a parent asks: what’s wrong with my daughter’s rude, frustrating interviewers?

A reader writes:

My daughter has a music degree (actually two) and, music jobs being impossible to find, is willing to do just about anything. So why am I frustrated?

She had an internship all last year, and applied for a job there this spring. The CEO called her into his office, told her how glad he was that she’d applied as they liked to hire from within and that he’d heard very good reports of her. Did she even get a phone call from anyone in the hiring dept? No.

She’s worked in the HR dept at her school for the past several years (work/study). She’s interviewed for two jobs there, one of which would involve doing many of the same things she’s already been doing. This was mentioned in the interview, along with the fact that everyone likes her, and that training for her would be minimal because she already basically knew the job. But did she get the position? No.

(I’ve been through this myself. I applied for job after job at a non-profit where many of my friends work. The only position I every got a call about was the one I was least qualified for.)

So, what advice do I give my daughter? She’s completely frustrated and so am I! I know she presents herself well, and she’s intelligent and articulate, so I don’t get it. Are hiring managers really this out of touch with reality??

I wrote back to this letter-writer and asked:  What’s leading you to assume they’re out of touch with reality (versus just being flooded with great candidates)?

She replied:

Maybe out of touch with reality is the wrong word. I just don’t understand why, in an interview, they would tell her how great she is, how much they like her, how they know she can do the job, etc., and then toss her aside without even a personal phone call or face to face interaction. She got rejected by email from a person she’d seen a few hours before at work. Sure, they may have other great candidates, but why act this way with someone they know and with whom they have a relationship? Do hiring managers just not get the impact their words and actions have?

Why not just say “We know you could do the job but we have tons of other great candidates and some may have better qualifications than you, so we’ll have to wait and see. Although we really like you, we just don’t know if we’ll be able to hire you.” If a potential employee can be sent packing for a misleading resume or faking job experience, why don’t the hiring people have to follow the same rules? No, it seems they can say whatever they want and it’s fine.

To be fair, she was never promised the job, but she knows they did hire someone from a completely different department in the university who had no experience in this line of work and turned down two people who already work in the department and knew parts of the job. This makes no sense to me. This leads me to wonder what universe hiring people inhabit…

Sadly, what she is learning in this process is that doing a good job, being a good team player, being prepared for an interview, knowing people in the company, etc. mean nothing in the end. It’s all a complete crapshoot and the hiring people can pretty much say or do anything they want.

Well, it’s possible that there’s something your daughter is doing that’s making them less inclined to hire her. You, as her parent, aren’t especially well positioned to know if this is the case, which is true of anyone who doesn’t work with her. So one thing she might try is asking her managers for feedback on what she could be doing better, and how she might better position herself to be hired in the future. Yes, she seems awesome to you and she’s getting excellent feedback in her interviews, but interviewers aren’t always forthcoming about concerns they have about candidates, because it’s not their obligation to do that.

But it’s also possible that she is indeed a very strong candidate, but someone else was just stronger. That’s a very, very normal part of job searching. Great candidates get turned down all the time because someone else was a better fit. That’s just how it works. This is true even if you’ve already doing the work and everyone likes you. It’s dangerous to ever assume you have an in with a particular job, because you just can’t know who else they might be talking to or what they’re really looking for. (The same is true of you when you applied somewhere that many of your friends work. That’s just no guarantee that you’ll be the best fit of everyone they’re talking to — especially since hiring shouldn’t be about who you’re friends with.)

Also:

* Interviewers might tell you that you’re great and they like you because you’re great and they like you. But that’s not an indication that a job offer is coming. Thinking a candidate is great and liking her isn’t the same as deciding to offer her the job.

* It’s dangerous to feel that interviewers are “doing you wrong” when they tell you that you’re great but then don’t hire you. Not only is that a fundamental misunderstanding of how hiring works, but it can make you bitter. That’s not helpful to you or your daughter. It will make her job search more stressful, and it might make it longer, too.

* You’re right that hiring managers aren’t held as accountable for their words as candidates are. But no one lied to your daughter here. No one misrepresented anything (that we know of). They told her they liked her, that she was a strong candidate, and that they were glad she applied. None of that is proven false by not hiring her, and you’re doing your daughter no favors by encouraging her to be frustrated by this. Interest is not a promise. She’s going to be far happier — and have a less stressful job search — if she doesn’t read into this kind of thing, doesn’t take it personally, and sees it as a par-for-the-course piece of job hunting, because it is.

* You’re also doing her no favors if you encourage her to think things like this: “They did hire someone from a completely different department in the university who had no experience in this line of work and turned down two people who already work in the department and knew parts of the job. This makes no sense to me. This leads me to wonder what universe hiring people inhabit.” The fact is, you don’t know why they hired that person. Maybe that person had other skills they wanted. Maybe that person had a stellar reputation. Or maybe there was something about your daughter’s skills or professionalism or culture fit that gave them pause. You just don’t know. No good comes of speculating about stuff like this or feeling angry about it.

* You’re doing your daughter a disservice by encouraging her to think that job searching is “a complete crapshoot.” That’s the kind of belief that leads people to put forward lackluster effort in job searching and make bad decisions for themselves. It’s not a crapshoot. I can tell you from the hiring side of things that not once have I seen a hiring decision made without thought and reason. If it looks like a crapshoot to you, it’s because you’re not privy to all the reasoning that’s going into the hiring decisions — but you not seeing that part of it doesn’t mean that the process is illogical or random.

I get that this is hard and frustrating. But the advice you give your daughter should be that it’s tough to tell from the candidate side everything that an employer might be looking for, and that as qualified as she might be, someone else might simply be a better match — and that it’s not personal or something to be upset over.

If she can get the right outlook on this now, it’s going to serve her really well throughout her career.

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