Hiring is hard. The manager is forced to make a decision based on shallow screening of how another person will perform, hoping that attitude, the ability to answer questions, or past experience will translate into an employee who can do what they need. It's an imperfect process - some more imperfect than others - but it's always a gamble.
"Inside the Mind of a Hiring Manager" is a fun topic to explore, but it too quickly devolves into strategies on how to influence the interviewer. Candidates just want to know how to get the job - they're not concerned with the why. Well they're not concerned until they get that email, or call, or the dreaded silence. Everyone can relate to the interview you thought you aced that went nowhere. You're left wondering how did I screw that up?
It might not be you at all. Here are four reasons that people don't get hired.
Reason The First: You're Too Awesome
That's not a typo. Do you know the old saying that A players hire A players and B players hire C players? It can be true. When interviewing, some managers are afraid of you. You either possess skills in abundance of theirs, or your ambition was clear and they're afraid for their jobs. This fear is not always baseless. You might be better then they are. You might be better than their current staff. Hiring you would bring enormous discord to their team - because it would shake them up - and here's the kicker. It might not be best for the team. Chemistry is a tough thing. Superstars disrupt chemistry and take resources away from marginal players. That's great when you're looking for earth shattering sales records. It's not so great when you're trying to maintain a legacy accounting system with 20 year old code.
Reason Number 2: The Process Is The Punishment
Some managers want a difficult hiring process because they want to feel that you as a candidate earned that position. These can be great managers, but they often have hidden interview tricks that filter candidates arbitrarily. It's not fair, or smart, but it is very common. When a manager has "one great question," it usually is backed up with "that no one has ever answered correctly."
Reason The Third: They Don't Need To Hire
When preparing candidates, I try to break down the interview into its basic elements. The most basic is that the manager has a problem they want to solve, and it's your job as the candidate to 1) Identify the problem, and 2) Create a mental picture of you working with the manager to solve it. If a manager can picture you making that problem go away, you tend to get hired. This frame of reference helps you understand that interviews aren't about answering questions correctly. They're about connecting with a manager and suggesting that work will be easier if they bring you on board.
This works very well to ease pre-interview anxiety, but it fails when the manager doesn't have a problem that really hurts.
Look, when you're on fire, you want someone with a fire hose. When you're slightly thirsty, you could use a glass of water, but you don't have to have a glass of water. You can get one later. This is the dreaded, "Perfection Interview." If a manager is willing to hire, but only if the person walks on water, the feedback is that it's not your interview style. The manager just has different priorities.
Reason Number 4: Fear Of Success Is Real
Candidates don't realize that when a manager makes an offer, there is a moment of fear that it will be accepted. An employee taking a job brings change, and sometimes that change is terrifying. Let's say you're a VP of Sales for a software firm and your CEO has made it clear that you're responsible for $10MM in revenue in the next year. You have 8 salespeople each bringing in $1MM, and you have two open positions. If you hire both of those positions, you have no excuse if you don't hit $10MM. If you don't hire, you still have the chance to hit your mark, because your current people may perform above expectations. If you hire - you lose the excuse "HR couldn't provide me with quality candidates." Yes, that happens. Many of us were trained to say that. It's an easy deflection that buys you time.
Fear of success goes much further than simply hitting your numbers. We know that rapid growth is exciting, but it can be terrifying as well. If you've a competent manager, but you know that you're slated for a Director position, you may not want it. A substantial pay raise may come with more pressure than you can handle. You may already be at your limits of work/life balance. Or you may not want the pay raise because you already make more than your neighbors, and even more money will necessitate a move to a new neighborhood and a break with your friends. Hiring great people is how you move up. But what if you don't want to move up?
That sounds crazy to people starting their careers, and to super-achievers. Talk to a couple hundred managers and you'll see its more prevalent than you think. Hiring poorly puts your job at risk. But hiring well brings its own set of problems.
These Managers Should Be Fired!
The title of this piece is Hidden Reasons. Some people are going to tear into these reasons as examples of bad management. They may be right. But jobseekers can't afford to traffic in "should." There's a lot of things that should happen, but as my grandmother used to say, "Should always means someone didn't get their way."
If someone isn't going to hire, you need to know before you take that vacation day to interview. And you have to understand that managers are still people. They may not know their motivations. They may have different priorities. And the funniest part, is that sometimes the filters in place, as dumb as they are, work. Or at least, they work well enough.
To end on a positive note: If you didn't get the job after a great interview, don't sweat it. The answer as to why might actually be, "It's not you, it's me."