what your interviewer says / what you hear / what they mean

by Ask a Manager on August 27, 2012

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We’ve had a few letters recently where people have felt misled by a job interviewer’s apparent enthusiasm for them, and then were angry and/or confused when things ended up not working out.

So I hereby present a guide to what your interviewer says, what you’re hearing, and what it really means.

What the interviewer says: You’d be great at this.
What you hear: You will be great at this, because you will be getting the job.
What they mean: You would be great at this if you happened to end up in the job.

What the interviewer says: We should get back to you in about a week.
What you hear: It’s Wednesday now. You will hear from us by next Tuesday.
What they mean: Off the top of my head, I’d think we should probably be able to move forward in about a week, if nothing else gets in the way.

What the interviewer says: Your qualifications are exactly what we’re looking for.
What you hear: You are exactly what we’re looking for, so let’s make this happen.
What they mean: Your qualifications are exactly what we’re looking for, so you’re a good candidate. I expect that we’ll have other candidates who are as strong, and maybe stronger, but you’re certainly in that group.

What the interviewer says: When you meet with the CEO, he can tell you more about that.
What you hear: You’re moving forward to an interview with the CEO.
What they mean: If you end up moving forward in the process, you’ll meet with the CEO, and he can tell you more about that.

What the interviewer says: I look forward to talking more.
What you hear: We’ll be talking more.
What they mean: If you end up moving forward in the process, we’ll talk more.

{ 120 comments… read them below or add one }

Annie August 27, 2012 at 4:59 pm

Brilliant! Love this advise.

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Ray August 27, 2012 at 5:11 pm

Love this. So True!

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Marcie August 27, 2012 at 5:14 pm

If you have a good interview the hiring manager will do everything to keep you on the running until she can find the best fit. Shouldn’t they send the “decline” email as soon as they interview another person that is better fit than you instead of waiting all the interviews to complete?

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Ask a Manager August 27, 2012 at 5:16 pm

No, most employers won’t reject viable candidates until they’ve made an offer and had it accepted. After all, they could offer the job to that “better fit” person and not be able to come to terms on salary, start date, etc. Plus, most employers want to interview their full slate of strong candidates before making a decision, plus there are reference checks, etc.

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AnonA August 27, 2012 at 5:47 pm

Plus, who is a viable candidate and who is the final candidate is not really known until the end of the process. We extended an offer to a woman who was not the strongest candidate, but who was the strongest fit when we made our final decision. The strongest candidate had been doing this type of work and the final candidate was someone who would need to learn the tasks. We opted for the growth/stretch candidate because we wanted someone here for more than a year.

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fposte August 27, 2012 at 7:08 pm

Plus, there’s the “we” needing to find a time to meet and make their decision, and plus there’s getting turned down by your first choice and hiring your second.

I do send rejections to the no-interview applicants before we get a confirmed hire, but other than that, no, and I don’t think an applicant would really want to have a viable chance cut short like that anyway. I’ve definitely hired people who weren’t the front-runners at the end of their interview, and been happy to have them.

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ChristineH August 27, 2012 at 5:15 pm

I still think some of what interviewers are saying to people is misleading, but this advice at least reminds us to not take every word at face value until you have a WRITTEN offer.

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Another Jamie August 27, 2012 at 5:26 pm

I agree. I do think it’s more a result of human nature rather than someone being intentionally dishonest. No one wants to be the bearer of bad news, especially to someone’s face.

Just another reminder how interviewing really is like dating. I can’t help but picture Chandler Bing, “Well this was great! I’ll call you!”

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AnonJobSeeker August 27, 2012 at 9:01 pm

Yep. This post made me think of the book “He’s Just Not That Into You” and the section where the guy author talks about all the ways women mishear what the man says.

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Ask a Manager August 27, 2012 at 5:28 pm

I’d argue it happens on both sides and is a normal part of this type of interaction. For instance, candidates themselves say many things like this but ultimately decide that they don’t want the job — that doesn’t mean that it’s wrong for them to make statements to their interviewer about how interesting the job seems or that they look forward to talking more, etc. These are the sorts of statements that are normal parts of how we converse.

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Monica August 27, 2012 at 5:21 pm

What do you mean it’s not all about me? ;)

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Wilton Businessman August 27, 2012 at 5:22 pm

What the interviewer says: Our normal work week is 45 hours and you will be on duty one week a month.
What you hear: I get a company phone!
What they mean: 45 is a minimum and you will be available 24×7 for 1/4 of your life.

