I was rejected after a seven-minute interview

A reader writes:

I recently applied to a job for which I was well-qualified. The role was with a start-up that’s hoping to shift into doing the type of work I do. My current employer is very well respected in the field, so this start-up likely has a lot to learn from someone in a role similar to my current one.

I applied and two days later got an email from the CEO inviting me to a 15-minute meeting with her. I eagerly selected the first available time slot, and we met later that week. For the first half of the 15 minutes, she told me about the company and the new direction they’re exploring (my area of expertise).

For the second half of the 15 minutes, she asked me general questions about what interested me in the role and what challenges I foresee. Since my current role is quite similar to the one I was interviewing for, I had very tangible examples to share. I was intentional about giving precise answers linking examples of my past/current work to what I understood her company’s goals to be. My partner overheard the interview since we both work remotely and congratulated me on sounding friendly, knowledgeable, and well-spoken. My partner said it was clear the CEO and I were “speaking the same language,” i.e. the questions I asked sounded thoughtful and the examples I shared matched the description of the role that the CEO provided.

Less than two hours later, I got a rejection email.

I was peeved! I felt like this CEO hardly tried to get to know me; I only spoke about my experience and asked questions for seven minutes. I would have happily submitted a work sample and had a longer conversation with her and the broader team, had I been invited.

I know that I’ll never know what exactly happened, but do you have any insight about why workplaces do this? I absolutely understand that I won’t get every job I interview for, but I can’t understand how I could’ve mucked things up in such a short amount of time. Aren’t these very short interviews supposed to just be a chance to ensure the applicant clears the bar of being worth getting to know better?

There are five zillion reasons why this could have happened. With the caveat that it’s possible that none of these applied to you, some examples of why a candidate might be rejected after only seven minutes of discussion:

* Talking to you made the manager realize that they’re not ready to hire for the role yet, or they need to clarify its requirements, or there’s someone already onboard who would be able to tackle lots of it.

* They already had a candidate they were leaning strongly toward, or even had already decided to hire, but this conversation was on the books so they went through with it rather than canceling at the last minute.

* There was a disconnect on what they’re looking for — for example, you saw the role as higher-level than the one they’re envisioning, and it’s clear that you’re too senior for the level they’re planning to hire at.

* Something about your conversational style landed wrong with the interviewer: you sounded sluggish/uninterested/disengaged, or overly frenetic, or you interrupted them, or something else about your style just happened to rub the interviewer the wrong way. (And it’s important to note that some people will interpret others in X way even when another observer wouldn’t get the same impression. It’s possible that your partner — who knows you — could have a different interpretation than the interviewer did.)

* You just aren’t what they’re looking for. You did a great job at speaking to X, but they really care about Y. Or they want someone with more X (whether that’s realistic or not), or they didn’t accurately convey what they’re looking for and they don’t really want X at all.

* They respond more to flash than substance, and you’re more substance. Or the opposite, for that matter!

* Your interviewer has a bias against people who went to X college, speak with a Y accent, are over (or under) Z years old, or a million other possible biases.

* They’re about to make an offer to someone else but wanted to do a quick call with you just in case you were so overwhelmingly fantastic that they’d want to pause their offer process with the other person.

* They were excited about your candidacy when they first set the call up but something has changed since then (other candidates emerged, the role is being reconfigured, they’re hiring someone’s brother, who knows what) and the interview changed from “genuine” to “obligatory” without anyone telling you that.

* They just got bad financial news and they’re not moving forward with hiring at all.

* Your interviewer sucks at interviewing. Or worse, sucks at managing and prefers to hire people who don’t sound confident and knowledgeable because this company likes employees it can more easily mold to its dysfunctional culture.

* Your interviewer was tired or distracted or sick and was more focused on getting through the conversation so she could go home and take some aspirin than on assessing your qualifications. It happens.

* You were a solid candidate who they might have moved forward under other circumstances, but they’ve got candidates they’re more excited about.

* They already had an offer out to someone and that person accepted the same day as your call so now they’re rejecting everyone still in their process.

I think your mistake is in thinking that a rejection after such a short conversation means you messed something up. It’s certainly possible that you did — but it’s just as possible that it was something from the list above.

Candidates have a tendency to assume that the pieces of the hiring process they see tell them everything they need to know. But you’re really only seeing a tiny piece of it and there’s so much that could be going on behind the scenes that has nothing to do with how well you interviewed.

{ 267 comments… read them below }

  1. Sloanicota*

    This is where it’s so helpful to be in on interviews from the interviewer’s side. Sometimes I’ve sat through interviews where the candidate did a great job, and probably walked out feeling good about their chances, but we all immediately struck them from consideration for other reasons – like all the great ones Alison named, or a billion other weird ones that pop up. They may not want to poach from your current workplace, for example. A lot of times it doesn’t have to do with you personally, which you see more clearly from the other side.

    1. Just Another Parent*


      My friend participated in an interview process recently, as an interviewer. One of the external candidates was AMAZING, and she really wanted to hire that person.

      But the majority of administration with hiring power (this was for a public school principal, so they’re required to post the position publicly and interview at least one external candidate) had basically already decided on an internal candidate, despite the external candidate being a much better fit (more experience in issues relevant to our district, more open-minded about new childhood development research that’s been coming out that’s relevant to our district’s community, etc.) and interviewing much better.

      It was so frustrating for my friend – this amazing candidate got rejected simply because the other person has worked at the district for a few years already.

      1. TootsNYC*

        I think it’s just that usually such a decision-making process happens more slowly.
        The speed of the rejection felt more dismissive and more personal.

          1. Michelle Smith*

            Or it could be a sign of respect for the interviewee’s time. Hypothetically let’s say you know in 2 hours that you’re not going to move forward with them, but you decide that you need to wait 2 days to reject them so it makes them feel like you thought about it. You’re now risking them spending time sending you a thank-you note and investing less in other applications. You’re also risking forgetting to reject them (ghosting) or accidentally rejecting them on another day that will upset them (ruining their weekend, or messing up a holiday, or making them sad on a Friday night, or hurting their feelings during the day when they still have 4 hours left of work, etc. etc.). There is no inherent “great” time or method to reject someone although it feels like the vast majority of candidates HATE being ghosted, so it’s still necessary to do it. I think Alison is right that OP should consider there are any number of reasons for the rejection and try their best not to take it personally. But I strongly disagree that there is any sign this person is an inconsiderate jerk for not wasting OP’s time or hopes any longer than absolutely necessary to make the decision.

      2. MissBaudelaire*

        Something similar just happened to me.

        I’ve been with my company for five years, in lower management for a year. I got a new manager a few months ago, the next step up from my job opened up. I applied and interviewed.

        I have more experience, more time in the company, all that jazz. But, my manager had someone from her other site she wanted to put in. I didn’t get the job. I asked why, and got a lot of mumblings that basically came down to “Because I didn’t want you to get it.”

        It’s really frustrating.

      3. M*

        This has been the opposite of my experience as a teacher, oddly enough. I’ve applied for a few positions internally that they’ve struggled to fill, but I’ve been told that hiring me would not solve their problem as they’d then have to do a search to fill my current role.

        1. TootsNYC*

          ooh, this is so frustrating. “we won’t help you move up because you’re so good at where you are!”

          1. M*

            Eh. It’s not moving up. The pay scale will be the same. I’m certified K-12 music and am just trying to move to a different grade level.

          2. Miss Betty*

            “But you’re valuable right where you are!” gah Not valuable enough for a raise or promotion!

      4. Festively Dressed Earl*

        Or the internal person had some dirt on one of the school board members, so the external candidate decided to stay on teaching at the school and continued to just miss a romantic connection with the main character?

    2. Lady Blerd*

      This is very true. I’ve been doing hirings for about 10 years now and and what seems like a banal process on our end seems gets blown out of proportions by applicants but I get it as from their end the process looks like a black box

    3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      This experience definitely helped me.

      For one position, we interviewed three people as a panel and had follow-up discussions about each one. The one I liked the most and was hoping we’d extend the offer to, was turned down by the rest of the panel for BEING TOO GOOD. My colleagues worried that she would not want to stay because she could do so much better than our company. That certainly gave me hope about all the times in the past when I thought I’d done well and they still said no – each time it happened, it’d send me into a tailspin of thoughts about why I can never be good enough for an employer, but maybe I was.

      1. Sloanicota*

        I have seen this happen too! Especially if an org is gun-shy about turnover, or knows they can’t wiggle on salary, a candidate that seems too good will be rejected because they’re looking for someone who will grow into the role.

        1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

          Also, an “overqualified” candidate might be viewed as a threat to some insecure peoples’ chances to advance, or maintain internal control/power.

      2. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

        I was on an interview panel once and argued against a candidate for being too good. Frankly, she had top-tier experience and was running global programs when we were a tiny org trying to get a fledgling program off the ground, and I knew she would last about a month with the inefficient leadership and lack of resources plaguing the org. The vision being sold to her did not match the reality of what she’d realistically be able to accomplish, and I thought it was wrong to bring her in under false pretenses.

        They decided to offer it to her anyway, though (thankfully, I think) she turned it down.

      3. Patty Mayonnaise*

        Ooooh this is a really good point and sounds really likely to have happened if LW was pointing out they’ve already done much of the job. Maybe the interviewer wanted someone slightly more junior who would stay longer. I could see them making a quick decision about that for sure.

    4. oryx*

      Recently, I was on a hiring committee for the first time at my job and it was eye opening. I’m sure there were folks who left those conversations feeling really good about how they’d done, and they probably would have been fine in the role. But they were turned down for any number of reasons, like the ones on the list here.

    5. Chris*

      Truth. I cannot even tell you the number I’ve times I’ve interviewed someone who seemed truly amazing, but not for the job I need. Sometimes there is one criteria I’m using for decision making that is weighted really high and that’s the one they don’t nail. Or sometimes there are two great candidates and one is amazing at X and one is amazing at Y, and I have to decide which skill set adds more value to the org.

      It is really common that they think the position is more senior than it actually is (which is sometimes the fault of the job titles my org used). In that case, I usually will try to have a frank conversation with the candidate and say something like “I want to be clear, that this is a junior role and salary is $XX. Tasks will include things like maintaining the team calendar, preparing snacks for meetings (or whatever is accurate)” and some more details about decision making and leadership.

  2. Sunny days are better*

    I think that this post is a good one to bookmark so that if you get rejected for a job that you really wanted, you can remind yourself of all the possible reasons of why it happened.

    This is quite a comprehensive list, and sometimes when we doubt ourselves, we just need reminders of why it might really have nothing personally to do with us at all.

    1. Sparkles McFadden*

      I got one job where I was contacted two months after I was rejected. The hiring manager said they’d cut his budget and wouldn’t let him make me an offer because they wanted to see if they could do without filling a vacancy. He wanted to know if I was still available, and, fortunately, I was.

      Another thing not to take personally is when you find out you were not the first choice. I actually got another job when the first candidate backed out, and another person left after a couple of days. So, yeah, I was the third choice – and it didn’t matter one iota.

      1. Melicious*

        This happened to me too. I must have been second choice but also they liked me because when they had another vacancy a few months later, they called and offered me the job without re-interviewing. I then got to work with the person they hired over me. We both did great at the job.

      2. Cat Tree*

        I once applied and got a rejection email, then got a call to schedule an interview. It turned out they wanted to hire at a higher level but didn’t get any good candidates so they decided to tweak the position to a lower level and re-evaluate applicants. (I got that job and later several promotions.)

      3. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        I was once second choice for a job at an educational establishment, but was offered a similar position in a different department, which I accepted. The first choice and I were due to start on the same day and I was kind of looking forward to finding out what they’d liked better.


        I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy that day hugely.

    2. Samantha*

      I agree. Sometimes it truly is not something the interviewee said or did. There’s so many moving parts to hiring! I’ve interviewed plenty of wonderful intelligent people but either there was someone else I had in mind (but wanted to interview others to ensure I was making the right decision), or I’ve had a time where a hiring freeze was literally announced right after the interview! Also, some candidates can truly be over qualified for the tasks I need them to perform.

      1. New ED*

        We frequently turn people down for being overqualified. We are a non-profit and sometimes we are looking to hire someone who will schedule the meetings and order the coffee. If you are super excited about contributing to our mission, doing programmatic work, etc. we won’t hire you for those more admin or coordination roles because we don’t think you will be happy in them. You may have felt like you aced the interview because we had a great conversation but I may know right away you are overqualified for what we need.

