Dear Interviewees: It’s Not You, It’s Me

Dear Interviewee, 

Thank you for your recent application to work with Company. Unfortunately we are not looking to take your application forward at this time. 

We wish you luck in your job search, and thank you for your interest in working at Company. 

Someone In HR


It’s the kind of letter that makes you feel more despondent than that time you caught your high school boyfriend snogging Janice behind the bike sheds.

You read the description. You knew you were a good fit for the role. You went to the interview. You thought it went well. You got along with your interviewer.

So why don’t they want you?!


As someone who’s managed a load of different teams and has lost count of the number of interviews I’ve conducted, I thought I’d share a few things you may not know about the interview process.

1. You might not have been as good as you thought

This one is relatively rare. Normally people have a reasonable idea of how good a fit they are for a job. But sometimes there’s that one person who just assumes they’re perfect for the job.

Note: If you’re sitting there thinking “Oh god, what if that’s me?” then it probably isn’t.

The best example of this was when I was interviewing people for a blogger outreach position. Candidates came in for a half day, the first hour of which was an interview, followed by a (paid) trial in which they got to do the job.

So this one guy showed up. Did pretty well in the interview, obviously knew his stuff. I sat him down at the table with the rest of the applicants, all of whom were given the same information, and left them to get on with it.

Everyone else in the room did what they had to do. Some did well, some not so well; some got jobs, some didn’t.

This guy didn’t. But not because of the quality of his work.

He came out of the room and yelled at me that he wanted more of an explanation. He stood right in front of me and threatened me, to my face. He was significantly taller than me. It was intimidating. I kept calm, answered his questions, and tried to calm him down. It didn’t work. In the end, my boss came and threw him out.

Three days later, I had a complaint email from him.

I know I did the job well! it said Why didn’t you hire me?! 

Um. Because I don’t want to be threatened in my own workplace?




2. We found something in the background check

A lot of companies do background checks these days. Personally, I tend not to hold drunken Facebook pictures or the occasional slightly strange tweet against people, but a lot of employers do.

This one person came to an interview and was really honest about her background. She’d worked in adult video – distrubution, not as an actor – and she wanted to be upfront about it.

I appreciated her honesty.

She was also perfect for the job.

I put my strong recommendation behind her and sent everything through to my boss.

Who vetoed her application.

This really upset me. I had countless meetings with my boss, and with my boss’ boss, arguing that her experience was actually relevant to our industry; that we allegedly prided ourselves on being an open, accepting company and she was looking to get out of the line of work she’d been in; that I hadn’t interviewed anyone else who was even remotely as promising a candidate.

They still said no. Which is their prerogative, you know? It’s their company.

I really tried, though. At one point I crouched down on my knees next to the COO’s desk and openly begged to at least give her a probationary period.

But ultimately, there wasn’t anything I could do to change their minds. So I had to email the best candidate I’d had in ages, with a message I didn’t agree with, and refuse her application.

Which brings me to my next point.

3. It’s not you, it’s them

You might get along well with your interviewer. You might prove your worth during the interview process. And then your application might be vetoed for some other reason, or by someone else in the company.

Other than the person I mentioned above, this happened to me twice.

The first time was when things were fairly close between two candidates. I wanted to take the one I thought would do the better job – he seemed more eager to prove himself and I thought he sounded more enthusiastic.

However, I was dually managing a team with another person, and she preferred the second candidate (as did our boss), who wasn’t bad either. The second candidate also had a university degree, whereas the first had dropped out of A-levels. To me, this made no difference. He was still qualified, there was no reason to hold his 17-year-old self against him.

But it wasn’t 100% my decision. Sometimes, in business, you have to go along with the majority.


The next was partially my decision.

I interviewed this person. She was brilliant and I really liked her. I thought she’d fit into the team well. Her experience wasn’t quite what I’d been looking for, but I thought she’d work hard and get up to speed quickly.

When she left the interview room, I was this close to offering her a job on the spot and introducing her to my eclectic, brilliant and slightly insane team.


I was so convinced I’d hire her that I nearly cancelled the only other interviewee who was coming in.

But it’d been arranged for weeks, and she was scheduled for the following day, and that’d be a wanky thing to do.

So I agreed to see her.

And she was even better. Her experience was great, she was working for a large corporation but wanted to move to a smaller company environment, and she was rooting for the same people as me in the X Factor.

Plus, my boss loved her, and so did the other team manager who’d met her.



I nearly backed out of hiring her when I realised I’d have to email the person from the previous day and say no, despite giving out all the signals that I’d thought she’d be great for the position.

4. There might be other factors at play

Potential employers can’t tell you absolutely everything that’s affecting their decision to hire you, usually because of confidential things within their company.

I once interviewed two candidates for the same position. Both were equally qualified, both equally experienced (albeit in slightly different roles), and one was the kind of person I probably would have usually chosen, because he would have been a great fit with my young, vibrant, hilarious team.

But I went with the other guy.

Why? Because I was planning on leaving the company in a few months’ time, and I wanted someone who wasn’t all about having fun. Someone who could have a laugh and enjoy themselves, but ultimately could be entrusted with the business processes and higher-level stuff that I was doing.

Someone I could rely on to maybe take over when I left.

As it turned out, he didn’t take over, someone else did, which all turned out really well. But I still think it was a good decision to hire him, because it was what the team needed at the time.

I know, I know, this post isn’t massively encouraging. It might feel like I’m saying there’s no point hoping for a job because of all the reasons you might not get one.

But I’m not really saying that.

Not what I'm saying

Not what I’m saying

I’m just saying that the thing is, employers often can’t tell you why you weren’t hired. We’re often not allowed to. But the vast majority of the time?

It’s not you, it’s us.

If you’ve been hit by rejections before, you’ll know how disheartening it is. But if you’re a good candidate, and you keep applying to companies you like, you’ll get there in the end. In the immortal words of Dory…


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