How to Get a Job Interview by Understanding Common Rejection Reasons

how to get a job interview

The job search can be frustrating. Especially when you’ve done all this work on your resume, and have written what you believe to be custom cover letters. Every application seems like it goes into a black hole or you get a rejection notice for jobs you’re clearly qualified for. It’ll leave you wondering how to get a job interview.  Don’t fret. While there is no magic tip to guarantee an interview (nothing in life is guaranteed except death and taxes), you should understand common mistakes and know if you’re making them. If you are, you can turn things around and get ahead of the competition.

Let’s look at a four reasons you may be facing more rejection than you need to:

Your favorite: You’re missing experience.

One of the most common and hated excuses. If you’re tired of getting this line and nothing more, there is something you can do to get to the truth. And sometimes the truth is you really weren’t qualified for the job. Why set yourself up for more rejection than you need to?

With the way it is today, employers only care about the skills and responsibilities you’ve had to date vs. what you could do with training – – especially for experienced hires. Whatever is in the job description, they’re gonna get it. Even if they have to wait a little while.  So my advice to you:

If your justification for applying to long shot jobs is that you’re living on a prayer, you’re wasting valuable time. Focus on the jobs where you’ve done the job, if even in bits and pieces. As long as you’ve done it all, you’re in better shape, which beats being in no shape at all with a high cholesterol résumé.

You should also start mapping out a transition plan that allows you to get the experience (Or make the connection. More on that below) so you can jump to the job that’s a stretch today.

When I came out of school, I worked in sales. When I decided I wanted an HR job, I applied to a bunch and got no traction. So I took a recruiting gig at a staffing agency to get HR experience. I then leveraged that experience to get the job I have today…in a new city…in a recession. It can be done.

You haven’t been a peer or competitor.

So let’s say you do have experience, but you’re still not getting anywhere. Probably more frustrating than the above. There’s a good chance the smoking gun is the specific industry or environment because:

What you’ve done is often just as important as where you’ve done it.

When a recruiter is sitting with a hiring manager, one of the things the hiring manager will almost always say is “It’d be great to get someone that’s worked for X company or similar.” This becomes that italicized line in the job description, “X industry experience preferred.” And since recruiters wanna make managers happy, they go hunting for candidates that have worked or are working for a peer or competitor organization. The only way to overcome this hurdle is have all the job-specific experience and show that you’re capable of working in their environment.

Find similarities between the company you’re applying to and the companies you’ve worked for. Start ups? Fast-paced? Demanding internal clients (I hear working with doctors is just as “fun” as working with lawyers)? Highlight that in your cover letter and professional summary. Again, it may not guarantee an interview, but this is about increasing the odds. This is also helpful for the next point.

You’re too cold.

Some of the highest performing companies aim to make referrals 50% of their hires. Folks that are warmed up by some type of connection to the company. Maybe a headhunter, friend that’s working there, or an associate that they know from their intermingling circles.

It’s the best way in the door even when you don’t have the perfect experience (Yep, they’ll let some of that stuff go). It also takes the most time. You have to get out and meet people. You have to make meaningful connections on LinkedIn and touch base with key connections periodically. You have to send emails more than when you need something. You’ll have to do people favors when you know you’ll get nothing in return. You have to be memorable (even in the face of rejection).

I looked at a couple resumes today that I wouldn’t have viewed if it weren’t for the colleagues that sent them to me.

Your résumé isn’t optimized.

The keyword game is real. The adverb game isn’t.

Stuff like “effectively communicated” and “quickly resolved” won’t be the words or phrases that get you past the filters. You have to pay attention to the job description (qualifications in particular) and get whatever key terms or technologies they reference into your résumé. Translate your experience into a language they understand. Don’t keep submitting the same thing to each job and expect them to see you for the great person they don’t know you are. And most importantly…

Don’t lie! The worst thing you can do is get an interview off a fib, go to their office, and get exposed as a fraud. Nobody’s trying to hire Bernie Madoff.

