While in college I worked in the human resources department of an airline handling company operating out of Newark Airport. The company employed hundreds of people and we received a lot of resumes each week. The response to job postings was too much for my manager to handle alone, and it was my responsibility to sort through resumes and create two piles–one for applicants who met her criteria, and one for applicants who didn’t.
She took the first pile and I filed away the second.
I had a pretty good working relationship with my boss, and she felt comfortable sharing the gritty details about the hiring process, which included the reasons why some applicants didn’t stand a chance. Some of her reasons were obvious, such as the person didn’t prepare for the interview or they arrived late. While others were quite surprising.
She isn’t alone. As I’ve grown in my profession, I’ve had many HR professionals share some other reasons people didn’t get the job.
The truth is, you may never know why you didn’t get a particular job, especially when you leave an interview thinking it’s in the bag. In some situations, the hiring manager doesn’t even know what it was about the applicant they didn’t connect with.
So knowing these surprising reasons why an employer might strike an applicant off their list can help you prepare.
1. You Talked Too Much During the Interview
A shy or introvert personality might kill your chances of getting hired, especially if you’re not the best communicator or you’re too afraid to open your mouth during the interview. If you’re outgoing, you may feel that your personality on full blast will impress employers and show that you’re a go-getter – and maybe it will.
Just know that some employers may view your talkative, loud nature as a liability rather than an asset. You might be a people-person who shines in a crowd. But if you can’t strike a balance during the interview, the employer may fear that your personality will be a distraction in the workplace, ultimately decreasing productivity for the entire team.
My pro tip: Stick to answering the questions as completely as possible. The hiring manager is trying to asses your expertise and fit for the job. You’re not applying for a reality show.
2. You’re a Smoker
A few puffs before an interview might reduce anxiety and calm your nerves. But if the employer detects cigarette smoke the moment you step foot in the office, the interview might get off on the wrong foot. Depending on how the employer feels about this habit, the manager may conclude from the beginning that you’re not the right person – and this happens before you answer a single interview question. This isn’t fair or right, but it’s a harsh reality.
My pro tip: It’s hard to mask the smell of smoke on your breath or clothes. Allow yourself some fresh air before the interview, brush your teeth, use mouthwash and take a mint before the interview. Spraying more perfume or cologne won’t mask the smoke but will only make the closed-door interview room uncomfortable.
3. You’ve Not Dressed the Part
You might think coming into an interview in a 3 piece suit or jeans will land you the job. But it can also mean you didn’t prepare enough to understand the culture or the work environment. There is something to be said about dressing up to impress but research the right workplace attire so you’re not seen as too uptight or too casual.
My pro tip: Before applying for any job learn about the culture. It’s okay to call and inquire about dress codes and proper attire. Always present yourself professionally, look the part, but do yourself a favor and dress up, not down.
4. You Look Tired and Unkept
I remember seeing many applicants come into an interview that looked like they just rolled out of a club to make it to their early morning interview. There were also other applicants that didn’t bother to iron their clothes or clean their shoes who wanted jobs as check-in agents. I remember one disheveled applicant who rushed into the interview sweating and yelling how he was lost in finding the office.
My pro tip: Get a good night’s rest before your interview. Prepare your clothes the night before and plan your route to the job days in advance.
5. You Can’t Follow Directions
If you stumble upon a job opportunity, and you know that you’ll be perfect for the position, you may eagerly submit your resume and cover letter. But if the excitement gets the best of you, you might send off your resume without completely reading the job posting. This can result in overlooking crucial details — namely how to apply for the job. If you can’t follow instructions when applying for a job, the employer may ignore your inquiry.
My pro tip: Employers are specific with regards to the hiring process. Some companies require applicants to apply in-person with a resume and cover letter, whereas others only want to see a resume and other specific information.
6. You’re Still in School
Education gets your foot in the door with certain companies. However, if you’re currently pursuing a degree that’s unrelated to a field you’re applying in, employers may fear that you’ll only stick around for one or two years. If the company seeks long-term employees, it’s safer to go with a candidate who isn’t pursuing a degree outside the field.
My pro tip: Save yourself time by focusing your job search-related to your degree or field of study.
7. You Never Had a Chance
You can have the skills, experience, education, plus rock your interview – but sometimes, you never had a chance. This is because some employers already know who they’re going to hire, whether it’s a relative, a friend or someone currently employed with the company. As a good-faith effort, they’ll place an ad and conduct a few interviews – just in case they find someone more qualified for the position.
My pro tip: If you find a job you want and qualified for, then apply and go to the interview. This gives you practice for jobs you actually have a chance of getting.
Whether or not these are ethical reasons why you didn’t get the job is up for debate. But knowing them can empower you to put your best foot forward. It’ll support your progress in achieving career mobility.