Why You Didn’t Get the Job: 10 Reasons You Can Control

WorkCoachCafeLast week we looked at 10 reasons you might not have been hired that were completely outside of your control as a job seeker.  This week, we are going to look at 10 aspects that are within the control of the job seeker.

Within Your Control

As employers are imperfect, so are job seekers.  However, since the job seeker is in “selling” mode, it is up to the job seeker to pay close attention to what the employer (the “buyer”) wants. These factors in a job search are controlled by the job seeker:

1.  Paying attention to your online reputation –

I call this the invisible problem because most job seekers won’t know it happened to them. With 80% or more of employers doing an online search about an applicant before contacting the individual for an interview, job seekers who don’t know what Google or Bing will show employers are taking a big chance, particularly if they don’t have a LinkedIn Profile to back up what is on their resume.  While no one can completely control this aspect of a job search, you must be aware of it to manage it.

Recovery: The best defense is a good offense – know what is associated with your name and address any of the issues up front, if possible.  A good LinkedIn Profile is a great offensive move in this particular game. See: Defensive Googling: How to Find (and Fix) What Could Be Sabotaging Your Job Search and  Unlocking a Successful Job Search: Online Reputation Management for more details. 

2.  The jobs you apply for –

Applying for a job that is perceived as clearly inappropriate (wrong level, wrong field, wrong location, etc.) is the number one thing that job seekers do to disqualify themselves.  

Recovery: Pay close attention to the job requirements to ensure that the job is appropriate, and then apply with a customized resume targeted to that specific type of job.

3.  Focus on the opportunity and the employer –

A job search today is more like a marketing campaign than ever because of the level of competition.  And few can be as well-prepared as they need to be without narrowing their focus to some specific employers and just one or two job titles.  

Recovery: It is so much more effective to focus on a group of target employers and a few specific jobs that are good matches for your skills, experience, and interests.  Then, the LinkedIn Profile and resume as well as networking efforts function “in sync” to help make real impact. Without focus, everything (resume, etc.) is too generic to look like a good match for anything.

4.  The interest demonstrated – 

With so many job seekers “blasting” out generic resumes, applying for every job they see, employers are skeptical of any job seeker’s real interest in their job.  

Recovery: Demonstrate your interest by sending a customized email or letter to the correct address, spelling individual and company names correctly, indicating which job you are applying for (title and any other identifier they might use), and where the job is located (if they have multiple locations).  Then, list a couple of their key requirements plus how you meet those requirements.

5.  The preparation –

Job seekers who apply for jobs without knowing anything about the employer or who show up for an interview without having done enough research to have solid questions ready to ask, are going to lose out to better-prepared competitors. 

Recovery: Take the time to thoroughly prepare for an interview.  Follow the advice in “What Research Should I Do Before an Interview?

6.  The presentation –

If a job seeker is not well-prepared for an interview, it is difficult to be as confident and relaxed as necessary to put the proverbial “best foot forward.” 

Recovery: Plan ahead and prepare in advance. This includes everything from resumes  and cover letters customized for the opportunity to questions the job seeker asks during the interview.

7.  The attitude demonstrated –

This can be everything from typos and misspellings in the resume to dressing sloppily or answering a cell phone call during an interview. 

Recovery: Be thorough, careful, and professional.

8.  Expectation of success or failure –

In a long job search, bad luck can turn into a poor attitude that sabotages opportunities.  Some job seekers know for a fact that no one will hire them – because of their age or their sex or their race or some other unchangeable personal characteristic.  In some cases, that may be true, unfortunately, but not in all cases.  

Recovery: Expecting failure can contribute to failing.  So, try to expect success.  Greet every interviewer and networking opportunity with a big smile and a firm handshake.  Expect the best will happen this time!

I had a great boss once, very successful – it seemed – in everything he did.  He told me “Fake it till you make it, and, pretty soon, you won’t be faking it.”  Not as easy for me as for him, but he had a lot more practice (and a lot more success).

9.  The time spent networking –

Someone referred by an employee is hired twice as often as someone who was not, according to recent research. 

