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"We hired someone whose skills more closely match the position."
January 13, 2013 8:21 PM   Subscribe

I've had multiple interviews recently after which I received a letter or e-mail to the effect of "You did very well in the interview process, but we hired someone whose skills more closely align with this position." This is very frustrating, because I feel that I am capable of doing these jobs, and it's kept me from applying for future jobs because I'm second-guessing myself.

I have an undergraduate degree in economics with minors in psychology and sociology, as well as significant amounts of lab experience in survey-based market-type research. I've been applying to jobs in research marketing and other marketing-based fields, because jobs in economics require a master's degree (which I don't want to get until I have financial stability.)

What frustrates me about this situation is that it confirms that I'm doing the job application process right - I don't need a significantly better resume, I don't need a better cover letter, and I don't need interview practice. So what do I need? What am I doing wrong? Does an economics degree really disqualify me being able to perform real-world statistical analysis and research?

Two questions that are more direct:

- What should my next steps be to try to get a job in anything? I need a job in the next two months to be able to pay off student loans.

- What follow-up e-mails can I send when I get a letter like this?
posted by LSK to Work & Money (21 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Those emails/letters are boilerplate and should not be taken literally unless they say something very specific about your experience and background. They literally just say that stuff because it's uncouth to send you an email that just says "NO."

So it might indeed mean you need better interview practice. Generally, you probably need to more specifically show how your skills and experience will help you do the work they need done. Also, generally speaking, marketing is a field where communications are not quite so literal, so it's possible that's hanging you up at some stage of the process.
posted by lunasol at 8:30 PM on January 13, 2013 [19 favorites]


I think that the interviewers simply thought for some reason, another candidate for the position was a better fit. They might not literally have different skills but for all you know, it's something stupid, like the interviewer and interviewee were in the same frat or sorority. Or the other interviewee previously interned at the organization so they already know the culture. You have no way to know what the deal is so write it off as another experience interviewing and move on.

I would not let this keep you from applying for other jobs. It sounds like you aren't doing anything wrong. In fact, it sounds like you're making it to the final stage of the interview process, which is great. Don't take it personally.
posted by kat518 at 8:34 PM on January 13, 2013


You gotta develop a little bit of a thicker skin - being rejected for a job generally means absolutely nothing about you - they just got somebody they liked better. And when you happen across the right place, then you'll be the person they like better and everyone else will be at home triple-checking their cover letters. No worries.
posted by facetious at 8:43 PM on January 13, 2013 [5 favorites]


I think that you are reading too much into this language, because it sounds like a pretty generic blow off. I'm an attorney but I know my boss uses similar language in some of our rejection letters, since you can't say things like, "Sorry, we had an awesome conversation about chamber music with the lady we ended up hiring" or "You have weird mannerisms that we laughed about afterwards" or "We loved you and two other people so much we couldn't decide so we ended up playing eeny meeny miny moe." The oblique reference to your 'skills' isn't necessarily saying anything about your credentials (although it could), but it is generic language that covers basically any reason why they would have gone with someone else instead of you. If you were truly unqualified they would not have wasted the time interviewing you to begin with, so it's far more likely that they simply thought the person they ultimately hired would be a better fit. Try not to get discouraged by that!
posted by gatorae at 8:45 PM on January 13, 2013 [7 favorites]


Nth'ing "this is boilerplate." I've written some of those letters, and believe me, they are boilerplate. Of the hundreds of people I've turned down for jobs over the years, I sent a less generic follow-up to maaaaybe six, and for those, the "less generic" part was "However, we have this position probably opening up on X date, and you'd be great for it, and I will call you when the interviewing starts." Anything more than that would be pointless and, frankly, painful for the recipient.

What frustrates me about this situation is that it confirms that I'm doing the job application process right - I don't need a significantly better resume, I don't need a better cover letter, and I don't need interview practice.

You always need interview practice. Right now, your job is "getting a job." You don't stop trying to do better at your job when you get one, right? So if your job is "getting a job," you need to keep getting better at that.

What am I doing wrong? Does an economics degree really disqualify me being able to perform real-world statistical analysis and research?

Nothing, and no. There are dozens, possibly even hundreds of applicants for every job these days, especially the good ones. The fact that you didn't get it means that someone else was very slightly better in some random way. You can't make yourself into the Perfect Applicant, because that person doesn't exist; every job is different, every company is different, every interviewer is different.

What follow-up e-mails can I send when I get a letter like this?

"Thank you for letting me know. I hope you keep me in mind if a position more suited to my skills opens up." But don't believe that they will -- keep checking their job board and apply to anything you feel you'd fit.

