“After careful consideration, we regret to inform you that you have not been selected for an interview”
Look familiar? I used to get a lot of these emails – in the hundreds.
Recruiting is tough. You spend countless hours each week applying to jobs and internships, only to find your inbox filling with rejections.
Occasionally, through some miracle, you actually land a couple interviews. It’s a sliver of hope -- this could be the one.
And as the responsible person you are, you prepare as best you can, make it past a few interviews… then strike out. Or worse, you make it all the way to the final round, knock it out of the park, and still don’t get the offer.
Right on the heels of a crushing blow, you have to go through the process again with a different company. Every few weeks you struggle through this process with the same outcome.
Why is it so hard to land an offer? It’s almost like you’ve discovered 100 ways to NOT get an offer…
Believe it or not, there is light at the end of the tunnel. These rejections are a gift. They give you the opportunity to figure out exactly what you are doing wrong.
With the right framework, you can pinpoint precisely where you are messing up and turn your situation around.
Here's how to figure out why companies are rejecting you
Consider two people and two situations:
- Person A: Didn’t get an interview
- Person B: Made it to final round then struck out
What do both have in common?
Neither of them got offers.
What are their differences?
A lot, actually. Person A and Person B face entirely different problems.
I often see students strike out after interviewing then throw up their hands in frustration at the recruiting process. That’s not going to get you anywhere — you need to logically understand each failure and learn from every offer you fail to close.
Here’s a chart to help pinpoint the problems most people face when recruiting.
It doesn’t matter if Person A is the most amazing interviewer in the world if they never land an interview. Similarly, Person B might land every interview under the sun and still end up empty handed if they don’t learn how to interview well.
If recruiting is not going well for you, figure out which of the 3 steps is tripping you up and fix it!
If you’re not landing interviews
When you look at the numbers, it makes sense.
The average company receives 250 applications for a given job posting. From those 250 applications, they will interview 5 candidates and only 1 will receive the offer.1
In other words, that’s a 2% chance you will get an interview at an average company, let alone an offer. And I bet you want interviews at above average or industry-leading companies.
Unfortunately, those numbers are far worse.
Google receives more than 2,000,000 applications each year.2 McKinsey receives 200,000 applications for analyst and associate positions.3 Goldman Sachs receives 220,000 applications from undergraduates alone.4
No matter how you cut the numbers, the odds are not in your favor.
But by observing older friends go through the recruiting process, I noticed a few of them got interviews with all the top firms, while others never heard back once.
These few students managed to change the game in their favor, which gave them a significant edge over other applicants and improved their odds of landing an interview. Meanwhile, everyone else was blindly applying to jobs and praying for an interview. They kept playing with terrible odds.
And that’s exactly what I was doing. I would apply to 50 job postings in one night and feel accomplished. Then I would wait for my interviews to come… and I’d wait… and I’d wait. Slowly, the rejections trickled in without one interview.
That’s when I realized I needed to change my approach.
If the odds are against you, don’t play that game. Change the game and increase your odds.
Spray and pray might work for Call of Duty, but it doesn’t work for getting interviews. I now have a firm rule I tell all of my friends:
If you apply online to a job posting and wait for a response, consider saving your energy by throwing your application straight into the trash. A cold application is a dead one.
You need to rewire your brain so that you do not feel short-term gratification from applying to jobs. Like I said, millions of people apply for a job at Google.
So how do you change your odds of landing a top job offer?
As per the chart above, there are three steps to landing an interview:
- Craft a highly relevant application (40%)
- Make sure a decision-maker considers your application (40%)
- Get a little lucky (20%)
Notice how each step is weighted with percentages and plays a critical role in landing the interview. This formula worked for my 50+ friends who applied it to their internship/job recruitment process with the most competitive firms. It will also work for you.
If you’re not getting interviews, it’s either because:
- Your application is weak or not relevant to the job
- Nobody read your application
- You were unlucky
The rest of this article will unpack each of these and help you troubleshoot your situation. If you just want to skip to the answers and have someone tell you exactly what you need to do to land multiple offers, consider joining our free training (link in navigation bar above) and online course. We've packaged everything into one course so you can reduce the stress and uncertainty around recruiting, make less mistakes than your peers for a huge advantage that compounds over time, and fly through recruiting with personalized support and our community. If you're not sure if it's for you, just check out the reviews from other students.