Recovery: Spend as much time networking as you spend online applying for jobs.  And, networking isn’t listening to boring talks given in large rooms filled with strangers.  Networking can be volunteering in your child’s school (particularly if you want a job there), helping your favorite candidate get elected, sitting at the sign-in desk for the Chamber of Commerce events, or talking with the people around you in the line at the grocery store or cheering at your daughter’s soccer game.

10.  The follow up –

If the job posting says “don’t call,” I probably wouldn’t call, particularly after only a resume submission.  However, after an interview, follow-up is appropriate, and lack of follow up may be interpreted by the employer as lack of interest.  You don’t want to be a pest, but you do want them to know that you are interested.

Recovery: Be sure to send thank you notes (or emails) after an interview.  I would reach out after an appropriate interim (at least a week, in most cases), to ask what the status of the job is.  Many recruiters will assume that you either are not interested or have found another job if you don’t follow-up.  This particularly applies after you have had at least one interview.

Bottom Line

As a job seeker, you have control over many critical aspects of your job search – but not all of them.  After every interview and rejection, try to think of things you could have done better.  Ask for feedback, and you might get it. And stay in touch with the people you have met in your job search, checking in occasionally.  Sometimes, it pays off, particularly if you were candidate # 2 or #3.  More on that next month… 

More on Recovering from Job Search Rejection

Why You Didn’t Get the Job: 10 Reasons Outside of Your Control

Rejected Again? How to Handle Not Being Hired for a Job You Wanted

After Job Rejection, Why Following Up Gracefully Works

Job Offers: 10 Reasons You Didn’t Get the Offer


© Copyright, 2012, Susan P. Joyce. All rights reserved.


About the author…

Online job search expert Susan P. Joyce has been  observing the online job search world and teaching online job search skills since 1995. Susan is a two-time layoff “graduate” who has worked in human resources at Harvard University and in a compensation consulting firm. In 2011, NETability purchased WorkCoachCafe.com, which Susan has been editor and publisher of WorkCoach since then.  Susan also edits and publishes Job-Hunt.org.  Follow Susan on Twitter at @jobhuntorg and on .


  1. I typically only interview for contract IT jobs. Since I’m applying through a third-party staffing company, they deal with follow-up contact and I never send thank you notes (nor is it really expected). It’s more cold and impersonal but I actually like that aspect of it.

    However, last year I stumbled upon an opportunity to interview directly with a large company. Their HR department operated just like a staffing company but it was an internal department. The entire process felt like a standard interview to me except I did a little more research upfront to learn about the company. The interview went very well. My 30 minutes turned into an 1.5 hours involving the entire team. I left on a good note and thought the job was clearly mine. Only I didn’t get the job.

    I think because of the interviewing habits I had developed, I didn’t a) make it clear I wanted the job and b) didn’t send a thank you note/email. In hindsight, the hiring manager went out of his way to make sure I had his contact info. I think some type of follow-up was expected and I blew it.

    • Hi Brian,

      Good point about the difference between contract IT jobs and “permanent” jobs. Thank you for sharing!

      Sorry you didn’t get that permanent job. It does sound like you came very close, however, and you obviously learned from the experience. So, good from bad.

      A suggestion: reach out to them again, particularly to anyone you felt you had established a strong (or stronger) rapport with. Tell them you still think about the company and how great it would be to work there, and you hope they will keep you in mind for “next time.” With luck “next time” will come soon, and you’ll be on someone’s mind…

      Good luck!

  2. I am trying to overcome my online reputation now. I am in a lawsuit with my former empolyer and the case is online as well as common knowledge within my field here in the city I live in. Its a small city and my former employer employs a lot of people here. My solution: I look in other cities and I apply using my local Works office. I FINALLY found a WORKS office that actually provided real help. I just had to stay focused. They go in on behalf first and explain my situation even before an employer can “Google” me. Its been a long 14 months but now with the Works office helping me I am finally getting some results with my search. Some things we can’t control but as you explain here there are things that we can control in our search

    • chandlee says:


      Thanks for sharing your situation with our readers — and the solution that has worked for you. I wish you the best in your search.


  3. No problem Chandlee! There may be somebody on here thats in a similar situation or considering filing an EEOC complaint or lawsuit. I don’t mind sharing if it can help somebody.

