nearly 10 years since I was starting out so things may well have changed, but in my experience the internships were only for certain career paths or sectors (finance, politics, journalism etc) and the summer jobs were more of the retail/food service-type roles – although that’s not to say those jobs don’t teach you useful things! But for a ‘standard’ office job coming out of university if you needed to pay bills, your best bet was to sign up with recruitment agencies and see what you could get as a temp whilst you looked for other things.

                3. Annoyed former co-op*

                  Yeah, so, I was in my school’s co-op program, where I would get school credit and experience (and paid!) while working in the field. My school’s idea placement schedule got you five terms, but the minimum for getting the co-op designation was four terms.

                  I have one placement term out of three attempts.

                  Summer jobs? Only people I knew successful in getting summer jobs during their school years, outside of co-op, happened to have parents in the industry.

                  Telling people “you should have done this!” doesn’t work when people are aware of what “this” is, have been trying to do “this,” and have been unsuccessful at doing “this.”

              1. Liza*

                I had this feeling so much during my year between postgrad and work! And in not 100% sure I’m a true “No Experience” candidate. I had several years of work experience, including 4 as a manager, but it was customer service, and I was trying to start a professional career in a culture that doesn’t really do internships. All job postings wanted relevant experience in the industry, not just work experience, but “experience working with x”. I had maybe 4 years of volunteering experience but not at a level that really gave me anything to draw on for interviews so I was a bit stuck.

                At one point I was interviewing for a trainee role, but these usually attract people with long term experience in the industry looking to switch specialisms. So I was in exactly the same position as LW here, and for exactly the same reasons as Alison describes. I was up against people with 20-30 years of industry experience for a job that was technically being plugged to new grads. I didn’t stand a chance.

                People in my new job all report similar experiences. Apparently the industry is notorious for filling its bottom rung staffing quota with volunteers (usually people on long term disability) and never progressing them. I did it for a while but it soon became clear the system wasn’t designed for people to move up from these posts. I was considered a star at my volunteer job, but when I asked tentatively about the possibility of a paid role, and the manager looked at me like I was crazy. Had I had bills to pay, I probably would have gone back to customer service by now and given up entirely, which I suppose is the downside to the volunteering/unpaid internship angle, (even if you DO live in a country where interships are a bigger thing) because how many people can afford to work for free on the long term?

                I’m very lucky because I’ve finally landed a job related to the field I want to work in. A lot of people in my position fail – and are failed by a system that does not adequately furnish students with realistic information about the industry, but instead plugs the prestigious idea of PhDs and doctorates while shrugging its shoulders at the challenges faced by the other ranks.

                1. IntelligentAmoeba*

                  I have a friend in this boat. She has a masters in her field, it working on a second masters in a related topic and plans to pursue a PhD. She has countless volunteer hours in her field and can’t find full time work because even entry level positions are getting snapped up by people with years of experience who are looking to slow down or enter a new area of the field or the positions discount anyone who doesn’t have years of paid experience, even if that experience is the same thing she does as a volunteer. (Humanities, History, Library Science) She showed me a position she was denied for. Required a Masters, preferred a PhD. 7 years of experience. $30k/year. She has the education and the experience, but because the experience is volunteer (some at the same place!) she was disqualified. Then they lament that no one wants to go into that field. I wonder why.

            2. Chaordic One*

              And the thing is that, by the time you have 7 years of experience you are so bored with the job and so ready for something that is a step up in terms of job skills and in terms of pay. But you don’t have experience in that job that is the next step up.

              1. Marion Ravenwood*

                Yep. Same with trying to move sideways – maybe it’s just me, but even if you’ve done all the tasks and duties the role entails in a long-term position, if you haven’t done it for that specific audience then it seems not to matter. It feels like transferable skills have stopped being a thing any more, which is kind of sad.

                1. IntelligentAmoeba*

                  I saw this at a previous job. They strongly discouraged overlap so the only way to gain new skills was to make a lateral move. And if you were a rock star in your area, why would risk going to another where you might not do as well. Not to mention, if your struggled to perform in the new area, your job could end up in jeopardy for failure to meet production.

            3. Snark*

              It was amazing when I rolled over 10. I feel like that’s when you slide into the “mid-career professional” category.

        2. Bea*

          Not everyone progresses up a ladder. Tons of people have 10 or 20 years in entry level positions! Experience is irrelevant to where in the company structure your job lands.

          1. Doug Judy*

            This. Sometimes there are positions where there’s just no where to promote someone to. They might be a rock star but most companies don’t create positions they don’t need just to give someone a promotion. And some people don’t want to move up, but they are job hunting because their workplace is terrible/want a better commute/benefits/etc.

            1. Greg NY*

              Then that position really shouldn’t be called “entry level”. I honestly would be put off by it. To me, entry level means two things: an initial landing place for someone without experience AND a position that is a stepping stone to a better one, one in which you will ultimately spend most of your career.

              For example, a client services agent at a bank branch (the one that helps you open accounts or solves issues relating to an existing account) is a position that doesn’t require much experience to start (you learn and train into it), but it is also a position that many people spend most of their career in. Many don’t get to be branch managers or even assistant managers. I would not consider that position to be entry level even though it may be the first job you have at that bank.

              1. Slartibartfast*

                See, I would consider teller to be the entry level position and a client services agent to be the next level/associate, and 1-3 years of cashier experience elsewhere be the needed experience to apply for the entry level teller position.And I could also see a college degree potentially eliminating the cashier and teller steps for positions listed as X level of education or Y amount of experience. There’s no concrete set in stone list of boxes that you can check to be guaranteed a position. You might be rejected 20 times but you only need one employer to say yes.

              2. anon today and tomorrow*

                I worked as a bank teller in high school and they definitely wanted people who had prior experience, even if it was cashier experience. My 3 years at fast food / pharmacy / retail helped me get that job. Though, I had a friend who worked as a teller after college whose college degree waived the cashier experience.

                The client services job at my bank and my friend’s bank required a bachelors and at least 5 years of experience.

    2. anon today and tomorrow*

      I definitely consider 1 – 3 years to be entry level. Maybe 3 years is one step above entry level, but 1 or 2 years is not a lot of work experience and I don’t think anyone could reasonably expect a non-entry level position for less than two years of experience.

      At most companies I’ve worked at, you’d spend 1 – 2 years in that entry level position to gain experience before moving up. I think people have a broad definition of entry level, though, and of course this varies by company. For me, 1 – 3 is entry level, 3 – 5 is associate, and so on.

    3. OP*

      Yes! If I remember correctly, the job posting explicitly said that it’s “entry level” and requires “1 year minimum,”
      but in hindsight, given the role and the status of the company, I reckoned they’re really looking for candidates with 2 years+ experience. Of course, they didn’t say that on the posting :(

      Thanks for your kind words.

      1. Blossom*

        But why do you “reckon they’re really looking for” something other than what they said in the posting? Presumably if the best candidate had been one with 1 year of experience, that’s the one they would have hired.
        Best of luck with the job search.

      2. Quaggaquagga*

        Consider it this way: if you had the option to choose between a candidate with one year of experience and one with two years of experience, which would you choose?

        1. Greg NY*

          Their salary requirements may not be equal, which is the real way that the someone with one year of experience gets their chance to get additional experience. Otherwise, they would always lose out to other candidates (assuming there is a plentiful supply of them).

        2. NotAnotherManager!*

          At that level, I’d be going with the one I felt was better suited for the job. I work with a lot of people with 0-3 years of experience and, while I’d rather have 1 than 0, it comes down to specific skills after that.

          And that’s why our HR recruiters do initial phone screens with people with slightly less experience than posted, if their resume stands out in other ways.

      3. ShwaMan*

        Is it possible at the time they spoke to you, they were interested, but then subsequently acquired & spoke to additional candidates that may have pushed you down their list? Hiring managers are (and do need to be) selfish, so it’s natural that you don’t get immediate declines – they often need to do a ranking process that is in a state of flux until they are through their list.

