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When An Employer Says You’re Not The Right Fit … What Does That Mean?

By Gerald Walsh ©

When employers interview candidates for jobs, they are trying to answer three questions: 1) Do you have the necessary hard skills to do the job? 2) Is your past experience suitable for the job? 3) Are you the right “fit” for their organization?

The first two are pretty easy to evaluate. Your resume and the interview will tell the employer if you have the right mix of skills and experience that will make you successful in the job.

But the third one – fit – is much more subjective. 

What does “fit” mean in the interviewing and hiring process? To me, it boils down to a few things.

Do you look the part? Whether you like it or not, we do judge a book by its cover and showing up overdressed or underdressed will leave the wrong impression. Do a little research and try to match your dress to the employer as closely as you can.

Do you express enthusiasm for working there? Employers want to hire people who really want the job. One way to do this – beyond actually telling them you “really want the job” – is to do a lot of background research on the organization and industry. Show that you understand the key issues facing them and explain how you can help them solve their problems. You want to demonstrate that you’re already thinking like someone in the role, not just someone who needs a pay cheque.

Do your core values align with the employer’s values? For example, if the employer values a collaborative decision-making process, where everyone is consulted, and you prefer a top-down management style, where superiors instruct subordinates what to do, it’s unlikely you will fit their organizational culture. Be prepared for interview questions that may ask you to describe your personal values and how these influence your day-to-day work.

Do they like you? Likeability plays a big role in the selection process. While this list may seem obvious, you should always remember to do these things:

Be nice to everybody.

Smile a lot.

Listen well.

Show interest in what others are saying.

Don’t complain about your past employers or bosses.

Always be positive – avoid making negative comments.

Stay relaxed.

Show you have a sense of humour.

Do you have good work ethic? Employers will want to know if the effort and time you normally put into your work is consistent with their expectations and normal work style. For example, if they have projects or activities that require after-hours or weekend work, they will want to know if that works for you.

Do you have a human side? Employers often remark that the “real person” doesn’t come out in the interview. That they only find out later, when the person is on the job, what they are really like. To deal with this concern, employers are increasingly asking questions to assess your human-ness and find out what you are like as a person. Here are a few of the questions they ask: What are reading these days? Tell us about your idiosyncrasies? Tell us about some of the struggles you’ve encountered in your career. What are your interests outside of work? Tell us about your failures.

So, what should you think if an employer says you are not the right “fit” for them?

I know it’s disappointing to find out you didn’t get the job, especially if it’s one you really wanted. But if an employer says they don’t think you are the right fit, I would absolutely accept their judgment and move on. After all, they are the best judge of fit, not you. It’s no different than a personal relationship. You want to be with someone who wants to be with you. Trying to make something work that wasn’t meant to be will not work out in the end.

To share your thoughts on this blog post, please write me at walsh@geraldwalsh.com.


Gerald Walsh is an executive recruiter, career coach, public speaker and author. During a 25+ year career, he has interviewed more than 15,000 job candidates, completed hundreds of successful searches for a range of organizations and guided many individuals – from young professionals to senior executives – to successful career change. He is the author of “PINNACLE: How to Land the Right Job and Find Fulfillment in Your Career.” You can follow Gerry on Twitter @Gerald_Walsh and LinkedIn.