Have you ever interviewed an ideal candidate, gone through a lengthy interview process, excitedly put together a job offer, expected a quick acceptance … and then you were rejected?

Of course you felt disappointed, and perhaps even embarrassed. When it comes unexpectedly, the rejection stings even more. But why does disappointment feel so bad? Neuroscience can explain why … and neuroscience also yields a few clues why your job offer might have been rejected.

It’s all about expectations.

In a recent column in the New York Times, Alina Tugend interviews David Rock, author of “Your Brain at Work.” It’s a fascinating read, but this quote really stands out:

“When we don’t hit our expectations, our brain doesn’t just get slightly unhappy, it sends out a message of danger or threat.”

Woah. When your expectations are not met, you actually feel threatened.

OK, well enough about you, now let’s talk about why your ideal candidate might have rejected you. If you are like most employers, you did not do a very good job of managing their expectations during that lengthy interview process. You left them hanging several times by not clearly communicating what your interview sequence would be, or how long things would take, or how many times they would need to come back for additional interviews. In my experience with hundreds of small to mid-size organizations, the normal interview process almost always fails to meet candidate expectations.  So your normal hiring process constantly puts your ideal candidate’s brain into danger and threat mode. No wonder they rejected your job offer.

For more perspective on how to make job offers, see How to Make a Job Offer and Negotiate Salary for a New Hire, And if you’d like to stop wasting your time on the irrelevant, superficial aspects of interviewing, and start understanding the deeper elements of what really predicts success a new hire, read our post on How to Conduct a Job Interview so Top Performers Actually Want to Take Your Job. 

Of course, if you prefer all that research and information pulled together in one document, download our Employer Guide to Interviewing. 



Of course, interviews are only one component of a great hiring process, our Resource Center has additional topics you might find helpful: 

  • How to Write Job Descriptions to Attract Great Candidates
  • How to Handle Glassdoor Reviews
  • How to make your Hiring Process More Certain, Predictable and Consistent
  • How to Evaluate Your Own Hiring Process
  • How to Replace Underperforming Employees

Disclaimer: This advice is primarily for professional hiring in a large metropolitan area. Our perspective is shaped by our work in a retained executive search firm, conducting searches for CEO and senior staff positions. We’ve completed over 600 searches for associations and other nonprofits in major metropolitan areas like Washington DC, New York, and Chicago, but not all of our advice will be relevant if you are interviewing for other types of positions in other job markets.