        1. Tomato Soup*

          It’s not likely, but Google your name and see what comes up. Maybe someone with your name or really similar (eg Kirsten vs Kristen) did something that went viral for bad reasons.

    3. LZ*

      I was recently hiring for a role in my group. I had a great interview with a candidate on a Tuesday who I really wanted to move forward with. Then on Wednesday we were told that all open roles were now closed and all hiring processes cancelled; by the end of the day all the positions were removed from the career site. Taking the positions down triggered an automated “sorry we’re not hiring you” email to all applicants. I asked my internal recruiter to reach out to the candidate directly and explain what was happening, however he never did and I’m sure the candidate was confused about being rejected less than 24 hours after having a really good conversation with me.

    4. Willow Pillow*

      I’m jumping on this comment to add one more reason that happened to me – maybe the rejection was sent in error!

      I applied for a job via Linkedin, which sent me a rejection email. The hiring manager called me 2-3 days later to schedule an interview – their social media manager just hadn’t clicked whatever button in Linkedin to not said an auto-rejection. I have been working there over a year.

      I don’t see any details about the rejection letter LW received – if it was a one-off email then this isn’t going to be relevant, but if it looks to be auto-generated then this is a possibility. Not much one can do but be patient, though.

    5. DrSalty*

      Yes this is a fabulous list for any job seeker. Don’t take it personally!!

    6. New ED*

      Totally, I always tell job seekers this story from my work place: I was a mid-level staffer about to go on maternity leave. My boss came up with a brilliant idea to start a new initiative that would be shared between myself and another staff person and was pushing us to hire a fellow to do some scoping for the new initiative. I had no ability to start a new initiative when I was about to go on leave and my coworker was about to take on some of my work so did not want to start this new initiative right at that moment. But because my boss was insistent we posted the fellow position and did interviews. One candidate, Jane, was super passionate about our mission, understood our work incredibly well, was eager to learn from the fellowship, and was ready to dedicate 40 hours a week to this fellowship. Another candidate, Sally, didn’t care much about our mission, seemed fine but had some experience in the area of the potential new initiative, and only wanted to work 10 hours a week. Under normal circumstances Jane would have been the better choice but we immediately chose Sally because she would want so much less of our time and we could slow walk the process. From Jane’s perspective, I’m sure she couldn’t possibly understand why she wasn’t chosen, she was by far the better candidate, she just wasn’t the right choice in that moment.

      My boss actually ended up hiring Jane for an unpaid internship related to a completely different initiative, she ended up being wonderful, was given a full time salaried position, and worked for us for about four years, getting promoted along the way. Sally produced a report on the area of the new initiative, we thanked her, and shoved the report in a drawer until two years later when we actually had the bandwidth to start up the new initiative.

      This is obviously an anecdote very specific to our situation but my point is more that there are thousands of reasons why someone may not hire any particular candidate and it’s not useful to try to analyze that or be annoyed by it.

  3. T.N.H.*

    I love that Alison went through each possibility like this. I want to add that school/childhood teaches us that if we follow the rules and do a good job we get the reward. Adult life rarely looks like that (sometimes even the opposite) and yet it still feels that if we do a great interview of course we should get the position. It’s probably totally unrelated to you.

    1. ecnaseener*

      Definitely. Not even in an entitled way, just that if you’re used to the assessment *being* the result, it feels like “I aced the interview, so…where’s my A? Why does it feel like I just got an F?”

      1. T.N.H.*

        Yes! Not in a bad way. We have to completely undo 21 years of brain training when we all graduate college (and some of it never seems to go away).

      2. HonorBox*

        Yes to this. An interview is much like an essay test. The teacher/professor has some opportunity to grade based on what you wrote, whereas a true/false, fill in the blank or multiple choice test gives you, the student, opportunity to be rewarded for having the knowledge and taking the test well.

        1. Snow Globe*

          It’s an essay test in which only one person will get an A, no matter how great all of the other essays are.

    2. A Simple Narwhal*

      100%! It took me way too far into my career to learn this.

      In a similar vein I was raised to believe that if I work hard and do the right thing, everything will always work out. So if it’s not working out, then that must mean I’m messing up. Combined with “winners never quit/quitting is for losers”, I stayed at several truly awful jobs way too long because I thought that I was failing, and it would be embarrassing/impossible to walk away.

      But the world isn’t black and white, and that’s just not how things work in reality. To quote a wise captain: “It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose. That is not a weakness, that is life.”

      1. MissBaudelaire*

        I have had to teach myself that leaving a bad environment isn’t quitting or a failure. It’s me protecting myself, and I deserve to have my peace protected, and no one is going to do that for me.

        Doesn’t mean I run as soon as I hit a snag. It means it is okay to acknowledge that some places are just Not For Me and damaging to stay at. And that’s fine!

    3. Falling Diphthong*

      The post really embodies the blog title. A dozen plausible things I hadn’t thought of.

      And as someone who is still trying to shed my goody two shoes tendencies (“I followed the rules! I should be rewarded!”) those are not universally helpful in adulthood, or remotely accurate.

    4. Ellis Bell*

      In my mind, I really messed up an interview when I got lost and arrived there late, even though I called ahead. They just reshuffled the candidate list and saw me when I arrived. I had someone on the inside who passed on that I was mortified, but because it was a government job with a lot of hiring bureaucracy, the hiring manager said “Oh it totally doesn’t matter, we have to go by who fits the job description best; it’s a tick box exercise more than anything.” If they were going by ‘school rules’ being late would totally rule you out.

    5. MissBaudelaire*

      You’re so right. It’s so hard to understand that on paper you might be the best candidate, but companies don’t always hire that way. It isn’t anything you did or didn’t do, it’s the way the dice rolled this time.

      And most of the time, even if you get the ‘why’, it still isn’t a satisfying answer, you know?

      1. Kyrielle*

        And sometimes, there are three equally amazing candidates and it comes down to dartboard logic. Which stinks, but they still have only one position even if they now wish they had three.

        1. T.N.H.*

          Agreed. I think we often talk about the magic perfect candidate when in truth there are usually a few people who would all do an amazing job and might be equally good.

        2. MissBaudelaire*

          My therapist does hiring for the department, and he told me that when I lamented not getting a job.

          Sometimes if they have a few great candidates who would be awesome, it really is dart board. And it sucks! He hates telling people no, sorry, especially when there wasn’t anything the person could improve on. there was no ‘reason’, it just worked out that way.

        3. Pam Adams*

          I was on a hiring committee once- we were hiring two candidates- where we interviewed half a dozen people, and made offers to our top choices. They turned us down. So did the rest of the pool, all of whom were acceptable. We kept interviewing, and finally candidates 12 and 14 accepted our offers. They are still with us today and are great employees.
          Out of the 15 or so people we interviewed, anyone of them would have been an acceptable choice.

          1. Cj*

            I’m curious as to why so many turned you down. I imagine lots of companies have to go with their third or even 5th choice, but getting down to number 14 seems rather unusual.

      2. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

        It’s a cliche but you truly just don’t know who else is in the hiring pool. I was intensively job searching last summer and got to the final round of a role I was CERTAIN I’d get – I’d been doing literally the exact job at a similar university for 3 years, had more experience that they asked for, and had amazing interviews with everyone on the team. I was totally shocked and devastated when I got the rejection call – turns out they hired someone with even more experience than me, who also happened to be an alumna of the university (in a role where that affiliation would actually be very important). Can’t beat that!

    6. Dust Bunny*

      It also tends to teach us that everyone who follows the rules and does a good job gets a reward, and that’s also not how hiring works because in general there are way more applicants than jobs for any given position, and everybody who was great or interviewed well can’t be hired. If there are two positions and seven good applicants, there aren’t magically going to be seven positions.

      1. starsaphire*

        I see this playing out on reality competition shows, too – another place where there are lots of contestants, but only one prize.

        The accepted wisdom usually is some version of “If you want it bad enough and try hard enough, you’ll get it.” And you see people shocked, crushed, devastated because they thought that was *all* they had to do – want it bad and try hard – and they’re totally unconscious of the million other factors that go in (like which contestants make for better TV drama, etc.)

        It’s a rough lesson to learn, for sure.

        1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          “Why should you be our winner?”

          “It’s been my dream since I was a little girl.”

          “… You realise (a) that’s true of everybody here and (b) not a qualifying criterion anyway?”

          1. Another Anon Fed*

            Or it’s companion (that I heard today in a performance based interview I was helping conduct):

            Panel —What is your goal should you get the position?

            Candidate— Learning.

            (She completed the entire 9 question interview in 11 minutes – including our opening – confirming she knew who we were and what shift we were hiring for – and closing “do you have any questions sections. No, we won’t be hiring her – we just really didn’t get answers to the questions because she was brief to the point of pain.)

            1. Another Anon Fed*

              Edit to add – we’re budgeting 30 minutes per candidate, the average seems to be 27 minutes used. 11 minutes was super short.

    7. New ED*

      Yes, I also think that people take an immediate rejection as an F but maybe a delayed rejection as a C. But hiring managers reject people quickly, not necessarily because those people did a terrible job but because they know for some reason that they won’t hire that person, that reason could be completely unrelated to the interview performance!

    8. Becky*

      “It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose. That is not a weakness. That is life.”
      –Jean-Luc Picard

  4. Chairman of the Bored*

    I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to learn that a startup CEO makes snap judgements after 7 minutes of conversation as a matter of routine, and views this as their big-brained way of “disrupting the interview paradigm” or similar.

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      True, but this is also consistent with their having the attention span of a fruit fly and changing their mind about everything.

    2. Prospect Gone Bad*

      LOL so true. Your giving me flashbacks to when digital marketing was new, I interviewed at a newish agency and the CEO was basically like “people like you are a dime a dozen” without saying it in those words – but he didn’t give me a chance to even get to the parts where I had much less common feet-on-the-streets experience.

      He acted like he was a great read of character but read me wrong. He could’ve definitely found other reasons to reject me, but this was not it

        1. ferrina*

          Nah, that’s overpriced. I wouldn’t’ pay a whole ten cents for a dozen mediocre CEOs- with that money I could by 1/10th of a candy bar and at least be happy for few seconds.

      1. Putting the Dys in Dysfunction*

        With a CEO like that, maybe the rejection was a bullet dodged.

    3. Malarkey01*

      That seems overly harsh. My phone screens are about 10 minutes and from those I usually can cull half the list of people who had an interesting resume/application. If someone is an outright bad FIT for the job (even if they are a great employee and an expert, it’s about the position you have to fill) that is usually pretty clear after 2 or 3 questions. Especially when interviewing several qualified candidates in a row.
      I don’t think it’s a courtesy to waste anyone’s time once it’s clear you aren’t moving forward with that candidate (while still being polite and professional to them).

      1. Beth*

        I’m remembering an excellent book on writing titled “The First Five Pages” — based on the idea that, from the POV of an editor or publisher, every flaw in an author’s work will be visible by the time they’ve read that much.

        In the introduction, the author observes that for many manuscripts, he could actually have titled the book “The First Five Sentences”.

        1. Piscera*

          That reminds me of an article I read on medium.com. It would’ve been a paragraph instead, if the author had mentioned upfront that she didn’t have children and her friend did.

      2. House On The Rock*

        I’ve had candidates react poorly when I let them know quickly that we were not proceeding with their candidacy. I think some people really would like the illusion of “measured consideration” and it being “a hard decision” (and sometimes it is! But, as you say, frequently you can tell quite a bit from a phone screen).

        Personally I hate feeling like I’m stringing someone along and wasting their time, but I do now give it at least a day before sending the “thank you for your interest, unfortunately…” message.

      3. waffles*

        agreed. It’s not helpful to the letter writer to say that the CEO must have been stupid because the LW wasn’t selected. As Alison and many other commenters have said, there could have been a million other reasons. Many of which might have been apparent nearly immediately in the interview (like personality or fit) or before the interview even started (like another candidate had already become the front-runner).

    4. The Person from the Resume*

      While that stereotype may be true, it is also true that a 15 minute phone screen can be enough time for someone to make a decision about moving a candiate forward and this accessment does a disservice to the LW who is free to feel his emotions (peeved) but also should understand that this rejection is not unfair and poor treatment.

