There’s too much demand for any one job position. 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.
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 since expanded it to 180 pages from 100 pages in the 3rd edition thanks to tremendous reader feedback and successful case studies.
Start Your Own Website, Be Your Own Boss: There’s nothing better than starting your own website to own your brand online and earn extra income on the side. Why should LinkedIn, FB, and Twitter pop up when someone Google’s your name? With your own website you can connect with potentially millions of people online, sell a product, sell some else’s product, make passive income and find a lot of new consulting and FT work opportunities.
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 2020 and beyond.
Photo credit: Meena Kadri, Flickr Creative Commons.