Many jobseekers get frustrated at what they call “the black hole.” They apply for jobs with certainty that they can perform the activities as outlined in the job description. When they read the qualifications, they are certain that they match each one to perfection.

The missing link:
Very few jobseekers intentionally consider their alignment with the positions before they apply. By that I mean that if they walk through the door for an interview, the hiring professional won’t be surprised by their age, their career level or their gender.

I know many of you are ready to yell, “FOUL.” You are ready to scream, “AGEISM!” And some of you are easily thinking, “LAW SUIT—DISCRIMINATION!”


Please let me explain.

What’s the problem?

  1. Meet Kyle. He’s 52 years old. Six-foot two, bald, and muscular. Kyle has a warm smile and an engaging professional demeanor. His first words to me were, “Marcia, I’ve interviewed for six jobs and I haven’t landed one of them. I’m usually at my best in interviews and I thought they went extremely well.”

    Kyle was applying for positions in corporate Executive Help Desk Support. So when an executive has a problem with his or her computer, Kyle would show up to fix it. He is really good at troubleshooting and enjoys the interaction with his clients.

    What went wrong?

  2. A recruiter at an international executive search firm agreed to evaluate the Forward Motion process with me. While we were talking she said, “Our clients have been giving us requirements that include, ‘Someone in their 40s…’ Then when we send them a candidate, they come back with, ‘I guess we want someone older.’”

    What was wrong?

  3. A former client, Samantha (not her real name) went through four levels of interviews. She was told that since the Vice President of Sales had only been with the company for three months, that the President wanted to meet her. This last step was simply a formality.

    Samantha walked into the President’s office. The President looked up and said, “Are you Samantha? …I’m sorry, this will never work.”

    What went wrong? Samantha was too young.

Is it ageism?
In the first example: When an executive has computer problems, it can be a bit intimidating for a 50+ guy who is 6’2” to walk in the room. No matter how congenial Kyle is, at his age, the potential exists for him to make his client uncomfortable. Somehow it’s just easier if the Help Desk Tech is somewhere between the ages of 25 and 35.

Solution: Kyle quickly landed a job as a supervisor and coach for Executive Help Desk Support.

In the second example we see that sometimes the hiring entity thinks they know what they want—until they “see” what they asked for—and then it becomes immediately clear that they asked for the wrong thing.

In the last example, where my client was too young, and in the executive search firm, they were seeking people who will fit into the environment (including that of their clients) and they didn’t realize that a 40-something would not have the natural authority or credibility needed to be effective.

* * *


What is alignment?
Alignment is the ability of the jobseeker to fit into the environment with the natural credibility to be successful. I think I can show you that this isn’t about age, gender, or cultural heritage.

Let’s say there is an organization that advocates for female, Hispanic executives. (I couldn’t find this exact match on the Internet.) Would the most likely candidate to lead this organization be male or female? Native American, Asian, Russian, or ….yes, Hispanic or Latino? Would the best fit be someone who has never been an executive? Unlikely and as such, this established executive would likely be, at the very least, in “her” mid-career.

I hope you can see that this isn’t about discrimination. It’s about cultural fit, gender fit, and yes, the person should be at a certain point in their career, which often is identified by their age.

* * *

Just how important is alignment?
Alignment isn’t just important, it’s critical. Alignment is one of several key factors that can predict how quickly a candidate can become productive and bring value to the business.

How do you know if you are aligned?
Sometimes it’s simple. The title on a job posting may give you a clear hint. Here are some examples that I took directly from a job board:

  • Senior business analyst
  • Account Executive – Entry-level
  • Office Engineer – New College Graduate
  • Mid-Career Broker
  • Early to Mid Career IT roles
  • Geologist – Mid-Career
  • Experienced Financial Services Rep

Okay, those are fairly obvious and it isn’t always that easy.

Most often, you can get a clear idea of the alignment for a position through careful examination of the job qualifications.

Here is a sample list of job qualifications. Can you determine the alignment of the person who is a good fit for this position?