    5. Alice*

      I wondered if they were “mining” OP for ideas relevant to their start up. Schedule a quick call, ask about some specific questions/ issues, end call. Call me cynical but I’ve heard of similar things happening in marketing where companies want “free” ideas

  5. 4eyedlibrarian*

    I was once rejected after an interview, mostly because it was scheduled to be 30 minutes and I was done in 15. I called my mom immediately after and was like “well if they want someone who is very efficient, I might get a call back”. Nope, they did not. So while not the same, I can definitely sympathize.

  6. rayray*

    Sometimes there are things going on behind the scenes that we just don’t know about, but I 100% empathize because I had a similar experience recently.

    I applied at a company a friend works for, I didn’t realize she had switched teams recently to the one I applied for but it felt kinda like a happy accident. I got an email to schedule a 15 minute call with talent acquisition and before the call, made sure to ask my friend some questions, study the company website, come up with answers about how my skills could transfer to this role. I was really excited about it.

    I get the call and the talent acquisition spent about 5 minutes talking to me, and said something about how they were already interviewing but she’d see if they’d take more interviews. It felt really off to me, like she already had her mind made up. I followed up with her as she told me to do if I didn’t hear back, and got told that they were not interviewing any more. My friend said the role hadn’t been filled yet, but she did reach out to someone she knew in talent acquisition and basically they said that most likely the role didn’t get taken down from the website in time or it was simply just to see if I could fit in for an interview.

    Overall, I was a little turned off by it, mostly by how quick that call was and how little we really got to talk. I just think sometimes there are things we don’t know are happening on the other side, but it’s maybe considered unprofessional or taboo to be honest about it to candidates. Personally, I would have preferred more direct “It’s likely the role is already filled or they have someone in mind, I may not be able to get you for an interview but I liked your resume…” or something along those lines vs having me schedule time to talk and thinking I actually had a chance.

    1. ferrina*

      Yeah, there are so many things that can go on behind the scenes. And sometimes it’s a casual, normal comment that can have a really weird effect behind the scenes.

      I was interviewing a smart, capable person. I asked why she was leaving her last role and she said “I’ve had 3 bosses in three years, and I’m looking for somewhere more consistent where I can grow under a mentor.”
      Her answer was great. Unfortunately, our company was not. The department had no boss, and the last boss had lasted less than a year. It was super chaotic, and there was no one that would be a mentor (I was the most senior person at 2 years industry experience). It was nothing wrong with her, and everything wrong with us.

      1. Kyrielle*

        OOF. Yeah. You can’t really explain that without ticking off your company, probably, but you’d have done her no favors to offer her the position, either.

      2. House On The Rock*

        I had a similar experience with a recent candidate. she checked a lot of boxes, but would need to learn a few technologies from the ground up and given our current staffing and workload we need people who can do that quickly and independently. Because she asked a lot of (very good!) questions about professional development, mentorship, and peer and manager support, and talked about how she hadn’t felt particularly supported in a previous role, I realized she didn’t have the tolerance for chaos that we need. None of this was about her, she can and will thrive in many places, but I can’t change my organization or carve out dedicated trainers for one person.

        1. Saddy Hour*

          Perceptions like this are another hiring thing that sucks for candidates! I’ve been on the hiring side so I completely understand — I had candidates who expressed things that immediately disqualified them from our team, not because they had done ANYTHING wrong but because they were (depending on the candidate): too independent; not independent enough; too organized; not organized enough; too friendly; not friendly enough. That sounds like an exaggeration but those are literally all reasons that my director, my manager, and I all agreed not to move some candidates forward. We had a very specific idea of what the candidate should be like.

          But it is very frustrating on the candidate side because, for example, I know that I *can* thrive in a chaotic environment — it’s just not my first choice. Most of my workplaces have been chaotic and lacked support, and I actually do really well in that kind of setting even when I’m on my own from day 1. I just eventually get really tired of the unbalanced work that comes from it (in my experience). So now I do ask about those elements, because I’m hoping to land somewhere that it isn’t a concern. I definitely understand why that might disqualify me, but from my perspective, I could do good work for at least a few years in a role that is chaotic. It feels silly to be screened out for having an ideal workplace in mind even when I can do well in other settings.

          Again, from the hiring side I understand it. We were really cautious with folks who seemed like they would be unhappy based on what they told us. It just sucks that so much of applying for jobs ends up as “guess what these folks want and hope you’re right.”

  7. Marcella*

    I’ve sat in group interviews where I thought the candidate was wonderful and my co-interviewers had the opposite impression. Same with sorting resumes – I remember a creative director saying “Ugh, there’s not one decent designer” and tossing resumes aside. When I looked through them, they were full of designers who’d worked at top agencies and won awards. She ended up “having a good feeling” about someone very inexperienced who did mediocre work in that role. I think that might have been a case of not wanting someone who could outshine her or spot her own mistakes.

    The job hunting process is just wild. We can and should do our best but ultimately it’s like thinking we can control the weather.

    1. Sloanicota*

      It’s true that everytime I’ve interviewed with someone else, we’ve ended up disagreeing about the best candidate or the order of candidates – it’s really weird! Usually to me it’s a big-picture things (misalignment with where I see the role going), whereas the other person likes something specific and granular (really liked this specific example they gave). So that just goes to show how completely subjective it is. You, the interviewee, can’t hold yourself responsible when even the two interviewers disagree on the right person for the role.

      1. Garblesnark*

        one time I led an interview for a very numbers focused position. I strongly recommended we go with the person who had experience working with numbers. the owner said he wasn’t willing to consider her because she lived more than ten miles from the office.

    2. Tio*

      Yeah, I started doing group interviews this year with other hiring managers due to hiring volume and it’s wild the way some of them think. They are VERY picky.

      1. Sloanicota*

        My theory is, everyone’s looking for someone who reminds them – in whatever way! – of their younger selves. This is not a great way to hire and I try not to do it, but I see it everywhere once I started noticing.

        1. Hannah Lee*

          ^ This!

          And it’s especially frustrating when someone on the interview panel is looking for someone who reminds them of themselves and are focusing particularly on characteristics that are not a good fit for the role or constructive in that work environment and aren’t able to take a step back and realize that.

          Doubly so when the person with these strong preconceptions is senior to other on the committee so no one can really override their take. (I had one VP who would do this … HE was a good strategy, big-picture, schmoozy kind of guy but really bad with attention to detail. Which was OK for his job, but he would dismiss input from anyone who focused on strong attention to detail as an important qualification for ANY role, including data analysts, finance staff, quality control, etc where AtD is one of the KEY requirements.

          1. House On The Rock*

            I once sat on an interview panel with a Director who was very much a glad-handing extrovert, bordering on used car salesman. We were interviewing for a senior project manager for very niche IT projects for a University staff group (think the people who maintain HR systems and the like). The ideal candidate needed to be able to herd many surly, introverted, but highly productive and experienced cats. Director vibed with a candidate who was super corporate and threw around all kinds of nonsense jargon…the candidate also thought that a “project manager” actually managed (as in supervised) the team doing the work. When I asked the candidate how he got results from senior developers who were set in their ways and opinionated, his answer was along the lines of “well I’d be their boss so they would have to do what I say”.

            It took so, so long for me and the other members of the panel to convince Director that this guy would be awful in the job. I think he only came around when someone he knew, who was one of the aforementioned surly programmers, told him what he did and didn’t want in a new PM.

        2. CommanderBanana*

          Haha, to be honest, I wouldn’t want to hire someone who reminded me of a younger me! When I was young I confused intelligence with wisdom, and was naïve enough to think that working hard and being good at your job was was mattered.

        3. ferrina*

          I agree that this is really common, and usually folks are completely unaware of us. It’s also the same tactic of “I want to hire someone I’d want to have a beer with.” We’re not thinking about the role or company, we’re thinking about ourselves.

          This can be done in helpful ways- for example, I had a lot of unconventional experience in project management that I was able to translate well into conventional experience, so I’m able to better spot unconventional experience in others. But “I click with them and I just didn’t ‘click’ with the other person (even though I’d be fine working with them)” usually isn’t a good screening criteria and leads to a lot of sameness in the team.

        4. goddessoftransitory*

          And most unfortunately, this too often translates to “a cisgender hetero white man, just like me.”

        5. SansaStark*

          This comment really brought out an AHA moment for me. I’m on a panel hiring for a position that will report to me. The panel is a peer and our boss. The peer and I did not particularly like one of the candidates and after digging into why, I think my boss saw exactly what Sloanicota is saying — we were looking for a high energy, take-charge type of person…another version of us. Boss reminded us that we can’t have a team of the same people, we need a diversity of styles.

          After being on the interviewer side, I really see how many factors that don’t even have much to do with the candidate can affect things and it really gives a different perspective on stuff like this.

        6. AFac*

          Or someone who is completely opposite–has all the skills we wish we had, even if they’re not useful for the role.

        7. SW*

          I’ve done the opposite. A candidate was super enthusiastic about what my org did, but didn’t have the attention to detail necessary for the role. I felt terrible turning him down, but I’ve struggled with the same issues with attention all my life and I couldn’t put him in that role when I know he wouldn’t succeed and he wouldn’t do the output that I needed.

      2. Emilia Bedelia*

        Agreed! In my particular field, many people get hung up on the idea of having experience with the type of product (eg, ONLY someone who has experience in painting teapots AND teacups will do!). However, if you have an experienced painter who is good at researching, learning, etc but who is only experienced in saucers, mugs, and kettles, many hiring managers will reject them based on (IMO) their least important qualities. It’s very difficult to convince people that products can be taught, but common sense and critical thinking are much more difficult to find!

    3. Stitch*

      I’ll also cop to being conpletely wrong about someone. I was an an interview with someone who came across as a little pushy to me and I didn’t want to hire him. I was out voted and he’s been totally fine. I realize now with more experience that what I read as being pushy was nervousness manifesting as “I need to make sure I say my pre prepared points.

      Interviewing and judging people definitely takes practice.

      1. Sloanicota*

        This is true, the different ways nerves and stress manifest vs how relevant that is to the role takes discernment which largely comes from experience

      2. I am Emily's failing memory*

        I was once on a hiring panel that was pretty evenly split on our reactions to a candidate: half thought he came across as very enthusiastic, half thought he came across more as insincere. I was in the latter camp, but the people who’d be working more closely with the role leaned the other way, so they made him an offer. After he was hired and I got to know him better, I came to agree with the others that what I’d seen in the interview that day was just his brand of enthusiasm – he definitely has a way of glad-handing that still feels very performative to me, but I was mistaken to think “performative” meant “insincere,” and it was a really valuable lesson for me in learning to be self-aware of the way we see an Observed Behavior, and in an instant, our minds will extrapolate various Assumptions based on that behavior, and it happens so fast that we think we observed the Assumptions directly. I observed the candidate acting a particular way, made an assumption about why, and then judged him on what I’d assumed about him instead of what I’d actually observed.

        This kind of inductive reasoning is so core to how our minds work that we can’t expect ourselves not to do it – but we can train ourselves to interrogate our own thought processes more closely so we can be more consciously aware of it and take steps to combat it.

  8. Stitch*

    Alison gets a lot of these letters.

    I get it, I’ve been there. I’ve gotten a rejection email for an interview I thought went well while riding the bus home. It sucks but it happens and there really isn’t any smart thing to do but accept it and move on.

    I have personally been on a committee where we liked someone but just didn’t have the room that time for one more slot, and we hired him six months later. That absolutely can happen as well. So unless there’s clearly something wrong with how you were rejected, don’t slam the door on a place because they rejected you.

  9. Antilles*

    One way of looking at this is to shrug it off as not wasting much time on a pointless follow-up interview for a bad fit. Let’s assume that they had fully decided in the first 15 minutes that they weren’t hiring you. 100%, lock stock, done deal, not happening, we’re done here. Maybe it’s a snap judgment, maybe it’s a clear mismatch, maybe it’s one of the other 20 reasons on AAM’s list. But regardless, they’ve decided you aren’t it.

    Would you want them to have scheduled a follow up interview in a pro forma fashion even though you’re already out of the running? I personally wouldn’t. I get being a bit irritated that it seemed like the decision was made so quickly, but at the end of the day, a bad fit is a bad fit is a bad fit; at least that decision got made quickly so I can move on to the next opportunity rather than spending more time on something that’s not happening.

    1. Prospect Gone Bad*

      The problem is that if you only speak for seven minutes, it’s more likely your “fit” call is wrong or based on something superficial. To give an example, one of my best employees who puts his head down and gets through a lot of paperwork without getting bored, was very socially awkward. Other people who were more polished and hired wanted to get promoted out of that work after 6-9 months, which was a problem for me, since I need that work done. So if I went with the “fit” gut check and rejected him, it would’ve been a huge mistake

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Of course, but we’re looking at this from the interviewee’s point of view. So to make a slightly more concise point: if they’re going to reject you after seven minutes of talking to you, particularly if it is based on something superficial, are you sure that’s someone you want to work for?

