Why candidates fail at interview

Posted by Nigel Wilson on 20 April 2021 | Comments

There are various reasons why candidates fail at interview. I’m going to highlight two of the main reasons, and what can be done to overcome them

When a client wants to interview a candidate, they are invariably hoping the candidate will perform well. They’ve had the CV, and maybe a summary from the recruiter, so on that basis, they feel the candidate has the potential to do the job. The interview is the opportunity for the candidate to prove they can, and also demonstrate why they’re a good fit

But unfortunately, candidates do fail at interview. The interviewers don’t always fully explain why, but after some studied research amongst clients and with other recruiters, here are some salient facts.

The first reason why many candidates fail is because they haven’t done sufficient (if any) preparation. They need to know about the company, not just what it does, and not just the basics, i.e. turnover, headcount etc. A candidate needs to understand what the company does well, and what its key strengths are. They should understand where the company is going, and the reason why they’re recruiting for the position. They should have a clear understanding of the company’s culture, and how and why they would fit.

One of my clients invariably asks candidates what they know about their company, and why they want to work for the company. Candidates often stumble here, giving the impression they’re too lazy to properly prepare. If that’s there case, in the client’s eyes, they’re not the right candidate

Of course, any recruiter worth their salt should ensure their candidates are fully prepared for interview, but ultimately, the refining of their preparation is ultimately down to the candidate

The second key reason why candidates fail at interview is because they don’t show evidence of their capabilities. It’s one thing detailing a list of achievements on a CV. But what really matters is a candidate’s ability to talk through what they have done well and demonstrate their competencies.

Employers want proof of a candidate’s ability to do the job. So the candidate needs to prepare a short list of their most important achievements, and to explain what the task was, how they went about it, exactly what they achieved and why it was so important and significant. They need to be able to talk in an interesting, factual way - not sketchy but not too long-winded. If this can be supported by references, so much the better.

There are four stages to help get this across: firstly get the interviewer’s attention (Let me give you an example of a key achievement), then state your point (the objective was to …. ), then back it up - “the evidence” (what I did was to …., which resulted in … ), and finally re-state your point again (and that’s how I achieved …..).

That’s it. Simple. Nothing complicated. But - an absolutely essential ingredient in all of this is back to the first point - preparation. Candidates need to have examples of their evidence ready and waiting, up their sleeve, so they come prepared to demonstrate proof of their ability to do the job.

So my advice is prepare and practice. Ask why you failed, and keep learning from your mistakes. With the will to commit to preparation and practice, candidates will eventually and undoubtedly get the job they want in the company of their choice.