Two Reasons Why Clever High Potentials Get Rejected & What That Means

We've handled six marketing, sales and product roles across Europe in the last year at manager-level. Each mandate included aspirations to bring in high-potential types. This typically means very strong academic backgrounds with an engineering or business degree, some good internships or placements, a graduate scheme and some meaningful management experience that has added to the bottom line. All of the candidates tended to have very good interpersonal skills to boot. So, why did some fail at interview stage? A couple of interesting themes have cropped up.

Lack of common sense

Now all candidates had common sense but it's demonstrating it under the pressure of an interview setting. It's not just what is said, it is often what is left out. A key example is someone tackling an urgent situation via email rather than via direct verbal contact. It might have actually been the right thing to do at the time, but this candidate did not realise at all how this example made them look evasive. I'd always advise academic young people to look out for people who are successful but not academic, what kind of things do they do? What can you learn from them? Often it's the common sense things like diplomacy but quick to act on BS, positivity especially with the right people, being or appearing very well organised and getting the basics spot-on whilst being goal-focused. 

Not appreciating the banal

Successful people have a well-attuned antenna when it comes to timing and opportunity. And they see the seemingly innocuous filler questions as opportunities to shine. For example, what do you dislike about your role? Most of us would answer with whatever we find a bit boring and then add some filler to make the question look answered. Good plan, right? Possibly not. What tends to happen is that candidates look like they don’t appreciate the opportunities behind the dull day-to-day. Take, for instance, small talk (relationship building), administration (quick data analysis, performance monitoring) or dealing with low-level resistance (restating arguments, relationship building again). By all means, say you're not so keen on something but clearly state why doing it is a good thing. This will help you look authentic, thoughtful and positive. A great outcome to a common weasel question.

Please add your further thoughts on this in the comments box. Be great to hear your feedback.