      4. Kyrielle*

        A 1-year minimum doesn’t say they won’t welcome more, though. It just says that if you have less than about 12 months of experience, you are wasting your time to apply. (As an aside, it also seems like some companies/people say ‘minimum X years’ and then hire someone with less than X years experience. However, that scenario weeds out people who take the limits seriously, which might not be in the company’s best interest.)

        There ARE cases where more experience will tell against someone, also, but it’s not generally the “person has 2-3 years of experience instead of the minimum 1” scenario. It’s the “why is a 10-year professional software engineer applying to an entry-level data processing role?”

        1. Greg NY*

          That’s where requirements and preferences come in handy. A listing for this position should have said “one year of experience required, three years preferred”. This way, the LW knows they can be considered but they also know from the outset that they are at a disadvantage.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Eh, and then you get candidates with one year experience not applying because they figure they don’t have a real chance, and you miss out on someone excellent. Candidates need to just go into it knowing that there’s competition of varying levels and abilities, beyond what any ad can account for.

            1. Not So NewReader*

              Alison, this is like the only place on earth that a person can learn these things. I think back to my 20s and the ad said no experience. I thought that meant no experience. I applied. Later I would see they had hired someone with 3 years experience.
              As I went along I decided that No Experience actually meant Three Years Experience because this is how often I saw things unfold this way.
              In the end, OP, apply for it, jump through their hoops and pretend you heard the NO word each step of the way and keep moving. The trick is not to get too invested or too excited about any one particular job. Then if the letdown occurs, the fall is not as far down. Some job openings seem of more value, above all the others, so it’s important to be aware of your hopes building up.

              1. Kyrielle*

                And yet, I almost didn’t apply to my first job because they wanted 2-3 years of experience and I had none. Luckily, I stopped to talk to them at the hiring fair because I thought what they did sounded interesting!

                This isn’t esoteric job-only knowledge, really. It’s the same thing we do as consumers regularly.

                For example, if you want a new smart phone, and you know it needs to be on carrier A (because they’re affordable *and* have decent coverage where you live), and it needs to have a decent browser, a tolerable camera, email, phone, and text, and be able to run Pokemon Go, and cost no more than $X….

                …and you find two phones that meet those criteria, whose costs are about the same, only one of them has more storage space and the camera is better on it, which one are you going to get?

                Your criteria didn’t include extra storage space. Nor did it say you needed the camera to be high-quality. But given the choice, at similar price, between the one without those features and the one with them…if there are no other trade-offs, I know which phone I’d get.

            2. JSPA*

              There’s always an implied asterisk stating, “but we’ll take more, if we can get it.” On every minimum qualification.

              Not necessarily hugely more, because that brings up niggling questions: “Why’s she interested in this job, if she’s a rock star? What’s wrong in her life that we’re not seeing? Won’t she quit in a couple of months when she lands the job she really wants?”

              But if they can get three programming languages rather than two, or two foreign languages when they asked for one, or some “free” side experience in marketing and graphics, or two years related experience when they asked for one…and in all other ways the person is just as nice and reliable and bright as you are, with your good attitude and minimum qualifications…they’ll probably take her.

              And in time, when you’re the person doing the hiring, you’ll likely do the same. It’s like getting an extra 15% of product for the same price at the store; most of the time, you’re happy to have it.

          2. OhNo*

            I really do wish more companies would include their preferred requirements when posting jobs, not just the minimums. It seems like it would allow for better self-selection on the candidates’ end, not to mention a lot of frustration on the candidates’ end if and when they get rejected. I’ve certainly felt better about being rejected from jobs when I can say, “Well, they did say 2-3 years experience preferred, and I only have one, so that’s unfortunate but not surprising.”

            1. anon this time*

              I suppose, but I’m right now (later this afternoon) doing a phone screen for a job that lists minimum 3 – 5 years experience in X, preferred 5 – 7 years experience in X and Y; I have almost 20 years experience in X, Y, Z, and A, B, C.

              It looks like I’m “over-qualified” for the position, on that basis, but it’s actually a great opportunity for me. And for this employer, in my very humble opinion LOL.

              I look at minimum and preferred qualifications, but I hardly ever let that discourage me from applying if the rest of the job description fits my skills and experience and if I think it looks like a good job. (Usually truly entry-level positions don’t pay enough for me to apply, though.)

      5. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

        Think of it this way. You only had 10-11 months of experience, not 1 year, so technically you didn’t meet the minimum qualification and they still did an initial interview with you. That’s actually pretty impressive.

      6. IntelligentAmoeba*

        Sometimes what the company says they want isn’t actually what they want. And sometimes, if they have a really strong pool, they can revise a little e.g. min requirement HS diploma+ 6 months experience but they have 5 or 6 candidates with a bachelors and 1 year experience. They’re not publicly revising the requirements, just within that pool.

      7. Me*

        Sometimes it’s less about what they say they’re looking for and more about what they have.
        They may be willing to hire someone with 1 year of experience, but if they have 20 candidates with 2 years, then that’s any easy way to limit the pool. And that’s ultimately what filling a positions is – sorting through the candidates until they find the best fit.

        Always consider the job requirements as the job’s minimum requirements. It means you can apply, but it doesn’t mean that there won’t be someone more experienced applying.

    4. Elizabeth Jennings*

      I hire for “entry level” jobs and usually prefer 2 years’ experience if I can find it. It’s rare for me to hire someone right out of a short internship or who’s just graduated college. I think of it as entry level *to our team* — they will be the least experienced, most junior people I’m working with, and they’re early enough in their career that they will largely be trained on our way of doing things (vs being hired for the ideas/work they’ve done elsewhere). I work in media in a national market, and it’s pretty common for people to have a year or two of experience at a smaller or more regional media outlet before making the jump to a national publication.

      1. Emily K*

        Similarly, in the nonprofit world it’s common for “entry level” to mean the bottom rung of full-time/salaried positions, which generally prefer some kind of work experience or a degree, and we hope they’ll stay with us for 2-3 years before moving on. They’re a job band above the hourly staff/interns/fellows, who are more likely to be hired with little/no experience and who are roughly expected to stay between 3 and 12 months, tops, at which point they’ll be able to parlay that experience into an “entry level” salaried role somewhere else.

    5. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      I think some of this is just semantics, too.

      It seems like when young or inexperienced job-seekers see “entry-level” in a job description they believe (or want) it to mean that there is no experience required; that the “entry” means “entry to the workforce.” But hiring managers usually mean “this is the lowest-level job category on my team,” or “we expect that folks who we hire for this job will be early in their careers.” It’s an “entry” to that team, line of work, or organization. (And, from a hiring manager’s perspective, of course it’s better to hire someone with some experience than someone with none at all.)

      Part of the challenge is that we really only use three categories to describe experience levels: entry-level, mid-level, and senior. So “entry-level” ends up meaning “everything below mid-level,” which encompasses a pretty big swath of jobs and experiences.

      1. Techworker*

        Does that mean though that there’s a load of companies that rely on ‘someone else’ to do those first couple of years of training? Like if everyone only hires people with 2 years of experience obviously it wouldn’t work…

        1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

          I suspect this mostly has to do with the state of the economy (in a given region and industry); if employers can get away with never hiring someone with no experience, they will. If the labor market is tight, they will have to make hires they wouldn’t have made otherwise.

          My own office/”professional” experience started with a work-study job in college; they made a trade-off in hiring someone with no office experience in exchange for paying less than they would otherwise (because the work-study job was subsidized by… the college? the federal government? I don’t actually know how that works). Later on, I also benefited from a program at my college that provided grants to nonprofits to hire students as research assistants. That all meant that I left college with several “professional” experiences.

          1. Emily K*

            Exactly this. Companies have the luxury of job candidates coming to them already with training when there are a lot of candidates and few jobs–especially companies offering good jobs, which are even fewer.

