Candid Reasons Why You Didn’t Get The Job According To HR

Rejected From A Job

Wondering why you didn't get the job? There's too much demand for any one job position today. It doesn't matter whether you are applying for a job as a barista at Starbucks, or as a marketing director at a tech company. If you get the job, it's like winning the lottery.

When demand is too great, companies deploy very quick and easy screening mechanisms to whittle down the pool. At Goldman, unless you were the son or daughter of a client or high level employee, you had to have at least an A- GPA to be considered for an interview. At least that was the case with my class in 1999.

Goldman hired roughly 60 Equities financial analysts total around the world my year. Somewhere around 8,000 candidates applied. By screening schools, GPA, and legacy, HR told me they culled the pool down to about 600 potential candidates for phone interviews, alumni interviews, and Super Day in NYC. Without screening mechanisms, the hiring process would take even longer than it already takes (my interview process took eight months).

Given the post, “Why It's So Hard To Get A Mortgage According To A Loan Officer” was such a hit, I'd like to share with you some candid feedback I've received from several HR managers during my time.

Why You Didn't Get Hired

First of all, it's important to know that the HR department is the front-lines for hiring. They are the ones who generally do all the pre-screening in order to not waste valuable employee time during the interview process. If you can't make a good impression with HR, you are doomed.

The second most important thing to realize is that the majority of HR professionals are women. So if you do or say anything to disrespect women, or if you simply have no confidence in interacting with women, you are also doomed.

The final thing to realize is that the HR department exists to protect the firm first, and then you. Think twice before complaining to HR that some colleague is making your life hell. They are carefully documenting everything in order to protect themselves if there is some type of work-related litigation.

Yes, it is sad that HR isn't on your side by default, but if you work real hard at developing a good relationship with an HR professional, she can really help you out.

11 Reasons Why You Didn't Get The Job

1) You're a nuisance online.

Every single HR person looks up your online profile before they interview or give you an offer. If you have a public profile for all to see on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+ or wherever, you best comb through your profile and make it as clean as possible.

Remove the drunk pics, the selfies that show your insecurity, the keg stands, the party pics, the makeout pics, and the foul language. The easiest rule to follow is this: Don't write or publish pics of anything you'd be embarrassed to have your parents or the whole world see.

2) You can't look them in the eye.

If you can't look someone in the eye for at least five seconds while holding a conversation, you're in serious need of some communications training. Not being able to look someone in the eye shows a lack of confidence and untrustworthiness – it's as if there's something you're hiding.

Interviewers really don't like sweaty palms either. If you tend to sweat a lot, put some baby powder on your hands in the bathroom before your interview or buy some anti-perspirant hand cream. Bad breath with stinky smoker's fingers? Forget about it.

3) You're way too one dimensional.

So what if you have good grades and went to a prestigious university? Either most people at the firm also went to a good university, so your degree is no big deal, or your interviewer may not have gone to a prestigious school and could get offended if you brag about your alma mater.

Haven't you noticed how so many insecure Harvard and Stanford graduates like to quickly and repeatedly tell you they went to Harvard and Stanford? I've never come across alumni from any other school who incessantly bring up their alma mater. They automatically turn recruiters off due to their insecurity and arrogance.

There has to be something you're extremely good at that makes you impressive. Perhaps you were a starter in football, a spelling bee champ, a black belt in Karate, played a lead role in your school play, or speak three different languages fluently. Getting good grades is an absolute minimum.

4) No international experience.

The world is much smaller now thanks to technology. If you have never traveled abroad, lived abroad, volunteered abroad, or studied international history, then you are at risk of being pegged an ignorant American who is ill equipped to interact with a diverse group of clients.

Even if you've never traveled abroad, knowing how to speak a second language is a very important aspect for corporations who are looking for well-rounded people. Just go over to Europe or Asia and everybody speaks at least two languages.

5) You've jumped around too often.

One of the biggest fears employers have is spending 6 months training an employee and having him quit soon thereafter. The Millennial generation changes jobs every 2-3 years. Gen X changes jobs every 6-7 years. And Baby Boomers changed jobs well over the 10 year mark.

Employers want to hire employees who are dedicated. Dedication in this day and age means five years at one place or longer. Rightly or wrongly, there's a growing perception that job hoppers don't know what they want, can't get along with colleagues, are disloyal, and greedy. It's probably fine to have two, two year jobs at age 26. But if you're 35 and looking for your seventh job, you've got a problem.

6) You're too senior or junior for the job.

If you're too senior for the job, there's a big fear that as soon as a more suitable job appears, you're gone. Furthermore, HR will question whether you're desperate to work a job that doesn't require your level of experience and expertise.

