Top 9 Candidate Rejection Reasons: What NOT To Do!

9 Job Candidate Rejection Reasons to Avoid at All Costs - Style Nine to Five

Understanding why employers reject candidates is crucial for job seekers aiming to improve their chances of success. Rejection can stem from various factors beyond lacking qualifications and experience. Common reasons include failure to prepare, a bad attitude, and a lack of enthusiasm for the job. 

Let’s uncover hiring managers’ red flags so you can better tailor your approach, avoid common pitfalls, and enhance your prospects of securing the job you’re after. Style Nine to Five founder, Christie Lohr shares some of her hiring horror stories and we’ll explore the key reasons behind candidate rejection and strategies you can use to ensure your application and behaviours are in top shape.

Reasons To Reject a Candidate Before an Interview

Potential employers often reject candidates even before setting up an interview. Why? There are a few key reasons to dismiss a candidate before meeting them including poorly crafted resumes, failure to follow application instructions, a blasé attitude, and more. 

Understanding these pre-interview rejection reasons is essential for job seekers to refine their applications and shape up their pre-interview attitude, ensuring they stand out positively and move forward in the hiring process. Let’s dig into the reasons behind early candidate rejections.

1. Sloppy Application

Employers can dismiss candidates based on sloppy job applications or failure to follow application instructions because these issues reflect poorly on your attention to detail and professionalism. 

A well-organized, error-free application shows the employers your seriousness and capability, and mistakes or missed steps suggest that you don’t care about the company or the position. Ignoring application instructions signals an inability to follow directions or comprehend essential requirements, which are critical in any job. 

Pay close attention to the job posting’s instructions, for example, taking note of who the hiring manager is (often listed on LinkedIn) so you can address your cover letter to the right person. Instructions may also ask that you include certain details in your cover letter, create a video application, or email your application to a specific address. 

Many applications require more than just sending your cover letter and resume. It’s common for employers to have a series of questions on a web form for candidates to answer when they submit their application. 

For example, they might ask that you specify how many years of experience you have or what your expected salary range is. If you think it doesn’t matter whether you answer the questions or not, think again! 

Christie has seen firsthand how skipping over application questions can backfire and instantly rule candidates out. “Leaving a question unanswered doesn’t just make it disappear, it actually shows up on the employer’s end,” she says. “I recently had a candidate skip a question about their level of interest in the company and their non-answer just showed up as a zero to the employer. Talk about showing a lack of interest!”

2. Scheduling Drama

Before the interview can begin, you need to schedule it. Whether you’re dealing with an administrative assistant or the hiring manager themselves, it’s important to put your best foot forward at this stage—this is your first impression. This means that you should NOT:

• Act like the interview is an inconvenience to your schedule

• Be unwilling to make room on your calendar for the interview or say that you’re too

• Reschedule multiple times or at the last minute

• Be a no-show or forget about the interview (is it a priority to you or not?!)

• Make exaggerated excuses for not showing up

Christie’s hiring horror stories touch on the last point on this list of candidate rejection reasons. “I’ve had candidates cancel at the last minute or fail to show up then make the craziest excuses after the fact,” she says. “I’ve heard it all! I had one candidate email me saying “My apologies for missing my interview yesterday, I was in the hospital due to a severe allergic reaction. Can we connect for an interview?” and that was a hard no for me. Another candidate said she missed the interview because “I had to leave my apartment immediately due to an emergency.” The best thing to do is to apologize and ask if it’s possible to schedule another time—no crazy excuses required,” Christie says.

3. Lack of Enthusiasm

It’s common for employers to automatically reject candidates who lack enthusiasm for the job, as it signals potential disengagement and low motivation before you’ve even started! 

Enthusiasm indicates your genuine interest in the role and the company, suggesting you’ll be proactive, committed, and a positive team contributor. 

On the flip side, a lack of enthusiasm can imply that you view the job as just another position, rather than an opportunity for growth and contribution. Employers can spot “just browsing” applicants a mile away—a vibe that easily makes them a hard no. 

Employers want to see that you’re passionate about your work and excited about the job because these employees are typically more productive, innovative, and loyal, driving the organization’s success and contributing to a positive workplace culture.

