advice

Ask a Boss: Why Do I Get Interviews But No Offers?

Photo: Tom Kelley Archive/Getty Images

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Dear Boss,

I have been job-hunting (while employed full-time, which is very tricky!) for a good year.

I have been to seven interviews, and I have made it to the final round of candidates every single time. However, I have yet to receive any offers!

When I ask for feedback, I am told I am “fantastic, smart, professional,” etc. But apparently somebody else is more fantastic, smarter, and more professional because I am always the bridesmaid and never the bride!

In the last two interviews, I was told — after three rounds of interviews — that they “loved me” but that I was “overqualified.” Why, then, was I brought in for THREE rounds of interviews?

For another interview, for which the process went on for a month, including several interviews and a test, I was told they were really trying to find a spot for me in their company, but ultimately, they needed somebody with very specific experience. Why, then, was I ever even called in the first place? I never pretended to have that specific experience.

I am frustrated and disheartened — and don’t even know what I can do to improve my odds because the feedback I receive is always good.

Getting interviews but no offers is really frustrating … but I suspect there are pieces here that you’re making more frustrating for yourself than they should be.

Specifically: You’re getting annoyed that employers are bringing you in to interview for jobs that they ultimately decide you’re not quite the right match for. But the whole point of interviewing you is to help you and the employer figure that out. You’re thinking that they should have known you were overqualified from the beginning, since they saw your qualifications on your résumé. But on the employer’s side of things, it often doesn’t make sense to conclude that until they’ve had a chance to talk with you, and sometimes it can take a few interviews to be sure. If they could know how strong a candidate you were solely from your résumé, they wouldn’t need to interview people at all. Much more nuanced information comes out in an interview, which you can’t always get just from reading a résumé.

Plus, you have to remember that they’re not just looking at how well-matched you are with the job; they’re also looking at how well-matched you are with the job relative to other candidates. And if they’re thoughtful in how they approach hiring, that often won’t be an instant decision.

With that employer that talked with you for a month and then ended up telling you that they needed someone with a type of experience they don’t have, leaving you wondering why they would have called you in the first place: Sometimes candidates are strong enough in other ways to overcome a lack of skill X, so it can be worth talking to people who aren’t perfect matches with the job description. Sometimes that works out because the person ends up being right for the role despite not having the “perfect” set of experience, and other times it doesn’t. Sometimes employers genuinely don’t realize how important skill X will be until they talk to a candidate who doesn’t have it. Other times the job shifts in some way that makes skill X more important now than it was at the start of the search (for example, if they’ve launched a new initiative where X will be central, or if their X specialist leaves and they need to someone else to bring that skill).

And sure, sometimes employers are just disorganized and should have thought things through better from the beginning. But it’s really, really common to end up hiring people who aren’t a perfect, line-for-line match with the job description, and so it can make sense to talk with candidates who seem generally strong — even if ultimately the fit turns out not to be as strong as the job needs.

Overall, it’s in your best interests as a candidate that employers are willing to consider people who aren’t perfect matches. That flexibility can end up turning into an offer, even though it hasn’t so far. If you instead see it as a way you’re being mistreated or inconvenienced, your search is going to feel a lot more frustrating. Instead, if you can, try to reframe it in your mind as a good thing that people see your strengths and want to explore possibilities with you.

Now, as for what might going on with your job search. Frankly, it’s possible that nothing’s really going wrong. You’re getting interviews, so your application materials like your résumé and cover letters are probably doing their job. And you’re getting asked back for second and third interviews, so your interview skills probably aren’t a problem.

One thing you could try is to take a look at who was ultimately hired for the jobs you interviewed for. Look on the company’s website or on LinkedIn and check out those people’s backgrounds. You might realize that the candidates who are beating you out have more experience, less experience, or a different type of experience altogether — and that might point you to adjust the type of jobs you’re pursuing. For example, if you see that everyone getting hired is slightly junior to you, it could be a sign to start applying to jobs that are one step up from the ones you’ve been targeting.

Also, do you know whether you’ve reached the reference-checking stage with any of the jobs that you interviewed for? References typically aren’t checked until the very end of the process, so if yours are getting checked before you’re rejected, it’s possible that there’s a problem there. It could be worth touching base with your references to make sure that they feel comfortable giving you glowing recommendations — and to probe for any areas where they might be less comfortable endorsing you.

I’d also take another shot at asking for feedback from past interviewers. I know that you’ve tried that and you haven’t heard anything especially helpful, but you might get better results with a more targeted approach. When candidates ask me for feedback, it’s usually a generic-sounding request like, “I would appreciate any feedback you can give me about how I can be a stronger candidate in the future.” That kind of request feels perfunctory, and it makes it easy for busy hiring managers to give a vague response (“You were great but someone else was better qualified”). But a more personal request makes it more likely you’ll get a useful answer. For example, if you had particularly good rapport with a recent interviewer, you could say something like this: “I really appreciated the time you spent talking to me and the insights you gave me about your work. I wonder if I could ask you a favor. I’ve been having trouble getting beyond the interview stage for jobs similar to this one, and I would be so grateful for any advice you could give me on how I’m presenting myself. Are there weaknesses I could work on, or any way I might be tripping myself up without realizing it? I respect your work enormously, and I’d be grateful for any insights you can share with me that you think might help.” That may or may not produce a more helpful answer (some hiring managers won’t give real feedback no matter what), but it will definitely up your chances of one.

Beyond that, though, it really might just be a waiting game. You could very well be an excellent candidate and have just had the bad luck of someone else being a better match for the particular jobs you applied for. That happens even to the strongest candidates. It’s frustrating when it happens multiple times in a row — but I think you can take comfort in knowing that you’re getting interviews and you’re getting invited back, so you’re doing plenty right.

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Ask a Boss: Why Do I Get Interviews But No Offers?