I’ve had 10 interviews and no offers — am I the problem?

A reader writes:

I was laid off in July and have been looking for a job since then. To date, I’ve had six interviews (two more pending) but no offers. If you count the interviews I had before I got laid off, the total number is 10.

How many failed interviews is a sign that I am the problem? I understand it’s a tight job market and there are loads of qualified applicants applying to each opening, but isn’t 10 interviews a bit much? I’m getting very discouraged and embarrassed. And if I am the problem, how can I figure out what I’m doing wrong?

Ugh, this is a tough spot to be in, where you’re starting to question if the problem is you. And even tougher, I can’t really give you an answer from here. It’s possible that you’re the problem (or that your interview skills or references are the problem). But it’s at least equally likely that it’s just the crappy job market. There are a lot of great candidates out there interviewing, and so you can be good at what you do and still get rejected — multiple times — because someone else just ended up being better. (Or a better fit for that particular manager/team/culture, totally aside from skills.)

And after all, if you assume that employers interview four or five candidates in-person for each job opening, then that means that you have an 75-80% chance of getting rejected for any job you interview for.

That said, I can see why 10 interviews with no offers is starting to feel like a lot, and it’s sensible that you’re looking at whether there’s something you should do differently. My advice is this:

* Read the hell out of my (free) guide on how to prepare for an interview. Are you doing everything in there? And I mean all of it? That stuff makes a big difference. If you’re not doing all of it, start and see if that changes anything.

* Have you tried asking for feedback from an interviewer? Pick one who you had a particular rapport with and reach out to them with an email. Say something like this: “I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with me about the X job. I want to ask you a favor: I’m extremely interested in moving into a position like X, and I would be so grateful for your feedback about how I can better position myself to do that. Is there anything in the way that I interview that you think might be holding me back? Are there weaknesses that I can tackle, or anything else that you think might help me pursue a similar position in the future? Please understand that I’m not in any way taking issue with your decision, but rather asking for help. I’d really appreciate any advice you can share with me.”

Some employers won’t give feedback no matter how nicely you ask for it, but framing it like this — a humble and genuine request for insight — significantly increases your chances of getting it (as opposed to a more perfunctory “I would appreciate any feedback you can give me” email, which is easier to brush off).

* Think about who else you might be able to get candid feedback from. Do you have a brutally honest friend (or even better, former coworker) who knows you well enough to tell you if there’s anything in your approach that might be holding you back? Do you know anyone who does hiring who’d be willing to do a mock interview with you and give you blunt feedback afterwards?

* Make sure there’s nothing in your references that could be causing problems. Unless you’re 100% sure that your references aren’t the issue, one option is to have a friend with a highly professional demeanor check your references for you. If you find any problems there, here’s some advice on how to try to mitigate that.

But it also really might just be the job market. It’s taking lots of good candidates a long time to find a job in this market — even up to a year or more. So look at the stuff above as things that are all worth doing regardless … because they’ll make you a better candidate either way. Good luck.

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