Unfortunately, rejection is a part of life. There are soft rejections without significant emotional investment (see Scenario 1), and then there are hard rejections (see Scenario 2).
Fortunately, in the professional world, rejection isn’t personal – probably.
Scenario 1: You find a job posting that speaks to you. You think, “Wow, I’m perfect for this job.” You ditch the “insert-name-of-company-here” cover letter, and spend an hour crafting the perfect cover letter. You spend another 45 minutes tweaking your resume. You hit submit, get the “We’ve received your resume” automated email response, and that’s it. Nothing. No response. Not even a notification that the position has been filled.
Scenario 2: You get past the phone screens with HR and the hiring manager. You’re feeling great. Now it’s time to suit up and schedule a supposed “dentist appointment” AKA interview. You crush the interview. It felt more like a conversation than a Q&A. You shake hands with the person who you’re confident will be your future boss, and walk out the door with a promise that they’ll let you know soon. A couple days later the phone rings. “We’re sorry to inform you…”
So, what happened?
Here are a few unfortunately too common reasons you didn’t get the job, and what you should do next time you’re searching for that perfect IT position.
Educational attainment is a funny thing. Those one or two lines on your resume determine so much. If you don’t have enough education, you might not even get the interview. Too much education, and you’re labeled as overqualified, which means they think you’re too expensive, or they don’t expect you to stay for long. Take a look at job descriptions for the minimum education required, and see if you can balance these factors with industry certifications (see next section).
The Competition. Here’s another reason you didn’t get the job: You have no idea who else applied. Why would someone with a PhD in electrical engineering be applying for a sysadmin position? Who knows? Maybe he likes the hours. More importantly, why would a company hire a PhD as a sysadmin? Who knows? Companies weigh education differently, so it might not be you, maybe it’s them.
What to do? Address educational disparities (in either direction) in your cover letter. For instance, if you have a ton of experience, but lack the right level of education, then explain how your experience makes you the best candidate.
If you have too much education without much experience, explain how your educational background will benefit the company.
Apply for reachable jobs, but shoot for the stars, too. You might get lucky.
We’ve gone many times into the education versus certification debate. You can check out this blog post to determine which might be best for you, but for the purpose of this blog post, you didn’t get the job because you didn’t have the certification.
Certifications benchmark your skills against industry-wide standards. It’s not uncommon for job postings to list the certifications they think their ideal candidate should have.
If you have your CCNA R&S, then the hiring manager knows that you can set up a network. That’s valuable for both you and employers.
What to do? Get certified. If you get into the interview process without the minimum requirement, pledge that you’ll earn that certificate within a given amount of time. Your next company might even have a training budget and pay for the exam.
After you’ve been on the job for a while, you get to know which job titles correspond to which level of experience. Junior IT professionals probably need a couple years of experience. Senior IT professionals need a decade of experience. You might not have gotten the job because you’re either overqualified or underqualified. Unfortunately, it’s that simple.
What to do? For IT pros early in their career, you can’t do much except get more experience. You’re not experienced enough to apply for managerial roles. You’re too experienced for entry-level roles. If you want to see the doors fly open, consider specializing in an in-demand career track.
For brand new IT pros, the answer is still, “Get more experience. You’re probably thinking, “Everyone wants me to have experience in order to get experience.” You’re caught in the “Experience Catch-22,” but there’s a way to break the cycle. That question deserves its own blog post, which we happen to have right here.
What about overqualification? You might consider applying for more senior roles. If you’re just on the edge of the required experience, you might want consider earning a certification in project management or higher-level certifications, such as the CCNP. You’ll prove that you’re dedicated to your career progression, and maybe even bridge the experience gap.
You might have felt like you crushed the interview, but you still didn’t land the job. Many companies are really sensitive to where you’ll fit in, A.K.A. the frustratingly vague, “cultural fit.” When you interview, your future manager is thinking about how well you’ll get along with the rest of the team. You two might have gotten along just fine, but there’s a calculus of personalities running in the background of the hiring manager’s head. And think about the inverse: Maybe you wouldn’t have been happy there anyway.
What to do? Not much. Ahead of an interview learn as much as you can about the company culture beyond the “About Us” page. Read reviews on Glassdoor. Take a look at their social media channels. You can tell a lot about a company from their marketing and branding. Don’t worry. You’ll be a great fit somewhere else.
This one is the worst. If you’re applying for a position within a large bureaucratic organization (i.e., governments, universities, etc.), take a look at the job posting. Does it look really specific, like absurdly specific? Does it have a line that basically says, “The candidate should be proficient in this highly specific environment?” What about a line that reads, “The candidate should possess insanely in-depth knowledge of this organization?” If so, there’s a good chance you’re competing with an internal candidate.
What does that even mean? Many large, public organizations have miles of red tape for promoting an employee or moving someone into a newly created position. They can’t just offer the person that job outright. They have to offer the job publicly, interview candidates (including the internal candidate), and then select the best candidate. Hint: The internal candidate is the best candidate 99.9% of the time.
What to do? Absolutely nothing. But, look on the bright side. If you got the interview, then your name rose to the top of the pile. Public job postings for large, public organizations attract hundreds (if not thousands) of applications. You got there once, it will happen again.
As the adage goes, finding a job is a full-time job. Manage your expectations. Bridge any gaps in your experience or education with a strong cover letter. Stay positive.
You’ll soon move past the rejections and find your new job. And remember it’s probably not personal – unless it is.
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