Reasons To Reject a Candidate After an Interview

Post-interview rejections can be particularly disheartening for job seekers who feel they have successfully navigated the initial stages, but some glaring no-nos might put you into the goodbye pile, beyond not having the right qualifications.

Employers know that you’re human and are usually reasonable and willing to overlook tech glitches, mild interview jitters, or your dog jumping onto your lap on a video call. But take warning of these red-flag interview behaviours that are sure to have employers rule you out.

4. Entitled Attitude

Candidates who have an entitled or superior attitude during interviews signal to employers that they’ll bring potential problems in team dynamics and workplace harmony. An entitled attitude may suggest that you lack humility, teamwork, and respect for others, which are crucial for a collaborative work environment. 

A know-it-all or arrogant attitude suggests that you aren’t interested in learning on the job. Being entitled rubs employers the wrong way because you come across as being “too good” to roll up your sleeves and dive into any task—you just expect to waltz into a cushy position and aren’t willing to work hard at tasks that might be “beneath” you.

Employers want employees who are approachable and adaptable. Demonstrating humility, respect, and a willingness to learn and collaborate is essential for making a positive impression and fitting well within a company’s culture.

5. Rudeness

Major tip: Don’t be rude during job interviews!. This should go without saying, but it’s surprising that Christie sees some awful attitudes from candidates that she interviews. “I had a candidate who was extremely defensive during the interview, responding to questions with, “Well, what do you think?” and “What kind of a question is that?” Her negative attitude was shocking for many reasons but also because she had quite an established career! I couldn’t believe it!” 

Rude, abrasive, or defensive behavior signals potential future issues in workplace interactions and customer relations. Rudeness is a good reason to reject a candidate because it reflects a lack of interpersonal skills, professionalism, and respect for others. It also indicates poor emotional intelligence and an inability to handle stress or conflict maturely. 

Employers want to hire team members who demonstrate courtesy, respect, and positive communication skills, as these qualities are essential for teamwork, client interactions, and overall company culture. In a nutshell, rudeness in an interview is a significant red flag, leading to immediate disqualification… what else do you expect?

6. Negative Talk About Past Jobs

One of the most common candidate rejection reasons comes from talking negatively about past jobs, employers, and colleagues during an interview. This raises employer concerns about your professionalism, attitude, and reliability. 

Negative comments about past jobs are a preview of a lack of discretion and a tendency to blame others rather than take responsibility for your own actions. Trash talking and any sign of not getting along with past colleagues also indicate poor interpersonal skills and the inability to work well with others or collaborate as a team. 

Speaking positively about previous roles, supervisors, and colleagues reflects a candidate’s maturity. Even if you’ve come from a toxic job or you can’t stand your boss, avoid saying that at all costs—speaking badly about past jobs is one of the top reasons to reject a candidate.

Think of something you learned from the experience and focus on that when asked about previous jobs instead of focusing on the negatives. For example, was your boss demeaning and impossible to please? Tell your interviewer you learned a lot about resilience and working under pressure. 

Adding a positive spin and speaking carefully about bad work experiences makes all the difference in employers rejecting you or wanting to move forward. 

7. Lack of Preparation

Employers quickly disregard candidates who are unprepared for their interview, unfamiliar with the company, and not familiar with the job description, as well as people who fail to prepare questions for the interviewer. Preparation is a clear indicator of your seriousness about the position and your dedication to making a positive impression. 

When a candidate hasn’t taken the time to research the company, it shows a lack of genuine interest and initiative, suggesting they might not be committed to or passionate about the role. You’ll give the impression that you’re just shopping around for jobs and that the position is just one of many on your list—definitely not the way you want employers to see you.

Being unfamiliar with the job description highlights a lack of attention to detail and not aligning with the role’s requirements and expectations. This oversight puts you at risk of failing to demonstrate how your skills and experiences make you a suitable fit for the position. 

Arriving at the interview without prepared questions can signal a lack of curiosity and engagement. Asking questions is a key part of the interview process, showcasing your enthusiasm, analytical thinking, and desire to understand how you can contribute to the organization.

In the end, being unprepared for an interview reflects poorly on your professionalism and work ethic. Employers are likely to favor candidates who have done their homework and demonstrate the qualities of a proactive and invested employee who wants to add value to the team from the outset.