      2. Chutney Jitney*

        No, that’s not the problem for the LW. When someone else has made their decision, it’s made. Not accepting that is the problem.

        Looking for reasons they’re wrong, and their opinion doesn’t count, and they should have given you more time, yada, yada – none of it matters. Maybe they were impulsive, maybe they weren’t. The decision is made, you have to accept it.

        1. Prospect gone bad*

          I am surprised at this given the amount of times subconscious bias comes up here. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to make the interview last longer to make sure your “gut” reaction wasn’t some bias (or the fact that the interviewee reminded you of someone else)

          1. The Person from the Resume*

            But this was the initial phone screen scheduled for 15 minutes. Presumably people that get through the phone screen get longer interviews. You gotta start somewhere.

          2. Observer*

            It really depends on what you are looking for and what your “gut” is telling you.

            Two real world fairly extreme experiences, as examples:

            I was young and talking to a potential vendor. When he stuck out his hand to shake hands I told him I don’t do so for religious reasons. So he said “Oh honey” laughed and squeezed my shoulder. Even then (mid- 80′) that was enough information for me to know that I am NOT doing business with this guy.

            Interview for a role that requires dealing with staff all the time, often when said staff are stressed out. And which requires both some tact and sense of discretion. Interview did not go so well because of other soft skills that didn’t seem stellar, but we probably would have done some thinking. Till we’re walking Interviewee out and we pass the glass walled conference room where there is a meeting going on and food on the table. And interviewee wants to duck into the conference room to get some food.

            It’s not always so extreme, but the reality is that it is often perfectly possible to see in the space of 15 minutes, which was the actual length of the interview, that someone is absolutely not a match for a role. Insisting that it must have been *at least* some sort of unconscious bias or incompetence, is just not reality based.

      3. Annony*

        It really depends on what you are basing it on. We recently interviewed someone for a job that was a low level job with very little room for advancement. The applicant was overqualified and even said that her goal was to get her foot in the door to eventually move to a different role at our organization. There was simply no way for her to make that transition from the role we were interviewing for to the role she eventually wanted and it would actively hurt her chances of getting that role here or anywhere. It would be equivalent to taking a role as a janitor when your goal was to be in management. The interview was short and we all knew she would not be hired. She could have done the role well but she would not have been happy.

      4. Antilles*

        But from the perspective of LW/interviewee, does that matter? They could be making the most perfect gut judgment of all time or they could be totally off-base; either way the outcome for me in my chair is the same:
        If the company/interviewer has decided not to move forward (right or wrong), I’m unlikely to be able to reverse that decision so there’s not really much point in throwing good time after bad by going through extra steps when I’m already eliminated.

    2. Rubber Ducky*

      Exactly. Be grateful that the cut you loose quickly rather than to let you dangle for days or weeks willing the phone to ring. Rejection stings at any stage but it stings worse if you are made to go through a long drawn out process even if they have no intention of actually hiring you.

  10. Irish Teacher*

    I once had a 3 minute interview. Three minutes. And by that, I don’t mean I was there for 10 or 15 minutes, but they spent the rest of the time waffling. I mean, I was in the room with the interviewer for three minutes.

    In my case, I am 95% sure the job was “already gone.” In teaching in Ireland, people have to reinterview to get permanancy so it’s not unusual for schools to interview a couple of other candidates, either to tick a box or just in case somebody really wows them. What annoyed me was that this school was a 3 hour journey from where I live and I had to stay overnight, so the interview cost me a fair bit of money, between travel and overnight accommodation. If they were just “ticking a box,” surely, they could have chosen candidates from nearby to fill that requirement!

    I will say 15 minute interviews aren’t at all unusual in my field and one 15 minute interview is often the entirity of the interview process and what the decision is made on, along with references and your application. The norm for interviewing in my field is 15-30 minutes, so 15 minutes would be on the shorter end of normal but not unusual. I do think, in my field, a 15 minute interview means “we are interviewing a fairly large number of people and therefore, the chance of rejection is higher.”

    But I wouldn’t necessarily consider a 15 minute interview to be very short nor would I think it is necessarily just to ensure you cleared the bar of being worth getting to know better or that you mucked it up. I’d assume they either had a candidate they liked better, if they were making the decision there and then or otherwise, that they were narrowing it down based on that interview and you weren’t in the top few candidates. My first ever teaching interview was a 15 minute one and one of the unusual cases where there were 2 interviews were held and they finished it by telling me, “we are interviewing 30 people today and calling three of those back for final interview.” Clearly, out of those 30, it is unlikely more than 5 or 10 will muck things up. It is very likely at least 10 would do the job very well, but they aren’t going to interview 10 or 20 people in detail.

    I don’t know if your field is like mine. I do get the impression from this site that most people here generally have experienced far more in-depth interview processes (I’m not sure if that’s a US-Ireland difference or a public sector-private sector difference or just that teaching can be weird sometimes or a mixture of all three or something else entirely), but I wouldn’t assume being rejected after a short conversation you felt went well means you messed up. I’d assume it meant somebody else did better

    1. MissBaudelaire*

      I once sat for an interview and listened to them hire the candidate before me.

      They still interviewed me. It was nuts.

    2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I had a three-minute interview too, but that was completely on my recruiter. It was an in-person interview and it went like this:

      Interviewers: So why do you want to leave?
      Me: I’m looking to get away from the 24/7 on call support.
      They: Well then you came to the wrong place, we have that too.
      (we talked shop for another 5 minutes, ie. “how do you do X? oh interesting and how many people do you have on rotation? wow, we have Y” etc., and then ended the interview.)

      Somehow the recruiter thought he could sneak it past me that they had on-call too? Or maybe he just was so new to his work that he hadn’t caught it that they did. He was very upset when I told him how the interview had gone.

    3. Snow Globe*

      I will add that the interview was scheduled for 15 minutes and actually lasted 15 minutes, it’s just that half that time was the interviewer talking about the company and the job. I’ve been in hour-long interviews where the interviewer talked the majority of the time and only spent 10-20 minutes on questions for me (and I’ve received offers from some of those). I wouldn’t have characterized this as a “seven minute” interview, and I don’t think the LW was rushed out early, since the CEO only planned for that amount of time.

      1. jtr*

        I’ve been scrolling to the end to post just that – it wasn’t a 7 minute interview, it was 15. And the interviewer was most likely gauging and judging the LW while she was talking about the job and company, as well as while the LW was talking.

        And, yes, to the different experiences of interviews. I vividly remember one person I interviewed who I’m sure went away with “I got this!!!” vibes, because all through the interview he was condescending to me (the hiring manager) about how much more experience and knowledge he had than I did. (Narrator: he didn’t. I looked much younger than I was.) My boss looooooved the guy (he actually was very like him, so…) The admin that we had pick him up from the lobby teared up when we asked her experience – she said he was really rude and kinda mean to her.

        I’m NOT saying that any of this was the LW, just that…different strokes! Maybe they weren’t looking for someone who had the exact experience, but were looking for someone who could bring different but related experience to the role to see it with new eyes.

        1. Observer*

          t wasn’t a 7 minute interview, it was 15. And the interviewer was most likely gauging and judging the LW while she was talking about the job and company, as well as while the LW was talking.

          Exactly. You can see a lot about how someone reacts to what you are saying. Both in the moment and how it comes out in the rest of the conversation.

          The fact that the OP frames it as only talking for 7 minutes and discounts the rest of the interaction might be quite telling.

    4. Mensa Maid*

      Yes I had that interview here in the US. The worst part was that after 3 minutes, the interviewer got up and left me alone in the conference room, never to return. I had to find my own way out through a rather large facility.

  11. Serious silly putty*

    If it makes you feel better, I got rejected after taking… a personality test!

    (Yeah, it’s probably that they moved ALL interview candidates to the personality test round because why not, it speeds up the process for them, even though after the interviews they could tell I wasn’t the best candidate. But still. To learn you’re moving forward, take the online personality test, and then reach out to find out your NOT moving forward is rough!)

    1. Anastasia Beaverhousen*

      I suspect that these testes weed out independent thinkers for companies who want someone who will just “tow the line”

    2. Book lover*

      Wow. Yeah. Just being asked to take a personality test as part of the hiring process is my sign to nope right out of there. I don’t want to work anywhere that thinks they are a valid way of assessing people. (I’m not against tests that might help existing teams figure out how to work better together. But as a means of assessing candidates? I’m out.)

    3. Dino*

      I failed the personality test for Jack in the Box. It still makes me laugh 15 years later.

    4. Sunshine*

      I truly wonder what kind of answers they want with things like that. The traits are always so generic, what could they possibly be reading into the answers?

      1. MissBaudelaire*

        I personally like the ones that are like “Is stealing wrong?” and the responses are “Oh wow yes, stealing is horrible!” and “Nah, it’s fine if you don’t get caught.”

        Like, hmmm, I wonder which one I should pick.

  12. Observer*

    Allison gave you a good list, which is a good reminder that it may not have been you. And also may not have been a wrong decision on their part.

    But I do want to pick up on something Allison said and something in your letter. She points out that you may have come off very differently to your interviewer than to your partner or how you intended to. Your letter pretty much starts off with “ so this start-up likely has a lot to learn from someone in a role similar to my current one.” I think I know what you are getting at here, but it’s also quite likely for that line to land very poorly. And, yes I realize that you didn’t use that line on them. But of you said something similar, I can see it landing really poorly even though you meant absolutely no disrespect.

    If you’re actively looking for a job and think that you may be doing more interviewing, it might be worth doing some run throughs – with someone who is NOT as close to you as your partner. For the same reason you get someone who is unfamiliar with your work to do the proof reading, rather than asking your collaborator. Your partner is far more likely to hear things the way you meant them rather than how others who don’t know you might hear them.

    1. Casey*

      Yeah, whether or not it’s rational, startups can be really sensitive to that type of attitude too. They often have a chip on their shoulder when it comes to more established players in the industry “thinking they know better than us”. So I can totally see one of those comments landing badly even if it’s meant in an enthusiastic sense of being a great fit for the role.

      1. *~*startups*~**

        I wouldn’t even say it’s a chip, but unless a candidate also has experience from companies smaller on the size spectrum and is coming from somewhere really large, it’s also likely to be super jarring for them and not a great fit to come into somewhere that has very little structure. The people at startups know they have no structure, or aren’t following best practices – they’re doing what they can with the time available. Someone coming in and being appalled that they’re doing things “wrong” without experience getting process from point A to point B is going to be helpful for nobody, unfortunately.

      2. KateM*

        Years ago, my father started a little company with friends and he said then that he preferred to not hire people who had been in that kind of work before exactly because they would insist that they know best how things are done and bosses are doing it all wrong, while people who had never done this before just accepted new ways. Imagine hiring cashiers when you are the first company in country who installs computerised check-outs and every seasoned cashier knows that you should write sums down in a notebook and calculate change with an abacus, basically.

    2. Lozi*

      Yep, this line in the letter stood out to me, too, and I’m surprised Alison didn’t mention it (though she did include personality fit as potential issue). Great idea to run things by someone who is more removed from the situation!

    3. Annony*

      There is also a good chance that the direction OP sees the role taking and thinks is obvious is entirely different than what the CEO was envisioning. The CEO wouldn’t necessarily feel the need to correct her on what the role actually entails if the mismatch is far enough apart. The examples could match the description the CEO provided without matching what the CEO was actually looking for, especially if the CEO doesn’t have the expertise or specialized vocabulary to properly describe what she is looking for.

    4. Malarkey01*

      Sometimes that’s just fit for the job too- I just stood up a new division that is specifically trying to innovate and go in a new, sort of adjacent to out of the box, direction. We needed a director who liked change, was strong in change management, open to trying new ideas, very collaborative, able to get new ideas out of subordinates, comfortable with failing fast…all those annoying buzz words.

      We got several very knowledgeable, very experienced, smart, great candidates who knew everything about this type of work…..but so many of them were also so experienced that they were set on their approach and processes (which I’m sure would have worked fantastically if that’s what we were trying to do and they would have been rock star hires)…that’s just not what we were looking for right now.

      I think it’s hard but important to remember that it’s not a judgement on your skills but on what they are actually looking for in a particular position and there’s no way to “make yourself right” for it (or you’d be miserable and set up for failure which no one wants).

