Pattie Hunt Sinacole shares feedback on “not a fit”

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Q: I interviewed for a role recently and I thought I had a good shot at getting an offer.  I spent almost 12 hours going through the interview process.  Then, I received a voicemail saying that I was “not a fit.”  I don’t even know what this means.  After 12 hours, I am not a fit?

A: This is a common response to a candidate when they are not offered a job, and I don’t like it.  If a candidate has invested over 12 hours in the interview process, they deserve a better response than “not a fit.”  That response can have many legitimate meanings.  One of these reasons may be the candidate’s skills are a mismatch for the job requirements.  For example, if a job posting states that PowerPoint experience is required, and the candidate has never used PowerPoint, then the candidate’s skills are not a “fit.”  Or if the candidate has not worked in a similar environment (e.g., professional services, manufacturing or biotech), then maybe the candidates would not be a “fit” with respect to industry experience.  We have clients who have struggled with hires from large companies, expecting to have a large team to manage, or have generous budgets available to them.  In the job descriptions for these clients, 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.  Some of the reasons could be 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, 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 a particular candidate did not receive an offer.

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 80s (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 the preferred gender.  This is clearly illegal.  I also have seen candidates from different ethnic backgrounds or races be classified as “not a fit.” Unfortunately, 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.

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