Q: I read your recent column about the guy who had three job rejections in a row, even though he was confident he aced every interview. You seemed to blame him for his misfortune. I've heard similar stories from plenty of other job seekers. Why don't you talk about some actual recruiter biases that can also lead to not getting hired? –Stephen, New York, New York
A: I must admit I was a little tough on that job hunter, who didn't need another negative response from someone he was hoping would be more sympathetic. Mea culpa! It's true that job seekers aren't the only ones who create their own skewed realities. Recruiters may also have hidden or misconceived agendas, which spring from past experiences and attitudes that resist rational attempts to change them. Many of these biases are unconscious and have little to do with the candidate personally, even though they can definitely affect his or her chances of getting hired.
Here are a few of the most common interviewer biases that thwart job seeker success:
- The manager has already chosen an inside person for the job
- The interviewer has worked with someone in the past who did a poor job or was difficult to manage, and you remind her of this person
- He's most comfortable with people just like him
- You intimidate her
- He has the perfect prototype in mind, and you aren't it
- In her heart of hearts, she really doesn't want to hire anyone
So if he views looking at other candidates as a time-wasting formality, it's going to be very hard to convince this person an outsider can do a better job than his hand-picked candidate.
Or, maybe you have some of the traits of her estranged father. She may not even consciously notice the connection between you and the other individual, she just knows you make her nervous. Of course, this can work both ways. If you remind her of someone she thinks is wonderful, she'll tend to like you.
Job seekers who are a different color, sex, regional origin, age, personality, graduated from a different college, grew up in a different city or whatever will be at a disadvantage in trying to fit into his profile of the ideal candidate.
Because of her own insecurities, she's worried that you are smarter, better looking or destined to steal her job. Even if she hires you, her paranoia will drive her to sabotage your career to save her own.
In fact, no one fits his model. If this manager ever hires anyone, the unfortunate individual will be in constant competition with a figment of his boss's imagination.
This is particularly true of entrepreneurs who are used to doing everything themselves. Giving up power or authority to someone else can be very difficult, even impossible for them.
While job seekers and recruiters need to be careful of hidden job search agendas and loaded assumptions about employment, it makes sense to approach the matching process with some preconceived ideas. To determine your best career move, you should have a clear idea of what job you want and what you have to offer. Potential employers should pick the best person for the job based upon the characteristics of their ideal candidate. Armed with their initial preferences, both parties can work together to determine the likelihood of a mutually satisfying match.