            I did some part-time office work in my last year of college and worked for a professor in grad school, so when I got into nonprofit marketing I had something to put on my resume even though it was just general administrative/research/writing/editing work. I got most of my nonprofit marketing experience by going to work for a tiny, 4-person nonprofit where everybody was a Director getting paid about what Associates or Coordinators gets paid at a larger organization. The org couldn’t afford to pay any more than that, so they hired people with Associate/Coordinator level experience and I learned on the job how to run my department all by myself. It was challenging and I was super underpaid for the level of responsibility of volume of work, but I gained a huge amount of experience and after three years I was able to land a different, dream job, doing exactly what I wanted to be doing and being paid a market rate for my work.

  6. Lil Fidget*

    I’d say as you go through your job search, you might work on stepping way back in your expectations of each application. I don’t really perk my ears up until I’m called for an in-person interview, and even then I stay skeptical. You just don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes and it’s easiest to stay disengaged and move on mentally to the next application as soon as possible. I compare it to online dating: don’t over-invest in anybody until you’ve at least actually sat down together for the first time and decided you like each other.

    1. OP*

      Hi Lil Fidget,

      That online dating advice is actually really great! Looking back I was way over-invested in the initial stages of the applying process. I’ll keep that in mind for the future.


    2. anon today and tomorrow*

      Yes. I only perk my ears up when they ask for references. Even in-person interviews don’t mean you’re going to get the job.

    3. El*

      THIS! I completely agree. But I’m the type of person who applies for jobs I think I’m qualified for/can do reasonably well in a “throw it up on the wall and see what sticks” type of manner.

  7. Celeste*

    It’s rough learning the ropes on this. I once went to an interview where a BS was required with experience, and I had that. I got rejected and followed up, and they said they truly prefer people who have either have their MS or it’s impending. The listing didn’t say that, but of course I wished it had; I would have saved myself a lot of angst.

    Bottom line, it’s their show and they get to run it as they choose.

    1. Bea*

      Jeez what a bad way for them to handle it. The response isn’t “we actually prefer more education” it’s “we had applicants who had more education.” They don’t ask for MS but naturally most will prefer that. I’ve certainly seen someone with a two year degree get passed for a four year. But the standards say “at least an AA”.

    2. IntelligentAmoeba*

      This was a crappy way. They could have posted, Bachelors required, MS preferred. Or done what Bea said, sorry we had candidates with more education.

  8. Naomi*

    OP, if I had to guess what happened, I think you were on the borderline and they gave you a phone interview to get a fuller picture. After the phone interview, they decided not to move you forward–but it doesn’t mean that they had made up their minds beforehand, because you’re right, that would be a waste of their time as well as yours. Maybe you could have gotten through if the phone interview had gone differently, or maybe some other candidates really wowed them and knocked you out of the running. But most likely they were genuinely considering you before the phone interview, because there’s no percentage for them in leading you on if they knew they didn’t want to hire you.

  9. Gloria*

    Awwww you sound so young. Just keep applying. Nobody gets every single job the apply for. And keep applying for your dream company. I applied for jobs at my current workplace for years… since 2012 probably and never even got a nibble until last year, when I finally landed a position. Don’t give up. If you really want to work there one day, it’ll happen when it’s right.

    1. Secretary*

      I know you don’t mean it that way Gloria, but OP might not be young, and that could be taken as really patronizing. Even older people interviewing get frustrated too.

      1. pleaset*

        OP wrote “I have about 10-11 months of professional experience”

        The OP sounds young to me too. Nothing wrong with that, but it means this sort of experience is likely knew to her/him.

        1. Courageous cat*

          Honestly I don’t even think this needs to be said because it should be obvious, but coupling a pretty innocuous observation with an “awwww” is ends up becoming patronizing no matter what.

  10. Foxy*

    I also wanted to suggest that they might be looking for candidates for other opportunities and like to have a pool of people they like available. I’ve seen HR in larger organizations interview someone for a specific job, decide that they didn’t want them for that specific job but like the person enough that they wanted to keep their resume handy for another posting. That way they have a group of people ready to go.

    If they had that many applicants and you got through the application screening and an initial interview screening it suggests to me that your resume looks quite good, OP! I always like to think of interviews like this as great “practice” so that I’m less nervous and more prepared for my next one.

  11. Secretary*

    Hi OP, this sucks, and I feel for you.

    Please remember that interviews are business and they’re not personal. It seems like you may have decided what this company thinks about you, see:

    “Wouldn’t it save them 20 minutes of talking to a candidate ***they weren’t going to hire?***”
    …”the whole process felt like me jumping through hoops for something ***I was never going to get.***”
    (emphasis mine)

    If those things were true, that would be really discouraging. That might not be it though! Alison points out all kinds of scenarios that it could be! Please don’t assume people think badly of you if you don’t know all the facts!
    I mean, she encouraged you to apply next year, that’s not something people usually say to someone they were “never going to hire”.

    Be nice to yourself OP!

    1. Blossom*

      Yes, not to mention no hiring manager in their right mind wants to fill up their day interviewing people they know they’re not going to hire. Nobody has time for that. We’re hoping that each interviewee will be the right candidate.

    2. OP*

      Hi Secretary,

      I’m young and new to the job hunting process so I admit I misjudged the initial phone screening as a “this is just to verify you’re not a quack.” Not that I took it lightly, because I did prepare but I was probably over-invested about moving on to the next stage. In all the process would have involve 3-4 stages (the initial screening, a longer video call, and two in person interviews).

      I was definitely hard on myself and as Alison said, staying frustrated isn’t going to help my mental health.

      You learn and you move on :) Thank you for your kind words.

      1. MM*

        Are you recently out of school? I ask because I was getting a vibe of “I did everything right and I still didn’t get a good outcome; why?” from the letter. And in school, that’s reasonable! But if there’s only one job, then it’s as if there’s only one A to be awarded. Then it becomes relative, rather than a question of whether you “did the assignment,” so to speak. It can be tricky to recalibrate that sense of what’s fair as you transition from school to the work world.

      2. michelenyc*

        Did you maybe over prepare? I have done in that in the past and those interviews have never gone well.

      3. Empty Sky*

        It’s tough because it’s helpful to be invested in order to make a good impression in the interview, for example. But it can be so tempting to get ahead of yourself and think you have it in the bag, especially if the interview went well. Ideally you want to be like that in the interview and then switch it off afterward. That’s difficult to do, and we all have different ways of achieving this. One of the things I do is to imagine all the ways it could go wrong. They might have found their dream candidate right after they talked to me. They might restructure and decide not to hire. They might make me an offer that I won’t want to accept (salary too low, poor benefits, crazy working requirements etc.) Then I try my best to forget all about it.

        When/if you get a rejection then you find out how well you did at emotionally detaching yourself (it’s never as well as you thought). You will probably get plenty of them during your career, no matter how good you are. If it helps you can pretend you just finished second behind Usain Bolt at the Olympics, or something.

      4. IntelligentAmoeba*

        Depending on the job, you can have hundreds of applicants. Even getting to the phone screen is a huge accomplishment. It may not feel that way, but it is.

  12. Random thought*

    FWIW, my department regularly hires above the stated experience. I have 5 years and got a position that required 2. My colleague had 20 years experience and was the selected candidate for a job that requires 5. You just never know who you’re up against, and there’s not much you can do other than continue working hard and building those proven results. A year ago I applied for my “dream” job– so I thought at the time– and was up against a candidate with 10+ more years of experience. I was crushed when I didn’t get it, until I got my current job, which is even better. You never know what’s just around the corner

  13. Language Lover*

    I honestly felt confident I should at least move on to the next round. LinkedIn calculated that I was within the top 10% of applicants who applied, although I am aware not all applicants apply through LinkedIn.
    You’re right that not all applicants apply through LinkedIn but there’s something else to consider…jobs posted on very public sites tend to attract a lot of applicants, many of whom aren’t qualified for the position they’re applying for. So being in the top 10% of candidates could mean being in the top 10 of 100 with that top echelon being very competitive with one another and the rest? Not even close.