  • A bachelor’s or graduate degree in Accounting, Finance, or a related field
  • Approximately 7+ year of related work experience
  • CPA or sufficient course work to achieve CPA certification
  • Excellent project management skills with complex projects of $15MM to $50MM.
  • Advanced written and verbal communication skills. Executive presentations.
  • Dedication to teamwork and leadership
  • Integrity under pressure

Here’s my read of this:

  • Bachelor’s or graduate degree: candidate is at least 22 to 25 years old.
  • Approximately 7+ ….: Candidate is in their 30’s.
  • Project manager, complex projects…: Candidate is at least 40 years old, likely older.

Would you like to try another?

  • Candidate is interested in establishing a career in __________.
  • Out-going, dynamic personality.
  • Can-do attitude and loves to be challenged.
  • Metrics-oriented, organized and has a need to win.
  • Bachelor’s degree from an accredited university with a business-related major.

I’m going assume you see the cues that this is an entry-level, early career position.


What if you don’t have every point of alignment?
You don’t have to align perfectly. But I hope from this blog post that you realize that every place where you don’t align, there has to be a compelling reason to overlook the concern. That reason has to clearly respond to the issue—in seconds—and dismiss the concern. Otherwise you are not going to get a call.

* * *

It’s easy for jobseekers to believe that Job Fit is about whether or not they will enjoy the environment and if they will be comfortable with their colleagues. Those are important to the jobseeker. But from a hiring professional’s perspective (recruiters, human resource professionals, and hiring managers), job fit is about productivity and moving the business forward.
This article on Job Fit may be helpful.

Careful scrutiny of the job posting, to ensure that you are aligned with the expectations for that position, will reduce the number of times you deal with rejection and it will shorten your job search.

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6 thoughts on “The Hidden Reason You Aren’t Selected for an Interview

  1. The website above is an unfinished chronicle of ‘some of the activities of a few of the students I sought to help” …turns out, serving in the role of a high school teacher (and other roles) has more often, than not, greatly assisted me in realizing what the real challenges of employment/unemployment is like-learning from those I have been called to serve.

    Marcia, it is professionals like you who affirm that this call (career services) is a truly worthwhile endeavor! Keep giving us such wonderful content in your articles. Bless you!

    1. Thank you for the blessing and encouragement (and my apologies for the late response)… if we all do our part we can get through this. You are doing your part! You inspire me, those you work with, and you bring hope and an example. So I thank you back and hope we can climb out of these economic difficulties on a national and global level.

  2. Jobseekers must accept the fact that it is STILL the employers’ market -‘supply & demand’…they can flip terms on a dime. e.g. “Not a good fit” can mean a range of ‘preferences’ not listed in the posting, and the EEOC/DOJ is too swamped w-claims to really be effective w-investigations. It’s a mess out there! (Do I sound bitter?) -well, the young people/students in my area are beggining to ‘settle’ for LOT leaner-“professional student” lifestyles, because of plummeting wages, & so few positions available: a cell phone, & a monthly bus pass…it’s sad. The ‘mid-career’ “Hunters” are moving away…(if they’re REALLY ‘Smart’)..And the senior citizens -well, retail, & fast food restaurants they continue to dominate behind the counter.

    1. Dear Downtown Job Coach…first, thank you for your comments and insights. You’ve given a wider context to the article and the reader and I appreciate that! Second, you are schlogging it out at the “street level” (we both do this). I realize that you probably help more people than you or they realize and in more ways than they can understand at this point. For all the “thank yous” that have gone unspoken, I send my gratitude for what it’s worth. Every person we can give hope to, every jobseeker who gets a job, every person we can encourage to keep on learning and working at a real career – these make a difference. Thank you for your tenacity and care. I salute you and hope you continue in your work.

  3. Great advice! I’ll try harder to ensure stronger alignment in the future.

    1. Judi,
      Thanks for reading and commenting. The closer the job fit, the better the chances. Best hopes for you for 2015.

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