This post was written by Alison Green and published on Ask a Manager.
A reader writes:
I recently applied to a job for which I was well-qualified. The role was with a start-up that’s hoping to shift into doing the type of work I do. My current employer is very well respected in the field, so this start-up likely has a lot to learn from someone in a role similar to my current one.
I applied and two days later got an email from the CEO inviting me to a 15-minute meeting with her. I eagerly selected the first available time slot, and we met later that week. For the first half of the 15 minutes, she told me about the company and the new direction they’re exploring (my area of expertise).
For the second half of the 15 minutes, she asked me general questions about what interested me in the role and what challenges I foresee. Since my current role is quite similar to the one I was interviewing for, I had very tangible examples to share. I was intentional about giving precise answers linking examples of my past/current work to what I understood her company’s goals to be. My partner overheard the interview since we both work remotely and congratulated me on sounding friendly, knowledgeable, and well-spoken. My partner said it was clear the CEO and I were “speaking the same language,” i.e. the questions I asked sounded thoughtful and the examples I shared matched the description of the role that the CEO provided.
Less than two hours later, I got a rejection email.
I was peeved! I felt like this CEO hardly tried to get to know me; I only spoke about my experience and asked questions for seven minutes. I would have happily submitted a work sample and had a longer conversation with her and the broader team, had I been invited.
I know that I’ll never know what exactly happened, but do you have any insight about why workplaces do this? I absolutely understand that I won’t get every job I interview for, but I can’t understand how I could’ve mucked things up in such a short amount of time. Aren’t these very short interviews supposed to just be a chance to ensure the applicant clears the bar of being worth getting to know better?
There are five zillion reasons why this could have happened. With the caveat that it’s possible that none of these applied to you, some examples of why a candidate might be rejected after only seven minutes of discussion:
* Talking to you made the manager realize that they’re not ready to hire for the role yet, or they need to clarify its requirements, or there’s someone already onboard who would be able to tackle lots of it.
* They already had a candidate they were leaning strongly toward, or even had already decided to hire, but this conversation was on the books so they went through with it rather than canceling at the last minute.
* There was a disconnect on what they’re looking for — for example, you saw the role as higher-level than the one they’re envisioning, and it’s clear that you’re too senior for the level they’re planning to hire at.
* Something about your conversational style landed wrong with the interviewer: you sounded sluggish/uninterested/disengaged, or overly frenetic, or you interrupted them, or something else about your style just happened to rub the interviewer the wrong way. (And it’s important to note that some people will interpret others in X way even when another observer wouldn’t get the same impression. It’s possible that your partner — who knows you — could have a different interpretation than the interviewer did.)
* You just aren’t what they’re looking for. You did a great job at speaking to X, but they really care about Y. Or they want someone with more X (whether that’s realistic or not), or they didn’t accurately convey what they’re looking for and they don’t really want X at all.
* They respond more to flash than substance, and you’re more substance. Or the opposite, for that matter!
* Your interviewer has a bias against people who went to X college, speak with a Y accent, are over (or under) Z years old, or a million other possible biases.
* They’re about to make an offer to someone else but wanted to do a quick call with you just in case you were so overwhelmingly fantastic that they’d want to pause their offer process with the other person.
* They were excited about your candidacy when they first set the call up but something has changed since then (other candidates emerged, the role is being reconfigured, they’re hiring someone’s brother, who knows what) and the interview changed from “genuine” to “obligatory” without anyone telling you that.
* They just got bad financial news and they’re not moving forward with hiring at all.
* Your interviewer sucks at interviewing. Or worse, sucks at managing and prefers to hire people who don’t sound confident and knowledgeable because this company likes employees it can more easily mold to its dysfunctional culture.
* Your interviewer was tired or distracted or sick and was more focused on getting through the conversation so she could go home and take some aspirin than on assessing your qualifications. It happens.
* You were a solid candidate who they might have moved forward under other circumstances, but they’ve got candidates they’re more excited about.
* They already had an offer out to someone and that person accepted the same day as your call so now they’re rejecting everyone still in their process.
I think your mistake is in thinking that a rejection after such a short conversation means you messed something up. It’s certainly possible that you did — but it’s just as possible that it was something from the list above.
Candidates have a tendency to assume that the pieces of the hiring process they see tell them everything they need to know. But you’re really only seeing a tiny piece of it and there’s so much that could be going on behind the scenes that has nothing to do with how well you interviewed.