    5. linger*

      this start-up likely has a lot to learn from someone in a role similar to my current one

      does suggest that one purpose of the “interview” may have been to extract some of OP’s expertise, in order to help define the startup’s objectives for their position.

  13. I should really pick a name*

    It was a 15 minute interview, not a 7 minute interview. You may have only been asked questions for 7 minutes, but they can be evaluating you while they’re speaking.

    Aren’t these very short interviews supposed to just be a chance to ensure the applicant clears the bar of being worth getting to know better

    Is there any reason you don’t think this happened?
    You as the applicant don’t have a full picture of what they’re looking for, so you can tell if you meet that or not.

    It’s totally possible that this was just a bad interviewer, but I think you aren’t really considering the possibility that you just weren’t the right fit (or there were other people who’d been interviewed already who were better fits)

    1. WellRed*

      Yes that confused me. It was 15 minutes and it honestly sounds like OP was able to provide some good responses even in such a short time.

    2. ecnaseener*

      Yeah – 15 minutes is still very short, but when people say “30 minute interview” or “1 hour interview” that’s also with time built in for explaining the job or otherwise not asking questions.

  14. learnedthehardway*

    Honestly, I think you dodged a bullet. The CEO spent most of the interview talking – I mean, it’s great that they gave you information, but they didn’t spend the time to get to know your skills/experience. 15 min to begin with is an inadequate time to get to know someone’s experience. Cut that in half to the point that the candidate only has 7 minutes of airtime – the CEO doesn’t know how to interview, or prides themselves on snap judgements about people (which means they don’t know how to interview).

    To me, it sounds like the CEO is better at pitching (whether their product, to investors, or even cheerleading employees) than they are at listening – that’s ultimately a recipe for disaster, as they won’t really understand their clients’, investors’, or employees’ needs.

    In other words, it’s not you, it’s them.

    1. KatEnigma*

      I don’t think a CEO using 7 minutes to explain the role and vision is at all a red flag. That seems pretty normal to me. And very likely, if LW had been a good candidate, the meeting might have stretched another 5 minutes, if they needed more of a read on her.

      1. ferrina*

        Yeah, I agree that this isn’t a red flag. Especially if it’s an more niche or unusual company or role. I’m not a CEO, but worked somewhere where I’d always start the interview with a 5-minute spiel about the company, the department and the role. The job description wasn’t clear, and absolutely no one fully understood the role when they walked in. I wanted them to know about the role up front so they could think about the relevant info in answering interview questions.

  15. Ray*

    Way she goes, boy. Sometimes she goes, sometimes she doesn’t, and that’s the way.

  16. Knope Knope Knope*

    I had something similar happen. I was applying for a marketing role and I have a decade plus track record of success. The start-up interviewer wanted to know how we could show exponential growth on every platform quickly, and I gave my very real, very knowledgeable answer that was not really possible without a huge staff and budget, and not likely to drive a good ROI anyway. And I spoke through how I usually audit, test and scale platforms to ensure we’re driving positive ROI and meeting business goals with strategic growth. It’s an approach that has landed me many great jobs and promotions, but not what this start-up wanted to hear, so they summarily rejected me.

    In their opinion I was wrong. In mine, I was right. The reality is probably in the middle. Even if I am an expert who can drive success in an area they wanted to grow into, I didn’t share their vision. Being good at something doesn’t mean you’re a good fit for every organization. An organization deciding you’re not a good fit for them doesn’t make you bad at your job. It’s just not meant to be.

    1. KatEnigma*

      This was basically my guess as well. Most interviewers aren’t going to waste time trying to argue with you- they just move on to another candidate. Kudos for acknowledging that the true answer was likely somewhere in the middle.

    2. NotAnotherManager!*

      Being good at something doesn’t mean you’re a good fit for every organization. An organization deciding you’re not a good fit for them doesn’t make you bad at your job.

      I think I need a pillow with this cross-stitched on it. I tell every candidate we interview that it’s a two-way street, and we want to answer their questions just as much as ours to make sure it’s a good fit. When I worked in a law firm, I had a lot of candidates who would profess interest in a particular practice area only to find that they type of law they were passionate about didn’t align with our practice – good candidates who I’m sure could do the work well but was visibly deflated to find out that, for instance, our international practice did not do regularly immigration or asylum work or that policy work would not include lobbying.

      My husband and I joke all the time that we could never switch jobs. Both of us could do the core skills/tasks, but my job is way too intense for him and his job contains more bureaucracy and approval gates than I could handle with my sanity intact. Right skills, wrong organizational culture.

    3. The New Wanderer*

      Very true. I’ve had interviews where I can pinpoint the exact time that I lost the interviewer’s interest due to something I said. Once it was due to deliberately supporting one R&D process over another, but they used the other process and weren’t about to change. If they were hiring me as a consultant I could tell them all the ways that their current process was resulting in (measurable, quantifiable!) substandard quality, but that wasn’t the role I interviewed for and certainly not what they were looking for. Definitely a bad fit both ways.

  17. KatEnigma*

    I’d add that just because it appeared to you that you and the interviewer were on the same page, that might not be accurate. Most interviewers wouldn’t tell you that your vision doesn’t match theirs, especially when you are so confident that you have it right (possibly indicating that they’d have to fight you about everything) There’s no reason to correct or argue about things when they can just not hire you.

  18. Heidi*

    I’m betting the OP did fine in the interview. However, I’m also kind of getting the impression that the OP thinks they’re too good for this job (I think it’s the “They have a lot to learn from someone like me” part). Now this could be totally true. It’s also possible that the OP did not seem that way in the interview. But if they did, it might not have come across so well.

    1. Light My Candle*

      Knowing their worth, talent, and skill is not the same thing as thinking they’re too good for the job.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        “They have a lot to learn from me” is a little different than that. “I can bring value to the role” is the framing a company would be looking for. I’m absolutely not nitpicking the word choice, LW could be totally right that a start up has a lot to learn from someone with their experience, but Heidi is also correct that if that attitude came across, it could be off putting.

        1. Heidi*

          Thanks. I freely admit that I could totally be off base with the impression I got (if that’s the case, OP, please disregard). But if it’s possible that this was the impression the CEO got also, then that’s the kind of thing an applicant can work on to some extent (as opposed to all the reasons people don’t get hired that they don’t control at all).

      2. NotAnotherManager!*

        Sure, but how you convey that also matters. One of my teams is very collaborate and once rejected a candidate because, though they were clearly knowledgeable, the candidate spent a lot of the interview telling the team how they could level up all of their games and greatly improve whatever it was we were currently doing because their way was so much better. This was before we talked at any depth about our way, so I’m not sure how they were so convinced we needed them to come in and fix our workflow. The interview feedback was generally, “knowledgeable but also seems like they’d be a chore to work with and throw off the collaborate vibe of the team” – one of the best things about that team is that everyone brings something to the table and helps each other as peers.

  19. Grasshopper*

    I had a boss who almost instantly rejected a candidate because the boss had very strong feelings about not being called by their nickname.

    Boss introduced themselves as David. Candidate said “Hello Dave!”

    As soon as I heard that, I knew that the candidate wasn’t getting the job. Boss asked one or two standard questions and was ready to end the interview. I wanted to give the candidate a chance so kept asking a few more questions so that they could redeem themselves. But the whole interview only took 20 minutes.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Oof I almost did this once. I worked closely with a board member that went by Joe, and was interviewing with a Joseph, and automatically said Joe out of habit. Luckily I said it to their assistant who very gracefully corrected me and it all went great, I got the job, but I bet that could have cost me the role if I hadn’t adjusted before the actual interview.

    2. Book lover*

      I’ll be honest: I would have a real hard time hiring someone who instantly went to the nickname version of my name (which I don’t use). It signals so many qualities that just don’t work for the roles I hire for. I would be give them a chance to come back from that, but it would be an uphill climb.

      1. CommanderBanana*

        I really try not to, but I get similarly irritated by people who mispronounce my name after being corrected multiple times. It’s short, it’s phonetic, I even use a handy mnemonic when introducing myself, and if we’re going to be working together I expect you to get it right.

      2. umami*

        Yeah, that gave me pause, too. It would never occur to me to call someone by any name other than what they introduced themselves by. If someone says Hi, I’m Joseph, it would be automatic to me to say Hi, Joseph, I’m Umami. I assume they know best how they prefer to be addressed.

      3. Dust Bunny*

        Honestly, same. Or, rather, someone who blithely mispronounced my name even though I’d just introduced myself. I don’t mind if they do a double-take and ask me to repeat it (it’s an uncommon name) but after decades of having it butchered I do very much mind if they seem not to be listening.

    3. Tiny Scot*

      So, my name is a short name which exists as a name by itself, but can also be a shortened form of a longer name. Any time someone uses the longer form (which is not! My name!) they go really far down in my estimation, so I can totally see that happening. And it happens weirdly often!
      Like ‘Hi, I’m Alex’ ‘Oh hi Alexandra’ Why???? I genuinely can’t imagine calling someone a nickname or a different name without knowing them first!

      1. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

        There’s a fun urban fantasy series where the main character is a teenaged girl named Gretch. Like, short for Gretchen, but her mother knew she would never call her daughter anything but Gretch, so that’s what’s on the birth certificate. (That sentence was pretty much a paraphrase of something the character says more than once.) And so many authority figures “correct” her on what her name must surely be. She’s very calm with them, but they always plummet in her estimation when they argue with her (and rightly so, IMO).

      2. umami*

        On many occasions I have had the experience of introducing myself, then being asked how to say my name again, then being asked how to spell it, and then having the other party have an a-ha moment and say, ‘oh, *name pronounced a completely different way than how I pronounce it*!’ Like yes, thank you for deciding my name is pronounced some other way you once heard it, I’ve been saying it wrong all these years. Sigh.

    4. Observer*

      had a boss who almost instantly rejected a candidate because the boss had very strong feelings about not being called by their nickname.

      Boss introduced themselves as David. Candidate said “Hello Dave!”

      That’s an instant nope for a lot of people. And I;d be willing to bet that Candidate has no idea that the whole interview was a dud.

      1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

        And if they’re that petty, “Candidate” may have dodged a cannonball.

  20. KHB*

    I feel for you. I was recently rejected for a job after doing a (paid) test exercise that is exactly what I currently do (in fact, even more like what I do than the actual tasks that the job would involve). I had so much fun doing the exercise, and I really thought I nailed it, so it shook me to my core to find out that this was what they rejected me over. (I thought I was good at what I do! Oh God, am I totally wrong?)

    But like Alison says, there are a million different things that could have been going on on their end. For whatever reason, they were looking for something that happened to not be me. And life goes on.

  21. Nancy*

    It was a screening interview and you didn’t move on to the next step any number of reasons. It could have been something minor, since interviewers have to cut down the list somehow. We usually have an HR person do the 15 minute screening, but in this case the CEO was doing it. Not worth worrying over.

    1. Silicon Valley Girl*

      This is it exactly. The company was a startup & who knows how much HR it even has. The CEO may have hired every single person there already (not uncommon), so she does the first screen for every candidate. She only booked a 15-min. interview — that’s a screening interview. OP didn’t make it past whatever tangible & intangible requirements for the next step. *shrug* It sucks, but it happens all the time, for exactly the reasons Allison stated.

  22. BabaYaga*

    It can also sometimes be because there’s nothing wrong with you!

    I was once rejected from a place where I did (what I thought) was a stellar interview and then found out after the fact from a friend who worked there that the manager was not confident in their skills and couldn’t handle employees who they thought might be more knowledgeable than them. They apparently never hired candidates they found at all intimidating – which apparently is why the company itself ended up failing in the end.

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      I once declined a position because the manager said to me, “I see you’re doing llama shearing working directly with textile artists at your current job. I am the only one here who interacts with the textile artists, and you would need to submit a written shearing plan for my approval, run any textile artist communications through me, and wait for my approval to begin work.” Thank you, but no – it would have been a huge step back for me, workwise.

      I later found out from an industry acquaintance who took the position that the reason she structured the role this way was that she felt any communication between the shearers and artists was undermining to her and was fearful that the artists would like the underling better and cut her out of the loop. They ended up with an enormous backlog of work because the manager created such a bottleneck by insisting on personally approving every minute decision, and she was fired after missing multiple deadlines on critical accounts.

      1. MissBaudelaire*

        That is a really good reminder that not every manager is the be all-end all of the job and what it takes to be good at it.

