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Recruiters Anonymous - Silly reasons why applications got rejected

Recruiters Anonymous - Silly reasons why applications got rejected

Have you ever wondered if job applications are really assessed in an unbiased way?

Well, we can assure you straight away. For the most part, recruiters and applicant tracking systems do a great job of identifying the best candidates for job openings. Thanks to a wealth of checks and balances, the hiring process really is designed to be as fair and impartial as possible.

However. Sometimes, even if the recruiter knows someone is a great fit, others in the decision-making process (such as the line manager or CEO) may have other ideas.

While rare, there are times when they may reject an application for what seems like a very silly reason.

With nearly two decades in the career coaching and hiring space, we’ve heard a lot of stories over the years, directly from hiring stakeholders and candidates themselves.

In this blog post, we’re going to share some of the more seemingly absurd rejections, as well as tips to avoid these (and, of course, when to turn your back on blazing red flags).

1 The ‘Excessive’ Commute

“True story. I’m an internal recruiter for a growing start-up just out of London. Our CEO, who splits his time between the office and his home more than 150 miles away in Manchester, rejected someone for a role that had been open for 9 months. 9 months! The reason? The person had a 90-minute commute. The CEO assumed the candidate was just “shotgun applying” to jobs without serious intent. Meanwhile, he himself was coming in every other week because he lives 4 hours away by car…”

Our Advice:

If you’re willing to move closer to the job location, or don’t mind a lengthy commute, make this clear in your cover letter. Even better, if you’re used to travelling that far regularly (e.g. because of family or leisure activities), it can help to mention that so it sounds even more like a non-issue for you. Pointing this out early on clears up any confusion about your commitment to the role.

2 Random Rejection Roulette

“I work for an agency that supplies staff for restaurants. There was this one chain that we worked with quite a lot. But the new GM of one of their busiest locations decided she could handle the hiring herself. Of course, she got overwhelmed by 100-plus applications for a sous-chef job. So she decided to halve the number by randomly rejecting resumes, mainly those with too many graphics or a photo. She ended up discarding two great candidates. Meanwhile, she interviewed four from the ‘remain’ pile. She hadn’t read the hiring bible, and had no idea that two of them were on the ‘do not rehire’ list and one was fired from another of the company’s locations. Blatant red flags all over the place. Thankfully HR intervened when they saw who the GM wanted an offer letter done for. I got asked to take over again after that.”

Our Advice:

While you can’t control the arbitrary (and frankly quite stupid) methods some hiring managers may use, you can ensure that your resume stands out at first glance for all the right reasons. Use a clear, professional format and highlight key achievements and skills that are relevant to the job. Unless it’s common practice in your country, don’t include a photo. Also, try to find and apply to companies known for their fair and thorough hiring practices (check out review sites like Glassdoor or search the company’s name plus ‘review’ or ‘employee reviews’ and see what comes up).

3 The Nose Piercing

“As a Hiring Coordinator in a very traditional energy conglomerate, I had to veto a great candidate solely because of a nose piercing that she wouldn’t remove. Personally I don’t mind them, but this person would be customer-facing. Picture full-suited, old-fashioned, uber serious customer reps. Now imagine how well they’d take to someone with a nose piercing and pink streaks in their hair. Even if they can do the job, the culture and image fit elements are almost as important in our type of business.”

Our Advice:

If you’re in an industry or applying to a company known for conservative or traditional values, it might be worth considering the impression your appearance might make. However, it’s also important to find a workplace where you can be yourself. If a company rejects you for superficial reasons, or you’re not willing to compromise, it might not be the right fit for you anyway.

4 Agism and Outdated Email Addresses

“I submitted five highly qualified candidates for a business development position, all of whom were rejected for being ‘too old’ by the client. The candidates were in their 40s and 50s. Well, they didn’t say the world “old”, but I did get excuses like they’re “too experienced” or “not a fit with the younger staff.” The client was 48, ironically. I waited a couple of days, then submitted the CVs again. This time, I’d asked the candidates with ‘older’ email domains like AOL and Hotmail to switch to Gmail and Outlook. I also removed their work experience prior to the past 15 years. I gave a couple of job titles a modern makeover. Surprise surprise, all 5 got interviewed, and one was offered the job.”

Our Advice:

Unfortunately, (un)conscious bias is real. Make sure your resume is modern and doesn’t include outdated details that could reveal your age. Use a contemporary email provider, list only the most recent and relevant job experiences, and tailor your older job titles to match current wording.

5 Too Innovative

“I’ve got a good story. We had a super qualified engineering candidate for a senior position. Everyone loved him, except the Head of Engineering. The reason? The candidate described a feature she had developed, and the head didn’t recognize the term the candidate used. So they thought she was either lying or unable to explain her work. The head said they would not endorse the candidate, and would file a complaint with the CEO if anyone tried to fight him over it. Guess who made their next employer a spectacularly wealthy company thanks to their ideas? Yep, you guessed it. The head has no idea that I’m the one who printed off an article about it and left it on his desk a few months later.”

Our Advice:

When discussing your achievements and projects, use clear and widely understood terms. If you must use specialized jargon, make sure to explain it thoroughly. It’s also helpful to have a narrative that non-technical stakeholders can understand, showcasing not just what you did, but the impact it had. That said, the only loser in such cases is the company that failed to hire you over their own lack of understanding.

6 Ms ‘Too Casual’

“I recruit at a company known for its laid-back culture. A few months ago we had a candidate for an entry-level position who was rejected because she ended her interview by saying, “Thanks, girl!” to the interviewer. When the interviewer mentioned this to the hiring manager, it was a no straight away.”

Our Advice:

Always maintain a level of professionalism during interviews, regardless of the company culture. While it’s important to be yourself, it’s equally important to be respectful and courteous. Address interviewers formally unless they explicitly tell you otherwise.


While job rejections can occasionally be for seemingly silly reasons, sometimes there’s a lesson to be learned from the situation.

While you can’t control every aspect of the hiring process, you can take steps to present yourself in the best possible light. Tailor your applications, dress according to the culture, communicate clearly and respectfully, and minimise possibilities for snap judgements about age, character, or expertise.

We’ll end by saying this: Sometimes a rejection might just be a blessing in disguise for you. If you’re rejected over arbitrary or absurd reasons, would you really want to work there, anyway?

By the way, if you’d like to enhance your interviewing or resume writing skills, check out our digital on-demand video courses. Register at www.jobleads.com and begin watching now!

Key takeaways

  • Biases from decision-makers can sometimes influence hiring outcomes, so present yourself as positively as possible while understanding some factors are beyond your control.
  • Conservative companies may reject candidates based on appearance (e.g. piercings or tattoos). Consider the company’s culture and seek workplaces where you can be yourself.
  • Unfortunately, some applicants might be rejected for seeming too ‘old’. To avoid (un)conscious bias, try tricks such as using modern email providers, limiting listed work experience, and ensuring your resume reflects contemporary job titles.
  • Using unfamiliar terminology may be interpreted as you not knowing your subject area. Use clear, widely understood terms and explain specialized jargon thoroughly.
  • Overly casual language in interviews can result in rejection; maintain professionalism and address interviewers formally and courteously unless advised otherwise (so no “Thanks, girl!”).
  • General Advice: Tailor applications, dress according to the culture, and communicate clearly and respectfully to avoid snap judgments about age, character, or expertise.
  • Finally, sometimes rejection for arbitrary reasons indicates the company isn’t the right fit for you. Laugh the situation off and view it as a blessing in disguise.

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