There are other reasons you may be missing out on interviews, but we’ll have to save those for another day. In the interim, reevaluate how you’re conducting your search. And if you aren’t searching now, it doesn’t hurt to start thinking next steps so you’re prepared. That way you’ll know what needs to be done to get an interview.

Let me know your questions or post suggestions in the comments, or hit me up via my contact form.


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  • Tey

    I’m in the rejection and no responses zone right now. Everything you mention above is so right! When recruitment agencies send me the job specs, the employers are looking to take someone from their direct competitors.
    I’ve also been spending more time trying to connect with people and enlarge my network- which is great!

    Thanks for the blog post!

    • Rich

      Thanks for the comment. Glad to hear you’re working with staffing agencies. They at least have a touch point with the hiring manager or recruiter and can put up a bit of a fight for you. They’ll often tell you the truth about the role too.

  • Sandra

    “What you’ve done is often just as important as where you’ve done it.” <— Yep, when I was searching for an internship in the USA and the potential employers were always pointing the fact that I worked at Harris Interactive which is really known in the USA and asked me a lot of questions about it.

    "Don’t lie! The worst thing you can do is get an interview off a fib, go to their office, and get exposed as a fraud. Ain’t nobody trying to hire Bernie Madoff." <— Well, two years ago, I applied for an American company based in Paris and I was so confident about my application until an American student who was one of my classmate applied for the same position. She didn't have any experience in this field , she just has a Literature background so she lied on her résumé and got an interview for the job and she made it. If she hadn't lied for this market research position, I don't think she would have the interview. The main requirement for this postion was to have a marketing background and a first experience in this field…

    • Rich

      Yeah, I’ve seen people win off the lies, but I just can’t endorse that. I’ve also seen/heard horror stories of candidates getting put on blast and things going south quickly.

      You (not the literal you) also can’t bank on the company/recruiter/hiring manager doing as little diligence as they did for her. That would’ve gotten sniffed out in a legit background check.

      • Nikkey

        Staffing agencies suck. Why? Because Recruiters don’t follow up. They don’t provide feedback. Best believe they’ll call you when they need to fill an opening. If the company doesn’t consider interviewing you, do you hear from the Recruiter? Absolutely not. I work in HR and I’m looking to make a move.

        • Rich

          *Bad staffing agencies suck.

  • Tey

    I’ve been sending out a bunch of CV’s. Like about 5 a day. Now finally I have an interview *happy dance* and im going over my CV. Eventually figured out my problem! My entire CV has typo’s in it! Words missing, the sentences aren’t flowing all because I was so desperate when I was working on my CV that I just wanted it to be sent that I didnt care about the packaging.

    Presentation is everything. Why would someone let you work on their documents when you cant even sort out your own??!!

    I’m glad I’ve caught the problem now. However it has cost me already.


  • Zeb

    Yeah, I’m in the rejection pile right now. It sux but you know your absolutely right. Most jobs I apply for I’m simply not qualified for or at least not as qualified as others. And talk about cold; that’s me in most applications considering I have no connections inside. I need to work on networking and gaining more valuable experience or return to my old field of expertise. This simply isn’t the late nineties anymore and crossover jobs are hard to come by.

  • Rose

    There are no head hunters here, you just make connections through chruch and friends. Unfortuately I don’t have a religion and the hand full of friend that i have don’t have the kind of posiiton that could help me and probably wouldn’t even if they did. I make speical resumes for every job I apply for, and speical cover letters, I always follow up with a phone call, and I still can’t get an interview. On the rare occasion that I do get an interview I am rejected pretty much the moment they lay eyes on me in spite of me putting a lot of time and effort into wearing the perfect outfit and doing my hair and makeup just so. I really don’t know what else I can do. What do you do when you live in a small town and can’t afford to move but also don’t know the right people?