    Maybe that would be a good topic. “What happens when you are in a dispute with your former employer.”

  4. I had an interview for a job I thought i’d be perfect for and was really looking forward to the interview. On the day i was terrified but tried to keep it together. The interview seemed to go well but after reading your tips i feel like i did nothing right. I got the letter to say I didnt get the job and now I feel pretty worthless. I will carry on and am searching for other jobs but can’t shake the feeling of feeling useless.
    Your tips are really helpful though and i will use them in my next interview

  5. Wow, just came through what I thought was an excellent interview but didn’t get the job…can’t help think it was an age thing, a insecure feeling on the side of the employer that interviewed me….asked me Why company A and I said it was a good fit and believed that I can make a difference in a positive way….still reeling with confusing on what these companies want…..an MBA with good amount of experience and come up empty handed…..this is a bad dream and I’ll wake up soon right?!?!

    • I’m sorry to hear your story. I do concur with what you have said in that there are a lot of hiring managers out there that feel insecure interviewing people who they think can be a threat to them. I have experienced this myself first hand. My situation is lightly different from your’s in that I do have an MBA which I think would be a great idea to have on my resume, however, reality is that you can be seen as posing a threat to the hiring manager for being too qualified. At least this is the case where I live. Consequently I don’t even include my MBA anymore on my resume and lowball my qualifications.

      I was rejected for a job yesterday even after two of my four references were contacted and gave me glowing reviews. I always thought that if your references were contacted, you have a good chance of getting the job. I was told that I was one of four very qualified candidates who applied and the selected candidate had more suitable experience to the job requirements. I just don’t understand why they would contact my references and come up with such argument as they knew about my experience even before contacting my references.

      Hang in there. I am sure you will find something soon! There are so many factors involved and many of them are outside your control.

  6. Interviewing with anyone that is insecure about themselves and if you come in with a can-do attitude it turns them off…they aren’t thinking in terms of what it’s like out here and how the game has changed and you have to be top of your game on all levels…with this you develope a skill set that those who have not been out of work have not developed….if they are instituionalized (working in the same place longer than 5 years) they don’t get it and how and when we come in to interview that we are the NEW and modified versions of them so to speak …current with what is going on culturally and globally and they are not as they have seen the same cube for several years….I think the whole experience can be daunting and intimidating for most employers and if they feel the least bit intimidated by you they will find any excuse to not bring you in…..

  7. Again, most employers do not know what skilled talent is or the right people for the job even if it danced on their desk. I have been to several interviews, I have mild cerebral palsy but it does not stop me from doing the job they require or else I would not have applied. Case in point, I have tried many ways to Sunday to get into Condo Management and always this “Related experience!!!” Thrown in my face. Yet people say there is a skill shortage and yet experience in one form or another is not god enough they want direct experience. They are saying, “I am sorry you are using a power saw to cut this piece of wood and not a handsaw.” Aren’t a power saw and a handsaw related? Because at the end of the day the wood gets cut. I have a Business Management Diploma, Condo Management certificate from University, handle my parents 4 condos and rentals and have saved my parents from illegal condo board acts by laying down the law where the condo manager at their condo sits there like a bump on a log “DUHHH!!!” I have 12 years security at various condo and commercial properties. I go and apply and they want experience and even JR positions expects all this experience and they will not take related because you might ask a question they don’t know. I go into one interview and the manager pounds his fist on his desk, “I don’t want you wasting my time, I don’t want you wasting my time.” I knew that one was a wash out. I went to the second interview and they where looking for an excuse, “You have related experience, you don’t have condo board or direct experience.” Sorry, I can’t use your toilet because I have related experience using mine; and not direct experience using yours. The last interview I went for a JR condo manager no experience or license necessary. He then started talking to me like a two year old after he precised that I knew more then he did about condos. The interviewer threw a piece of paper and me and was mad, “Show me where it says AGM (Annual General Meeting) and do you know what happens at an AGM?” He then concluded the whole interview saying, “You are just like a heart surgeon from university, you have through knowledge but are missing that step. You don’t have condo board experience just related experience, and can’t hire you no direct condo experience.” So he tells me his long winded speech after telling me he had no experience and was hired on. So why do we have to jump through hoops and hurtles? When these people got hired because somebody gave them a break. Gee they must have got hired with a silver spoon in their mouth or the experience fairy must have hit them on the head 8 times and “Pooff!!!” 5 years experience.

