As the old saying goes, "Always the bridesmaid, never the bride."
You have no problem getting job interviews. Tons of employers want to meet you. In fact, you're having trouble inventing new reasons to leave work early – your boss is getting suspicious of all these so-called doctor's appointments, funerals, and parent-teacher conferences.
You've been courted by more hiring managers than you can remember, and filled out scads of employment applications. But you can never seem to close the deal; you get those automated "Thank you for interviewing" notes informing you they've decided to keep looking.
What's going wrong?
It's time to take a look at how you approach the job search and interview process.
The good news first. Employers are noticing you, which means your resume and/or your LinkedIn profile are doing what they are supposed to do, generating interest with employers by highlighting your skills, accomplishments, and experience.
The bad news? Something is breaking down in the process after you get the call for the interview that's influencing employers not to hire you. Employers tend to be risk averse, and I once knew a manager who said very plainly about hiring decisions: "If it isn't yes, it's no." In other words, there's not much middle ground here - it doesn't take much to sink your chances.
Here is a checklist of things to consider.
• How's your interview style? Are you approachable? Friendly? Engaging? Positive? Don't underestimate the value employers place on personality. They want to hire employees they enjoy working with every day. A grumpy, curt, not-so-personable interviewee is a turn-off. Also, arrogance doesn't play well; yes, the company wanted to meet you, but they also want you to convince them that you're right for the role – and that you really want the role.
• Do you appear professional? Did you wear a suit to the interview? As in, a clean suit, without a ketchup stain on the lapel? Is your hair brushed? Are your fingernails clean? Did you remember to wear deodorant? How about brush your teeth? Also, even if you hear that the whole company wears jeans every day, wear a suit to the interview unless the Recruiter specifically tells you to wear something else; if you work in a business casual environment, and need to leave directly from work for an interview, keep a clean suit in your car and find somewhere to change into it before taking your first step into the interview.
• How did you answer the interview questions? Did you give smart, well thought out answers to the interview questions? For technical questions, were you able to explain effectively how you would solve the problem with sufficient detail to demonstrate that you know what you're talking about? If they asked you a behavioral interview question (i.e., "Tell me about a time when you had to..."), could you tell a story which explains how you overcame adversity? People are visual by nature, they want to have things explained to them clearly so that they can picture the situation.
• How were your manners? Did you show up on time? Did you remember to say "Please" and "Thank you?" How about answering questions when asked, and not interrupting? What about sending a "Thank You" note to all the interviewers afterward? The list of potential infractions goes on and on, but your mommy spent a lot of time teaching you how to behave for a reason.
• Did you oversell yourself in your resume? There's a temptation to really sell the heck out of yourself in your resume, and you should – so long as it accurately captures what can do and have done. But if you've exaggerated (or straight out lied) about your skills and experience in your resume, it will become apparent as soon as interviewers start asking in-depth questions about some of your stated accomplishments and you can't provide the essential details and knowledge to back up your braggadocio. If your answers don't feel right to an interviewer, you'll be knocked out of contention.
• How did you handle the compensation question? Companies want to know how much money it will take to get you into the job. It's a tricky discussion, loaded with traps and if the conversation goes poorly, it can end the interview on the spot. Learn more about the process here.
• Is there something funky on your background check? When you filled out an employer's application, you also completed an authorization for that employer to run a background check on you. So long as they have your signature on the background check authorization, the employer doesn't need any more approval or provide you with any notice to run it. And there could things showing up on there which give them pause; maybe there's a criminal offense you didn't disclose which pops up, or the dates of employment you provided on the application and the resume don't align with what came back in the check. Prior to extending an offer, here's a list of some of the ways employers might investigate you.
So what can you do to be sure that you'll be more successful in your interviews going forward? Here are a few strategies:
1. Practice interviewing. Interviewing is a learned skill, and you can get better at it. Engaging somebody to provide you with another perspective of your interview performance and presentation through mock interviewing – either a career coach or a very honest friend – can be highly beneficial. They'll be able to see things in the way you present yourself that you can't. Can you answer questions well? Are you being polite? Do you fidget?
2. Look the part. Think about upgrading your presentation with a modern, professional interviewing suit. Get your hair done. And make sure your shoes are polished. Practice good grooming. Don't give anybody a reason to knock you out due to your appearance.
3. Polish up your resume. It your resume accurately capturing you, your skills, and the value you've brought to an employer? While a resume is your platform to brag about your accomplishments, you also need to balance this with an honest approach, and a clear understanding of what you've done for an employer, in what capacity. Don't oversell yourself. Here are some tips for building a good resume.
4. Learn what's in your background check. In the United States, under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, you have a right to know what an employer finds in your background check that makes them decide not to hire you (disclaimer: I'm not an attorney, this is not legal advice – please consult an attorney for more specifics on FCRA and your rights). I would encourage you to take a proactive approach; if you think there's something adversely affecting you in your background check, it's better to know – hire a background check company to run a check on you so that you know what may be found in your files and be prepared to disclose it and answer questions about it.
5. Remember: There's always somebody out there who may be a better fit. At last count, there are more than 7.4 billion people on this little planet of ours. No matter how outstanding you are in your profession, no matter how likeable you are, no matter how many Nobel Prizes you've won, there is always – ALWAYS – the potential for another job applicant to come along who has a better resume than yours. Or they're slightly more likeable. Or they have better industry experience. Or they're best friends with the CEO's golf caddy. Or whatever. You won't always get the job, even if you're the best there is.