“I just want to know why it didn’t work out between us.”
That’s how he started the phone call. No greeting. No small talk. Just straight for the jugular.
I knew I shouldn’t have picked up. After all, rule #1 of dating is never take a call from an ex unless you want to attempt to jump-start that ol’ jalopy. Because the moment you pick up, you’ll find yourself right in the middle of your very own rom-com post-break-up scene where the dumper is explaining to the dumpee why he’s not the Snoop to her Dogg.
And nobody wants that.
But do you know what everybody wants? They want to know why. If they aren’t “the one”, they long for an explanation. Was it something I said or something I did? Did the words not come out right? (5,000 bonus points for anyone now signing the rest of that stanza.)
Job applicants are no exception. They want to know why.
It turns out that the vast majority of candidates we see are declined for one of only four reasons.
And what better way to illustrate these reasons than to use four ghosts from my dating past? Names have been changed to protect the guilty.
- Passionless Pete – At first glance, Pete had it all. Smart. Funny. Good job. Mature. Solid family. Handsome. But I’m not gonna lie, he was kind of a snoozefest. On the enthusiasm scale, he never broke past a 2 or 3. He could be watching his favorite football team in a nail-biter ending OR uploading his 1099-DIVs on TurboTax and the expression on his face would be the exact same. Pete lacked passion.And this is the same reason we have to decline countless candidates each year: they lack passion for the job to which they have applied. Or, to be more precise, they fail to articulate their passion for the organization’s mission and the job at hand.Our clients care deeply about mission alignment, and they want to hire candidates who are just as excited about the work as they are. That’s why the application instructions for our searches ask candidates to articulate their interest in the nonprofit’s mission. Sadly, many candidates ignore this very simple request.And in doing so, they risk ending up in the trash heap of Coulda Beens, right next to Passionless Pete. Don’t let that be you.
- Experience-Lacking Luke – Luke had a lot of things going for him…but being age-appropriate for me wasn’t one of them. He was only three years younger, but it felt like we had a 20-year fissure between us. I wanted to enjoy dinner out; Luke wanted to go to a bar where your feet stick to the floor. I lived alone; Luke had 5 roommates. My idea of savings was investing in a 401k; Luke’s idea of savings was enough beer money for the weekend. I knew Luke was going to be a great catch, but he just needed a few more trips around the sun.Likewise, candidates frequently get sidelined for lacking the requisite experience for the job. In fact, I’d say this is the number one reason candidates get rejected in our world.That said, I think applying for a role that is slightly above your experience level is still a good idea. Why? Sometimes hiring managers opt for less experienced candidates who have long-term potential and a lower price tag. So why not throw your hat in the ring?Experience-Lacking Luke was ultimately just too green for me, but you never know unless you try.
- Expensive Ethan
On our first date, Ethan showed up in a high-end Beemer, dressed like he had just come from a bankers’ conference. He insisted we go to a swanky restaurant. It was one of those places where the waiter brings you the first course “compliments of the chef,” which is code for “we’re going to gouge your eyes out to the tune of $457 for the next 6 courses.” I swear the sprig of parsley on my main course plate was bigger than the actual food portion. At some point during the evening, I commented on his watch, which, it turns out, was roughly the cost of the downpayment on my first house. Don’t get me wrong, Ethan was a good guy. He was smart, successful, and kind. But he was just too rich for my blood.Ethan got rejected for the same reason many candidates do: their price tag is too high.Imagine this: you apply for a job and are just as qualified as three other top candidates…but your salary requirements are $30K higher. It’s quite possible you won’t even get an interview if the hiring manager feels she can find someone else with a similar skillset at a significantly lower cost.Now, I’m a capitalist pig and I want you to make as much money as possible. So, I’m NOT suggesting you lower your salary requirements! If the hiring manager likes your background and has budget flexibility, everything could work out. But if not, you might end up next to Expensive Ethan with overpriced parsley in between your teeth.
- Distant Dax
Dax was a wonderful guy, but he lived three states away. And while I was absolutely open to a long-distance relationship, everything is relative. You see, it just so happens there was another gentleman caller (we’ll call him Local Lou) who was equally wonderful and lived just across town. I met both around the same time and the logical side of me just couldn’t justify taking a 747 to get to dinner with Distant Dax when I could bike to dinner with Local Lou! And so Distant Dax became a distant memory. Come to think of it, so did Local Lou, but that’s not the point of the story.The point is that most of our clients are open to hiring virtually, but again, everything is relative. And if you’re the best candidate and you live 853 miles away from the nonprofit’s office, you’ll probably get the job. But if there is an equally or more qualified candidate within a 20 miles radius of the office, you and Distant Dax could find yourself in the same place (metaphorically speaking).
If you’re wondering how my real-life rom-com post-break-up scene went, it was fine. I told him the truth. And while I’m sure he didn’t enjoy hearing it, I think he was relieved to understand why.
Likewise, the next time an organization says they are going in another direction but they don’t offer feedback about why, there’s a good chance that the reason relates to Pete, Luke, Ethan, or Dax.