    I had my education slammed by people case in point I went to a hearing aid company a family owned business for an apprentice hearing aid tester. OK I have computers and electronics courses and electricity apprenticeship courses. Th first thing that happened I was in an office talking to an assistant about my background. Then the vice president walks in and starts asking me, “Do you have more then 75 credits, do you have any letters of reference?” He then took off out the door , and his brother the president walks in. We where talking and then I showed him my diploma and his attitude changed, “I never heard of this college it must exist I never heard of it.” He began to play dumb after. So that job was a waste. So stop complaining employers and start training , wakeup to the world around you not your box.

    • chandlee says:


      You sound pretty frustrated. I think we’ve corresponded before about the hearing aid apprenticeship…

      If you have a disability, I suggest you consider — and it is your right to consider whether to use it or not at all — disclosing it your interviews and in the interview process.

      In some corners of the world, employers who hire people with a disability are eligible for special tax breaks…sometimes this is done by organizational size. If you do have a disability research the size of the organization and see if they might qualify, then you could quietly educate them during the interview.

      Don’t be defensive. But show you can educate them on that, and they may likely see your potential for a management job.

      Good luck and hang in there,

  8. HI – I did reply to one of the posts on the job interviews and why I was not being selected. I was advised by Ronnie Ann to not appear arrogant and more of a team player in the interviews.
    I am at a Director level. I think once one gets to that level the experience varies and its is more challenging to find work because you are either too experienced for the direct manager, not specialized enough, or not personable (dumb enough) to be hired. I have interviewed with global companies and have had at least 6 interviews which made it all the way to the last round in some cases. What has been a challenge is how the “dump down” effect has taken over the global market. Employers that are global have utilized IT firms based in India to source candidates and pay them less and often they don’t know the work. Secondly, I have literally been asked in interview by a VP hiring manager to “Forget everything I know”.. I was like what do you mean? He was having a hard time filling the role.

    Basically, he’s asking me to forget my experience and again “Dumb down” which warrants paying less. The effects of globalization have put a strain on experienced American workers when normally the more experience and knowledge you have the better it is for the company and hiring manger. Now, its more of a threat.

    I don’t agree its entirely my attitude since this was proof this manager did not want my knowledge. I had a similar experience with another high tech VP. I have also been asked in a job not to use words like “governance”.. appears smart to some folks.. To me it doesn’t, the manager was just very experienced so he did not know of the value of the experience.

    Also, assertive, empowered women are sometimes negatively viewed in U.S. corporations. We are still number 12 or something in the list of women in management.

    I think these experiences are examples of that. It gets harder at the top.

    I will continue to apply for jobs but I am hoping I run into an emotional secure person who is not scared of talent.

  9. The answer to this may be to start your own company..

  10. Correction in paragraph: To me it doesn’t, the manager was just very INexperienced (not experienced) so he did not know of the value of the experience.

  11. I recently began a work transition. I have almost a decade of experience at a company and was the top manager of my location. In short, i had interviewed with a compettitor and was offered employment to train at location a for several weeks so that i can soon be top manager at location b. Well, another guy is also training for samr position at samr place. I got hired on, and have been doing well in training. Before my first day of training, my hiring district manager told me that the other guy has made terrible progress and will soon be told he will not be getting the position. My training manager and half the crew have told me that i am miles ahead of his game, not to mention he does not have my skill or experience. Yet the common thought is still that he will get the position in a few weeks, and that i will be his second in command. My training manager is skeptical of that thought, but no other word has been given yet by the d.m. today at work we had a killer busy night in which the other guy did extremely bad. I am confident of my work, others are too, but it is frustratong knowing thr official plan is still to put him on top, especially after i quit my longtime job of the same position for this opportunity. I cannot go back, only forward, but amd hoping deeply that once i am off training that i will get what i trained for, not be a major assistant to somebody bad enough at the job to where the entire crew feels he is dragging the company down.

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