Onwards with the diagnosis!
What a competitive application looks like (40%)
Your application drives 40% of your ability to land interviews and is comprised of a resume and cover letter.
There are a lot of important nuances to writing exceptional, attention-grabbing resumes and cover letters that are beyond the scope of this article. I’ve written thorough guides on how to write a rockstar resume and cover letter, and we get into even more advanced strategies in the Career Launchpad video modules on writing a stand out cover letter and resume. If you just stumbled upon this blog, sign up for the free training and and my first email will include a 19-page guide on how to write a rockstar resume.
I just showered you in resources to write a killer resume and cover letter, so we won't go too in-depth here. But as a recap, here are a few things recruiters like to see:
- Multiple high-quality internships with brand name companies (or other similar caliber experiences)
- High GPA above the threshold for your target industry
- Prestigious university (very helpful but never required)
- Zero grammar or spelling errors
Hopefully these are fairly obvious. Unfortunately, some of them are difficult to change, such as your university’s prestige.
Aside from these, there’s another factor that recruiters and hiring managers will assess when judging your candidacy: fit.
For example, Harvard Medical School graduates and PhDs from MIT may not be qualified for consulting interviews. While they are certainly highly accomplished, they are often rejected because they fail to convince the recruiter of their fit for the industry (i.e. management consulting).
This applies to every job and industry. You have to convince the hirer that you belong by showing that you deeply understand the job through a well-crafted resume and cover letter.
Here are a few ways you can do that:
- Tailor your resume and cover letter to include relevant experiences (your resume for a studio production job and a enterprise sales job should be very different)
- Use words, phrases, and a little jargon in your internship/experience descriptions to mirror the phrases used in industry
- List relevant coursework
Many hirers use automated screening systems that look for relevant keywords and experiences. Make sure you don’t go overboard with jargon (happens a lot), but a little can go a long way.
When I was recruiting for strategy roles, I included phrases on my resume such as, “conducted primary and secondary research”, “competitive landscaping”, and “managed multiple stakeholders”.
These are all critical responsibilities to any strategy role and made me seem more credible than someone who simply said “ran an analysis”.
While you should do what you can to improve the strength of your resume and invest the time to write an exceptional cover letter, remember that this is only 40% of the overall formula to land an interview.
This is the counter intuitive reality you need to understand. Most people think a great application is 80-100% of what it takes to land an interview, and that’s exactly why they end up with countless rejections.
Takeaway: Don’t stress if your resume isn’t perfect — you can make up for it elsewhere.
Getting your application read (40%)
Aside from luck, there is still one more major aspect to landing an interview. It doesn’t matter how great your resume and cover letter are if no one reads it. Sadly, I bet over 50% of your rejections happened because your application was not actually considered.
As a reminder, the average company gets over 250 job applications, and top-tier companies like Google, Goldman Sachs, and McKinsey get thousands.
Many of these applicants also have very competitive resumes and cover letters.
This is why most recruiters and hiring managers don’t actually read every application. They simply do not have enough time.
Instead, many rely on their network and referrals to fill interview spots.
A recruiter at Google once told me over half the candidates who receive an offer come through referrals. This is probably the case for most companies.
To stop getting rejected from interviews, you need to be on the inside track by making sure your application will actually be read.
This means you need to have someone refer you to the recruiter/hiring manager.
Consider 2 applicants: both have the exact same resume and cover letter. However, one applicant applied through the standard online portal, while the other candidate applied online and had an internal referral through someone on the same team as the job opportunity.
Who do you think will get the interview? 99% of the time it will be the referred candidate.
In fact, even if the referred candidate has a weaker resume and non-existent cover letter, I bet that person would still get the interview because of their referral.
For some highly competitive positions and companies, you need a referral to have any chance of landing the interview.
