You Were Qualified for a Job But Not Hired. Why?

The applicant looked great on paper. A fresh college graduate, he had strong skills, a good attitude and the right education and experience.

But success in a sales job also requires a certain temperament. So the hiring manager asked him to take a brief personality test.

"One of the things we require is a lot of personal interaction," says Tracie Sponenberg, senior vice president of human resources for The Granite Group, a plumbing supplies distributor. "From this behavioral assessment, we can tell how much personal interaction this person is comfortable with, and for this candidate, it would be not much."

He didn't get the job.

"I explained, 'You could do it, but you'd be miserable,'" Sponenberg says. "I think in the back of his mind, it made sense."

So it goes in the job search. Highly qualified candidates often make it all the way to final-round interviews only to face rejection. Then, they must grapple with the uncertainty of what exactly made them less desirable than the person who ultimately snagged the position.

Sometimes, it seems the only quality distinguishing the winner from the losers is a certain je ne sais quoi.

"We talk to a lot of candidates who get frustrated by how opaque it is and how irrational-seeming it is," says Jon Stross, co-founder of Greenhouse, a company that designs software used in the recruiting process.

In hiring decision-making, there are indeed some factors that job candidates can't control, and it's futile to fret over those. But applicants can and should work to influence other important components that could otherwise bar them from getting hired.


Talking badly about a former employer is one of the top reasons a qualified candidate gets cut from consideration, experts say. It demonstrates a pessimistic attitude that companies want to keep out of their offices.

"That can automatically disqualify them," Sponenberg says. "When someone inherently negative gets in a workplace, it's detrimental to the culture."

Badmouthing a previous boss or company also suggests that a candidate's motivation is "more running away from something than running toward something," Stross says. Many hiring managers are turned off by that kind of desperation.


Some candidates are pleasant in interviews, but hiring managers later discover that demeanor is just a façade.

"I always ask the person at the front desk about the candidate," Sponenberg says."It's shocking how often someone will be rude to someone at the front desk and not at the interview."

Unfriendly or condescending comportment isn't allowed at Sponenberg's company, which has a "no asshole rule," she says. "You cannot be a jerk and work here. We're a service business; this has to be an enjoyable experience."

So any sign of rudeness from a candidate will likely lead to his or her rejection.


It's not enough to be qualified. Job candidates also must sell their qualifications by striking the right level of confidence.

A potential employee who makes eye contact, offers a firm handshake, conveys comfort and talks about his or her accomplishments without boasting will often impress a hiring manager, Sponenberg says.

Just be sure not to cross the line into arrogance, she clarifies: "That can sink a job for someone."

Interview Errors

Looking great on paper does not assure a candidate will perform well during the interview process. Hiring managers often use interviews to assess potential employees' self-awareness and so-called soft skills, which many companies consider just as important as technical abilities and experience.

Polished candidates often perform well in interviews, but some can't avoid making basic mistakes. For example, they sometimes reveal too much personal information that's not appropriate for the setting, Sponenberg says: "I've had people cry."

They may come across as unprepared, lacking basic knowledge about the company they could have gleaned through a little research, Stross says. Wearing clothes that are much too formal or too casual for a particular business environment may immediately indicate to a recruiter that a candidate hasn't done his or her homework.

And if they don't take advantage of the opportunity to ask questions, "that's off-putting," says Marc Cenedella, founder and CEO of Ladders Inc., a job search website that targets professionals with six-figure salaries. "Show me how curious and interested you are in this role."

Culture Fit

Just like in a romantic relationship, chemistry plays a significant part in determining who ultimately captures a hiring manager's heart.

"You're going to be working with these folks for 2,000 hours a year," Cenedella says. "It does matter how well you get along."

Human resources professionals often call this chemistry "culture fit" and seek candidates who are compatible with a company's "core values."

So even if a candidate's resume seems like a perfect match for the job advertisement, a hiring manager may decide his or her temperament and communication style aren't compatible with those of the rest of the team, Sponenberg explains.

"If you're a jock-y type of person and it's a room of quiet, studious eggheads, you're not going to fit in," Cenedella says. "It will be tough for you to contribute the way you want to in that company."

Of course, hiring based on culture fit can sometimes slip into discriminating against an applicant whose age, race, gender, religion or sexual orientation is different from those of current employees. To avoid this, some companies are shifting their strategy to look instead for candidates they consider to be "culture adds" who offer strengths the organization is missing, Sponenberg says.


Recruiters look for personality types that not only fit into broader workplace environments, but that also seem like a good match for the specific roles for which candidates apply.

"We have a purchasing department that requires a high-detail orientation," Sponenberg says. "Some people are cut out for that, some aren't."

Some employers administer personality tests to candidates to measure their natural tendencies and assess their compatibility with a role's requirements. An applicant otherwise qualified for a job may be turned down because test results suggest he or she would not make a good manager, salesperson or quality-assurance engineer because of personal preferences and behaviors.

However, Sponenberg says, "we do hire against it sometimes."

Disorganized Processes

A qualified candidate who doesn't get hired may simply be a victim of a poorly conducted hiring process.

Some companies post job descriptions before they know what they're actually looking for, and "as they meet people, their view of what they need changes," Stross says. The person ultimately hired may have little in common with the originally listed qualifications.

Other organizations "don't have structured, consistent interview processes," Stross says. "They don't have a plan."

In that situation, each candidate may face different interview questions, some of them irrelevant or duplicative. Or they may encounter hiring managers who don't take good notes.

"It's hard in that circumstance to make a good, rational decision," Stross says. "That's where a lot of bias comes in."

And when it's time to make the final decision, sometimes the most senior person in the room will offer his or her opinion about whom to hire and everyone else will endorse that, regardless of whether they actually agree.

"All sorts of arbitrary things happen," Stross says.

Other Candidates Have Advantages

There's one final reason for a company to pass over a qualified candidate: Someone else has an advantage.

That could be more experience, stronger skills or "this incredibly charismatic personality," Sponenberg says. "Even if they don't have exactly the same skill set, you may think, 'Oh I want to work with this person, this person seems fun.' That absolutely happens."

A company may post a job advertisement but then fill the open position with an internal candidate – and may always have intended to do so, which means no external candidates ever stood a real chance.

A competitor candidate may have a "third-party stamp of approval," Stross says, which could be a highly respected reference or someone inside the company who vouches for his or her abilities.

"Candidates with some sort of social proof get a big leg up," Stross says.

Getting Feedback

Qualified applicants who get rejected from jobs should feel free to politely ask for feedback about why they were passed over and how they can improve.

"I rarely get asked, but I always give it when asked," Sponenberg says. "There's no harm in asking."

Well, only the risk of a bruised ego.

"You have to be prepared to hear what you hear," she adds. "Some recruiters will be very honest. That's why most people won't ask."