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Why Didn’t I Get The Job?!

Posted By: John Sweney on November 1, 2007

A great professional who was turned down by a client for a permanent job asked us, “Why didn’t I get the job?” That’s a perfectly good question — one that has crossed the mind of anyone who has ever interviewed for a job they didn’t get. It is also a very difficult question to answer for various legal, ethical and practical reasons.

A better question is, “Why did SOMEONE ELSE get the job?” Better simply because it implies that the decision turns more on the attributes of the person selected rather than on the drawbacks of the persons not selected. And that, my friends, is how decisions are actually made.

So, here is a checklist of all the attributes that winning candidates bring to the table for a given professional opportunity. If you cannot check off ALL of these boxes in the context of a specific opportunity, then that’s probably a good indicator of why someone ELSE got the job.

Yes or NoPossession of all the TALENTS required for the job

Each of us has innate, hard-wired talents — capabilities that derive not from experience or skill or knowledge, but from how our individual brains developed as we grew up. Our talents are partly genetic and partly environmental (the old nature vs. nurture debate), but they are immutable. You either have a given talent or you don’t. Any specific job requires some specific talents as a foundation. For example, someone with a natural talent for “winning others over” and “connecting with people” would have at least two talents required for a sales position.

We sometimes ask candidates to answer a series of questions that help us catalog their strongest talents. We use a simple online test called StrengthsFinder ( that considers 35 talent themes and identifies the top five talent themes for an individual. (To see the 35 themes, click HERE. To see my own top five talents as an example, click HERE.)

Yes or NoDevelopment of all the SKILLS required for the job

Each of us has developed a set of skills over our professional careers — things that we have learned to do and practiced. For example, “project management” is a learned skill that leverages the natural talent themes of “arranger” and “restorer”. Truly effective use of PowerPoint is a learned skill that leverages the natural talent theme of “communication”.

Each job has a set of skills required to do the job well. In theory if one was planted in a job without the necessary skill, one could probably learn it, but most organizations these days would rather avoid compromise and training if possible.

Yes or NoAcquisition of all the KNOWLEDGE required for the job

Each of us has acquired a body of knowledge — things that we know about and can relate to. For example, some professionals in Houston know about the oil and gas industry; they understand all about upstream, downstream, exploration, production, transport, markets, and environment. They know that a cracker has nothing to do with hors d’oeuvres, fishing has nothing to do with seafood, and a basin has nothing to do with washing your hands. (To enhance your knowledge of oil and gas terms, click HERE.)

Each job has a body of knowledge required to do the job. Again, most organizations prefer to hire people who walk through the door with this knowledge.

Yes or NoGained all the EXPERIENCE required for the job

Sometimes the experience that a candidate brings to the table — things that have been done in the past — can trump skills, knowledge and even talent in the eyes of the person making a hiring decision. Experience is fairly easy to identify in a resume, and many people believe (falsely in my opinion) that if someone has specific experience then they must have the talent, skills and knowledge that goes with it.

Of course, we all know people who have amassed experience in something, yet do not do it very well, and people who do things well but without the experience to show for it. For example, I have lots of corporate experience in managing programs and projects, developing detailed spreadsheets and pert charts, tracking the details and delegating, etc. But I am not really very skilled at this, and it does not leverage any of my natural talents. On the other hand, I am quite a good speechwriter, but I have very little corporate experience as a speechwriter and just a few good speeches written for others to show for it.

At any rate, each job has a set of experiences desired in the candidates they seriously consider for the job, and most organizations have high expectations that experience rules the day.

Yes or NoFostered a great REPUTATION aligned with the company’s

Perhaps the most valuable yet undervalued asset we bring to the table is our professional and personal reputation. Our reputation is a reflection of other people’s perceptions of us as a contributor and team player as we exercise our skills, knowledge and experience and leverage our talents. Keep in mind that reputation is based on others’ perceptions, and those perceptions may be disconnected from reality. That means a person’s reputation can be totally aligned with the truth, but it can also mean that someone holds a great reputation when it is not earned or a poor reputation when it is not deserved.

Moreover, each decision maker has an undefined expectation for the reputation they are looking for in the candidate to fill a job. For example, a candidate that has a reputation for “working hard and partying harder” may be either appealing, appalling, or immaterial to the decison-maker and others in the hiring company. But one way or the other, even though there may be no mention of lifestyle in the job description, this tidbit of reputation will be considered.

