Maybe nothing! Jeff Schmitt’s article, “Job Hunting Realities: What ‘No’ Really Means” contends that an employer’s “NO” may not have anything to do with your actual fit for the position. I would tend to agree with Mr. Schmitt. But it doesn’t hurt to step back from the initial sting of rejection to evaluate what, if anything, you might do to improve yourself for the next round of applications. If you’re new to the field, perhaps a recent college grad or a college senior, it’s especially worth while to evaluate your job hunting strategies.
If you landed an interview, then your resume and cover letter are likely in pretty good shape. Prior to the interview, did you take time to practice? I have heard many a college student and young professional refuse interviewing assistance because they feel confident in their ability to “express themselves in person.” I have no doubt that you’re perfectly capable of expressing yourself in person. However, an interview requires that you express yourself in a way far different than normal conversations – you must talk about yourself in-depth, providing detailed, relevant, succinct examples. If you spoke this way about yourself on a regular basis, you’d likely not have many friends! Since you don’t talk like this all the time, practice is essential.
Practice your interview, preferably with a professional who does not know you very well. Your friends and family are familiar with your habits, your manner of speech, your idiosyncrasies. A professional will better be able to identify aspects of your interviewing that may be masking your true talent.
For example, does your confidence come across as arrogance?
Are your nervous habits, (such as, fidgeting, over-sharing, quiet talking, etc.), distracting from your abilities?
Are you observing certain cultural norms, (such as avoiding eye contact, standing very close/far, making physical contact, etc.), that are unexpected in North American culture?
Are you appearing too casual/too formal in your manner of speaking?
Are you providing examples that truly demonstrate your abilities?
A professional career advisor should be able to help you identify if there any stumbling blocks in the way of employers seeing your real potential.
After the actual interview, ask for feedback. If you didn’t get a job offer, at the very least get some suggestions or advice from the employer about improving your interviewing. Perhaps they’ll give you a list of things you could improve – in which case, you’ll learn from the experience and do better next time.
Keep in mind, just as Jeff Schmitt argues, you may have done nothing wrong at all! But, evaluating your job hunting strategies, particularly your interviewing skills, will keep you sharp and ready for your next round of applications.