    2. Samwise*

      I lost out on an academic (tenure track) job where most of the faculty in the dept said, OMG hire Samwise now! and the others said, weeeelllll is Samwise *really* qualified? Apparently the younger faculty loved me, the old guys nearing retirement loved me (I have a gift, I am the old-fart-whisperer), the 40-something men were threatened.

      Prof in my grad department followed up — because he couldn’t believe I didn’t get the job. He let me know it was quite a fight and reported that the department chair said, and I quote, “Unfortunately, we compromised on an unthreatening mediocrity.”

      I’m still annoyed and it’s 35 years later…

  23. El l*

    OP, outcomes are always random in job interview.

    But outcomes are extremely random when you are dealing with a start-up. Or any small organization. It is simply not the same game as being hired at a sector leader.

    Why? Because personalities matter massively here. Ideas of fit and culture are more subjective. And way less justification is required to do something and it’s more often just one person’s call. In a former job at a 12 person shop, we rejected two applicants with PhDs because we supposed that they couldn’t handle skeptical questioning from our biggest client, who barely finished high school. (I stand by this assessment BTW)

    Just understand this lack of transparency is more likely to happen at small than large shops.

    1. Fieldpoppy*

      I will second this as a person who has just been the hiring manager for a set of three roles on a team. Any of the 8 people we interviewed could have done a great job on their own; we picked the three because their skills complemented each other and we could see them working together well (diversity of background, discipline and experience but with visions for the work that melded). A solo star might not be the best fit for a collaborative team.

      1. Sparkles McFadden*

        Oh yes, this is a big thing too. How well can someone would mesh with an existing team or as part of a new team doing highly collaborative work.

    2. Emmy Noether*

      I feel like I have to defend the honor of PhDs: most of us are not snobbish entitled a**holes and can take skeptical questioning perfectly well from anyone (we also have a lot of experience fielding skeptical questions, so I’d argue we can actually take it better than most).

  24. Book lover*

    I love this answer. So much of the hiring process has nothing to do with the candidate.

  25. DivergentStitches*

    It could have been that you were wearing blue, and she hates blue.

    In other words, it most likely was not personal.

    Maybe they’re just thinking about opening up to that specialty and were doing an informational interview disguised as a job interview. Maybe they just suck.

    1. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

      Yeah, was coming here to say this. We see a lot of letters/comments about ghosting and/or getting rejections far later than expected. In this case, it was extremely efficient. I realize this may have seemed off-putting, but my guess is that this CEO has seen a lot of complaints about ghosting/long interview processes/etc. and wants to upend that.

  26. Hiring Mgr*

    Don’t know if this applies in your case, but sometimes in a startup you want not just someone who’s done the role, but someone who has done it at a similar size company so they’re familiar with how build out the function from scratch, how to do it with scarce/startup resources, etc..

    Either that or the CEO’s neighbor’s kid popped up at the last minute, or any one of the hundreds of other reasons that have nothing to do with the interview.

  27. Stealing Ideas*

    I think this was a case where the CEO has no intentions of hiring anyone and instead was looking to generate fresh ideas from unsuspecting candidates.

    I was a victim to this once where I had an in person interview for an Ops Manager role that lasted 15 minutes. After a quick tour of the facility I was asked a few questions on how I would improve operations there and before I knew it the interview was over. Another ‘candidate’ was waiting as I was leaving as they typically keep these short and crank out several in quick succession.

      1. Heather*

        I was in an interview that was 20 minutes long where they asked for specific ideas to increase their education programs. I only spoke for ten minutes of the twenty but they wrote furiously while I did it. I was younger and too stupid not to realize they were taking my ideas.
        Now, I offer one small idea on my own and say that I have other ideas that would work well with their programs and hold them tight like cards. Never assume that 7 mins is too short for someone to take ideas, especially with a knowledgeable person that is trying to out their best foot forward and show their expertise.

        1. nnn*

          This is just not likely.

          Ideas that can be stolen in 7 minutes are really not likely to be highly valuable ideas.

    1. Baron*

      Yeah, I agree with Alison’s response to you here. I’ve been in situations where organizations have asked me to do weeks’ worth of free work as part of the hiring process – rewriting their strategic plans, stuff like that – and I’ve done it because I was desperate, only for them to not hire me. But how many ideas can you steal in seven minutes, or fifteen?

      1. linger*

        Enough, if they’re crowdsourcing a consensus of ideas for this specific role by listening to all the qualified candidates. (Not necessarily what is happening here, but some startups do operate like this. It’s a relatively cheap way to get expert input on a specific problem.)

        1. banano*

          I know what you’re talking about and a 7 minute Q&A is not enough time to do that. Certainly not enough to assume that’s what did happen over all the other possibilities.

  28. Samwise*

    It was a first-round phone interview. In other words, a screening call.

    If they had made the decision immediately, but didn’t call you for another day or two, you might feel better (you could tell yourself, they spent time thinking about it — but it’s likely they didn’t) but it wouldn’t have made any difference.

    For me the hardest lesson I’ve learned from being rejected AND especially from reading AAM: (1) just because you’re well-qualified and seemingly perfect for the job, doesn’t mean you’ll get the job (or will be moved to the next round, or even get a screening call invite). And (2) you have no idea why you didn’t get moved forward.

  29. Lacey*

    It’s so, so common for a job listing to really misrepresent what a company actually needs.
    So you might be a perfect fit for the listing, but not perfect for the actual roll.

    And that’s on them, but it’s SO much better for them to realize their mistake in the interview than 6 months after they’ve hired you.

  30. umami*

    I had a similar experience a handful of years ago – interviewed for a place that sounded like a great fit, went through several stages and got called back enthusiastically for an all-day series of interviews, and everything went great. I was surprised to get the call that I wasn’t selected because everything seemed to be leading to me being the top candidate. Luckily I ended up with a place that was a perfect fit, and I later learned that the candidate they selected had more direct experience in that particular industry, which was likely the only difference between us. They made the right choice, and it turned out I ended up right where I needed/wanted to be. There’s going to be something better for you out there, LW!

  31. CommanderBanana*

    It wasn’t until I started being involved in hiring and interviewing later in my career that I realized how messed up the interview process is and how little of it actually has to do with you as a candidate. And, how little control people have over who is hired, even if they’re ostensibly in charge of the process or will be supervising the person in question.

    Although this may just be particular to my industry and the economy where I live, it is way more common for me to get few applicants for roles and end up having only one vaguely viable candidate, and they get the job by default rather than us being excited about them as a candidate.

    Here are just a few examples:
    Interviewed 3 candidates for a position that reported to me. Candidate 1 was using the interview to get a counteroffer from her current employer and also worked for a very shady “advocacy” organization whose mission is (in my opinion) pretty racist.
    Candidate 2 had zero experience, at all.
    Candidate 3 had some relevant experience but would have been completely unsuited to the role, but she got hired over my objections because she had worked for a former president of my organization. She turned out to be (surprise surprise) a very bad fit, bounced around the organization for a while and then quit.

    Interviewed someone for a director position that I would be reporting to. Two candidates got to final interviews. 1 had lied on her resume and claimed she had supervisory experience she didn’t have and a job title she didn’t have. We hired candidate 2. She was fired three years later after destroying our department, trashing our relationships with our vendors, and causing a mess that led to her entire (small!) department quitting.

    Interviewed again for the director position above. Candidate 1 had less experience than my coworker and I did and no direct reports other than interns. Candidate 2 was stellar. Candidate 3 had a mediocre resume and several red flags in her interview that were confirmed in reference calls. Candidate 3 got hired because, in my opinion, Candidate 2 was a dynamic, accomplished woman of color and the director and CEO did not like hiring dynamic, accomplished people of color. Candidate 2 caused the last 2 remaining people in her department to leave within 5 months of her hiring.

    Now that I’ve seen what a disaster hiring is from the other side, I wouldn’t take it personally AT ALL if I was not selected for a job.

  32. Meep*

    Not saying this is the case here, but has anyone else interviewed someone that they just didn’t “vibe with” from the very beginning? I ask because cultural fit is as important as knowledge.

    1. CommanderBanana*

      That’s a great question. I’m not at all discounting the importance of cultural fit, but I also *really* side-eye cultural fit, because I feel like my experience “cultural fit” means “looks, talks, thinks and acts just like me,” and that’s how you end up with organizations with a serious lack of diversity of all types. At my last org it became really apparent in my last two or three years there that the only folks who were getting promoted (and I’m talking promoted like rocketing from entry level to C-suite within 2 years with no relevant experience) were tall white guys who golfed and buddied up to the tall white CEO.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yes — “doesn’t vibe with me” often contains a ton of implicit bias around race, gender, age, socioeconomic class, etc., even when people really don’t intend for it to.

      2. Meep*

        That’s valid and fair! For me, I was thinking about a (white, male) researcher who was a bit aggressive in trying to get the job. (Selected MULTIPLE hour-long time-slots for an interview he wasn’t qualified for and came in without knowing what we do.)

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          That’s different! I think you’re framing that as a “vibe” when it’s objectively bad behavior. You can absolutely assess candidates on their soft skills and how they present themselves to you.

    2. Eldritch Office Worker*

      You have to be really careful with this. Often the people we “vibe with” share characteristics with us, and placing culture fit at the same level of importance as skills is a way to create a really homogenous workforce – and probably also practice legal discrimination, even if you don’t intend to and would never intend to.

      Cultures really should evolve over time as people come and go, and while you want employees to be generally comfortable in your work environment, there’s often great value to bringing in people who will challenge your norms.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        illegal discrimination* I meant discrimination in the legal sense but realized it doesn’t read that way.

    3. MissBaudelaire*

      I haven’t interviewed anyone like that, but I have been interviewed like that. Like, as soon as the manager started talking, I just thought “Nah, this ain’t it.”

      I was never offered those jobs, thankfully. But it was eye opening that interviewers could feel that way about me as well.

    4. Sparkles McFadden*

      You really do have to be careful about decisions based on feelings. It’s why bias is so hard to overcome. Sometimes you’re right and it’s not a good fit, but you should always find a way to check yourself if the reasons for rejecting someone are nebulous at best. I’ve seen this first hand in the hiring process where a candidate of color was perceived as “defensive and arrogant” and a white male candidate answering questions in much the same was was considered “passionate and confident.” Female candidates are often considered to be “too timid” but if they seem more assertive they’re perceived as “abrasive.”

      Take it from me, a person who once had a final interview where the hiring manager openly said “You are the most qualified candidate and everyone else wants you here but I would just feel more comfortable with a man in a technical job like this.”

      1. CommanderBanana*

        “So just to be clear, you’re not hiring me because I’m not a man?” I say, as I reach for my phone to call a lawyer.

    5. Meep*

      Interesting responses considering my mind went to pushy white men with a bit of an ego. lol

    6. Pam*

      You really need to dig in to where the “vibe” is coming from. Sometimes it’s a warning sign, but sometimes it’s just a sign that “this person is a different race/sex/age/ethnicity/religion than me and I’m not entirely sure how to interact with them”.

      Two examples:
      1) A candidate introduces himself and immediately I don’t vibe with him. It’s an hour-long virtual interview. I can see that my supervisor is loving him from the beginning, but I’m all kind of icked and don’t know why. I gently start probing into his experience to learn more about him. The first 30 minutes go really well, then we get to a question about supervision. I ask about his approach to management, and it quickly becomes clear that he has a rather authoritarian, hands-on-not-quite-micromanaging approach. He is currently supervising new grads, so that approach makes some sense (depending on who his company hires), but he speaks about it as the correct approach for every situation. After the interview, I point out to my boss that his management style wouldn’t work for us- we have an established, experienced team that works well independently and would chafe under that style. Privately, I realized that he wasn’t taking the opportunity to learn- he spoke as though he already knew everything, though he was charismatic enough not to come off as arrogant (he was 20-something white male and not as experienced as most of the other people in the room, who all happened to be female….I don’t know if that would have ultimately been problematic, but it seemed not unlikely. Especially since our CEO was known for being sexist and promoting white men based on “potential”).