Yes or NoPERSONALITY fits the workgroup

Every workgroup has a personality that derives from the current incumbents in the workgroup and the corporate culture overall. Just like any other human relationship there are no “good” or “bad” personalities; there is just “fit” and “no fit”.

At Brookwoods Group, we assess personality with in-person interviews, and we use an on-line personality profile ( as a conversation-starter and to identify personality differences between candidates. Usually only the extreme traits are interesting. For example, the test allows us to describe a candidate as “extroverted, self-confident and promotional”.

Because we are striving for a perfect fit, we take time to assess the personality of our clients and the client workgroup as well usually by simply visiting and observing. Sometimes we cannot get a good read on the client workgroup, so we will cover our bases by submitting more than one great candidate, each equally capable of doing an extraordinary job, but with a different personality. We may say, “Here are two candidates equally capable: Jack is more organized and more of a team player; Jill is more detailed and proactive.” We encourage the client to meet both and decide.

By the way, in reading the last paragraph, I bet you formed an instant opinion in your own mind — without even trying and without any knowledge other than those adjectives — of whether YOU would rather work with Jack or Jill. Decision makers form opinions the exact same way.

Yes or NoStrong positive ATTITUDE

All things being equal — talent, skills, knowledge, experience, reputation and personality — the candidate with the great attitude will get the job.

Remember, attitude is not platitude! It is not about denial-based positive thinking, affirmations repeated but ignored, or false cheerfulness that masks discomfort and pain.

Positive attitude is about the daily choice to smile to the infinite variety and mystery of life (Thank you, William Saroyan!); to take true responsibility for ones actions and choices; to seek out and foster the strengths in yourself and others; and to press forward productively in the face of setbacks and unexpected change.

Yes or NoPREPARED to come to work for the company

Like attitude, preparation is another tie-breaker in the minds of decision-makers. The company has gone to a lot of trouble and effort to learn about the candidates. How much do the candidates know about the company?

If it’s a public company, have they actually read the last annual report to get a sense of the business and its relationships to markets, employees, customers, and communities? Have they explored almost every page of the corporate web site looking for evidence of how the company presents itself to the world? Have they Googled for news articles, executive blogs, and other company information?

More importantly, have they used all this knowledge and research to build a quicker rapport and relationship with the interviewer, and to spur an intelligent discussion of the job opportunity, how it relates to the future of the company, and how there could be a perfect fit for both the candidate and the company?

Yes or NoAPPEARED professional and ready to work

It may not be fair, but first impressions really do make a difference. We have seen candidates appear in our offices with the best of intentions but totally unaware of how they present themselves to others.

Some of the most preventable appearance faux pas are: tardiness (there is no excuse for this); clothes that do not fit (that great suit fit two years and several pounds ago but not now); inappropriate business clothes (that cocktail dress is stunning on you, but not at the office); intolerable odors (no, you cannot cover the smell of cigarettes by putting on more cologne); and missing props (you left your pen, notebook and writing samples at home).

Yes or NoIn ACCORD with the decision-makers vision

Whether they care to admit it or not, every decision maker has a vision for what the ideal candidate looks like. (At one time, we all have had a vision for our ideal mate; it’s the same process in our minds.) That vision may have been formed by the people who held that job before, by the influence of other people or even magazine articles, or by any number of other factors.

The candidate who comes closest to that vision will likely get the job. The candidate who has all the talent, skills, knowledge, experience, reputation, personality, attitude, preparation and appearance and may not get the job despite everything if they also remind the decision maker of the obnoxious cousin that they dislike immensely.

In conclusion, did you circle “yes” for all the statements above? If so, you are a certifiable clairvoyant, and you should actually earn your living reading other people’s minds!

The point is, of course, that the hiring decision includes factors over which you have complete control, factors over which you have no control, and factors for which you have no awareness and never will!

So the real answer to the question, “Why didn’t I get the job?” is “You can never know for sure!” So the only thing to do is not to take it personally, maintain a strong positive attitude, prepare for the next opportunity, and be ready to show up with your best foot forward!

Has THIS article given you food for thought? We always enjoy feedback! Contact me at john.sweney(a)