    Something I don’t think I fully understood until I was in a hiring position was how many random applications I could get from people who didn’t really understand my industry (since they didn’t bother explaining why they thought their experience was transferrable.) And, at the same time, how many terrific applications I’d get as well that made choosing who to interview and ultimately hire a really tough choice.

    So take that knowledge and be proud you got an interview at all. Sometimes you get the job. Sometimes all you get is practice which will help in future interviews. It’s understandable to be disappointed but that’s job hunting.

    1. anon today and tomorrow*

      LinkedIn also tends to calculate that “top 10% of applicants” through a lot of BS. I once tested it by adding a bunch of “skills” listed in the job requirement, and suddenly I was considered one of the top applicants.

      I take those LinkedIn statistics with a huge grain of salt. It’s usually based on random keywords, ime, rather than actual qualifications.

    2. OP*

      Wow, boy was I wrong to trust LinkedIn metrics. This whole thing happened over a month and a half ago so time has given me perspective.

      Definitely taking those metrics with a grain of salt going forward.


      1. BRR*

        I imagine the metrics take into account the skills a person lists on their profile, possibly education level, maybe years of employment history, and maybe scans the job descriptions you added for key words. Since people fill out their profiles to varying degrees, it’s probably working with an incomplete set of data.

      2. Empty Sky*

        After the way LinkedIn implemented their endorsement feature, I would be wary about ever trusting them on any kind of quality metric. Nine times out of ten, an endorsement from someone means “I clicked OK to clear a prompt and now I’ve endorsed skills for 10 of my contacts without realizing it”. I was constantly being endorsed for technical skills by people who wouldn’t even have known what they were, much less whether I was any good at them. Plus they made it opt-out rather than opt-in, so anybody who wasn’t paying attention ended up organically accumulating a raft of endorsed skills like barnacles, with no guarantee they bore any relation to what the person was actually good at.

        I ended up blowing them all away and opting out of the feature and I think my profile is the better for it. I keep waiting for someone to ask me where they are, but nobody ever has.

      3. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

        LinkedIn often suggests jobs that have absolutely nothing to do with my experience or industry. The keywords are perhaps very broadly related, but being an archaeologist does not qualify me for a job as a senior environmental manager, for instance. I’m not willing to pay for the premium service to find out if its any better.

    3. Elizabeth Jennings*

      “Something I don’t think I fully understood until I was in a hiring position was how many random applications I could get from people who didn’t really understand my industry (since they didn’t bother explaining why they thought their experience was transferrable” — oh my gosh, yes, and also people who are clearly just applying for jobs to meet a quota (for unemployment benefits, or for a career center, or something) and didn’t even read the job description. I probably knock out half of the applications I get because they’re from people who are, at first glance, profoundly unqualified or a bad fit.

      1. ch77*

        Agree with this. Until I was sifting through the stacks of resumes, I had no idea how many can really flood in. In some cases, there are a ton of really strong candidates, but we don’t have time to interview 10 people, so we’d pick the top 5.
        Vice versa – there’s also a lot who are completely unqualified.
        Our phone screening is also very minimal, and is usually conducted on a big swath of people, usually to make sure they really read the job description. Yes, we really do mean that you have to be available on nights and weekends during this very specific period of time annually. If you can’t be, then you aren’t a good fit. So many people would think that was negotiable, and we’d use phone screens to go through that. I know that isn’t the case with you – just an example of using phone screening. Also, our HR would phone screen literally everyone who fit the minimum requirements – so it could be 100 people, when clearly we wouldn’t interview all of them.
        Keep plugging away! You’ve got this.

  14. Cordoba*

    Recruiters, HR folks, and hiring managers don’t want to waste their time any more than you want to waste yours. If they’re interviewing you it’s almost certainly because they think that there is some realistic potential that you’ll be a good candidate. There’s no reason for them to spend 20 minutes on the phone with somebody who they are 100% certain they are not going to hire.

    There are exceptions, such as “courtesy interviews” extended to internal candidates or recommendations as a matter of policy or etiquette, but these are rare.

    Job interviews are inherently competitive. You’re not trying to show that you are a good fit for the position, you are trying to show that you are the *best* fit for the position out of all the people who applied. You have no control over who these other people are; and sometimes they’re going to come out on top for a whole host of reasons that don’t reflect at all on your worth as a professional or a human.

    Also, I recommend that nobody pay attention to Linkedin (or any other site) telling you that you were the XYZth percentile of applicants for a particular job. There are too many variables involved for this calculation to be worth anything.

  15. Murphy*

    I don’t think they went into the phone interview with you knowing that they would never hire you. That definitely would be a waste of everyone’s time. They might have called everyone who met the requirements, including you, and then only moved the top 5 to the next stage. It’s all about the applicant pool. You might have been #6. Next time you might be #2.

    But I know that none of this helps. I’ve gotten really discouraged during job searches before. It sucks and there’s no two ways about it.

  16. Not Just An Admin*

    It’s really hard, but try not to get frustrated! Sometimes even making it to the phone screen is a BIG DEAL, because they received literally hundreds of resumes. Trust me, not all of those can get a phone call!

    It may help to adjust your view of the phone screen. It’s a way for the company to get more details than you can reasonably provide on your resume, to help refine their search for the fit. Plus, it’s a great way for you to learn more about the position and company than is going to be in the job posting! And it only takes about 30 minutes, sometimes less, and no travel! Phone screens are great! (Seriously, as someone with a job who’s just looking around, not having to burn my PTO or tip off my boss while discovering the job isn’t something I want is pretty nice.)

    As far as the call being late: sometimes it happens. I always allow for 10-15 minutes past the call time before getting annoyed. And as someone who did the phone screens for a while, I know that every now and again things come up: you suddenly have to use the bathroom, Chatty Cathy WILL NOT STOP TALKING, the phone call that comes in at T-minus-5-minutes that should be quick but isn’t.. As long as the caller isn’t more than 15 minutes late, and is polite and apologetic about the time, take a deep breath.

    Good luck with your search!

    1. michelenyc*

      I agree the 5 minutes late thing really isn’t that big of deal. You never know if they got pulled into a quick meeting or if the person before was going on & on. I give the caller 15 minutes. After the 15 minutes I do send an e-mail follow-up to make sure everything is OK and ask when we can re-schedule. I have only had 1 recruiter not be remotely apologetic the others apologized.

  17. BRR*

    This sounds like a generic rejection to me. Rejections are usually worded pretty broadly because they need to be sent to several people and employers usually want to let people down gently. The know it sucks to get a rejection. And as Alison said, candidates are graded on a curve. If you’re ever involved on the hiring side of things, this will make a lot more sense. There might be ten candidates who in theory could do the job, but there is only one job opening.

    While I don’t know how LinkedIn ranks people, I wouldn’t trust it. A) I can’t see them getting it correctly by an algorithm and B) Again, because candidates are ranked on a curve they can’t tell you where you place. I would guess this is done by LinkedIn to try and sell itself as THE resource to use for jobseekers.

    Also, going forward you will likely encounter plenty of things that will start 5 minutes late. While it’s frustrating and nerve wracking for an interview, I would start assume some (if not all) things will start late. 5 minutes for many people’s schedules is a rounding error.

    1. michelenyc*

      Don’t pay attention to the LinkedIn rankings. Some of the positions that rank me in the top 10% I am in no way qualified for.

    2. all the candycorn*

      Also, rejections tend to be worded so as to be useless, to prevent people from suing. I was in one situation where I applied for a job in my own company but was passed over because the hiring manager preferred to hire a man in the position. The man had half the years of experience and job specific certifications than me and the other woman who applied, and due to being unqualified for the job, he was terminated after 10 months. Under the law of the state I worked in, I had enough grounds to force an EEO complaint. (My husband was interviewing for jobs out of state, so I opted not to.)

