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Why The Best Candidate Doesn't Always Get The Job

        posted by , February 02, 2013

You knocked yourself out to build up your qualifications and experience.

It feels like you deserve to beat less qualified candidates for that ideal job.

Sometimes it doesn't happen that way. It's well known that the most qualified candidate often doesn't land the job.

There are both logical and illogical motivations for hiring managers to reject qualified individuals in favor of less qualified candidates.

The most common reasons include:

1. The Hiring Manager Feels Threatened

Extremely strong candidates are sometimes not hired simply because members of the hiring team feel threatened by the candidate's abilities.

Interviewers may fear that the candidate will perform so well that their own performance will look relatively weak.

2. Corporate Culture

Some organizations prefer that candidates be a blank slate. Japanese companies are well know for this hiring philosophy.

In Japan, many companies prefer a system of lifetime employment whereby employees are recruited out of university and taught the "company way". Such companies are cautious about hiring experienced employees for fear they won't follow these established practices.

The idea is that highly qualified individuals have their own way of doing things — they may be inflexible.

This approach is less common within European and American organizations. However, some leaders and managers do value a willingness to learn and flexibility over other qualifications.

3. Insiders, Friends and Family

In some cases the interview process itself is all a big show. A hiring manager may have already decided to give a friend, family member or insider the job.

Many organizations require a interview process for all roles. The interview process may be conducted simply to create the illusion of fairness and competition.

4. Enthusiasm

It's natural for underdog candidates to be more enthusiastic about a role. The hiring team may find this enthusiasm more attractive than qualifications.

This isn't necessarily an illogical decision on the part of the hiring team.

A 2012 study by the Max Planck Institute of Economics suggested that underqualified hires tend to outperform fully qualified hires. The study proposes that underqualified employees are grateful for the chance at the role. As a result, they work harder. The qualified employees feel they deserve the job and are more complacent.

5. Biases

Logical biases are extremely common. Serious hiring biases such as racism and sexism are carefully monitored by many organizations. In some cases, diversity targets are so carefully controlled that reverse discrimination is a factor.

Other biases such as ageism are perfectly legal in some jurisdictions (e.g. Japan).

Less serious biases can also be a factor. Something as seemingly insignificant as cheering for the same sports team can greatly influence candidate selection (Ingroup Bias).

6. Academic Qualifications vs Experience

When faced with a choice between a candidate with academic qualifications and a candidate with experience ... hiring teams often have strong preferences for one or the other.

Some businesses value experience. They may view academic qualifications as a rubber stamp approval that's out of touch with the competitive nature of their business.

Other businesses may require academic qualifications even when it's clear that a highly experience candidate can do the job.

7. Lack of Rapport

You can have all the qualifications and accomplishments in the world ... if you don't get along with the interviewer you not likely to get the job.

Lack of interpersonal connection can happen even when the candidate has well developed soft skills.

Sometimes it's just luck.

This article is part of the ongoing series: how to win your next job.

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