Archive for July, 2014

Behind the Scenes Reasons Why Candidates Are Passed Up

July 28, 2014

On a regular basis, seemingly strong and credible candidates are removed from consideration. First interview, second interview, final interview, or even before the interview process begins – it happens during all phases. And on the surface, candidates seem to be passed up for no apparent reason, at least from their perspective.

Naturally, though, there are reasons for every hiring decision that takes place. Some are logical and clear while others appear vague. Let’s take a deeper look at three of the common overtly nebulous reasons why candidates are told they weren’t selected and explore some of the real reasons behind them.


The almighty catch-all for multitudes of reasons why candidates are eliminated from consideration is “not a cultural fit.” Essentially, hiring managers are trying to envision the candidate fitting in, both with the team and the greater organization. Often times, candidates are their own worst enemy when it comes to their impact on hiring managers’ ability to foresee the fit. Here are some specific examples:

  • Appearance – poorly dressed; disheveled; BO; halitosis
  • Communications – Poor grammar; unfavorable word choice (e.g., swearing); poor listening skills; talks incessantly
  • Mannerisms/Interpersonal Skills – Lack of eye contact; slouching in chair; too loud or demonstrative; too quiet or passive; argumentative; zero rapport; strange behavior; visibly nervous; didn’t seem interested enough or enthusiastic about the opportunity
  • Subliminal Reminder of Bad Experience – Said something eerily similar to that of a poor performing employee who was fired (ask me about a funny story related to this); resume reminiscent of a past bad hire; name, appearance or mannerisms bear subtle resemblance to someone the interviewer didn’t get along well with


Many hiring managers make hiring decisions based solely on how well a candidate follows standard interviewing protocol. It is widely believed that: “You get what you see in the interview.” Thus, they base their hiring decision on the candidate’s performance in the interview. And yes, interview performance does conger up images of actors on a stage. If the actor deviates too much from the script and doesn’t fully embody the part, the role will go to another actor.

  • Didn’t answer certain questions with the preordained answers the hiring manager was seeking
  • Didn’t express enough enthusiasm for the opportunity
  • Didn’t ask the right (or enough) questions
  • Communication exchanges seemed awkward, disjointed or unnatural
  • Didn’t bring extra copies of their resume
  • Didn’t bring a notepad to take notes
  • Didn’t sufficiently prove that they did their homework (i.e., researching the company, market, industry)
  • Didn’t try hard enough to sell themselves, especially when given openings to do so
  • Didn’t go for the close


For a hiring manager to decline a candidate prior to the interview stage, there must be a blatant red flag.

  • Resume Troubles – Didn’t tailor the resume to the specific opportunity; poor grammar; disorganized; inconsistent formatting; too much content (law of diminishing returns); missing much-needed compelling content; multiple job hops; multiple significant job gaps
  • Contacts in Common — A back-channel reference painted a less-than-stellar picture of the candidate or their intelligence conflicted with information on the resume
  • No Advocate – Candidate submitted resume directly instead of getting in and being endorsed via a networking recommendation, employee referral or recruiter

While some of these deal-breaking reasons are beyond a candidate’s control, most of them come down to an interviewing self-awareness deficit – the delta between how a candidate is coming across and how they think they’re coming across. Candidates who are self-aware and coachable will do all they can to learn from their interviewing experiences and course correct. Again, there are real reasons behind every decision. The sooner a candidate learns those that have adversely affected their ambitions, the sooner they’ll be able to overcome them and attain the position they’re vying for.


Action items:

1. Proactively seek out brutally honest feedback from interviewers who have disqualified you from contention. They may not divulge all the sordid details, but hopefully, in the spirit of personal development, they will oblige at least to some extent.

2. Ask trusted colleagues and mentors, who are accomplished at interviewing, to conduct mock interviews with you and provide insight into how you’re really coming across. Adding video to mock interviews will help you identify non-verbal cues that may need attention.

3. Before interviewing at a given company, ask insiders with whom your are connected with, such as an employee at the company or the recruiter who got you into the opportunity, to give you an understanding of the interviewer’s hot buttons and interview style. And in the midst of the interview, try to mirror the pace, energy and vibe that the interviewer puts out.