      But the rejection email I got said “Your skills have not been found to be a fit for the position and it has been filled by someone whose qualifications were a better match.”

  18. Grace*

    OP I can commiserate because I went through something similar but magnified x10. I did a personality test, an HR phone screen, 3 in-person interviews, and reference checks with SIX of my references only to get rejected for my dream job because I didn’t have enough experience. This company made no sense because who deems someone as inexperienced AFTER checking their references?! Isn’t that something you should determine during the interviews and even prior to the THIRD IN-PERSON?! I even had a reference on vacation who agreed to do the check for me, which was so generous of her. I felt like such an idiot afterward when I had to tell all of my references that I didn’t get the job. It was the worst hiring experience I’ve ever had and a colossal waste of time.

    Last I checked they still did not hire someone for this role -___-.

    1. OP*

      Hi Grace,

      That sucks to hear. I remember feeling crushed after that rejection, I can’t imagine how it must have felt for you given all those stages you’ve passed only to get a “no” at the end.

      I hope things have gone up since that frustrating incident in your career life.

    2. michelenyc*

      The position I just accepted I was sent a rejection for last Monday. I have 10+years of experience. My friend that works at the company found out it came down to money. I was open to negotiate but no one in HR bothered to ask me if I would accept a somewhat lower salary. Turns out everyone I interviewed with (7 people) all went to the VP of HR & the owners of the company to complain as they had been told I was getting the offer. Fast forward to this past Monday I was offered the position. Super unprofessional on their side but I know this is the right move for my career.

    3. Anon for this*

      Wow – I went through similar situation but my path was: 2 HR phone screens (yes, 2 different HR people), hiring-manager phone screen, personality test via phone, in-person interviews with 5 people and then was rejected. Luckily (I think), they never contacted my references. And last I checked, 6 months after my rejection, the position was still listed and comes up on LinkedIn as a suggested match for me.

  19. Bea*

    I want to also add that this process is new to you. It makes sense to be frustrated in these situations. This is a good learning situation. There are more people than jobs often, jobs being limited means you’ll be rejected somewhat frequently during each search you land in. So removing preconceived notions that you’re the best for every job posting where you tick all the boxes is key.

    It goes so much deeper than the bullet points in a job posting. You have variables scattered around that come into play.

    Stay confident in yourself. You will find the right spot for you.

  20. medium of ballpoint*

    Take heart, OP. Sometimes not getting a job really has nothing to do with you. For example, at my old job we had a former intern circle back a few years later to apply for a staff position. She was fantastic and everyone spoke so highly of her and was really excited to have her on staff. She was definitely a Rock Star. Unfortunately, there happened to be an Even Bigger Rock Star in the candidate pool that year and the former intern didn’t get the job. In any other pool she’d have been a shoo-in, but she had the bad luck to be in this particular pool. We’d have loved for her to apply again but she didn’t, and understandably. But it truly had nothing to do with her and everything to do with what our candidate pool looked like.

    Best of luck on future interviews! I’ll cross my fingers for you.

  21. Sarah*

    Sometimes you don’t know the specifics of someone’s experience until you talk to them. Say I’m looking for someone with at least one year experience in accounts payable. Someone who has spent a year scanning invoices in a large accounts payable department and someone who spent a year reviewing, coding, and paying invoices in a one person accounts payable department could both apply and both represent this on their resume as “Processed 200 invoices per week.” Until I talk to them about the scope of their current positions, they both appear to have equal experience.

  22. MissGirl*

    When I got my current job, there were about 100 resumes submitted.

    Of those 100, the recruiter conducted about 20 or so phone screens and forwarded those on to the hiring manager.

    Of those 20, about 8 were offered a phone screen with the manager.

    Of those 8, 4 were brought in for in-person interviews.

    Of those 4, only 1 person made it to second interviews.

    Side note: I was rejected very early for a job I thought I was perfect for. Just so happened a person in my LinkedIn network got it. She had way more experience than me, and I immediately let go of my bitterness and frustration. They made the right decision for them.

    1. Thany*

      This! This is exactly how it is. On my first day at my current job, my supervisor told me they received 26 resumes from HR to decide who to bring in to interview. Later I found out I even got the job over an internal candidate. You just don’t know what going on behind the curtain of why they make the decisions they do. Don’t give up hope and keep applying!

  23. Not All Who Wander*

    I think the single hardest thing to internalize while job hunting is that it really, really doesn’t matter how qualified you are or how good you would be…it’s how you compare to who else applies.

    My last job hunt, I was getting frustrated and worried because I kept making it to the top 3 or 4 and then not being selected. I finally called two of the hiring officials (separate jobs) that I felt like I had had the best connection with to ask (very politely) if they would be willing to give me any feedback. At the time, my big concern was that my current supervisor might be sabotaging me because he was NOT happy about me leaving. Both of them told me that in any other candidate pool I would have been hands-down their top choice but by some weird fluke a bunch of amazing people in my field were looking for jobs the same time I was. One of the people selected over me quite literally wrote the book(s) on how to do do that job….she happened to want to move to that area for family reasons. I would have hired her over me too!

    The job hunt before, I was desperate and putting in for things I didn’t think I stood a chance at even making the first cut. Go figure but I was hired as the lead program specialist in a program my grand total experience in was a single college class 15 years or so before. After I started and became friends with some of the people on the hiring panel I asked them why on earth they had hired me. Apparently no one else who applied even had that single college class let alone any real world experience; after talking it over and talking to my references they all thought I had the right personality & drive for the job and could learn the technical stuff as I went. They were right, but holy smokes I did NOT expect to get that job when I applied!

    I’m semi-looking again since I want to move out of this area and this time I’m making a point of applying for the jobs I think I can succeed in and then putting them out of my head…I can’t control who else applies and there’s no way to know.

    Wishing all of us the best of luck in our searches!

  24. Allison*

    If you check almost all the important boxes, but your experience is a bit less than they were targeting, they may still interview you because the experience you do have matched what this role would be doing, or because your skillset is really rare so they decided it was worth talking to you, and it’s only after the conversation (and possibly conversations with other candidates) that they felt your lack of experience may be a problem.

    On your end, it can really stink to take all that time prepping for the interview, dressing for the interview, and traveling to and from the interview, fully believing they like you and you’re a shoo-in, only to find out later that you weren’t quite what they wanted, but just because you’re disappointed doesn’t mean they did something bad.

  25. Gdub*

    OP, a good interview is never wasted. The company may have another job opening. That recruiter may have another interesting client. The interviewer may go on to another firm. You may pop up in each other’s business circles at any time. You got in some good practice. Especially at the beginning of your work life, you are building experiences and relationships, and you NEVER KNOW which ones will bear fruit.

  26. Greg NY*

    I’m not trying to sugar coat this at all, LW, this is not a good situation you found yourself in. But the silver lining is that this is exactly what phone interviews are for and it worked as intended in this case. You may have wasted 20 minutes of your time, but you were also saved from spending more, including dressing up and the cost of transportation to and from.

  27. Persimmons*

    There are multiple examples here regarding how chosen hires often have much more experience than the minimum requirements, so I want to give an opposing example for OP to chew on.

    Earlier this year I was involved with the hiring process for a mid-level position, and one applicant was the clear front runner. He was a 20+ year industry veteran who had semi-retired and then changed his mind. He waltzed into the interview like he owned the place, arguing down the hiring manager’s policies and explaining why his way was better. He was obviously a complete pill who would not tolerate being managed.

    The successful candidate had less than half the amount of experience that Experienced Nightmare had. The different was her warm, collaborative attitude.

    So, OP, keep on putting your best foot forward, even if you have fewer years under your belt. It IS about how your experience stacks up to the rest of the pool, but not ONLY that.

    1. Greg NY*

      This is a great story, no argument there, but I would caution the OP to put much stock in it because it isn’t the norm. Most of the time, even for mid-level positions, there are plenty of candidates and there will be someone that has a good attitude but also has the desired level of experience. IMO, the candidate you hired lucked out.

