It’s one of the most frustrating job search scenarios. You’re applying for the right roles and you have the right qualifications. You know this to be true because you’re landing one interview after the next.
And yet, you’re not getting offers.
You keep hearing that, while you were a finalist, they went with someone who “was a better fit.” (Or maybe you don’t hear anything back at all.)
The good news is: the fact that you’re stalling out at the interview stage means you simply need to change up how you handle that one part of the process. Here’s how to diagnose what’s holding you back—and fix it.
1. You’re Qualified, But Boring
Thinking back on your interview, you feel good about it. You had a reasonable answer to every question and made no major mistakes. Nothing really sticks out, but you know you did a good, solid job.
Unfortunately, that’s generally not enough to land an offer.
Hiring managers often lead multiple interviews a day, sometimes back-to-back. Even if you have strong qualifications, you’ll have a hard time finding your way onto the offer list—let alone the top spot—if he or she has to go back to their notes to even remember who you are.
In The Two Traits All Hiring Managers Look for During Interviews Without Even Realizing It, Muse columnist Jeremy Schifeling explains that the ideal applicant comes off as both able to do the job and like someone you’d want to spend time with—in his words, “warm and competent.”
Think of it like this: If an applicant was very personable but lacked certain technical skills, he’d need to build those skills to round out his application (say, by enrolling in a course). You’re on the other side of things, you’ve got the experience, but you’ll want to get better at connecting with the interviewer.
The best way to do that is to practice. So, don’t just rehearse what you’re going to say in your head. Ask a good friend to meet over coffee (you’re buying) and practice your responses. Have her point out if you’re being stiff, long-winded, or seem bored yourself.
2. You’re Qualified, But You Lack Interview Skills
Do you know someone who’s super smart, but for whatever reason, just isn’t a good test-taker? They get nervous, they feel boxed in, they choke—well, the same thing can happen in interviews.
It could be that you have the exact right qualifications to get in the door, but once you’re sitting across from the hiring manager you repeatedly put your foot in your mouth. Maybe you throw your old boss or colleagues under the bus, so you don’t come off like a team player. Maybe you ask questions that make it clear you didn’t do your research. Maybe you don’t ask any questions at all. Maybe you skip the thank you note, because you think it doesn’t really matter. (It does).
It might not seem fair that you have to “play by the rules” if you’re experienced enough to start tomorrow. But truth talk: You do. So step one is accepting that—just like a poor test-taker needs to improve how they take them (along with studying the subject matter)—you’ll want to learn more about interviewing.
From there, take these steps.
Step one: Read The Ultimate Interview Guide—it covers all aspects of preparing.
Step two: Ask yourself if there’s a particular moment in any interview, in which you always feel stumped. Do you get uncomfortable discussing salary? Maybe you’re still not sure what to say when asked “What’s your biggest weakness?” These conversations are challenging, so it’s OK to admit that you’re struggling with certain aspect.
Step three: Once you’ve identified where you can improve, fix it. If you want someone to guide you through it, reach out to a friend or an interview coach.
3. You’re Qualified, But Desperate
When asked why you want the job, you tell the truth—the whole truth. Maybe you gush about how this is your dream company. Maybe you get real about how you would take just about anything to leave your current job and hey, you’re perfectly suited for this role.
Honesty is the best policy—right?
Wrong. If you make it seem like hiring you is a big favor, the interviewer is likely to pass over you for someone who frames it as something that would benefit them and the company.
As with anything else, it’s possible to be too honest. You can tell your friend that the new recipe she made is not your favorite, without saying it’s the most disgusting thing you’ve ever eaten. Similarly, you can show your passion for a company by giving thoughtful answers to what drew you to apply and how you’d approach potential projects (as opposed to fan-girling over the CEO).
Remember, if you put all of your emphasis on why you want this job, odds are you’re not spending enough time on why they’d benefit from hiring you (which is, after all, their motivation). So, for every time you list something you love about the company, list one way you’d be able to support, innovate, or grow something there.
Checking everything off the position description may get you in the door. But to surpass other qualified candidates and land an offer, make sure you’re taking the ball to the goal, and not making any of the mistakes above.