11 Reasons You Didn't Get the Job

by Salary.com Staff - Original publish date: November 5, 2012

Sometimes It's Not Them -- It's You

We all have friends (or maybe YOU are the friend and just don’t realize it) who have been job-hunting for what seems like an eternity. They look through the help wanted ads, scour job boards and go on their fair share of interviews, each time thinking they "nailed it." But their optimism is soon broken by the hammer blow of rejection, and they’re still unemployed.

Which begs the question, why?

There are a thousand different potential reasons. Some are valid, others arbitrary. But even though employers will likely never reveal the true reasons behind their hiring decisions, we're giving you our list (in no particular order) of the most likely reasons you didn’t make the cut.

11. Arriving Too Early/Too Late

The people interviewing you are busy. Even if they aren’t, you should assume they are. And the very first impression you can make -- even before they see you -- is to judge you based upon what time you arrive.

We shouldn’t have to explain why being late to an interview is a bad thing. Obviously, if you’re trying to impress somebody, making them wait at the outset is not the smartest idea. Even if you have a good excuse, the only thing some hiring managers will remember is you were the candidate who was late. 

But what some people don’t realize is while showing up 5-10 minutes early is what you should aim for, getting there too far ahead of schedule can be viewed as equally disrespectful of someone’s time. Even if they leave you sitting in the lobby, now they feel rushed to finish up what they’re doing and tend to you. If you get there half an hour early, wait in the parking lot and go over your notes for a while.

10. Looking Like a Slob

In the hours (and maybe days) before a first date, men and women spend an inordinate amount of time picking an outfit, doing their hair and caring immensely about how they look. And just like a first date, looks matter in a job interview as well.

Dress professionally. Iron your clothes, run a comb through your hair and make yourself presentable. Zip up your zippers, button your blouses and wipe the crumbs off your shirt. If you have pets, make sure you pack a lint brush and give yourself a once-over before the interview. Are looks the most important thing? Certainly not. But that saying about first impressions is definitely true, so try to make the best one possible.

If it comes down to two candidates with equal work experience, skills and education, make sure you’re doing your best to win all the tiebreakers.

9. Bad-mouthing Former Employers

Your old boss was a jerk and your former company treated you like garbage. You gave them years of your life and they rewarded you by unceremoniously giving you the axe just before bonus-time and days prior to being fully vested in your 401k. They’re horrible, we get it.

But even though all of that might be true, we recommend keeping it to yourself.

When your interviewer asks you why you left just bite your tongue and say something along the lines of "I'm grateful for all the opportunities I had there but in the end I wanted to work for a company with more opportunities in line with my career goals." Besides, bad-mouthing your former employer to your potential future employer just isn’t a very intelligent tactic. Take the high road and show them you're a class act instead of a mudslinger.

8. Your Resume/Cover Letter Stinks

Your resume will determine whether you’re even worthy of a job interview. So if it isn’t up to snuff, you won’t even sniff the dream job you're trying to get.

Start basic: is everything spelled correctly? This should be common sense, but hiring managers have recycling bins full of resumes from people who claim to be “intellegent” but obviously can’t tell the difference between "there," "their" and "they’re." And while you don't necessarily have to keep your resume to one page, it generally shouldn't be more than two. Keep all the relevant job experience and nix the stuff that is outdated and useless. 

Furthermore, make sure your cover letter is specifically tailored to the company to which you’re applying. You’re probably up against dozens -- if not hundreds -- of other jobseekers, so a generic form letter isn't the best way to set yourself apart.

Your resume should speak for you. If you’ve carelessly thrown it together without proofreading it, then it is all but shouting that you don’t deserve the job.

7. You're Not the Right Cultural Fit

Experience and skills are important, but so is chemistry.

If you're someone who craves structure and a formal work environment, that funky start-up you applied to might not be the best fit. Sure you have all the qualifications, but if your personal style didn’t resonate with the hiring manager then you might lose out to someone with fewer skills but the right attitude.

A collection of superstars on a sports team might self-destruct despite being the most talented group on the field, and the same goes with business. That’s why it’s important to research the company beforehand so you have an idea of what to expect prior to the interview. Skills can be taught and expertise gained, but personality styles are usually set in stone. If yours doesn’t match, that’s probably why you didn’t hear back.

6. Not Sending a "Thank You" Note

Yes it’s old-fashioned, but good manners never go out of style.

