Every job interview, even a bad one, is an opportunity to learn something about how to pitch yourself to companies, and figure out what a given job entails and what the corporate culture has to offer. The problem, of course, is that hiring managers don’t always tell you why the company opted to pass, which makes it harder to learn from your mistakes. Here’s what might be holding you back, and how to tweak your approach to improve your chances in the future.
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1. You made a mistake during the interview.
Some interview mistakes are obvious: if you told an off-color joke or spilled your coffee on the interviewer, you probably don’t have to do much digging to figure out why you’re not being invited back for the next round. Subtler errors, however, are harder to figure out — but not impossible.
First things first: ask. This is somewhat controversial. Many experts will advise you to save your energy, as companies are often (understandably) more concerned with avoiding litigation than helping your career.
If you do opt to ask, frame it in a way that will reduce defensiveness. Send a thank-you note or email, thanking the hiring manager for his or her time, and then ask for feedback on why they chose another candidate. They might tell you if you did anything to knock yourself out of the running. If you didn’t make any outright mistakes during the process, this is also a good way to learn about any gaps in your skill set that could be keeping you from landing a job at another company. Which brings us to our next point…
2. You lack the skills.
Keeping the lines of communication open will make it easier for the decision maker to let you know if there’s anything you can do to improve your chances at getting a similar job. But, even if the hiring manager won’t directly tell you why you weren’t their choice, there are a few tip-offs that your skills don’t align with the position.
Pay attention to the questions the manager asks during the interview, both the simple (“Do you know XYZ programming language?”) and the complex (“We’re working on ABC project. How would you solve the following problem?”) If your honest answers are always either “no” or “I’m not sure,” it doesn’t matter how slick you are at spinning the facts. You’re probably not ready for the position.
The good news is that identifying these gaps is the first step at getting ready. As hard as it is, learn to welcome this kind of intelligence. Until you know what you need to fix, it’s impossible to fix it.
3. You didn’t follow up (or you followed up too much).
“Thank-you letters are not out of date or out of style,” writes Sienna Beard at Wall Street Cheat Sheet. “Writing a letter to say that you appreciated the interviewer’s time will let them know that you are courteous and that you are taking the position seriously and going after it.”
On the other hand, it’s possible to overdo it. Send a thank-you note or email, and follow up perhaps a week later, but leave it at that. After that, you’re no longer expressing interest — you’re stalking.
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