06/10/2013 11:29 am ET Updated Aug 07, 2013

Didn't Get Hired? Here's Why

It's because as much as we like to pretend that the way people get hired is a rational process, we all know that's just not true.

A recent Wall Street Journal piece, "Didn't Get the Job? You'll Never Know Why," started a conversation worth continuing.

A lack of feedback on interviews is only one piece of a bigger problem. The way we connect people and work has gone horribly wrong. It's a slow, often unseen decay because it's masked by efficiency gains. But it is killing souls and wasting money. Want proof? Ask ten business people if their turnover costs are good enough. You know what they'll say.

Then ask anybody who's been looking for work for more than a month, "Tell me about a time when you applied for a job, did EVERYTHING right and still did not get hired." 100 percent of those people will have a story to tell.

New thinking to reshape quality selection begins with this: Hiring is not a rational decision. Now this is news to no one. But when was the last time you heard it said? Or used in decision making. Hiring might have rational components. But in the end, someone, most likely a group, makes a decision. So by treating hiring as if it were a math problem, we miss a lot. Up to and including how to do it well.

It's in the daily work of hiring where the connections between applicant feedback and the irrational way we hire, become clear

I recently did some contract hiring, conducting the interviews where many of us now conduct business, in a Starbucks. The candidate's data looked great on paper. She was a PhD. Every single answer she delivered was locked in solidly to a theory. But the role required a constant practical application and improvisation.

Despite that mismatch, what I remember most about the candidate was that she had a voice that boomed out and bounced off the walls of that Starbucks. Every single answer she gave was heard by every single person in that Starbucks. Needless to say, she didn't get the job.

In old thinking job career development, the reason she didn't get the job and "the feedback" is often reduced to the lowest common denominator. "Don't talk so loud!" And it's advice like that, that makes many of us cringe when we start to read anything titled "How to get a job."

The REAL reason she didn't get the job was a judgment. For better or worse, my judgment was that she would not be a "fit" for the fast moving start up I was helping staff. I didn't do a math problem. I made a judgement.

What's "fit"? It's the unique combination of skills, knowledge, talents and intangibles that make a person right for a role. It is not rational. Not objective. Call it an educated guess if you want. But the one thing it is NOT, is uniform. It can't be met or improved with tips like "Don't talk so loud."

Empty tips can also compound the underlying ailing system of hiring because the "tips" serve to divert more than to help.

Our broken system of connecting people and work simply won't be fixed by mass produced tips or better feedback to applicants.

What will help is putting a microscope to the entire system of finding work. Not simply what a candidate was reported to have done wrong. Not tips for faster, better networking or talking softly or asking a magic question. Not to assign blame. But to fix it.

Because while souls are being crushed, and money is being wasted, the real answer to the question, "Why didn't I get hired?" . . . might be, "No one knows."

And can't we do better than that?