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by Cathy Vandewater | June 06, 2013


It's the hardest part of job hunting: never knowing.

Never knowing if you resume was even seen, then never knowing if you'll get the interview. Then, if you do, never knowing why you didn't get the job.

What if, when you applied to a job, you received a score?

That could be in the future says John Sullivan, a management professor at San Francisco State University. According to him in the Wall Street Journal, applicant-tracking systems, which are used by most large employers, "score candidates based on rough measures like the number of keyword matches between a job description and a résumé. Employers could theoretically send candidates their scores. If you scored 90 out of 100, you might apply again later. But if you scored a 20, you know you applied for the wrong job," Sullivan says.

This kind of feedback may still be a long ways off (since, according to the WSJ, "So far, none of the companies for which he has recommended this, have adopted it"—mostly out of fear that their keyword matching processes will be revealed, says Sullivan).

The Wall Street Journal asked some of its readers about feedback they received, and the answers weren't encouraging; they were vague.

-"“You were excellent. We just had a ton of competition for the job. We had over three hundred people apply!”"

-“my background and skills weren’t fully aligned with the role”

Hiring managers weighed in too—but most of them admitted there wasn't much they could say. "As a hiring manager," writes one (in the WSJ piece), "I have been severely restricted by company policies. All I have been allowed to say was something to the effect of “Your application will stay on file for 90 days. Feel free to reapply in the future…”

So what if you were qualified, and you did hit it off with the interviewers, and you even remembered the thank-you note?

Three possibilities:

1. Cultural fit

You dropped an F bomb. You wore a paisley shirt. You were too stiff. It's impossible to know how you'll fit at a company from the outside, but if you get rejected for "cultural" reasons, you can probably trust that the hiring manager knows best (assuming you were mostly appropriate). You want to put your best foot forward at an interview, but if you true personality or work style isn't a fit, you won't like the job. Feel good about losing it.

2. Experience fit

You've done this skill too much already and you'll be bored. Or you haven't done this skill quite enough, and you'll need training. Frankly, many companies don't know what they want. Or they do, and they're flat out wrong. As annoying as this is, it's not your problem. And it's certainly not your fault.

3. Soft skills

Writes one WSJ responder, "I asked for feedback and I was told that during my group presentation I read from my PowerPoint presentation and avoided eye contact. I appreciated the feedback and I took it as a learning experience. It’s certainly something I valued." It sounds small, but communication skills go a long way in convincing an interviewer that you're competent.

That said, interviewers may find it awkward, at best, and legally tricky at worst, to fill you in on what you're doing wrong. So if you're really worried about your interview skills, try your alumni office or a career coach. They've got the feedback you could really use.

--Cathy Vandewater,

Read More:
Didn't Get the Job? You'll Never Know Why  (WSJ)
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Can a MOOC Boost Your Career? This One Can!


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