Being too junior for the job evokes concerns that you won't be able to handle the pressure or execute on the job functions as expected. Companies like employees who pay their dues. Being too senior or too junior is a Catch 22. It's up to you to alter your presentation (resume, interview discussions) to convince the employer you are the perfect fit.

7) Your credit score is alarmingly low.

More companies are checking prospective candidate's credit scores nowadays to find evidence of financial and corporate responsibility. According to an HR professional, the cut off for alarm is 680 for one employer and 700 for another employer. 720+ is considered excellent. 

The theory is that if you can't handle your personal finances well, there is a risk you won't be able to handle being responsible at work. Everyone knows they should spend less than they earn. If a company finds out you can't follow this simple principle, then they'll wonder what other simple principles you can't follow.

Please note that an employer's ability to check one's credit score is different by state. Some states won't allow an employer to check after an offer is given, or after the employee is hired. So if you wonder why you are getting pushed out six months after working, it might very well be your credit score, but you'll never know.

8) You've been fired (not laid off).

The financial crisis of 2008-2010 created a lot of empathy by employers because everybody either got laid off or knew someone who got laid off during this time. It wasn't just bad employees that were getting laid off, entire departments were being shutdown.

Getting fired is a different story. Getting fired means you got let go for cause. You either abused the corporate card, abused another person, stole something, were a horrendous performer with multiple write-ups by HR, or you lied. Depending on the level of the offense and the volume of candidates, fired people have a much steeper hill to climb. Sometimes it's best to just start your own business in this case.

9) You are incredibly annoying.

Let's say you start things off wrong by coming in 30 minutes before your scheduled interview time instead of 5-10 minutes before. A lot of interviewers get annoyed by this, even though you aren't late. You shake the interviewer's hand with your incredibly clammy palms and proceed to evade all her questions.

After the interview, you keep e-mailing and calling for an update. Furthermore, you keep sending a list of follow up questions about compensation, options, benefits, and so forth. Being too direct and pushy is an enormous turnoff. Send your “thank you” e-mail or card after your interviews and wait. The employer is likely looking at multiple candidates, so you bugging them will not help.

10) You're full of shit.

If you answer “Working too hard,” in response to the question, “What is your biggest weakness?” you are out. Carefully crafted responses to questions are not what the interview wants to hear. Nobody is perfect and it's important to really share your weaknesses and areas where you want to improve. Everybody has areas of improvement and weaknesses. So if you come across as perfect, nobody will like you.

11) Your resume is TLDR (too long didn't read).

Unless you are a Nobel prize winning scientist, nobody is that important to need more than a one page resume. The average time spent looking over a resume is seven seconds. Therefore, it's important to structure your resume in as succinct, and impactful manner as possible. Please look at my post on examples of good resumes that get jobs if you want to get an idea.

Use Referrals To More Easily Find A Job

If you have a job, consider yourself lucky because many other people wanted your job as well. Don't take your job for granted. If you're looking for a job, it's best to get a referral from someone who either works at the company you'd like to work for, or who has connections at the company you'd like to work for. 

The Internet is great for a lot of things, but seemingly terrible when it comes to helping people find a great job. I'd focus on LinkedIn, sending a direct e-mail to trigger pullers, and social media to find connections instead of job sites.

The 4th quarter (October, November, December) is usually the worst time of the year to find a job due to hiring freezes, spent budgets, the holidays, and budget planning for next year. On the flip side, February through June are the best months to look for a job.

Don't Quit, Negotiate A Severance

Just remember to try and negotiate a severance if you've been at your firm for several years or more. There's potentially big bucks at stake. And if you've already found another job with an exploding offer, consider negotiating a later start date so you can unwind or take an incredible long vacation you deserve!

If you negotiate a severance like I did back in 2012, you not only get a severance check, but potentially subsidized healthcare, deferred compensation, and worker training. Since you got laid off, you're also eligible for up to 26 weeks of unemployment benefits. Having a financial runway is huge during your transition period.

Conversely, if you quit your job you get nothing. Check out, How To Engineer Your Layoff: Make A Small Fortune By Saying Goodbye, on how to negotiate a severance. I first published the book in 2012 and have recently expanded it to over 200 pages with new resources, strategies, and additional case studies thanks to tremendous reader feedback.

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Financial Samurai started as a personal journal to make sense of the financial crisis in 2009. By early 2012, it started making a livable income stream so I decided to negotiate a severance package. Years later, FS now makes more than I did as an Executive Director at a major bulge bracket firm with 90% less work and 100% more fun. Start your own WordPress website like mine with Bluehost today. You get a free domain name for a year. You never know where the journey will take you!

Updated for 2021 and beyond.

Photo credit: Meena Kadri, Flickr Creative Commons.