Stop beating yourself up. It's hard out there these days. You'll find something. Temp if you have to, just to keep body and soul together while you're looking for a job you really want. It'll come.
posted by Etrigan at 8:59 PM on January 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


Look, there are soooooo many candidates these days that anyone who has even slightly more experience in something than you do (i.e. "we have to train them less") will have the advantage, even though you sound like an excellent candidate. That's what this sounds like to me. You're good, but someone else keeps being slightly better. Not much you can do about that until you get lucky yourself.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:32 PM on January 13, 2013


That letter is the employment equivalent of "it's not you, it's me." Don't read into it.

It's not necessarily inappropriate to follow up with the HR person and see if you can get any more information out of them about ways you could improve in the future, but you should only do that if it's really for self-improvement purposes, not as a way to try and wangle your way into a job that you've been declined; that won't work and it'll just end up making the resulting conversation bad all around.

You should absolutely not allow responses like that to dissuade you from applying and interviewing at as many other potential employers as possible. Getting hired is in some respects a numbers game and you need to keep playing the field.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:08 PM on January 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Those letters are form letters, the actual content of them is meaningless, beyond 'the job went to someone else'.

If you're getting interviews, then you're right- there's nothing wrong with your résumé. Work on your interview skills, and remember that interviews are 40% "lets make sure this guy's resume/expertise is legit" and 60% "lets see if this guy will fit in here".
posted by Kololo at 10:20 PM on January 13, 2013


Getting hired is like winning a figure skating or gymnastics competition. I’ve been part of a number of hiring panels, and from my experience I can say that there is a large element of randomness as to who gets hired. Sometimes among panel members there are large differences in how they scored the same question for a candidate. Sometimes the overall candidate rankings by the panel members are different. Sometimes it comes down to if one panel member had scored a question slightly differently you would have gotten the job.

Getting hired depends not only who happened to be on the panel, but also who applied. Just as Olympic judges tend to give higher scores to competitors from their own country, if there were internal applicants for the job, they would have had an advantage over you. There are tons of random things that can help or hurt your chances.

I wouldn’t try to read anything in to the rejection letters you’re getting. Trying to get any meaning from them will drive you nuts. You have to ignore your anxiety. You just need to keep applying and going to interviews. Having lots of interviews is good. You’ll get more confident and you’ll start to see the same questions over and over. Even though you’re not applying for finance jobs, you should take a look at the Wall Street Oasis forums. There are some people who have crazy stories of the number of interviews they’ve had to through before they’ve gotten hired.

I’ve also seen situations where people have received offers and they didn’t even have all of the requirements (such as years of experience) listed in the job posting. Again, I think this is the result of the large role randomness plays in the hiring decision.
posted by Jasper Friendly Bear at 10:54 PM on January 13, 2013


Chicago is a very hard job market in general and in the 12 years I have lived and worked here, I have only and ever gotten jobs through connections. Which is not to say I am qualified or that my materials are bad - it is just *super* hard here and has been for a long time. So I would include networking in your "getting a job" activities.

You may also want to consider interning. I don't know much about your field, but mine is nonprofit communications. I have more job seeking newly graduated intern applicants than I can handle right now, and I can't pay. My best interns get big support from me during their job search - I have emailed colleagues to find our about openings at specific organizations, I have sent unsolicited references when it was appropriate, and put my network to use in other ways for the benefit of my interns. Just because *my* nonprofit doesn't have the budget to hire right now doesn't mean someone I know shouldn't get an awesome employee, right?
posted by deliciae at 11:23 PM on January 13, 2013


Generally, you probably need to more specifically show how your skills and experience will help you do the work they need done.

This, not because of the letters you're getting, but because you're not getting hired (yet!). My husband went through the whole job search thing last year and starting to communicate his skills in a specific, technical way appropriate to his employment field and to each job opportunity was what switched him from ongoing rejection to two good job offers at once. It took thought and practise and a few goes to get right but was worth it.

Improving your interview skills is always useful and necessary and this is one area you absolutely can get better at (whereas the whole personality fit thing kind of either happens or it doesn't). Being persistent in the face of rejection is also a necessary job search skill, albeit a difficult and annoying one, so don't give up!
posted by shelleycat at 12:58 AM on January 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


The goal of the resume and cover letter is to get an interview and the goal of the interview is to get a job. I would agree that your resume and cover letter are probably fine, since you are in fact getting the interviews. In terms of not getting the job, you may have things you are doing badly in interviews or you just may have not clicked for whatever reason yet. I think most everyone could use some effort to polish their interview skills, so I would focus on that. As everyone else has said, you should essentially ignore the language of the rejection letter. Ours also reads fairly close to that and means literally nothing. I have had people follow up with me asking what they could do to improve their chances of getting hired for the next job, but normally I either don't have a particularly strong impression of them or don't have much in the way of usable advice, so I don't suggest any follow-up.

