Job searching is full of frustrations, but perhaps none is more annoying than consistently getting stuck at the same point in the interview process. Whether you’re having trouble getting the hiring manager’s attention in the first place, or difficulty closing the deal and getting the offer, it’s tough to fall short of your goal.
It can be even more challenging when you don’t get selected for a second interview, even though you thought you did well the first time around.
The good news is that when your job search derails at the same point each time, there’s a good chance that there’s something you can do to get a better result.
If you’re willing to do a little self-reflection, you might be able to figure out what you’re doing wrong and try something else instead.
Reasons You Aren’t Getting a Second Interview (That Aren’t Related to You)
But before considering your possible missteps, it’s important to note that there are plenty of reasons why you might not get a second interview that have nothing to do with you. If you’re just starting a job search process, and you’ve had one or two first interviews that didn’t lead to follow-ups, don’t assume that the problem is you.
The Employer’s Needs Might Have Changed
Companies make changes all the time. They cut their budgets. They reallocate dollars to different roles. They move positions to other teams and teams to other locations. Sometimes, these changes happen in the middle of your interview process.
Typically, in this case, the hiring manager or HR representative will apologetically inform you that their needs have changed. While that might sound like, “It’s not you, it’s me,” sometimes it’s the truth. You can’t land a job that doesn’t exist anymore.
Maybe You Weren’t a Good Cultural Fit
A recruiter once described this as, “trying to write with your non-dominant hand.” If you’re a people person and love working with teams, up-close and in-person, then working remotely won’t be a good experience for you. If you’re an introvert who prefers working alone, a gigantic open office full of perks and parties will feel like setting up shop in the middle of Grand Central Station.
There’s nothing wrong with you if the hiring manager divines that you’re not going to be happy working there. They might have done you a huge favor by letting you move on to a place where you’ll be more comfortable and successful.
The Hiring Manager Might Secretly Have Someone Else in Mind
This is the cruelest of all, but it does happen: sometimes, the hiring manager has been given a mandate to interview outside candidates, but they prefer an internal candidate … and know just which one they want. In that case, you could be the most qualified applicant in the world, yet you’re not going to get the job.
Reasons Why You’re Not Getting a Second Interview (That You Can Control)
You blew the first interview. You called the hiring manager by the wrong name. You didn’t know much about the company, and it showed. You couldn’t explain why you wanted the job, or provide answers to other standard interview questions. You were late or otherwise rude.
There are plenty of ways to blow an interview, and while you can make up for some of them in your follow-up, sometimes you just can’t recover. When that happens, learn from your mistakes and do better next time. And don’t beat yourself up—bad interviews happen to everyone.
You didn’t tell the right story. Before you set foot in corporate headquarters, you should prepare your elevator pitch and a few short, engaging stories about how your skills and qualifications match their requirements. (Reviewing the ad and job description can be a big help.)
That doesn’t mean that you should go into the interview waiting for a chance to deliver your monologue. It just means that you should be ready to share your accomplishments in a way that will resonate with the hiring team. Humans love stories. If you can tell a good one, you’ll have an advantage over the competition.
It’s important to make sure that when you’re crafting your stories, you focus on the right thing. For example, your leadership skills may be impressive, but they could work against you if the company isn’t looking for managers, or people they're afraid would leave for a management job. Pay attention to their specifications in the job listing, and highlight your relevant experience.
You didn’t send a thank-you note. Thank-you notes have been part of the job-search process probably since the invention of writing, but don’t make the mistake of thinking they’re a thing of the past. In a survey from TopResume, 68% of hiring managers and recruiters said receiving a thank-you note influenced their decision about whether to hire a candidate.1
Send a thank-you note—handwritten or via email—within 24 hours of your interview. Make sure to emphasize your skills and fit for the job, and to express your gratitude for the interview. Proofread your note and double-check spellings of personal names and company names.
You didn’t follow directions. At all points during the interview process, it’s important to follow directions. Send the requested materials, (e.g., resume, cover letter, portfolio, etc.) and use the specified file formats. Once you’ve interviewed, be sure to follow the hiring manager’s lead when following up. For example, if they say they’re interviewing candidates over the next two weeks, send your thank-you note immediately but wait to conduct further follow up until after their process is likely completed.
You were too persistent. Following up after a job interview is tricky. You need to express your thanks and interest in the job, but you don’t want to look like you’re stalking the hiring manager. If you’ve sent a thank-you note and a follow-up email, and you haven’t heard back, it may be best to let it go. No one wants to work with someone who never lets anything go.
Your social media is too revealing. According to a CareerBuilder survey, 57% of employers have decided not to hire a candidate based on something they found online. If your social media contains material that employers might find objectionable – think anything from bikini photos to party pictures to political opinions – you might be hurting yourself in the job search. Best practice is to lock down your profiles so that only work-appropriate material is visible to hiring managers.
But don’t delete your accounts. Forty-seven percent of employers in that survey also said that they’d be unlikely to hire a candidate they couldn’t find online.
One of your references isn’t on your side. Do you know what your references are saying about you? If not, it’s time to find out.
First, make sure you’re asking for references from people who are familiar with your work and who will definitely have favorable things to say about you. Always ask potential references if they’re willing and able to attest to your good qualities before you pass along their information, and review the job details with them so that they’ll know what the hiring manager wants to hear.
If you’re still not sure what kind of picture your references are painting for potential employers, you can always try asking hiring managers why they’re passing on your candidacy. Keep it vague and respectful—don’t demand a detailed explanation and don’t put words in their mouths. But do feel free to ask if they had any particular reason for passing.
Frame it as a request for feedback (i.e.,“I’m always trying to improve. If possible, I’d love to hear any feedback about my candidacy or the interview process”). Then, thank them for their time regardless, and move on.