  28. Smarty Boots*

    Hello OP — yeah, and it’s tough when you’re recently out of school and don’t have a lot of experience yet. You should feel good that they responded to your thank you email (lots of employers do not) and really good that they asked you to apply again next year — when you’ll have more experience.

    I know it’s not much consolation — but this happens to people with lots of experience too. I’ve applied for jobs where the posting header should be “Smarty Boots, This Is You!” and not even gotten a phone screen. Or gotten the phone screen and not gotten an interview. Gotten an interview, but gotten rejected. Gotten an interview, had my references called (they told me), gotten a message from the employer that “it’s you and one other person and we’ll decide soon” and still not gotten the job (that one’s really a killer).

    And also, sometimes gotten the job.

    Try really hard to put the job opening out of your mind at each stage — it’s hard, but the more you can get yourself to feel and believe, that’s it and if I hear back it’s a fabulous surprise, the better you will feel. (Unless of course “it’s you and one other person and we’ll decide soon” and they say sorry, we decided on the other person — then you can cry. Anyways I did!)

  29. Equestrian Attorney*

    OP, I’m sorry this has happened to you. I had a similar experience not long ago – I was approached by a recruiter for a dream position I felt slightly under-qualified for in terms of experience. I was very open with the recruiter about this and she was very reassuring, saying they were looking for someone junior who would grow into the position etc. I passed the first screen and two in person interviews, got really invested, and then was passed over for someone with more experience. I get it, but it was really frustrating. I found a good position two months later – something is out there for you!

  30. Elizabeth Jennings*

    I’ve been hiring for an entry-level job that prefers people with two to three years’ experience recently (maybe you applied for my job, who knows!), so I thought it might help to explain how it looks from the other side of the table, so to speak.

    1) It’s a big deal that you got a screening call! The fact that you made it out of the slush pile stage even though they knew you didn’t have as much experience as they ideally wanted means they were impressed with you and thought it was worth talking to you anyway. Companies don’t waste time calling people who they know can’t do the job.

    2) As others have said, you don’t know what else happened. It’s possible they got people with way more experience. It’s also possible that you came off as someone impressive for your level but not quite ready to do a more advanced job. When I’ve talked to candidates with less experience than my target, they have to really impress me to move onto the next stage because I know that overall, they’re likely going to need more coaching and development than someone with more experience.

    3) I want to encourage you to remember that hiring managers and recruiters are busy and dealing with many candidates. They responded to your request for feedback with, basically, a boilerplate response that means “we’re not going to give you feedback.” I don’t give feedback to anyone who wasn’t a finalist, because if I do it for one person who asks, I should do it for everyone who asks, and even if I have succinct and helpful things to say, that’s a LOT of time to spend on a task that has very little to do with my job. Similarly, it’s also not uncommon for a recruiter or manager to be a couple of minutes late to a scheduled call — a 5-minute delay felt like ages to you, I’m sure, but it’s not really out of the ordinary or worthy of mention. They do owe you a clear decision, but beyond that, they don’t owe you additional time or explanations, and pressing for them is a good way to get a company to sour on you fast.

    4) Some good news! The first few years of your career can be a really steep growth curve. The difference between 1 and 3 years of experience is WAY bigger than the gap between, say, 5 and 8. This is bad news for you now, but it will be good news for you in a year! A good thing about entry level jobs is they turn over A LOT, and so it’s likely there will be an opening at this company in a year or two. If that recruiter is still there, you will have a small leg up — they liked you enough to talk to you when you didn’t even really meet the requirements! Imagine how enthusiastic they might be about you in a year or so, when they have an opening that you’re now qualified for.

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      I totally agree with this! Especially #1… we get soooooo many resumes for entry-level jobs and I owe a debt to my recruiters for weeding through that pile and doing initial screens. They will usually get at least 100 applications for one job, 30% get weeded out for not even being in the ballpark, another 30% get weeded out for typos on their resume (stated job requirement of excellent attention to detail and ability to proofread/edit), and that leaves them with 40% resumes of “qualified” candidates to go through and pick the 5-10 most promising for phone screens. Sometimes, it’s a struggle to find the one right person, other times we have five people we’d hire if there were open positions (and sometimes I talk my boss into hiring two of them).

      I am very, very lucky in that I have exceptional recruiters, and they use this same process. As the hiring manager, I don’t see candidates until after the phone screens, barring extenuating circumstances. After phone screens, they also keep a folder of resumes of people who were promising but not quite in the final pool, and they do check in with them if another position that may be a fit comes open. (Why phone screen again when you don’t have to?)

  31. The Vulture*

    So, I got rejected that I very much wanted and thought it was possible I would get, or at least get a second interview, so, when I didn’t I was surprised and dismayed. What helped me: I’m decided to be very grateful that they didn’t make me do a second interview! You picked, thanks for not making me come out a second time and dress up and take off from work and get all nervous and stressed! And then I thought about, I wonder who got it? And I thought of someone I knew that I thought it was reasonable they may have picked. I think she’s great! Not better than me, necessarily, but she had a few things I didn’t and that they may have cared more about those things than the things I did offer.

  32. Leah*

    I had something similar happen a few years ago. I applied to an opening at a dream company, but they didn’t go forward with me. One of the hiring managers, however, liked me, and indicated me for another position they had open. I went to the interview, left feeling good, but got rejected. I then asked for feedback as to why I was rejected, and the hiring manager said that they wanted someone with experience for that particular position (it was a team leader position and I’d never been a team leader before). I was mad – why did the other manager personally indicate me and make me go through four hours of interviews if he knew that the person for that job needed experience, which I didn’t have? But nowadays, looking back, I feel like I didn’t really do that well at the interview and that must’ve just been a “soft” excuse. Ah well.

  33. voluptuousfire*

    OP, I’ve been in that situation before (had the 10-11 months exp and turn out not to have the year they were looking for, but didn’t mention in the ad) and it stinks. The funny part was the experience I had was mentioned as an afterthought in the ad–“familiarity with X software.” No particular experience mentioned.

    The even funnier part was that it was a temp gig. I got the interview through one agency and was rejected as above. I was then contacted another 11 times (no exaggeration) by different agencies for the same role. I had to tell each agency what happened.

  34. CupcakeCounter*

    OP this is completely normal. You looked good when they called but a few “better” candidates came along later in the process that were simply a closer match. It appears you did a lot of things very very right here so don’t lose hope. I was asked by a hiring manager and the team lead for a position to apply and didn’t get the job – that was probably the hardest rejection of my career because I was so sure I had it in the bag (mostly because I was also being told that it was basically mine). Nope – director decided he wanted to hire so and so outside candidate because he had some random certification that looked cool but had nothing to do with our field or industry. Director and new-hire were both pretty worthless in their positions IMO.

  35. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

    I agree with the general leaning of the comments here.

    I’ll add one more perspective/scenario as a hiring manager that I found during a round of interviews. I was interviewing candidates who all had the same general experience and skills, so the decision was going to come down to interviews.

    Candidate 1: Good Experience, Bombed the interview. He answered the question about his biggest pet peeve in the workplace/hot button issue with excessive attendance and tardiness.. ok fair enough… then when I asked him why he left his last position he replied he had been fired for not showing up for work. I couldn’t end that one fast enough.

    Candidate 2: Good experience, would have gelled pretty good with the team. Seemed logical and even keeled. Relocation to the area was the only reason they left their previous position. #2 was the front runner coming into the final interview.

    Candidate 3: Good experience and skill set, Presented well during the interview. Had a lot of good scenario based answers. Was a family member of a person who worked for the company (this was actually a drawback, because I’m not keen on potential family drama in the work place and would require HR approval).

