Why Didn’t I Get the Job I Wanted?

It happens more often than we would like to admit it: we do our  best to look good to a potential employer and then, for some reason–not always disclosed to us–the work does not go to us. Was it something I said? the reflective technical communicator might ask, or am I just not good enough? Before you go beating yourself up over things you don’t know or can’t control, I’d like to offer a few suggestions for why you did not get a job that looked like a “perfect” fit for you.

Reasons you cannot control

The employer had someone else in mind

I know, employers are not supposed to have a job set up for one particular person, but sometimes it happens. They have a particular skill set, background, or experience base in mind and, son of a gun, all those factors just happen to match up with a candidate whom they already know. It’s not fair, but it’s also not personal, meaning they’re not excluding you, they’re also excluding anyone else besides you who applied but didn’t match their expectations.

They changed their mind

Sometimes a company will have a job requisition open, they’ll go through the hiring process, and then someone in the organization asks, “Why are we hiring a new person? We’ve already got X in another department doing that.” Or maybe the budget to pay for that particular head count dried up due to challenges elsewhere. Or perhaps the person you were going to replace decides to take a better offer and stay.

Someone else had better credentials/experience

You might or might not know who your competition is, but sometimes a candidate comes out of left field (say, from way out of town) whose background, experience, or credentials just knock the socks off the hiring manager. In which case you might hear something like, “We were very impressed with you, and you made it to our final round, but in the end we chose someone else whose experience directly related to X.” You might hear from that employer again if another opening appears, so don’t slam that door shut.

Reasons you can control

Your experience/credentials did not match what they wanted

I’ll probably revisit this theme in another entry, but the best thing you can do when job hunting is to use the rifle approach rather than a shotgun. Apologies to any gun haters out there, but the analogy is apt: are you looking to scatter your resume in every direction, like a shotgun shell, and hope you hit something, or would you prefer to aim for a specific target that best suits your abilities? My advice is to take the rifle approach: do the research, identify the best potential employers, jobs, and matches for your preferred type of work and apply to them first. That means eliminating jobs that are promising but for which you don’t have the right experience or skills.

You did something awful at the interview

It could be any number of things: poor attire, rudeness toward the administrative staff, inappropriate questions or statements during the interview, et cetera. Best advice here would be: if you know you have an interview that day, be prepared:

  • Dress appropriately.
  • Be on your best behavior: avoid harsh language, inappropriate comments or behavior, or “personal space” violations.
  • Have your portfolio and business card available.
  • Listen.
  • Answer questions in an upbeat, honest fashion.

Maybe there are jobs out there where absolutely none of the above matter. If so, and you’re prone to the above behaviors, best of luck to you–you’ve found your people. Otherwise, it’s better to err on the side of polite.

Something ugly turned up in your background check

You can’t do anything about your past, but you can do your best to keep your present in shape by obeying the laws of the land, avoiding people who do not obey the laws, and paying your bills.

Something ugly turned up in your social media activity

I’ve covered this topic before, but it bears repeating: employers can and will judge you on the stuff you post on social media–blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.–so if your public image on the internet is on the wild or hyper-opinionated side, you might find yourself bypassed or at least asked about what you do in your free time. If you don’t share what you do at parties, political rallies, etc., on social media, you don’t have to worry about that, do you? Other things to watch out for: insulting or complaining about employers, customers, or coworkers online.

Bottom line

Focus on what you can influence or control. The rest is up to the potential employer. It’s a busy world out there.


About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Director, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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