      2. A candidate introduces herself and immediately I don’t vibe with her. It’s an hour-long in-person interview. I’m already feeling awkward since I’m having trouble pronouncing her non-Anglo name (I’m white monolingual American, with all the usual stereotypes) and her face and voice are really deadpan. I’m having trouble getting a read on her. We continue the interview, and as we go on, it’s really clear that she’s intelligent and highly versatile. I’m still having trouble getting a read, but I start to relax. Once I start to relax, she starts to relax. She’s still pretty deadpan, but cracks a smile by the end. Her experience and skills were a great fit, so I hired her.
      A confession- I almost didn’t hire her because I couldn’t pronounce her name. I told myself it would be unfair for her to have a boss that couldn’t pronounce her name (justifying my own reluctance to struggle with her name), but after some hard, awkward conversations with myself, I realized that I needed to offer her the job because she was the best candidate, and she could choose if she wanted a boss who mispronounced her name. She took the job, and I was so lucky she did- she was amazing. And yes, I did eventually learn how to pronounce her name (though I had to practice it repeatedly to myself).

      1. Observer*

        You really need to dig in to where the “vibe” is coming from. Sometimes it’s a warning sign, but sometimes it’s just a sign that “this person is a different race/sex/age/ethnicity/religion than me and I’m not entirely sure how to interact with them”.


  33. It's Marie - Not Maria*

    The problem with applying to a job is that you and dozens if not hundreds of people are applying for the same position. The LW was fortunate enough to actually get an interview, unlike many others who did not. As an HR Professional, I think Allison is right on the money that there are a myriad of reasons the LW was not offered the position, and sadly, they will never know the reason why. I support Allison’s credo to move on from an application/interview/etc. as soon as it is over, and be pleasantly surprised when you do get any offer.

  34. Lily Potter*

    Getting rejected two hours after an interview is pretty bad form on the part of the employer. It says to an applicant (rightly or wrongly) “We’re SO sure that we don’t want you that we don’t even have to think about it for longer than a few minutes”.

    I once got a rejection email two hours after submitting a resume, and that was bad enough. I know that the OP was lamenting the length of his interview, but I bet that the rejection would have stung less if it had come a few days, rather than hours, later.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I don’t think it’s bad form. Maybe OP was the last interview before the hiring committee met and they made their next round decisions that afternoon. It’s on the list of things you just don’t know from the candidates side, but I also think in general it’s better form to communicate information once you have it than to leave someone on the hook because it may or may not make them feel better.

    2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Why not though? As an interviewer, we made the decision pretty much in the 15-30 minutes after the candidate left; at least at the first round of interviews. Why wait several days if we already know we are not proceeding?

      Most of my interviewers would say to wait a week to hear from them, and then never get back. I’d have preferred it if they’d sent me something after two hours and saved me a week of waiting.

      1. Lily Potter*

        Oh, of course nothing is worse than being ghosted after an interview. Top of the list of tacky. But the interviewer couldn’t even wait until the next business day to have her admin send out canned rejection emails?

        It’s not as big a black mark as ghosting, but it fails to remember that interviewees are human and should be treated kindly.

        1. Observer*

          That’s just not true.

          Waiting adds an extra task and something that needs to be tracked. And for what? You may prefer that employers pretend that they were more interested in you than they were. For a lot of people, they just want an answer and to move forward and as long as the response is timely, it doesn’t really matter the specifics.

          1. Eldritch Office Worker*

            I agree. I’d rather get rejected instantly than wait for no reason.

            1. Lily Potter*

              Instantly? You’d be okay with having a rejection text or email on your phone before you’d even hit the parking lot? There’s no reason technologically why a company couldn’t make that happen. I think it’s just cruel. Someone below says that sending a rejection email within two hours “lacks emotional intelligence”, and I agree. Just because the rejection can happen immediately doesn’t mean that it should. And I’m sorry – the convenience of the interviewer to “wash their hands” of someone and move on with their to-do list doesn’t override basic decency.

              I mentioned above that I’d been rejected by a company a couple of hours after applying online for a position for which I was quite qualified. I spent a good amount of time researching the company and tailoring my resume. To be rejected in two hours felt crummy – and that was just an online submission! A person doing an in-person interview would spend way more time than I did between research, mock interviewing, picking out/purchasing clothing, and possibly traveling a good distance. How cruel for an employer to send a rejection notice just two hours after all of that. It’s no wonder that people like the OP and others start wondering what it was that they did or said that was so horrible that they were essentially rejected immediately.

              1. Eldritch Office Worker*

                Yes, I’d be fine with it when I hit the parking lot. I’d rather know before I leave the office, if they know then. I’d always rather have more information. There may be personal preferences one way or the other, but you’re never going to please everyone.

              2. Observer*

                And I’m sorry – the convenience of the interviewer to “wash their hands” of someone and move on with their to-do list doesn’t override basic decency.</I.

                Which has nothing to do with anything, since quick turn around is not a breach of basic decency. You may disagree, but acting as though the rest of the world are terrible because they don't live up to your very specific – and idiosyncratic – standards is just not very convincing.

                I suspect that it's also not very helpful, but that's your decision to make.

            2. Shannon*

              I once received the rejection email mid-interview. I heard my email ping while I was on the phone with the interviewer but I didn’t look because, obviously, mid-interview! It was kind of hilarious to realize I spent ten extra minutes on the phone with them after they rejected me.

        2. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

          You’re assuming the interviewer has an admin to do this work. I wouldn’t assume that.

        3. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yep — people say they want to hear right away but in reality a LOT of people get offended/feel stung if they get a same-day rejection (my mailbox is full of them). Employers can’t know who will and who won’t feel that way, but a ton of people do. Waiting until at least the next day is wiser so they’re not pissing off a bunch of people just because some of them might prefer immediate notification.

    3. KatEnigma*

      It’s a kindness to tell a candidate that you aren’t moving forward with them ASAP.

    4. Observer*

      It says to an applicant (rightly or wrongly) “We’re SO sure that we don’t want you that we don’t even have to think about it for longer than a few minutes”.

      And that’s perfectly legitimate. It’s not a statement that the applicant is terrible, but it’s a statement that “This is not going anywhere and there is no point in wasting everyone’s time.”

      It’s legitimate for a company to realize immediately that someone is not a fit – I’ve had it happen.

  35. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

    Oh I got another one! Many many many years ago, in my 2nd US job, I started looking for my next one, and was contacted by none other but our main competitor. They asked a lot of questions about my job, and never called back. To this day I believe that they never intended to hire me in the first place. They just wanted the intel on how their competitor was doing. If this startup is wanting to move into the business space that OP’s current company is already operating in, could it be that they see OP’s company as their competitor, and called OP in for the interview because they wanted info?

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      (To be clear, they brought me in for a 1-hr in-person interview, interviewed as a panel, were very friendly, asked a lot of questions about how/what my company was doing, and then never called back.)

    2. Observer*

      If that’s what they wanted, I would have expected the conversation to look very different.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Yeah I guess you’re right. Mine was way longer than 15 minutes.

  36. Heather*

    This felt more like a phishing expedition from the CEO to me. Does anyone else feel the same?
    The CEO wanted to know if they were on the right track and asked specifically about challenges moving forward. Instead of paying for a contractor to discuss potential issues, they just used an interview with a knowledgeable person in the industry to get free information.
    Hope the LW realizes they just dodged a bullet with a shady company.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Yes I just made a similar comment because I had that experience – also with a small startup!

    2. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Oh interesting. That didn’t occur to me as a thing people did, but now that you say it that makes sense.

    3. KatEnigma*

      As Alison said above, if that was the case, they would have talked to her for more than 7 minutes. This scenario is very unlikely.

      1. Heather*

        Disagree, shady people don’t need a lot of time to confirm if they are on the right track… I had a ten minute experience like this.

    4. Hiring Mgr*

      “Hope the LW realizes they just dodged a bullet with a shady company.”

      There’s no basis at all for this statement – you’re reading way more into what happened than is warranted. People get rejected every day for hundreds of reasons that aren’t shady. Occam’s razor says this is one of them

      1. Heather*

        How come every other reason is valid that was listed but mine isn’t? Of course, it could be a stretch and so is every other option people have posted. ‍♀️

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Those were possibilities — whereas you’re saying “this IS what happened” when there’s no reason to believe it’s definitely what happened (and it’s actually pretty unlikely given the short length of the call).

  37. CoinPurse*

    As someone who conducted thousands of interviews over my career, I can say it can be so many reasons. My boss and I conducted an interview once and the candidate’s first sentence was that she lived near the office and was excited to be able to walk to work. We let her know that the job required travel on a critical but irregular basis. She repeated “I will be walking to work”. When we circled back to this she said that any travel, even a mile, was a hard line for her. We ended the interview.

    We later got a letter from her asking why we didn’t use up the full hour.

    1. MissBaudelaire*

      I was ready to leave an interview when the manager admitted that they wanted a ‘float’ who would be okay traveling between three locations in three different towns. They hadn’t listed that on the job posting.

      I was very clear that wouldn’t work for me, and that was about the time they weren’t interested in me.

      I guess I was glad that was clear before a job offer came around though.

  38. cass*

    The biggest thing I’ve learned hiring is how not a sure thing it ever is on the candidate side. I see lots of applications where I can see why they think their experience is perfect for the role, but it’s not exactly what we’re looking for, but they’re shocked they didn’t even get an interview. I’ve interviewed people who did really well and probably left thinking “wow, I nailed that,” but someone else was a WOW. It’s completely changed my perspective for whenever I next find myself applying to jobs.

    1. Stitch*

      I was also in the room when a guy turned from a year to a know because in his “do you have any other questions” he started rather aggressively grilling us on why he had been rejected the previous year. We weren’t even the same interview panel.

  39. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

    It also sounds like the LW probably knows a lot more about the area than the CEO does and maybe the CEO has some wrong ideas about it.

  40. Michael G*

    You may have actually dodged a bullet.
    It seems like being able to hit the ground running is a good thing but often, especially in a start up, they don’t really want that. They want to almost micromanage, being consulted on every little step in the process. And one could think “of course, it’s like that in the beginning of a new job” but often that never goes away.

  41. NeedRain47*

    I wish people wouldn’t be so hard on themselves! LW, it’s far more likely that its about them having already made a decision that it is anything you did wrong or could have done differently. It might have felt better if they’d waited 24 hours, but it wouldn’t change the outcome.

  42. Bookworm*

    Just sending you sympathy, OP . I’ve experienced the same thing over the years and even recently. I have never found out the answer but take solace that it’s probably about them and not me. Wish you the best of luck!

  43. Risha*

    LW, I know it sucks to have this happen, but I am a firm believer in things like this happen for a reason (I know not everyone feels that way of course). I was once rejected from a job I really wanted and I was 1000% sure I was qualified since I did something similar at my job at that time. Even the recruiter and talent acquisition said my skills and background was a perfect match. Yes, I know they sometimes say that, but I was also certain I was a perfect match.

    I interviewed with 2 managers of the dept, they hardly let me ask any questions, and the questions I did ask, they got snippy with me (I should have ended the interview and Idk why I let it continue). They spent most of the interview asking me what I do at my job, since they are competitors. I was rejected the next day, and the reason was BS. I was rejected because I asked too many questions on advancement opportunities (which is a lie).

    Some time later, I ended up working with someone who came from the company that rejected me. She told me that my former team lead (of my current job at that time) is also a manager there. She was listening in on the call with me and IM’ing the other 2 women on what to say to me and what not to say to me. In hindsight, I’m very happy I was rejected, because I would’ve been very unhappy working with this woman again, since she was one of the worst team lead/supervisor I’ve ever had. She was ableist, racist, unknowledgeable, and overall a miserable person to have as a supervisor.

    About a year after that sad excuse of an interview, I ended up getting the job I have now. I work for one of the greatest companies, IMO. I’m now happy and don’t feel despair when I need to log on every morning. So hang in there LW. I know it’s hard to not wonder what you did or what’s wrong with you. But if they reject you that quickly, after such a short time, look at it as a bullet dodged, and you’ll find the perfect match for you.

  44. Rubber Ducky*

    All of what Alison said plus no matter how qualified or awesome you think you are, there is always someone more qualified and more awesome. And on the off chance you ARE the most awesomely qualified candidate in the history of all candidates, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you will get the job. And 99 out of a hundred times, you will never know the real reason why and wasting time trying to understand why is futile. Apply that energy to job searching and good luck!

    1. MissBaudelaire*

      I said in another comment, but even when you know why, it doesn’t make things better. Not really. Especially when you find out that why was some piddly little thing. The best answer is usually ‘life is like that sometimes’.

  45. Anon a Bit*

    Ok, this is a case where I got the job, but where I could have absolutely NOT gotten it and forever been baffled at why.

