Common candidate blunders

Q: I am new at this job search stuff. I feel like I am getting a canned response when I ask HR why I didn’t get the job offer. They always say something like: “A candidate who more closely matches our needs was selected.” I want to know the real reasons. How can I learn and improve my job search skills if real feedback is not given? What are some of the real reasons that you see?

A: I appreciate your search for candid feedback. It is important information but not always shared. Job seekers do sometimes eliminate themselves from the selection process for some very “fixable” reasons.


Here is my list:

1. Not checking email or voicemail. There have been dozens of candidates that I have tried to contact this year and I don’t hear back from them. Or I hear back from them way too late in the process.

2. Saying something inappropriate in the interview. Candidates complain about former supervisors, talk way too much about their kids (including showing me photos of their kids during the interview), describe their hassles with the MBTA or bring up topics that are irrelevant to the job for which they are interviewing.

3. Candidates treat a telephone interview too casually. There is a dog barking or kids in the background. I had one candidate schedule a telephone interview with loud music playing in the background.

4. Not wearing the appropriate clothing for an interview. It is better to over dress than to under dress. I have heard more than one hiring manager recommend: “when in doubt, wear a suit.”

5. Candidates who apply for every job … whether it is a VP of Marketing or a Purchasing Agent.

6. Typos, poor grammar, etc. on resumes and within emails and cover letters. Or a candidate will direct their cover letter to “Dear Mr. Smith” and Mr. Smith is not the correct name but they have forgotten to edit the name. Or they identify a company in their cover letter and it is the wrong company name!


7. No follow-up. Candidates should email a quick note thanking me and the hiring manager.

8. College degree. It almost always helps. Finish your degree. Completing 3.5 years of college is not the equivalent of earning a degree.

9. Be succinct, clear and concise in your verbal and written communications. Avoid the overuse of “ya know,” “like,” or profane language. It signals unprofessionalism.

10. Visible tattoos, piercings in unusual places and black fingernail polish might be fine for some work environments but not ours. Do your research before you walk in the door of the company.

I have shared some of the many reasons why candidates don’t get offers. Sometimes these real reasons are not shared with candidates because candidates can become defensive and angry. However, there is some truth in what I have shared.

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