emails with a reader frustrated with her interviewer

I recently had an email exchange with a reader who was disappointed that she didn’t get a third interview that she was expecting with an employer. I think she’s speaking for a lot of job-seekers in her confusion and frustration, so I asked her if she’d let me reprint our exchange here. She agreed — but noted that she’s worried about being judged harshly if people think she sounds naive or entitled … so please be nice!

The background: She applied for a job with an organization that she had temped at earlier this year. She had two interviews for the position, and they then suggested a third and final interview. Here’s our exchange…

Reader: Well, I never got to the third interview. The interview was cancelled and he said he would get back to me in 3-4 days. I waited 10 days and contacted him to follow up, and he said, “After discussing this with (the person who had been my previous manager when I tempted there), we are unable to extend you an offer for this position because we had candidates with more experience.”

Throughout the entire interview process, there was never any indication that my lack of experience would be a problem. I made it clear I was willing to work and learn and do everything it took to do well at my job; I assume my interviews went well because why else would I have been called back?

They were clear about what they were going to do, they said specifically they’d like for me to come in for a third interview, and now to say that they don’t want to hire me is like pulling the rug out from under me. Is this fair or right? Before I read your blog, I would have thought this was normal and take it as a rough part of the job search, but now I am just so angry, and I think I’m justified in feeling this way? I don’t want to not reply to the email; I want to say something and I will respond to them sometime this week, when I’ve calmed down. But what do you think?

Me: This is actually very, very normal. Interviews are never a guarantee of a job offer, and even saying that they’d like to move you forward isn’t a guarantee that they will actually do that, because if stronger candidates emerge, it won’t make sense to waste your time or theirs when they know that you won’t be the person they offer the job to.

These two posts might help:

they loved me — why didn’t I get the job?

but I’m qualified for that job — why did you reject me?

Reader: I guess that does make sense. I know it’s not a guarantee, but they should have been honest and upfront. I thought I had a real chance. If they turned me down after they gave me the third interview, that would be different. but this feels like I never even had a chance.

Me: I don’t think you have any reason to think they weren’t honest with you. It sounds like you did have a chance, until circumstances changed, at which point you no longer did and they informed you of that. But this is very typical of how hiring works. It’s very unlikely that they were intentionally misleading you; what’s more likely is that their candidate pool or their assessment of how well you fit their needs simply changed, and that changed your chances.

You’ve also got to remember that you’re not entitled to a chance when you’re applying for a job. It’s not about giving you a fair shot; it’s about them looking for the best match for the job. They’re going to talk to the candidates who seem best matched with what they need, and if that ends up not being you (at any stage), that’s going to be the decision … which is what it seems happened here.

Reader: Right, but if throughout the first two interviews, experience wasn’t an issue, why is that a reason now? Could it be that there’s some other reason that they can’t say and this is just a cop-out?

I dont think they were upfront or honest because he got back to me only when I followed up, and I don’t think they would have even let me know unless I contacted them.

What else can I learn from this experience? I really, really, really thought I interviewed well this time around, I had questions prepared and should I assume the interviews went well because I was called back for them twice?

Me: It could be that they were concerned all along about experience but weren’t convinced it was a dealbreaker until later in the process. Or it could be that they started realizing that it was an issue after they thought about it more. I wouldn’t assume they were being deceptive.

Re: following up, it’s possible that they weren’t going to get back to you until/unless you contacted them; tons of employers do that, unfortunately. But it’s also possible that your email is what prompted him to finally make a decision about your candidacy, and otherwise it would have just happened later in their process. Or they might have a policy of notifying all candidates once a hire is made (very common), but he gave you an answer earlier because you asked.

I understand the temptation to feel that they somehow mishandled this, because it’s frustrating to have this happen — but this is really very normal and I don’t see any indication of wrongdoing on their part. Sometimes you’re just not the right candidate, even though things seemed positive.

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Thanks to this reader for letting me share our exchange. I think she’s far from alone in having these questions and doubts, so hopefully sharing it here will be interesting to others too.

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