“Why didn’t I get the job?”

I’ve heard this refrain countless times from disappointed candidates. And I get it: rejection stinks. Rejection from a job can feel especially brutal, like it’s a referendum on your intelligence or capabilities as a person. I promise you; it’s not.

As a recruiter, I’ve had an inside look at the hiring process for countless companies over the years. The process is messy. In a perfect world, companies would know what they want before starting interviews and write a job description to reflect this. Often, they don’t know what they want until they see it. And that person may not be you. It doesn’t matter how qualified you are or how hard you crush the interview; you’re simply not the person they want.

Then, there’s the flip side: it’s you, not them.

This is brutal, but you need to hear it. Sometimes you are not the most qualified candidate–even if you think you are. Sometimes you don’t crush that interview. This is why you need a recruiter who is candid and says “no.” That’s my job: to tell it like it is to you each and every time. A candid approach keeps you focused on the opportunities that are the right choice and helps you improve skills where you’re weak.

Don’t be surprised if I tell you the following:

  1. Don’t apply for that reach job.
    This is controversial, but hear me out. I absolutely understand when candidates want to take a leap of faith and try anyways. I get it– if you don’t apply, you’ll never have a chance, right? But there’s a downside to applying for your dream job when you’re missing a huge qualification or type of experience.When a candidate without a hope or prayer of qualifying for a position applies to a job, they make life a lot harder for everyone. That’s one more resume a hiring manager needs to spend time reviewing, and likely rejecting.I’d rather help you build your way up to this dream job. Let’s talk about what you need to do next to position yourself for success. How can we get you up to speed on a key skill or certification? Is there a critical piece of experience you’re missing that we can help you get at your next job? Rather than applying for every open position, let’s be strategic and turn that reach job into a future slam-dunk.
  2. Don’t take a step down for your next position.
    Yes, today’s professional trajectories are rarely linear, but I don’t recommend applying for a job that’s a big step down from where you currently stand. Sometimes it can feel necessary: you’re moving to a new city or trying to make a lateral move to a new industry and you’re struggling to find anything open at your current level. Or perhaps you have been part of a corporate restructuring or layoff situation. I appreciate your willingness to take on a junior position. Unfortunately, companies rarely do. Instead of being seeing seen as a team player or someone humble and hardworking, you’re seen as a flight risk. Companies fear the moment a better position opens at another company – one that’s commensurate to your former pay grade or management level – you’ll jump ship.As a recruiter, I can try and make your case to the hiring manager, especially if you have a very compelling reason for taking a step down. But more often than not, it’s simply not worth our time trying to pitch you for this opening. We’re both better served waiting for an open position that matches your skills and experience level.
  3. Don’t skip that advanced degree or certification.
    Google “When should I get a CPA?” and you’ll get hundreds of answers from accounting professionals, recruiters and companies with different takes on the perfect time to level up your qualifications. One thing we all agree on: obtaining that CPA, CFA, CIA, MBA or MAcc degree can certainly help you get the leg up on other candidates applying for the same position.Nearly every day, a job seeker asks me, “What do companies want?” A better question would be, “What are companies paying me to find?” They’re paying me to find professionals with a history of steady, upward progression (no job hopping) and, most of the time, advanced degrees or certifications. If you don’t have an advanced degree or professional certification, you need to think seriously about getting one. Without it, you could be counted out entirely from an interview process. Or, someone with the same experience interviewing for the same position could beat you out for the offer, simply because they have the “preferred but not required” MBA or CPA.

A recruiter who will tell you “no” is your most valuable ally. Saying “no” saves you from wasting time on opportunities that aren’t the right fit for you. It saves you from hoping that hiring manager will call you back, when there isn’t a chance of that happening. Most importantly, it keeps you focused on the places where you can make a difference– getting that advanced certification, mastering your networking game, or nailing your interview prep. Invest your energy wisely, and you’ll reap the rewards.