    All things considered, I was going to go with candidate #2, right up until #3 mentioned a project they had worked on networking the computers in their current position. My ears perked up, because we were using the typical crusty, outdated, couldn’t be updated, but mission critical network and software for our operations. The fact that they were familiar with and had worked with Windows NT (long after NT had been given dinosaur status by the rest of the world) was a huge unknown bonus to me and my operations.

    In other words, even with all things being equal in a job search there is always going to be the ‘better fit’ that rises to the top. Sometimes you get lucky and you’re that better fit for some reason, sometimes you aren’t. In my case #2 was a great candidate that I would have hired in a heartbeat and I think they would have done an excellent job. But in the end #3 fit a need I knew I had, just didn’t think I’d find that particular unicorn skill set that was largely unrelated to the position I was hiring for.

    It seems that the disappointment has somewhat dissipated since you wrote your letter, and you are wise to be looking for perspective on this. I have no doubts that you will be successful.

  36. Jen*

    Echoing Alison’s last paragraph: this just isn’t good for your mental health and you just have to let this go. There are so many what ifs you can end up blue in the face. They may have gotten 5 other screens with two years of llama wrangling and really need someone who can llama wrangle on day 1. They may have only gone forward with 2. You just never know.

    I have hired 5 and really hoped the 6th person would reapply because she was great but I just didn’t have the funding for her (and I have actually been in the position of hiring my previous 6th or 7th choice the next year).

    I know you are itching to hit that reply button. Trust me, I have also received that angry email and that takes someone automatically from a “please apply again” to a “never ever hire this person”.

    Move on, apply to a future opening.

  37. 653-CXK*

    I’ve gone through three formal interviews. Two of them I’ve come away feeling like I got the job, but I ended up getting rejected. The recruiter for one job was proactive and stated that despite all the information I gave, I wouldn’t be moving forward; the other job sent me to a webpage for references and demanded I notify my references within 24 hours, or I would be withdrawn from the position. Of course, it was a Friday, and when I looked for updates on Monday the candidacy was withdrawn.

    If I weren’t offered an interview, they weren’t interested in the first place and would have rejected me way ahead of time. They saw something in me and took the time to discuss things, gave me an overview of the job, and then went from there. It’s maddening to get to the last stages and be told “nope, sorry” but in hindsight I came off with good impressions of the company, and who knows? They may find something else.

    If you’ve done your due diligence and you’re rejected, your commitment to the company ends there; mourn the “woulda coulda shoulda” and move on.

    1. MtnLaurel*

      I’m about midcareer, and for every interview I’ve ever gone on, I’ve looked at each as interview practice. Yes, I do my best, but even for the ones that I feel are perfect for me, I think to myself, “at least I have more interview experience!” It really helps me to keep it all in perspective. The offers I’ve gotten have been a bonus.

      Hang in there, OP, and remember that it DOES get better.

  38. Gloucesterina*

    I have the dubious luck to be in the type of context where it is totally normal and not weird for people to spend one to three or more years searching for a long-term position, often filling in with one or more short-term positions over the lifespan of the broader job search.

    As unappetizing as this process is, it does give a certain (again, dubious!) gift of perspective–it’s expected that you will learn from the process of applying to lots and lots of jobs with little expectation of getting a bite in the vast majority of cases, and that you’ll get better at writing cover letters and interviewing and the like by doing these things many many times. Which is how most people learn most things. Over this process, a person also learns that you can control only what you can control (mostly, your materials and where you choose to submit them), which is discouraging and/or liberating depending on how I look it and my overall mood that particular day.

    Not sure if this perspective from another context is useful for you, but wishing you well and I know you’ll find something!

  39. CoveredInBees*

    I would give exactly zero weight to how well LinkedIn rates you for a position. Based on what they recommend to me, they’re doing some free word association when creating the ranking algorithms.

    1. SystemsLady*

      I frequently get suggested to recruiters as an option in the area who does [adjacent field that names its positions similarly but is entirely different in both academic and job requirements].

      Despite the details in my profile that would look like gibberish to people recruiting for that other field (as much as their details look like gibberish to me).

  40. Artemesia*

    When I was hiring (undoubtedly entirely different field from the OP of course) we would get several hundred applicants — half would immediately be rejected as not at all on point (for internal political reasons we could not make clear precisely what we were looking for). Then we would sift through the rest and ID 20 or so plausible candidates. These would be discussed and we would narrow it down to 6 to 10 and interview the top 6 in a phone screen. Two or three of those would be interviewed. So something in the OP’s materials made her interesting but they were likely never going to actually interview ‘anyone who was qualified’ after the phone screen. Interviews are a PITA; the point of the phone screen is to do as few interviews as makes good sense of the job. So OP — focus on the fact that you were interesting enough to get a screen and keep chugging along.

  41. Scubacat*

    You DID get an interview despite having less experience than average. That’s actually pretty good! You were impressive enough as a candidate to be considered alongside other applicants with more experience. So, try to see this as you’re on the right track.

  42. Bibliovore*

    From the perspective of getting hired.
    I was curious that after extensive interviews, meetings, job talk, written essays that at no time did anyone ask me about my subject specialty.
    A few months after I was hired, I got up the nerve to ask the hiring committee chair. His reply surprised and humbled me.
    Everyone on their short list exceeded their requirements for the position. Everyone was more than qualified for the position.
    They were looking for an ‘un-define-able’ spark. The more I thought about it, I couldn’t tell you what differentiated me professionally from the other candidates.(Its a small world in teapot literature, I knew who they were)

  43. Silver linings*

    OP should not be too disheartened. The hiring manager specifically encouraged her/him to reapply next year.
    The hiring manager wouldn’t have done that if the company saw nothing it liked.

  44. Vermonter*

    This happened to me last year. I applied for a job I wasn’t quite qualified for, and I didn’t get it. I was disappointed, of course. But this is how I see it: I got into the interview stage without the necessary qualifications. So I’ll go back and get that certificate, and then I’ll be unstoppable … or something.

  45. Danielle*

    I recently applied for a position that I am aspiring to in the future, but didn’t expect to get this time around. I was thrilled to get an interview. No, I didn’t get the position, but the experience was invaluable. I will go into the next interview as not only a more senior and experienced candidate, but also far more prepared and with some past interview experience to fall back on.

    Every interview is an opportunity. Perhaps not a serious job opportunity, but an opportunity to learn, practice, experience, and grow. Make notes about what they asked you. How did you answer? Is there something you wish you’d done differently? Is there something you wished you’d said. Would you make any changes?

    Good luck!

  46. Maya Elena*

    It is worth to bear in mind that, while 11 months of experience and results and a 3.8 GPA are admirable, they are not so rare that they’re automatic differentiators. In my experience, a year is how long it takes an analyst-type employee in a corporate environment to truly become productive and master the learning curve of their specific job. Also, the GPA’s impressiveness depends on your major (and maybe your school): depending on your field, a 3.2 in physics might oust a 3.8 in anthropology.

  47. SystemsLady*

    Happens all the time in my industry. We really need people, so at the entry level we’ll even interview people who seem not super interested in the job (just looking for something to do with their degree) or people with a barely relevant set of experience (which may or may not balance out to being equivalent to the required academic background depending on specifics).

    There’s usually at least one entry level applicant who meets all the formal requirements and seems interested in the field, though – and they get preference. It’s just the way it happens.

    That being said, I have seen some good mid-level hires in this industry off of people who have the “wrong” work history (but just so happen to have focused on the right areas to make the job suitable for them), so hence why we do it.

  48. ProfessionalLevel2*

    OP, I’ve been there. I was there just five years ago and it’s really frustrating to not move forward in a job you felt you were more than qualified for. Alison’s advice was great, the only thing I’d add is to take LinkedIn stats with a grain of salt. They don’t give you as much insight as you think they do. For instance, I just left a job for a new one. My old company posted the same exact job I had just done and LinkedIn told me I only had two of the ten skills required. For a job that I nailed and received glowing references for, LinkedIn thought I was just 20 percent qualified even though I had been hired and left the job in good standing. Just keep your head down and keep applying and interviewing. The timing will work out eventually.