Before any interview, reread the job description and brush up on the company’s mission and values, even if you already did this when applying. Don’t have any pressing questions to ask your interviewer? Come up with something—anything you ask is better than telling your interviewer that you don’t have any questions. Here are some easy go-to questions to ask before you end any interview:

• What do you like best about working here?

• What’s your favourite part of the company culture here?

• Can you give me a couple of examples of some of the first responsibilities I’d have in this role?

• Can you tell me about the team I’d be working with?

Asking questions like these shows that you’re genuinely interested and thinking ahead about what it’ll be like when you have the job. Even one or two questions shows engagement vs. not asking anything which gives the impression that you don’t care or that you just want to wrap the interview up.

8. Signs of Dishonesty

Lying is a top reason why candidates get rejected. It’s common to “embellish” your previous responsibilities or skills when you’re writing your resume, but think twice if you’re tempted to invent roles, education, or experience that’s an outright lie. 

Employers will readily reject candidates who show signs of dishonesty during interviews because trustworthiness is fundamental in any professional relationship. Whether making up qualifications, providing false information about past experiences, or fibbing about your achievements, dishonesty creates doubts about your character.

Dishonesty raises concerns about how you’d behave once you’re hired. Employers need to trust their employees to represent the company honestly, interact transparently with colleagues and clients, and follow ethical standards. Candidates who are dishonest during interviews may also struggle with ethical decision-making, potentially leading to conflict, misconduct, or even legal complications, and no employer wants to deal with that.

Dishonesty also undermines your ability to communicate. If you’re not truthful during the interview process, it suggests you can’t communicate openly or address challenges honestly in the future and it’s a good reason to reject a candidate.

Imagine how you’d feel if the tables were turned and the employer lied about the pay, working hours, or job duties. That would be a hard no in your books, and employers feel the same when catching interviewees in a lie. 

Christie has seen dishonesty creep up in many interviews and catching the candidate in a lie makes them an immediate “no.” One example came to mind when asked about a candidate who lied: “One candidate made it to the second round of interviews, but after looking closer, we discovered she had misrepresented the university she attended. When confronted, she was vague and wouldn’t give a straight answer. She went from the top of the list to completely off it.”

9. Lacking Basic Professionalism 

Professionalism is the foundation of a successful and productive workplace. Candidates who exhibit unprofessional behavior during the interview process raise doubts about their ability to represent the company positively and interact effectively with colleagues, clients, and stakeholders.

Lack of basic professionalism can manifest in various ways, including arriving late for the interview, dressing inappropriately, using unprofessional language, or displaying poor manners. 

Christie recalls a candidate who swore repeatedly in an interview. “I get that I come across as easy-going and down to earth and he wanted to seem relaxed and comfortable—but swearing crossed the line. It’s a job interview, not drinking beer with your buddies!” she says. “After all, if you can’t show professionalism in your interviewer, how can an employer trust you to act that way on the job?” 

Another unprofessional behaviour that you should avoid is dressing too casually. Even if the company culture involves wearing sneakers and baseball hats to a casual office environment, it doesn’t mean you should dress that way for an interview. 

If you’re doing a video interview, it should go without saying that you should find a professional-looking area to sit—even if you like to work from bed, don’t take an interview call with your pillows propped up behind your head. Don’t show your interviewer that you can’t even be bothered to get out of bed!

The Bottom Line

Understanding the behaviors that lead to candidate rejection before and after a job interview is crucial for enhancing your application and interview skills. Whether it’s showing up unprepared, displaying rudeness, dishonesty, or lacking professionalism, you want to avoid anything that signals red flags to employers. 

Avoiding these pitfalls and emphasizing positive traits like preparedness, enthusiasm, honesty, and professionalism can significantly improve your chances of success. 

Remember, the interview process is not just about showcasing skills—it’s also about demonstrating the right attitude and fit for the role and the company. Knowing what not to do gives you an upper hand in standing out in all the right ways.

Want to make sure your interview skills are in top shape? Book a Call with Style Nine to Five Founder Christie Lohr to practice answering interview questions and learn tips for making a great first impression.

Jeanine Gordon is a freelance content marketer with a passion for creating stellar strategies for global brands and small businesses alike, specializing in fashion, beauty, and lifestyle.