In our shop, once you make it to the interview process, we generally don't have any concerns about the suitability of your degree or background. If we didn't think that worked, you'd never have been invited to interview. We're primarily looking at things like personality, fit, intellect -- all those intangibles that don't really come through on the resume. However, we'll usually bring in at least three folks, even though we are sometimes pretty sure that one of them is the one. It could be that you just haven't been the right one yet. Its sort of a numbers game, you need to apply to X many positions to get Y many interviews to get that one job, particularly if you are a fresh out of college sort (which is what it sounds like to me).
posted by Lame_username at 1:14 AM on January 14, 2013


As far as getting a job, any job, I'd suggest looking in to temp agencies. I know several people whose temp assignments have turned into full-time jobs- it's a great way to get your foot in the door and showcase your skills and capabilities. It's not clear from your question whether you are applying for your first full-time job after undergrad or whether you've been working for a couple of years- if it's the former, you're likely getting passed over for candidates with a similar background but slightly more employment experience. As others have mentioned, it's nothing personal- it's a tough market and you've just got to keep your chin up and keep sending applications out, plus follow up on any networking/personal leads you come across.
posted by emd3737 at 1:29 AM on January 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


and remember that interviews are 40% "lets make sure this guy's resume/expertise is legit" and 60% "lets see if this guy will fit in here".

In our shop, once you make it to the interview process, we generally don't have any concerns about the suitability of your degree or background. If we didn't think that worked, you'd never have been invited to interview. We're primarily looking at things like personality, fit, intellect...


Lest you think you're just perpetually a bad "fit," I'll say that the 40-60 ratio is the reverse in my organization. Here, most people can fit in. Our interviews are 60% designed to find out what kind of experience and skills they really have. We ask for more details about the specific work that they did, and we ask them to analyze problems and role play situations. It's very illuminating.

I'm not sure what kind of interviews you're having, but you might think about the kind of questions you've been getting and how you've been answering them. If they're drawing on the kind of knowledge you can only get through experience, you might see if you could volunteer or find an internship. Good luck.
posted by salvia at 1:55 AM on January 14, 2013


When I was applying for jobs straight out of university, I got a lot of emails like this. I always wrote back immediately thanking them for their time and asking if they'd be willing to offer feedback on my interview technique. Some of them agreed, and the advice they gave me was invaluable. I'm quite a talkative person by nature and during interviews I tried hard not to ramble - imagine my surprise when one woman said to me "You were very quiet and we got no sense of your personality"! My golden rule, at least in the UK job market, and especially as a young graduate, would therefore have to be: always ask for feedback. They won't all say yes but some will and they'll have excellent advice for you.
posted by Ziggy500 at 2:48 AM on January 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


They might as well say "We hired someone whose skills more closely match the skills of the nephew of our CEO." Don't read anything into them, and certainly don't base future application decisions on them.
posted by Rock Steady at 5:50 AM on January 14, 2013


Boilerplate.

But consider reaching out to ask if they have any advice on your interview skills and professional skill set. As has been said, you're looking for honest feedback, not a reconsideration.

Not to get your hopes up but the last time someone came to me for that kind of feedback, within a week a friend sent me a "do you know the right person" query and I suggested this candidate who did get the job (which was a better fit, yes, for her skill set)
posted by amandabee at 6:29 AM on January 14, 2013


It's hard not to take it to heart but that's the reality of the market. There are lots of people out there with similar qualifications and sometimes the other person gets the job. Keep applying, keep going to interviews. I hate to be "that person" but it's a numbers game. At some point the intersection of your skill set AND your "fit" within the company's culture will meet, and you'll be offered a job.

You're doing really great, getting interviews, etc. You're making the short list. Eventually, it will happen.

Hang in there!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:26 AM on January 14, 2013


In our HR system, there's actually a button that sends out the "we hired someone who more closely matches the qualifications." So I wouldn't read much into it.
posted by advicepig at 7:38 AM on January 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


It's not about your skills. It's about how well you click with the interviewer/your potential boss. Try being friendly rather than only professional. Smile a lot. Let them do a lot of talking. Don't ramble. Come across as fun and friendly. It's about personality at this point. The interviewer already knows you're qualified. Now they want to know if they can work in an office with you.
posted by Jason and Laszlo at 8:04 AM on January 14, 2013


Nth the suggestions to ask for feedback. Also, consider doing a practice interview with a friend or former colleague who will be brutally honest-my guess is you're competing with folks who have qualifications like yours and lots of professional experience, or you're doing something not ideal in an interview-coming across as arrogant, perhaps, or overly nervous. My favorite was a recent applicant that repeatedly referred to me and my team as "the gold standard" in our field; it was such blatant ass kissing that it it was hard to keep a straight face.
posted by purenitrous at 10:40 AM on January 14, 2013


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