  49. Isha*

    Hi, I just learned today that I did not get this one job that I applied for. But I look at it this way – and you should find what you didn’t like about the job. I am sure there is at least one thing.

    I didn’t like that it had NO PTO time, no paid holidays and the health insurance was pricey. Sure enough, the pay was great but the trade off was not worth it.

    I probably would be looking for another job from the jump! So look at it that way. Best wishes in your job search.


  50. londonedit*

    Rejection is always tough, and it’s especially difficult when you’re new to the world of job applications – it’s hard not to take it personally! But that’s one of the things that you just need to learn to do in these situations. It’s always hard, because we invest so much time and effort in preparing job applications, and in doing so we actually start thinking ‘Hey! I’m a great candidate for this! Look at my CV and cover letter – why wouldn’t they want to give me the job?’. But the thing is, there could be 100 or 200 other people also thinking the exact same thing, and out of those 100 or 200 people, maybe only 10 or 20 will be invited for a first interview, 5 will be invited for a second interview, and one person will ultimately get the job. So you could be a great candidate, but 21 other people were ever so slightly more great than you. That’s just the way it works. I’ve been through loads of job application processes in my time, including a few where I’ve had first interviews and second interviews, gone through testing, really invested weeks of my time and effort into the process, and then had the ‘You were our second choice, but ultimately we went with someone with slightly more/slightly more relevant experience’ outcome. And that sucks too. But the good thing to recognise is that your application got you a phone interview, so people are interested in your skills and experience, and one day the right job will come along and you’ll be that person who ends up getting hired. You just need to have confidence and do your best, but balance that with knowing you’re up against stiff competition for every job you go for.

  51. Deb*

    Several years ago, I was interviewed for a job and got all the way to meeting with the president of the company – was a very small company. There was one other candidate being interviewed for the position. They let me know that the other candidate was more qualified and that they were hiring her. I was disappointed, but asked them to keep me in mind if something else came up. Two months later, they called and let me know that the other person was better suited for another position they had and asked if I was still interested. I was and took the job. Sometimes it can work out even if you don’t get in the first time.

  52. IntelligentAmoeba*

    No matter how great things are going, never assume things are going your way until it is actually confirmed. In my current position, they first send out a conditional job offer and in it, it clearly states not to make any changes such as quitting your current job until you actually get a final job offer with a start date.
    Alison nailed it when she said, you might have a fantastic resume and a great interview, but someone else was better or more in line with what they were looking for.

  53. Citizen of Metropolis*

    I have to disagree with Alison on this one. While she’s completely right that this happens in job-searching an overwhelming number of times, it’s not okay. You spent time and effort in putting together a resume and cover letter, practicing for the interview, and clearing your schedule for the interview. That time was wasted. It’s never okay to waste people’s time, even if happens a lot. My take on this is the company is interviewing way too many candidates, probably because of a badly written job posting. If the company knew good and well that they were looking for someone with several years of experience, or had other specific requirements, they should have said so. A well written, honest job posting cuts down on the number of applicants overall, but gets a better pool of applicants.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      There’s literally nothing in the letter that indicates that! It’s not useful to the OP to encourage her to think they somehow did her wrong, when there’s no evidence of that.

  54. ACDC*

    My husband went through a situation a few months ago where he was interviewing for a manager-in-training type of program, which in his industry is critical for success, but very hard to get into. He made it through multiple rounds of interviews, and even to the very last round of interviews! But then they turned him down because of lack of experience.

    He really wanted to work for this company, so he went back to them and said “Hey, I realize I don’t have the right experience at the moment for this position, but do you have any other positions available right now where I could get some more experience until I am ready for that higher position?” They placed him in a sort-of entry level position, where he’s worked his tail off for months, and now he has his final interview for that same manager-in-training program in 2 weeks! *fingers crossed*

    Moral of the story is, persistence is key, and a rejection one time does not mean it is a forever rejection.

  55. cannon fodder*

    Sometimes candidates are cannon fodder. The hiring manager already has a candidate in mind. It could be a referral, an internal candidate, or pressure from their manager to hire this person and make it happen. But, the company HR has rules to follow, and one of the rules is to post the job externally before posting internally. Another rule is to interview at least the top 3 or top 5 candidates as part of the selection process. Those interviews must be documented for EEOC compliance, etc.

  56. Alan*

    OP, I had a similar experience while I was doing my masters and fumed about it as I thought this and that was happening to me.

    Luckily I met a few people in my target industry that explained it properly. For starters I was applying for the wrong roles. Until then I had been applying for anything where my background came under generic statements like “we will consider people from blah blah blah background”. Instead I drilled down to the range of roles where I stood a chance and within weeks I was hired.

    My only advice would be to sit down with someone senior at where you work, or any senior contacts you have in your industry that seem to know their stuff. Unfortunately you will get a lot of bullshitters who think “oh, get your foot in the door” is the pinnacle of advice, but in amongst all the horseshit you will get real advice. The thing is that it’s not enough to have this magical thing called ‘experience’ but you have to have relevant experience. Or even try and remember the logic – if you apply for a similar role at a similar firm you won’t cost as much to train as others. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but you have to get down to the basics of reality.

    Unfortunately you will still get issues with experience level. Whenever I ask HR to write up a job spec at my current work I am asked to guesstimate the level of experience. Problem being that experiences in different companies vary – the answer above makes this point perfectly. For instance in my first firm I moved on more in my first 3 years than someone in an equivalent entry level role. In fact I got a job requiring 5 years experience. And I’ve seen people with 25 years experience that are worse at their work than someone with 15 years in the same industry. That’s why you will get the mis-match. I’ve tried in the past to change that number if we see mainly people with more experience than required e.g. it happened a lot during the recession, all so that someone in your situation can be better guided, but it’s impossible to be perfect.

    Also, if you ever work as a manager or ever have to deal with legal documentation you will realise why boilerplate is used. I’ve once had someone breach security to try and shout at because I didn’t let them past 1st round interview – apparently if you roar obnoxiously at me with statements that start with “You didn’t let me in because you think” whatever follows is automatically accurate. Go through that and other harassing calls from anxious candidates and you will see why boilerplate letters is used. You may not be in that category but how do I know? And giving any off the cuff responses or stuff in my own words becomes ammunition if you are actually an arsehole. I’m sure you wouldn’t do that, but how am I to know?

    Finally I would say, grow up a little. You seem almost like you feel human rights are violated. You sound like a bit of a sap, sorry but have to say it. In fact it makes my blood boil as it’s because of you that people get patronising with me, automatically assuming I’m gromlessly ‘disappointed’ if I didn’t get a role, when last time I was ever disappointed about something like this was probably 15 years ago. I’ve had plenty of rejections, it’s part of the game and it’s hard to get it just right and I learn from close misses. I’m more worried if the general market is crap, but even during recessions I did well by sticking with roles I was good at. Just remember it’s not an MOT where you ‘pass’ with x,y and z and you just sound like a sap when you complain. Grow up.

  57. MG Moore*

    I can identify with your feelings and confusion. I have been in the human resources world for 20 years and have seen the evolution of our processes, some good, some not so good, and recruiting is one that just doesn’t evolve very much. We still use resumes, we still look for job stability, we still look for years of experience with the same old job descriptions we had years ago and we still grill the candidates like we were doing them a favor by interviewing them. In my consulting work, I encourage my clients to change their way of thinking about hiring. Today’s candidate pool is much different than 10 years ago. Unfortunately, we have the same hiring managers who are not trained in interviewing methods and are not interested in conducting a job analysis and updating their job descriptions. I see a positive attitude, passion for the work, where the candidate wants to go and what makes them smile when they go to work in considering who I am going to hire. Does experience matter? It is good to have but it depends on the job.
    Don’t get discouraged and keep a positive attitude. Until we catch up with what is going on in this century with the candidates who are applying, all of us will miss out on some really good potential employees. That is our bad.

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