    My former company and current company are 2 of 5 companies who do the type of work we do. Imagine that there are 5 teapot companies and I worked for the 2nd largest company as a jr. teapot compliance officer. However, old company only did teapots so only needed a C-suite level teapot compliance officer and me and VP of Teapot Compliance, Current Boss, who had 20 years experience (so not something where I could step into that role only having 5 years in teapot compliance). As such, I started looking for a new gig and low and behold the 1st largest teapot company (that also does cups and saucers) was looking to hire someone as a mid-level teapot compliance officer.

    There are only about 10 ppl globally who actually had experience doing teapot compliance who were not already senior people and I was one of them. This job should have been a shoo in.

    But this industry is so insular it turned of that New Boss’s Boss was actually Current Boss’s mentor. New Boss’s Boss is a legend in teapots, so the decision ultimately lay with her. I ended up being told that New Boss’s Boss didn’t even want to bring me in for an interview because she was concerned about how it would make Current Boss feel. And, during the interview process, I was explicitly told by New Boss’s Boss that she would not be OK offering me the job unless Current Boss gave his blessing.

    Luckily for me, Current Boss understood there was no room for me to advance at my current job and he gave a thumbs up to New Boss’s Boss and I was offered the role. However, at any point in all of that it would not have been a surprise if New Boss’s Boss just said “Our industry is so small, I don’t want to poach an employee from a competitor and certainly not from my own protégé” or Current Boss could have told New Boss’s Boss that they were actually planning to move me up the ladder at the company in some way and New Boss would have rejected me without explanation. I would have forever been left wondering why they choose some person with generalized compliance experience and NO teapot experience…did I say something offensive in the interview? Do I somehow have a bad rep in my industry?

    This is all to say that quite a bit goes on behind the scenes and the more niche the work, the more likely that there are pretty strong professional ties that could lead a company to reject the objectively “best” candidate if hiring them would cause ripple effects.

    1. Book lover*

      I’m glad you got the job and it all worked out! But this sounds like an informal no-poach agreement among competitors, and that could be an anticompetitive no-no.

  46. Cat Lady in the Mountains*

    On the hiring manager side, I’ve done hundreds of interviews and sometimes it’s clear that someone isn’t a fit from a 15-minute conversation. That can be true even if you were great on paper and have the skills – like, if I need a big-picture thinker and you’re way in the weeds. Or if I need a risk-taker and you come off as strongly risk-averse. Or if I need a concise communicator and you ramble. Or if I need someone outcome-oriented and you focus heavily on process in your answers. Even when I spell out those qualities in the JD, I can’t get a good sense of what it actually looks like until we speak, and candidates usually can’t self-assess those soft skills very accurately in my specific context.

    The rejection email two hours later lacks emotional intelligence. But at the initial phone screen phase I usually know whether to advance a candidate by the time I get off the phone with them anyway. At least they didn’t waste your time with multiple interviews and work samples if they knew it wasn’t a match!

  47. JTM*

    My mentor has been hiring for a role, and so I’ve gotten to see the process play out. I also knew one of the people interviewing for the role, and she was very excited about her chances. I asked my mentor if she’d made a hiring decision, and she shared that business needs had changed & the leadership team was reimagining the responsibilities/expectations for the role. Because I’m in the business, I absolutely understand that need & support it, but I also understand the candidates that have interviewed are probably disappointed and wondering what they did wrong. But in this case, it was the business that was too fast in trying to hire without taking stock of what they actually needed.

  48. Michelle Smith*

    I have been rejected in situations that made no objective sense whatsoever. Most times I can point to something obvious later on (e.g., seeing an update on their LinkedIn page about who was hired and seeing that person had twice the experience in X that I did). But there have absolutely been situations that made no sense to me even years later and I never got clarification or understanding as to what it was. Could have been anything or nothing to do with me at all. Best advice I have is to let it go. As long as you were authentic and put your best foot forward, that’s all that’s in your control. Don’t waste another thought on this company.

  49. pally*

    At one interview, the hiring manager asked me one question: how long have I been at current position?
    My response: over 15 years.

    He then launched into a rant over how much he despised Millennials. This took up the remainder of the 30-minute interview.

    Then he hung up.

    I never got another word in.

    And then I was rejected.


  50. Lisa Simpson*

    One of the things I found eye-opening when I first started being allowed to help with hiring, is the number of people who read something malicious into entirely benign comments and responses. I occasionally would be discussing an interview with someone else on the panel and just have no idea what the basis for their criticism was. Like “She said she isn’t able to come in on most Saturdays, I think she’s a drunk who stays out all night Friday partying!” Or the criticism was of an illegal, discriminatory nature.

    People are jerks.

    1. pally*

      My former boss was very adamant about hiring for the skills- and nothing more. He did not put much stock into “cultural fit” or any ‘touchy-feely’ reason as a criteria for rejecting a candidate.

      So, I had three finalists for a position. All three had great resumes and interviewed well. But I had a strong feeling in my gut that I should NOT hire candidate #2. Cannot explain why. I kept this to myself as I knew my boss would discount it.

      Boss interviews all three candidates. When he finishes, he says, “I’m fine with hiring either candidate #1 or #3. But do NOT hire candidate #2.”

      I asked him why. He said he didn’t know- couldn’t articulate the reason. Just don’t hire him.

  51. Kali*

    A lot is being made of 7 minutes, but it wasn’t a 7-minute interview; it was a 15-minute interview. It just so happens that you did most of the talking for the last 7 minutes. You were still being evaluated during the first half, during which the interviewer got a sense of how attentive and engaged you were (or not) and sussed out your nonverbal communication skills as they talked about the company.

  52. Copyright Economist*

    I have walked out of an interview after 7 minutes as a candidate, convinced that the job was not the one I wanted. Why is it so strange that an employer do the same thing?

  53. Destra N.*

    My immediate reaction upon reading this was that the interviewer may have just been pumping the candidate for information. They’re moving into the space and suddenly someone who is a knowledgable insider from an established player lands in their lap? Sounds like a fantastic opportunity to get some competitive intel. That’s not saying it’s ethical, only that it’s a thing that happens.

    1. Observer*

      Sure. But, as Allison notes in response to a different comment, the interview would have almost certainly looked a lot different.

  54. Dan*

    I’ve had some incredibly frustrating interview experiences:
    * The CEO who joined the call late, was clearly distracted, and took the first 5 minutes to look at my resume for the first time.
    * The head of People Ops who, after rejecting me, gave me the feedback that I was “too logical.”
    * The recruiter who joined the call late, asked me one question, and sent me a form rejection email less than 5 minutes after the call.
    * Multiple occasions when it seems like the interviewer discounted me as a candidate for reasons that they didn’t actually ask about or discuss during the interview.

    A lot of people are unfortunately not very good at interviewing, so you do what you can do present yourself in the best way possible, cross your fingers, and hope for the best!

  55. sara*

    To this point “* They just got bad financial news and they’re not moving forward with hiring at all.”

    My friend had an interview a couple weeks ago that went really well (she thought) and expected to hear within a week. After 2 weeks, still nothing… But then after 3 weeks, she saw on linkedin that the company got sold and basically everyone doing the job she applied for was laid off.

    Since she would have quit her existing p/t job to take this plus probably started to cancel/spin down some freelance clients, she’s super super relieved to have avoided that whole drama!

  56. Chelsea*

    I work in legal in the financial industry and something similar happened to me when I interviewed at a startup recently. Although the initial interviews seemed to have gone great, I was informed at the last interview that certain members of the panel had concerns about my “culture fit”. The hiring manager explained that, in a nutshell, I would be expected to rubber-stamp everything and they were worried I would not be willing to do that. My response was of course I’m not going to do that when I could go to jail for complicity in money laundering or worse! She did not appreciate me saying that :)

    Bullet dodged. Not saying this is necessarily what happened to OP but it’s a possibility.

  57. H3llifIknow*

    Like I think a few others have speculate (I only read a few comments), I believe the most likely scenario is you were too good. Too en pointe, as it were. What are they going to teach you about THEIR company, their battle rhythm, their whatever, if you’re already kinda a SME on the topic? Also, you didn’t mention if in that short time the topic of pay came up, but they may have thought “No way can we afford such a senior level person for this role, as a start up,” and decided that they wanted someone who knew some things but could also grow into the role and accept a lower starting pay. Of course this is all speculation, but I’ve heard ~100 or so people in my career and I could easily see that being a concern.

  58. onetimethishappened*

    I have been rejected after very short and very long interviewing processes. It really stinks when you have invested time and energy in interviewing. Especially when you feel some sort of connection to the job. If the CEO rejected you after 7 min I would take as a sign it wouldn’t be a good fit. It could be one of the many reasons Allison listed. But frankly I wouldn’t want to work for someone that after 7 min, decided I wasn’t worth it either!

    Once I went thru an 3 interview process. I met with several people. I really connected with all of them. I gave great examples, to all the questions. I was really confident I was going to be offered the job. At the end of 3rd interview (which was with 3 different people mind you and lasted like 3 hours) they told me 10 reasons why I wasn’t getting the job. I was so confused bc it was going great until that very moment. It was an awful feeling. But frankly from they way they handled that, I am glad I didn’t get it.

  59. Piscera*

    This isn’t typical, but Disney actually had to keep Jonathan Taylor Thomas as young Simba (speaking voice) in The Lion King animated film.

    Thomas was offered the speaking part before the filmmakers met with Jason Weaver (young Simba singing voice). They decided they wanted Weaver to play the entire role and said let’s do it, only to be informed that Thomas had just signed his contract.

  60. ijustworkhere*

    I really like Alison’s answer to this question. There are so many things that could have transpired, and many of them have nothing to do with the candidate.

  61. Tomato Soup*

    It’s not likely, but Google your name and see what comes up. Maybe someone with your name or really similar (eg Kirsten vs Kristen) did something that went viral for bad reasons.

  62. tangerineRose*

    “They already had an offer out to someone and that person accepted the same day as your call so now they’re rejecting everyone still in their process.” This is my favorite option. Go with this!

  63. Bill Johnson*

    I have had several strong interviews and progressed through two or three levels but then when they figure out how old I am the trail goes cold. I have 17 years of management experience in a somewhat niche field and am interested in a new challenge as I am not relocatable. I live in a big enough city that jobs come up every so often. I almost always get contacted and interviewed, but unlike 20 years ago I never get to the offer stage. I can stay with the company I’m at and be satisfied, but it’s very odd to experience ageism in action.

  64. Sleeve McQueen*

    Yeah, the only way to not do your head in while job interviewing is to realise that it’s a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle and you have precisely two pieces, that you feel the interview went well and have the skills they are looking for. Sure, you can try to extrapolate the whole picture from that, but the odds that you are right are minimal.

  65. Judy*

    Pre-covid I was on a screening call when I heard the “ping” of an email notification. I didn’t want to distract myself by checking email while on the call so waited. After we hung up I checked and it was a rejection for the call that I had been on! In hindsight I so wished I had checked during the call. I definitely would have called her on it. I mean seriously? One of her first statements had been about a salary $10K+ below my minimum, so I’m sure that was the reason.

  66. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    I spent nearly 50 years in the highly volatile field of IS/IT. If my experience in the workplace means anything = this is how I feel and felt about interviews.

    I never viewed the interview cycle comparbly to a dating scenario…. this conflicts with some in here.

    Rather, I viewed it as buying a lottery ticket. And no matter how well the interview cycles went, I always viewed things (after the interview) with pessimism, because what happens after that — like spending $2 on a Powerball ticket – is completely out of your control.

  67. William*

    I interviewed for a position providing desktop support for a trucking company. I seemed a good fit as I had experience working in IT and as a former-truckdriver. The Interviewing manager and I hit it off well and at the end of the interview, he mentioned that he wanted to bring me on and simply needed to speak with his boss. I never got a call back. Month later, I was leaving a contracting position and moving out of state. I got a call out of the blue from this manager stating they were ready to hire for this position and he asked if I was still interested. I explained I was now living out of state but that I had a candidate in mind that I had previously worked with. I asked if I could send him his way, to which the manager said sure. He hired my former-coworker on the spot. While I wish I could have taken that job, I was happy to turn that opportunity around for my former-coworker. Sometimes, it really just comes down to opportunity, not just for us, but for others you know.

  68. Jenni*

    Here’s one you missed. The interviewer felt threatened by you. Especially with your experience and knowledge. They realised they don’t know as much as you and even though to you it felt like you are going to be able to work well with her, to her she feels she would be on the back foot with you from the start.

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