Part 2: How to Stop Getting Rejected from Interviews

If you thought your job applications were actually being read, think again. This post shows you how to make sure decision-makers seriously consider your application.

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Last week I explained my formula to land any interview you want:

The previous post focused on the first 40% of this formula — how to build a strong application. If you haven’t already read it or want to refresh yourself, here’s the post.

Most people think a strong application is all it takes to land interviews. This week, you’ll learn why that is often wrong and how to actually maximize your chances of landing interviews.

Getting your application actually read

Remember how many applications the average company gets? What about those top-tier companies like Google, Goldman Sachs, and McKinsey?

A lot.

Can you guess how many strong candidates apply who check the boxes on most of the things I mentioned earlier?

A lot – which is far too many to interview.

This is why most recruiters and hiring managers don’t actually read every application. They simply do not have enough time.

Instead, most rely on their network to fill interview spots. 70-80% of companies first use their internal network to fill job postings.1

To stop getting rejected from interviews, you need to be on the inside track by making sure your application will actually be read.

And how do you do that?

  • Have someone refer you to the recruiter/hiring manager

Look familiar?

I cannot overstate the importance of getting in touch with the recruiter/hiring manager for each job you seriously apply to.

In fact, I made a rule for myself during recruiting season of my junior year. For each internship I kind of wanted, I sent out at least 5 cold emails to professionals on the same team as the job listing.

While this was definitely better than applying cold, it was still not very effective in getting my application read because:

  1. I didn’t actually know who the decision maker. I was reaching out to random people on the same/similar team as the job listing
  2. I didn’t have a real relationship with the people I was emailing, and was hoping they would forward my resume to the recruiter/hiring manager out of the goodness of their hearts

But that’s what I did for the internships I kind of wanted, to get whatever edge I could at the last-minute. Anything is better than applying cold.

For the internships I really wanted, I got in touch with the decision maker at each company months in advance of applying. I did this by asking older friends who previously applied to these companies for the recruiter’s email address, or by leveraging my network to get recommendations/referrals from professionals inside the companies.

For each company I really wanted an interview with, I made sure I had strong contacts at the company who were willing to refer and vouch for me. Sometimes this resulted in a formal referral, a casual email forwarded to the recruiter, or no sign of communication at all. Yet in all instances it led to a seemingly automatic interview.

This worked for some of the most competitive positions in the world. If you are serious about applying to a job or internship, you need to do this.

This trick can work even if you are not a strong applicant. Some of my friends were able to compensate for a weaker application by getting in touch directly with the decision maker. This is especially possible at smaller companies (startups, some non-profits, etc.). In these scenarios, the decision maker in charge of hiring interns is often the CEO or another executive. By getting in touch directly with senior professionals, you are more likely to get away with a weaker application because of your initiative and persistence in reaching out.

Key Takeaway: Do not play the odds with a cold application. Rather, get on the inside track by getting in touch with the decision maker as early as possible.  

A cold application belongs in the trash.


The final frontier: luck

I am not going to pretend that recruiting is a perfect science. There is so much bias involved in who gets an interview or a job offer.

In my experience, I attribute roughly 20% of the process to luck. So what’s my strategy for conquering luck?

Simple — cast a wide net.

You want to apply to enough internships/jobs that you give yourself the flexibility to fail. That could be a failure to land an interview or a failure to convert the interview to an offer.

Here’s a piece of advice from a friend who worked in management consulting at McKinsey:

Your goal in this process is not to get into McKinsey, it is to get into any one of the major firms. The work is pretty much all the same and everyone is very intelligent.”

In consulting recruiting, many younger students make the mistake of overly focusing on the top 3 consulting firms. They don’t give themselves room to fail.

Inevitably, many of these students find themselves without an internship offer in the consulting industry, let alone a top 3 firm. In fact, because of the reasons outlined in this post, many won’t even get an interview!

Don’t make this mistake.

Key Takeaway: Give yourself room to fail by applying to several companies in each industry of interest. With many serious applications, luck will average out.


By using this formula, I went from getting rejected to every interview to a 90% success rate. The sooner you stop playing the traditional recruiting game of submitting endless cold applications, the quicker you will actually land the job interviews you want.

I want to leave you with these 4 takeaways. Read them over and over until the lessons sink in:

  1. Don’t stress if you don’t have a perfect resume — you can make up for it elsewhere.
  2. A referral can boost you from a mediocre applicant to a top-tier applicant by signaling fit. No other tactic has that power.  
  3. Do not play the odds with a cold application. Rather, get on the inside track by getting in touch with the decision maker as early as possible.  
  4. Give yourself room to fail by applying to several companies in each industry of interest. With many serious applications, luck will average out.

If you ever feel stuck, come back to this post and troubleshoot using the formula to figure out where you are falling short.

Recruiting is a grind and can seem hopeless at times, but it only takes one great offer for the whole process to be worth it.     

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