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Why do people fail at interviews?

According to Angus Farr of Training Counts, there are three main reasons why candidates fail at interview.

  1. They simply aren’t good enough! This may be they just don’t have ‘enough’ skills, knowledge of experience for the role in question. Or it could be that they don’t have the ‘right’ skills, knowledge and experience for that job.

    The lesson here is for applicants to do their research on the role and develop their skills and knowledge if necessary. 

  2. For reasons outside of your control, and when a fault emerges in the selection process. This could be a poorly trained interviewer or an unnecessary selection criterion. An example may be the imposition of a minimum UCAS tariff. This is not improper – an organisation can choose the selection criteria it feels is most appropriate to its needs – but it may well exclude a number of candidates who would otherwise have performed the role very well.

    Unfortunately this does happen. Employer selection processes are not perfect and in some cases really good candidates will fail to get through only because the parameters for selection just won’t recognise them. It is also true that in some instances, poor candidates will get through because the processes for recruitment are not perfect.

  3. Let me set the scene: when I was a much younger man and learning to drive, my instructor kept reminding me that simply looking in the rear view mirror was not enough to persuade the examiner that I was driving safely. My instructor told me that I needed to move my head when I looked up – I had to make it obvious to the examiner exactly when I was looking in the mirror.

    Well the same is true with interviews. It’s not enough to have great skills, knowledge and experience, you have to make them obvious to the employer. Just because you have stated on your CV that you had a part-time job when you were younger as a ‘garage cashier’, that they will automatically realise that this involved performing a cash reconciliation at the end of each shift. If you think it is relevant (and it certainly would be for an accountancy role) then you need to specifically state it on your CV and job applications.

    Equally, if you attend an assessment centre and can’t demonstrate your team working skills in the twenty-minute group exercise, then an employer will simply have no choice but to assume that you don’t have any. Employers can only assess what they see on the day! The best way to make sure that you are at your best is to rehearse and practise the common selection methods such as ability tests, interview questions, personality tests and group exercise. You have plenty of chances to practise these – but only one chance to get it right!

Why do people never make the shortlist?

There are a few reasons why most people never make the shortlist. See if you can recognise yourself in any of the below so you can develop ways to improve.

  1. Don't post stuff on social media like LinkedIn or Facebook which could damage your reputation with recruiters or potential employers. With four out of every five managers researching people online before they invite them for interview (yes really!), your social media profile and online presence is now part of the candidate screening process. You may be very surprised how much information an employer can find out about you.
  2. It is a very competitive market. Recruiters will only shortlist the best of the best as their reputation is at stake. Recruiting is also a costly and time-consuming process for any employer. So, why would they compromise when there are so many excellent candidates out there. Make sure your CV is one of the ones that stands out.
  3. You didn't read the job description and have sent in a generic CV and ‘reason for applying’. You must tailor your CV and covering letter to the job/role in question. There is no harm in having several versions of a CV – with each one focusing on slightly different skills or aspects of your employment history. Make sure you keep a record of which version you send to which employer, so you know which CV to take with you if you get invited for an interview.
  4. Your CV or application hasn’t sufficiently answered a recruiter’s main questions:
    • Can you do the job – do you have the skills, professional qualifications, relevant work experience and/or competencies to perform the job well? 
    • Will you do the job – do you have the right attitudes and behaviours to do the job well. How much do you know about the company and what you will bring to the role? How motivated are you? Is it this job you really want or just any job?
    • Will you fit into the team/company – do your personality, sociability, work ethics and personal outlook fit with the company or team dynamics? You’ll need to fit your approach, CV and interview around these criteria.
  5. Clients are getting pickier about candidates having to have specific sector experience. In fact coming from a different sector can often bring added benefits, but not having direct experience of a specific sector is another reason why really good candidates don't make the shortlist