The world is relationship driven and a referral is the ultimate indicator of social credibility. It means someone at the company personally believes you are a strong candidate for the position and company.
The best way to make this happen is to get in touch with the decision maker at each company months in advance of applying. I did this by asking older friends who previously applied to these companies for the recruiter’s email address, or by leveraging my network to get recommendations/referrals from professionals inside the companies.
For my top choice companies, I developed strong contacts at each company who could refer and vouch for me. Sometimes this resulted in a formal referral, a casual email forwarded to the recruiter, or a quick hallway conversation. In all instances it led to a nearly automatic interview.
Again, this works for some of the most competitive positions in the world.
Some of my friends were able to compensate for a weaker application by getting in touch directly with the decision maker. This is especially possible at smaller companies (startups, some non-profits, etc.).
When time was running out and I had to apply to second priority companies, I still sent out at least 3 cold emails to professionals on the same team as the job listing.
While this was definitely better than applying cold, it was not effective in consistently getting my application considered because:
- I didn’t actually know the decision maker. I was spraying and praying by reaching out to random people on the same or similar team as the job listing
- I didn’t have a real relationship with the people I was emailing, and was hoping they would forward my resume to the recruiter or hiring manager out of the goodness of their hearts
But once in awhile it helped get a last-minute edge that pushed my application through.
Anything is better than applying cold.
Takeaway: Don’t play the odds with a cold application. Get on the inside track by getting in touch with the decision maker as early as possible.
There's always some amount of luck (20%)
I am not going to pretend that recruiting is a perfect science. There is so much bias involved in who gets an interview or a job offer.
Recruiters spend an average of 10 seconds on each resume.
They aren’t trying to identify every candidate who deserves an interview. Rather, they are trying to fill their limited interview slots with a pool of strong candidates.
Those are two very different objectives. (For those of you interested in data science or statistics, this is the classic precision vs. recall trade off.)
If you take the right steps outlined earlier in this article, I think you can control 80% of your outcome. The remaining 20% of the process is luck.
So what’s my strategy for conquering luck? Simple — cast a wide net.
You want to apply to enough internships/jobs that you give yourself the flexibility to fail. That could be a failure to land an interview or a failure to convert the interview to an offer.
Here’s a piece of advice from a friend who worked in management consulting at McKinsey:
“Your goal in this process is not to get into McKinsey, it is to get into any one of the major firms. The work is pretty much all the same and everyone is very intelligent.”
In consulting recruiting, many younger students make the mistake of focusing way too much on the top 3 consulting firms. They don’t give themselves room to fail.
Inevitably, many of these students find themselves without an internship offer in the consulting industry, let alone a top 3 firm.
Don’t make this mistake.
Takeaway: Give yourself room to fail by applying to several companies in each industry of interest. With enough serious applications, luck will average out.
Use this framework to troubleshoot your interview situation
By using this formula, I went from getting rejected to every interview to a 90% success rate.
The sooner you stop playing the traditional recruiting game of submitting endless cold applications, the quicker you will actually land the job interviews you want.
You can use the following 5 questions pinpoint your exact problem:
Question 1: Am I qualified?
Think about your application and the job posting and ask yourself if you really are qualified for the role. Did you spent the time to write a killer cover letter?
Question 2: Who got the interview?
Talk to your friends who got interviews for the same role — why did they get interviews? Were their applications stronger than yours? Did they have referrals? How can you change your approach to emulate their success?
Question 3: What do my contacts at the company say?
Ask someone at the company why you didn’t get an interview. This is most effective with someone you already know who will be brutally honest with you.
Question 4: Did I have a referral?
Most of the time you can turn your situation around by getting referrals. Referrals help overcome a weaker application and ensure that somebody is actually reading your application to evaluate your ability to do the job. If you’re getting referrals and still not getting the job, your contacts in the company should be able to tell you why.
Question 5: Did I get unlucky?
Lastly, if none of these tricks work and you still can’t figure out why you didn’t get an interview, just write it off as luck. This process is not perfect, so don’t expect a logical justification for every rejection.