Even if it’s not as popular as it once was, following up a job interview with a thank you note is always a good idea. A handwritten note with personalized stationery not only shows you’re courteous, but that you’re taking your job search seriously. And if you’re competing against similarly skilled and experienced candidates, a gesture such as a thank you note might just be the thing to put you over the top when decisions need to be made.

Not acknowledging your interviewer’s time with a quick “thank you” is inexcusable. Even if it’s just an email instead of a handwritten note, something is better than nothing.

5. Being Discourteous

When you have a job interview, it’s more than just the people with whom you’re interviewing that you need to impress.

Many employers will seek out opinions about you from anyone with whom you had contact while visiting. Were you dismissive of the receptionist? Did you come across as a little snarky to one of the people you met in passing? If so, it could be your undoing.

To avoid this trap, be overly polite to everyone you meet from the CEO to the janitor. If you’re equally respectful and show everyone the same amount of courtesy, you can’t go wrong.

4. Not Reading the Job Listing Carefully

How many times have you seen a job listing online, applied for it, and never heard anything back? If so, it might be because you didn’t read the listing carefully.

Hiring managers know who they want and what skills they need. Although many companies are willing to train in certain areas, other positions require specific knowledge needed to hit the ground running. So when you’re reading the listing and see “MUST BE AN EXPERT IN EXCEL!” written as such, you’d better truly be an expert if you apply. Because if you do get a call back and for a phone or in-person interview and you don’t know the first thing about Excel, you’ve not only wasted everyone’s time but also ensured you won’t be considered for future job openings at that company. And possibly others depending on how connected and influential the hiring manager is.

3. You Botched the Salary Issue

"How much money does this job pay?" is almost always the most important question to any jobseeker. But it's also the subject that can potentially disqualify you from the running the fastest.

If the very first question you ask is about pay, you could be in trouble. Namely because it shows your potential employer all you care about is the money. You’ll be in a much more advantageous position if you put off asking the question until they show genuine interest in hiring you, or make you an offer. Sometimes hiring managers want to know what you’re currently making or what your salary requirements are. If you can, avoid this trap because you could end up either lowballing yourself or pricing yourself right out of the job if your demands are too high.

Use our Salary Wizard to find out how much the job pays in advance, so when you do talk salary you’re prepared and ready to negotiate.

2. You're Just a Bad Interviewer

Sometimes it comes down to the simple fact that they didn’t like you.

Some people are born to work a room, while others are inherently uncomfortable under pressure. So if you spent your job interview fidgeting in your seat, sweating profusely, tapping your foot or twiddling your thumbs, you didn’t do yourself any favors. Skills and experience are great, but at the end of the day people generally hire people they like. A candidate who was conversational, friendly and easygoing is more apt to get the job compared to a nervous person ill at ease the entire time.

While being cognizant of your body language and memorizing some responses to classic interview questions seems like a good idea, just be wary. An experienced hiring manager can spot canned answers a mile away, and all that research could end up hurting you.

1. You Didn't Ask Any Questions

Obviously, job interviews exist so companies can learn more about you and decide whether or not they want to hire you. But make no mistake, you’re also interviewing them.

If hired, you’re going to spend a minimum of 40 hours a week at this place. Probably more. Would you buy a car without test driving it? Would you purchase a new home sight unseen? No, of course not. So why wouldn’t you ask pertinent questions of your interviewer? Believe me, they’re not only hoping you will, most of them are expecting it. And if you don’t, it could raise some serious red flags.

Ask about the company’s organizational philosophy in relation to your own. Find out what the atmosphere and dress code is like. Or, better yet, do some advance research. See what a Google search turns up about the company and ask some relevant questions. Not only does it prove you’re inquisitive and involved, it shows them you’ve done your homework about the company.

Recommended Reading

We hope you enjoyed this article. As an added bonus, the Salary.com editorial staff has compiled a recommended reading list regarding this topic. Enjoy:

  • My Interview Skills Are Good (I think)...So Why Didn't I Get the Job Offer?
  • The Unspoken Rules of Getting Hired: 107 Job Hunting Secrets That Employers Do Not Want You to Know
  • Cracking the New Job Market: The 7 Rules for Getting Hired in Any Economy
  • "Headhunter" Hiring Secrets: The Rules of the Hiring Game Have Changed...Forever!