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Five totally unfair reasons you didn't get the job

Written by Elizabeth Bromstein
Posted on March 3, 2014

Employers love to complain that they just can’t find good help these days, which you’re thinking is pretty rich, since good help is staring them in the face, but you still can’t get a job, right?

This is a not uncommon sentiment among job seekers these days.

Hiring managers have to cull the herd somehow, since going through piles of resumes can be exhausting. And they do this by immediately rejecting certain people. Typo in the resume? That goes straight into the trash. The guy’s been out of work for a year? Well, they’re not going to be the one to hire him. Unfortunately for both them and you, this knee-jerk rejection method might be causing them to overlook the perfect candidate – you.

Here are five totally unfair reasons you didn’t get the job – and some tips to avoid getting rejected for them in the future.

You’re unemployed: The bias against the unemployed has gotten out of hand, with almost half of employers saying in a recent survey that they prefer job seekers who are currently employed. The reality is that nobody wants something that isn’t wanted by someone else. It’s true that maybe there is a good reason that someone is unemployed, but it’s ridiculously unfair to leave people lurching in a vicious cycle where they can’t find a job because they don’t already have one.

Avoid this happening to you by addressing the issue. Explain in writing – in your cover letter or resume – what you’ve been up to in the time you’ve been out of work. Were you taking a course? Working on a novel? Writing music? Travelling? Studying something? Make it sound productive (even if it wasn’t).

You don’t have five years of experience in their industry: Hiring managers are busy. They want someone who knows their business. But they might wind up waiting a long time for someone who fits all their skills requirements and has five years of experience in dietary supplement marketing or construction apparel product development.

Do some preliminary research into the industry, then address the discrepancy in your cover letter and outline how you plan to bring yourself up to speed as quickly and efficiently as possible. Demonstrate how matching skills in another industry can be more than enough if a candidate is willing to learn what they need to know.

There’s a typo in your resume or cover letter: This comes up again and again, whenever I poll hiring managers for reasons they immediately dismiss candidates. A typo supposedly indicates that a person doesn’t pay attention to detail. In reality, this isn’t necessarily true. We all know what happens when you’re sending out resumes and cover letters. You spend hours modifying them for specific jobs, going over them again and again, and trying to see the impression you’re making. Your eyes start to cross. Finally, you hit send, and realize your letter says, “I working in dietary supplement marketing for five years…” Dammit.

Unfortunately, the only way around this one is to not have typos in your documents. Send them to an eagle-eyed friend for editing before submitting.

You didn’t list a university degree: Employers realize that if you don’t list a degree there’s a pretty good chance you don’t have one. If you have a degree, list it. If you don’t, make sure your work experience looks as fantastic as possible, highlighting your results and accomplishments. Demonstrate that you are an outstanding candidate, and make them forget about the degree entirely.

There was a time when a lot of information was only available in a school or library setting. Now, you can learn literally everything you need to know online. Just because someone doesn’t have a degree in something doesn’t mean they’re not an expert. Demonstrate how much you know in your cover letter (within a reasonable amount of space and without getting off track).

There are going to be employers who will not hire you without a degree. The only thing you can do about them is go back to school and get one.

Your resume doesn’t exactly match the job description: Employers ask a lot these days in job descriptions, often demanding skills and experience far beyond what should be expected of any single person. Peter Cappelli, author of Why Good People Can’t Get Jobs, says in the WSJ, “For every story about an employer who can’t find qualified applicants, there’s a counterbalancing tale about an employer with ridiculous hiring requirements.”

Highlight all of the requirements that you do have, and express a willingness to acquire as many of those that you don’t as is reasonable. Showing that you’ve read the description thoroughly and are at least aware of all the requirements might give you a leg up over those who don’t mention them at all. It might also help if software is looking for those keywords.

Remember that the job search isn’t about you, but about showing a potential employer what you can do for them.

Life’s not fair, but maybe these tips will help balance things more in your favour.

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