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36 thoughts on “Candid Reasons Why You Didn’t Get The Job According To HR”

  1. Add to the no list a picture on the resume, an informal font, and a dumb email address. I’ve seen a lot, folks!

  2. As one that has been in the hiring role, another not listed or in the comments is spelling of industry terms or having pointless ones. My favorite for a lead web programmer position was “expert in iframes” (for those not in the know, do a search on iframes and you’ll be an expert too). Windows ’99 or ’97 experience got one’s resume thrown away. Sometimes I’d want to just reach out to them to explain what was wrong with their resume, but there were so many it felt like a lost cause.

  3. I am always hiring software engineers, and your list is pretty decent.

    For me, humility and recognizing what you know and what you don’t know is a big win. People who are smart but also won’t try to bullshit you about what they are weak in make me think I can trust them on the job. Bullshitters are a timebomb in an organization and I try to weed out that tendency from the very beginning.

  4. I’ve interviewed hundreds of people in my career and I have seen just about everything. And I completely agree with your list! I never did understand candidates who show up 30 minutes early. I even had one person show up an hour early. Um, no.

  5. Alternative is to just become so good at something and create something of value to others that people pound on your doors to recruit you, invest in you, or buy you outright.

  6. Back when I used to hire and fire people as a Director, one of the easiest ways to determine qualifications was the length of the resume. I’ve had one-page resumes that got me so excited to interview the candidate that I had our HR department schedule an interview that day. Then again, I’ve had 5 page resumes that, quite frankly, went straight into the waste basket unread.

    I think this phenomenon is indicative of a very simple concept: sell yourself in as few words as possible. The quicker the sell, the easier the sell.

    Think of it this way. If you’re looking to buy a new car and the salesperson wins you over in 5 minutes, you’d probably be much more likely to buy than if that salesperson droned on for 20 minutes about this and that. That’s the difference between a one page and five page resume.

    Nice list, good post.

    1. Brilliant line, “The quicker the sell, the EASIER the sell”!

      And more amazingly, that’s how a lot of bad apples get jobs too. They present themselves so well, and get the hiring manager so excited that s/he overlooks some obvious flaws.

      Solution: Get as many people as possible to interview a candidate. NO UNILATERAL HIRING! The chances of sniffing out the BS rises the more people who meet the candidate.

    2. Great comment. Visualizing the sales technique really drove the point home. I’m tearing up my 2 page resume as I type this. I realized if I were to read this thing out loud as a sales pitch, I would go to to sleep!

  7. “There’s too much demand for any one job position.”

    Fifty years of uncontrolled legal and illegal immigration has directly created a vast over-supply of labor, and has drastically depressed wages, especially at the lower-to-middle levels.

      1. Or maybe the particular skill set that was in high demand for the past 50 years is no longer in such high demand, and the actual skill set that is in demand is more difficult to obtain and not held by as many people.

        There are always jobs in which demand outstrips supply. But it may require someone obtaining new skills – which isn’t always easy (for a variety of factors).

  8. I help recruit for my company’s finance organization, and being on this side is totally eye opening! Makes me so glad the college interviewing days are over.

  9. Good post with great tips. As a hiring manager (not the upfront HR screeners, but the guy who actually manages people) for decades, I agree with these tips. That said:

    1) I’d submit that having a great resume trumps all. It can be four pages if it’s compelling and easy to navigate/read. In the age of online and PDFs, actual length is less important. And in my world, one typo or grammo = rejected.

    2) Let’s be honest — many of your points boil down to CHEMISTRY and CULTURE FIT. Certainly at fast growing tech companies, it is perhaps the first “thing” to look for. Folks who don’t fit in get ejected like a bad virus, and most employers don’t want those virus carriers getting in the door in the first place. This is why candidates now face a bevy of interviews, brain teasing problem solving exercises, requirements to deliver presentations, etc.

    3) Just read “The Startup of You.” Like as in…NOW.

  10. Job hopping is interesting. I’m of two minds on this. On the one hand, too much is obviously going to be perceived as a negative. On the other hand, you shouldn’t be afraid to switch jobs (particularly when young) – provided it is for the right reasons. For instance, I would not hop around just to receive more compensation (obviously this is a sliding scale for people).

  11. In law school we had a career services office that would proof read resumes and hold interview classes and mock interviews. It was always surprising how many people didn’t take advantage of their services. It worked for me – I don’t think I would have been a natural at interviews, but after all the prep work, all but one went great. I also think working at the most prestigious firm or company right out of school, even if it is a total grind, and sticking it out several years, is a good strategy. Doors start opening from there.

  12. For engineering jobs, another key reason is just not being perceived as competent enough. It’s always surprising to interview so many candidates who can’t even answer simple set of technical questions.

    1. Agree 100%. It’s shocking how many times I see new college grads come in with a near 4.0 GPA and can’t answer basic technical questions.