Luck should average out if you’re casting a wide net with your job opportunities. That being said, only do this once you’ve tried to understand why you didn’t get the interview. Many students are quick to attribute their failure to luck. This results in a missed opportunity to learn about an actual weakness.
If you ever feel stuck, come back to this post and troubleshoot using the formula to figure out where you are falling short. If you just want someone to lay it out and tell you exactly how to get ahead, consider joining our online course -- it's like having us as a personal coach by your side. In the course, we go super in-depth on how to master the entire recruiting process. This is a skill set that will help you throughout the rest of your career, not just your first few internships or first job.
If you want to learn more but aren't ready to commit, we offer a totally free training (you can sign up in with the button in the navigation bar). If you liked this article and love the training, I'm confident you will get incredible value from our course.
By following the steps above and using the strategies we teach in the training and course, you will find yourself consistently land interviews. However, that’s only half the battle.
If you are landing interviews but aren't passing them
You don’t get credit for landing interviews -- you’ve got to close strong and land offers. Let’s take a look again at the framework:
If you’re striking out in interviews, it’s probably because…
- You are not technically competent yet
- Your behavioral answers are weak
- You’re unlucky
I’ve written an entire article on how to knock your interviews out of the park. If you’re having trouble with interviews, I highly recommend checking it out.
After a failed interview, try to figure out why you were rejected. Diagnosing where you slipped up is critical to improving quickly. There are 2 easy ways to figure out why you’re not moving on in interviews:
Method 1: Ask your friends / mentors / alumni in mock interviews
If you are consistently striking out in interviews for internships or jobs, you probably have some recurring problem in your interviewing abilities. Practice full-fledged mock interviews with friends and mentors to learn exactly what you are doing wrong.
You will get higher quality feedback by practicing with experienced friends and mentors. Go the extra mile to find them if you’re serious about constructive feedback.
Method 2: Just ask your interviewer why they rejected you (politely, of course)
I did this so much in college, yet it amazes me how few people do this.
At the end of each interview, ask the interviewer for a business card or their email address. Upon rejection, email the interviewer and politely ask for areas of improvement to increase your chances in future interviews.
Your interviewers are human (I know, crazy right?) — most of the time they will tell you exactly why you didn’t get the offer! You should be doing this after every rejection you get. It’s an easy way to learn from your mistakes.
Note: Do not ask the recruiter for feedback on your interview unless they were the ones who interviewed you. Unfortunately, many companies have an HR policy of not giving feedback to candidates. Luckily, you can sidestep this by reaching out to your interviewer directly and avoiding recruiters.
During my sophomore year, a competitive bank rejected me for a summer internship. Even though I didn’t really want this particular internship, I wanted to know why I didn’t get the offer. Unfortunately, my interviewers were not replying to my emails asking for feedback.
Rather than giving up, I pulled out his business card and gave him a call. Most people would say that calling the managing director of an investment bank is not a good idea, but I just wanted to get feedback to improve for future interviews. I didn’t care about coming across a bit too strong — I had already been rejected.
Sure enough, after getting over the surprise that I called him, he gave me some solid feedback that helped with future interviews.
Takeaway: Be hungry to learn about your weaknesses. Identifying where you are deficient is key to accelerating your interview performance.
You now have everything you need to turn your situation around and start landing offers.
It’s on you to take action and make changes to your recruiting process. I’ve seen students figure out exactly what they were doing wrong but resist changing their habits. They were comfortable spam applying to hundreds of jobs. As a result, they continued to face rejection after rejection.
Insanity is doing the same thing again and expecting different results. Once you figure out where you’re going wrong, make the change. Get the help you need to turn things around. Landing the right internship will trigger a domino effect for your career and will likely lead to you earning thousands more for your first job. More importantly, it'll help you discover what you love and land the right full time role for you.
If you want the step-by-step playbook to be in control of the recruiting process with with easy to watch videos, in-depth recruiting stories, and done-for-you strategies, consider joining the Career Launchpad online course. It was the best decision hundreds of others have made.
Remember... your career snowballs as easy experience builds on the next. Landing the right internship and full time role will make everything worth it!