Revised October, 2000; originally published in January/February 2000 issue of newsletter of the Washington Association Financial Management Roundtable (WAFMR), now called Finance and Administration Roundtable (FAR)
Contact: Larry Slesinger at 301-320-0680 or

Why Qualified Candidates Don't Always Get the Best Jobs
Larry Slesinger, President and CEO, Slesinger Management Services

Over the past two years, I have conducted fifteen searches for nonprofit organizations seeking executive directors, chief operating officers, directors of finance and administration, and other senior staff. To complete these searches, I have read about 1,700 resumes and interviewed around 200 applicants.

Of the 1,685 people who did not get the jobs, many were clearly unqualified, usually because they did not have enough experience or their experience was not relevant. But I'm sure that a number of applicants were quite qualified for the openings. Why did they not get the job? Why did most of them not even get an interview?

Here's why these qualified people were considered "dead on arrival" as soon as I read their application:

If the applicant followed instructions, wrote a cover letter that was tailored to the specific organization and job, and included a resume that showed a track record of success, then I would consider asking the person to have an interview with me-provided, of course, that their work experience was sufficient and relevant, and that their salary history and presumed needs are in line with the job.

Those who get interviewed have made a great leap-from a large applicant pool to a group that might represent only 10 to 20 percent of the applicants. As a search consultant, my objective is to interview these people and then, in consultation with my client, select the top six to eight candidates whom they will interview. Qualified candidates stumble at this point a number of ways.

There are many good reasons why competent people don't get certain great jobs-their skills might not be what the position requires, they might have too much experience given where the position fits in the organization, they might be too inexperienced and would be much better candidates in three or four years. It's OK if these reasons keep you from a job that interests you; if the fit is not right, you're much better off waiting for something else. But when you do come across an opening that does make sense, please don't get yourself eliminated from the process by committing any of the faux pas listed above.

Larry Slesinger of Bethesda, Maryland is founder and CEO of Slesinger Management Services, a firm that provides executive search and other consulting services to nonprofit organizations. He can reached via his website at

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