“Not a fit”

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Q: What do the words “not a fit for the job” actually mean?

A: This is a common response to a candidate when they are not offered a job.  “Not a fit” can have many legitimate meanings.  Some of these reasons include the candidate’s skills are a mismatch for the job requirements.  For example, if a job posting states that QuickBooks experience is required, and the candidate has never worked with QuickBooks, then the candidate’s skills are “not a fit.”  Or the candidate has not worked in a similar environment and therefore wouldn’t “fit” into this work environment.  We have clients who have struggled with hires from large companies, expecting to hire a large team or have generous budgets available to them.  In the job descriptions, one of the requirements is working in a smaller, more entrepreneurial environment.  If a candidate doesn’t have work experience in a smaller environment, then another candidate may be hired (who has experience working in a smaller organization).

I encourage our clients to offer more specific reasons for why a candidate was not hired.  However, truthfully, sometimes it is difficult to deliver negative feedback to a candidate.  And some of the reasons are embarrassing and may be awkward to share.  It is awfully difficult to tell a candidate that they did not receive a job offer because they had body odor or their resume was full of typos or their grammar was less than stellar. Some candidates respond very defensively or angrily if you share honest feedback with them.  This is why some hiring professionals will resort to “not a fit” as a reason for why another candidate was hired.

However, there are also situations where I think employers have used “not a fit” as a euphemism for some other attribute that may be an illegal reason for excluding a candidate.  I have seen sales teams, mostly in the 80’s (although I am sure that they still exist today) prefer to hire men.  The reason that they give women are “sorry, you are not a fit,” meaning you don’t fit our preferred gender.  This is clearly illegal.  I also have seen candidates from different ethnic backgrounds or races be classified as “not a fit.” Let’s face it, discrimination exists.

Finally, there are candidates who seem to apply for every role under the sun, from accounting to engineering roles.  I call them the “perpetual posters.” it is difficult to believe that they are genuinely interested in this one specific role, when you have seen their resume three times in the last week, for other roles.

When a candidate receives this as a reason, a smart response would be “can you tell me why I was not a fit?” Remember, a candidate has to be open and receptive to the feedback.

Pattie Hunt Sinacole is a human resources expert and works for First Beacon Group in Hopkinton, an HR consulting firm. She contributes weekly to Boston.com Jobs and the Boston Sunday Globe Money & Careers section.