  13. Wall Street Playboys

    After reading this everyone on here should realize you never ever want to go through HR for your career.

    After you get a few good firms on your resume, always network in through a referral to bypass this disaster.

    Getting a new position through HR or some headhunter = recipie for disaster today. Better to network in after a few years experience because you will be in the “right” group politically from day one. No point in risking switching to a new firm if you’re being recruited just like everyone else. There are only a few people who matter at each firm, so network in through contacts and avoid this at all costs. Anyone reading this has been warned!

  14. Great article that is sure to be evergreen! It amazes me when intelligent people send out multi-page resumes.

  15. Lance @ Healthy Wealthy Income

    We get 6,000 resumes or applications each month at my business for around 60-80 job openings. You simply can’t look at everyone so you start with crap resumes and kick those folks out along with anyone else that gives you even the slightest mistake or reason to dump them from this giant list such as: job hoping, too many gaps in resume, no real experience…etc. If you give HR even a hint that you are not ideal you are first on the chopping block. I’ll be honest I have started hiring older employees. Most of my employees used to be in their late 20’s and early 30’s and the job hoping and expectations that you deserve management jobs without earning them is just so tiring to deal with. Most of my employees are now in their 50’s. They have tons of experience, always show up to work on time, appreciate having a job, and bring no drama to the office. Yes they aren’t that great initially with technology but I can teach that. I cannot teach good attitude and how to teach you how to work, I am tired of it; learn it and get back to me.

    1. Wow, lots of stereotypes in your response. Could be opening yourself up to a lawsuit if you make generalizations about, and base hiring decisions, on age.

    2. mysticaltyger

      FYI, that’s job “hopping” with 2 “p’s”. Example: I am hoping that your resume doesn’t indicate any job hopping.

  16. I’m the HR Director of a software company, and this is bang-on! I almost laughed out loud.

    Arriving too early for an interview is one of the most annoying things a candidate can do. My team and I have a million and one things to do, and babysitting you for 45 minutes is not high on the priority list. And if your resume is TLDR, you probably didn’t even get an interview. It’s also funny how people think we can’t smell bullshit even though we interview hundreds of people a year.

    At this point, if we ask you what your weaknesses are and you reply ‘working too hard,’ ‘I’m a perfectionist,’ or ‘I put too much into my work,’ we will basically flat out tell you we don’t believe you and to think and answer the question again. Really great advice.

    Write a short but specific and customized cover letter, keep your resume to two pages (preferably one), avoid spelling errors, and be authentic and polite if you get phone screened/interviewed, and you’ll go far. Oh and never, ever, ever be rude or condescending to the Office Coordinator or any other junior person at the company. We will find out, and we will judge you for it.

    1. Out of curiosity, what are some good responses to what is your greatest weakness?

      Do people really ask it? I’ve never been asked that one – but often hear it cited.

      1. Lemon meringue pies. I can’t stop eating them if they are put in front of my face!

        * A real answer that touches upon people’s desires (good food) and difficulties (staying in shape)
        * Something that could make the interviewer laugh and empathize.

      2. I’ve had it come up. Nowadays when they ask that kind of thing they are mostly trying to see how you approach difficult/dumb questions, and how well you prepared for the interview.

        A person who has no answer or a cliched one liner probably didn’t give things much thought. The easiest way to deal with this question is to bring up a situation where you screwed up (preferably not too badly), and then discuss how you made things right.

      3. In my opinion, a genuine answer is usually the best. What we’re looking for is to see if you’re humble and introspective/aware of your own weaknesses. It’s much easier to work with someone who can speak openly about where they struggle, rather than someone who truly believes they can do no wrong. It usually means the person is also better at giving/receiving feedback.

        So it doesn’t really matter what the answer is once it’s honest. Say that you’re not a morning person and you struggle with early start times and sometimes you’re late. Say you can be disorganized at times which has impacted your ability to deliver, and list the steps you’ve taken to overcome it. Say you have a hard time with feedback, but you devised a system with your last boss to manage that.

        My weakness? I talk. A lot. I’m an overcommunicator. And sometimes I can lose the attention of the person I’m speaking to and my point gets lost. I’m working on brevity :)

  17. I would add “you smoke” to the list. My old boss wouldn’t hire anyone if he thought they smelled like smoke or had any inkling that they did. People should know not to submit a resume that smells like smoke!

  18. Great advice! Also slightly shocking to read that checking of credit scores seems to be the norm over there in the states.

    Here in the UK I’ve (thankfully) never heard of a firm ever checking someone’s credit score as part of a job application. Infact I suspect such a check might even be illegal here.

    For me the biggest point and easiest to fix would be: Sort out your damn online profiles. Too many friends of mine have totally open Facebook profiles filled with their drunken antics and stupid rants about unimportant crap. Seriously; just set the damn thing to private.

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