I'm Clearly the Best Candidate--So Why Am I Not Getting the Job?

Last Updated Oct 15, 2010 4:26 AM EDT

Dear Evil HR Lady,
I heard that 85% of the time it's not the most qualified candidate that gets the job. I'm still searching for that 15% job.
I'm an Accountant. Not to toot my own horn but I'm kinda good at it. I'm considered extremely intelligent, however my social graces aren't up to par. I'm usually well liked and I do impeccable work.
I'm doing something wrong in the interviews. I've been a finalist a few times now but not gotten the job. Sadly, I used to be good at interviewing.
So as to not go on too long and bore you I'll just say while society has become "super positive", pretentious (in my view anyways) and from what I've found and been told "game players". In other words, you've got to play the game. It seems like, and according to one source, it doesn't matter if you can do the job but can you tell them what they want to hear.

Anyways, if nothing else you could tell me a couple of great subject lines to use.
A great couple of lines will not get you a job. Neither will the idea that you're not getting the job because hiring managers hire the less qualified person 85% of the time. And, if there's ever been a made up statistic, that's one of them.

To be honest, as long as no one is lying on their resume (and that is a big caveat), that by the time you've made it through the resume screen and the phone screen, all candidates being interviewed could do the job and are qualified. It's doubtful any recruiter or hiring manager is saying, "Gee I need an accountant who is experienced in Hedge funds. So, let's bring in this guy who has experience and 3 other people who don't have a clue about that area!" Nope. All the people interviewing will have the necessary experience.

(Now, a caveat. When unemployment is low and it's a job seekers market, it may well be the case that people are brought in to interview who do not have the necessary experience, but can potentially learn the necessary skills. Unless you're in a field with not enough skilled candidates, this is unlikely today.)

You said you used to be good at interviewing, but now you are not. May I gently suggest that you probably have never been spectacularly good at interviewing, but have been in situations where there were fewer qualified candidates to choose from.

Take a deep breath. I'm not trying to be mean, just trying to give you some insight into the process. You probably walk in feeling you are the best candidate and so, rather than exuding confidence, you exude a snobbish superiority. And this turns interviewers off. Remember--everyone who is interviewing is qualified and could do the job. The interview is about cultural fit.

So, don't approach it like a beauty pageant where you're showing how you're better than everybody else. Approach it like a discussion where you are as interested in finding out if the company is a good fit for you, rather than just showing the interviewer how qualified you are. Everybody loves to talk about themselves. (Well, almost everyone.) Give the interviewers (there are usually multiple people you meet with) the opportunities to tell you how wonderful they are.

This isn't advice to be a sycophantic suck-up. This is advice to have a conversation. Here are some general questions to ask--things that will be part of the conversation. I can't give you specific, accounting related questions because I don't know much about accounting.
  • What makes this job a good fit for you?
  • Thinking back to people who have been in this position previously, what differentiated the ones who were good from the ones who were really great? (From Ask A Manager, Alison Green)
  • What are some of the struggles this department faces?
  • What are the company's/department's short and long term goals? How does this position help the department/company achieve those goals?
Of course, there are a zillion other questions to ask. The goal is to make the interviewers like you, by getting them talking. They'll come out feeling very positive.

For more questions to ask and advice on interviewing, try reading Alison Green's How to Get a Job: Secrets of a Hiring Manager and Resumagic's list of questions to ask the interviewer.
Hopefully, this will differentiate you from all the other qualified candidates you're up against.
Photo by Katlin Lewis, Flickr cc 2.0

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