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A dozen reasons for the dreaded rejection letter

by Tom Wolfe, Career Coach and Contributing Editor

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Military to Civilian TransitionThe interview is over. You are told to expect the results in two weeks. A letter arrives two weeks later. You open it and read the following:

We regret to inform you that we are unable to offer you a position at this time. Although your background is impressive, your skill set is not compatible with our requirements, and we have identified another candidate who is a better fit for our opening. We will keep your resume on file and contact you in the event a more appropriate position becomes available. We enjoyed meeting you and wish you well.

The dreaded rejection letter! Your level of disappointment varies depending on your level of interest. Not being selected for the job of your dreams is one thing; losing one in which you had little interest is easier to swallow. In any event, you might like to know why you were rejected and if you have any recourse.

With regard to recourse, probably not. No almost always means no. It is impossible to challenge or overcome objections which are unidentified. You can ask, but you will probably not be told. Your chances of finding out improve if you have an inside connection. If you decide to not take no for an answer, it is important to stay positive and professional in your approach. Do not get defensive, indignant, or accusatory. Stay humble. Be appreciative. Ask for help. The odds are against you, but maybe your persistence will pay off, and you will be able to overcome the objection and eliminate the real reason for rejection.

As to the basis for rejection, note the language in the letter: your skill set is not compatible with our requirements. That must be the reason, correct? Probably not. Your resume indicated the minimum skill set, or the interview would have never happened.

Does the company owe you a more specific explanation? No. Years ago companies were forthcoming with concrete reasons for not selecting an individual, but as our society has become increasingly litigious, the willingness to share this type of feedback has all but vanished. Rather than risk a lawsuit for reasons that could be interpreted as discriminatory, a company will use the terminology above.

In the following section, a dozen reasons for rejections are listed, all of which fall into two categories: those within your control and those that are not. Keep them in mind as you interview and try to whittle down any areas that may result in rejection.

1. You failed to show sufficient interest in the position. This is a classic. Maybe you truly were not interested and it showed. Maybe you were very interested and failed to let it show. Regardless of how you feel, the perceptions of the interviewers become their reality.

2. You are overqualified for the position. If the interviewer senses that the job will bore you or that growth in the position may be too slow for your qualifications, it is best to eliminate you from consideration. Every position requires a certain amount of cost to train, and employers want to be sure they are investing in a candidate who will be there on a long-term basis. Since overqualified candidates tend to become bored easily and leave much more quickly, employers usually do not want to take the risk in hiring them.

3. You are under-qualified. Most jobs today are increasingly diverse, requiring numerous skills from several different disciplines. While your qualifications are exemplary, you may be limited in specific areas that the job requires. To avoid this kind of rejection, ask about the company’s needs and focus on how your current skills can make a difference. If you can identify a specific gap in your experience, you can address how you will correct that.

4. They liked someone else better. ‘It’s not you, it’s me.’ Every single corporate division has a culture that is dictated by the people already in the area’s job functions. The hiring manager looks for personality fits as well as skills sets. It’s important that both the candidate and current staff are in-sync.

5. You were beaten out for the position. As good as you know you are, it would be a mistake to assume that you are the only qualified candidate for the job. Remember, in today’s job climate, the difference between an offer and a rejection letter can be as simple as one small skill.

6. You failed to sell yourself for the position. As you leave the interview, ask yourself what impressions you left in the minds of the interviewers. Do they see you in the job for which you are being considered, doing it well, and with a big smile on your face? If so, congratulations. If not, then expect to receive a rejection letter.

7. You displayed inappropriate behavior or breached interviewing etiquette. Were you on time? Dressed appropriately? Polite and courteous? Did you treat everyone you met with respect and courtesy, or just those people in the powerful positions?

8. You were not prepared for the interview. How much homework did you do? Were you knowledgeable about the company? The industry? The position? The company’s competitors? Yourself?

9. You focused too much on you and not enough on them. Human beings are by nature selfish - they care about themselves, their needs, and the needs of their dependents. No one expects you to deny your selfish side, but you need to be time-sensitive about it. Showing that self-interest too early in the interviewing process will increase the odds of rejection. When is it safe to broach those selfish issues? Only after the job offer is on the table.

10. You seemed more interested in the future than the present. Let’s say you asked twenty questions during the interview. Five of them concerned the position at hand and the rest were focused on the jobs to come. Sounds like you view the initial position as simply a stepping-stone. Is that the signal you meant to send?

Note that some of these factors are within your power to control, while many are not. With proper preparation and strong self-knowledge, you can minimize rejections. Learn from every interview, think positive, be prepared, control the controllable, and don’t get discouraged. Rejection letters are part of the interview process.

Tom Wolfe is contributing editor & columnist for Civilian Job News and author of ‘Out Of Uniform: Your Guide to a Successful Military-to-Civilian Career Transition.’

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