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Another Emily August 28, 2012 at 1:25 am

This cracked me up. Hopefully that’s not borrowed too closely from your own life…

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Jamie August 27, 2012 at 5:33 pm

If I had a link to my favorite AAM posts this would have been added immediately.

I love this – it should be required reading for everyone on both sides of the table.

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Jeff August 27, 2012 at 5:40 pm

I think this emphasizes how important it is to be careful with our words and to temper our expectations. I think those are two of the biggest things I’ve learned from AAM: being honest, forward, and clear in communication, and understanding that the hiring process is fluid rather than linear. I think both managers and interviewees are sometimes a little too loose in the language they use that has the potential to send the wrong message. There will always be those people who hear what they want to hear rather than what’s actually said, but I think we can all use work on making sure we’re being clear in our communication.

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nyxalinth August 27, 2012 at 5:58 pm

This was very helpful! My last two interviews were both very straightforward and clear about the next steps, and while I wasn’t contacted for the job/next step, I really appreciated their being up front.

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Danni August 27, 2012 at 8:16 pm

This is fantastic! I wish this was a weekly column!

You could cover so much info…what the job application says/what it means, what your boss says/what she means…:)

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AnotherAlison August 27, 2012 at 8:30 pm

Exactly what I was thinking:

What Boss Says: Be proactive.
What Boss means: I don’t know what I want you to do. Just try something and I’ll let you know if I like it.

What Boss Says: Collaborate with Group X more.
Wha Boss Means: I’m in a territorial *issing contest with Group X, and you’ll be in the middle while it shakes out.

Maybe it’s just me!

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Ask a Manager August 27, 2012 at 8:35 pm

And that, of course, is exactly why I couldn’t do one of these for what your boss means. It’s too dependent on the boss and the situation — you’ve got to have context to interpret those.

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chimes in August 28, 2012 at 3:02 pm

What Boss means: I don’t know what I want you to do. Just try something and I’ll let you know if I like it.
I don’t know so I can’t tell you. Figure it out, I’m sure it’s good for your professional development.

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chimes in August 28, 2012 at 3:03 pm

attempted a strikethrough on that first part and forgot the appropriate html code… gah.

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Anonymous August 27, 2012 at 8:25 pm

Not the same thing, but when I was in a sorority we were trained before recruitment to never say ANYTHING to a girl that would make her think that she was coming back the next day or getting a bid. When people want something, they’ll read into the smallest clues.

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Catherine August 28, 2012 at 9:40 am

Ain’t that the truth. This is coming back around to the dating analogy. “He said he would call…why hasn’t he called?….”

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NewReader August 27, 2012 at 8:29 pm

Again another helpful article.

I now understand why they say these things. However, I know soooo many people who are burned out on corporate America because this way of speaking comes across (at best) as underhanded. Why not speak clearly and make sure to be understood? Don’t companies realize murky waters (vague speech) erode morale over time?

On the other side of the coin, I never thought about the interviewer holding on to anything I said. Lots of fish in the sea, I figured. After all, they hold all the cards. I cannot walk into a place and just start working (lol), they have to grant that privilege. Now I have fresh eyes on that aspect.

I always wondered though… where does this manner of speaking come from and why do most interviewers have this in common?

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Ask a Manager August 27, 2012 at 8:35 pm

To me, this stuff doesn’t seem sneaky or underhanded at all; it seems pretty clear. The problem is that job seekers are reading more into it than is there (probably because they’re trying really hard to get signals and find clues about how things are going).

Also, if you understand the nature of the hiring process (they are talking to many candidates and decisions probably won’t be made until the end of the process), then it’s easier to interpret these statements correctly. The nature of the hiring process is so clear and obvious to employers (i.e., that of course they haven’t made decisions while they’re still in the interview with you), and they assume candidates understand it too, so on the interviewer side, these statements seem perfectly clear.

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AB August 27, 2012 at 8:46 pm

I completely agree. If the interviewer says “you’d be great at this”, it’s not his/her fault that the candidate is thinking, “You will be great at this, because you will be getting the job.”

Just practice taking words at their face value, and your interpretation will come close to what Alison describes: “You would be great at this if you happened to end up in the job.”

The fact that you would be great at this doesn’t mean there isn’t another person who would also be great at this and maybe at something else that his/her role could grow into. No sneaky promises were made in “you’d be great at this”.

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Joy August 27, 2012 at 8:48 pm

I don’t think interviewers are necessarily speaking in one certain manner; the issue is that candidates read into every word no matter what is said. If you were to make it very clear with every statement that the person being spoken to was one of many being considered, they would pick those statements apart as well and feel disheartened about being among a sea of candidates.

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Ask a Manager August 27, 2012 at 8:51 pm

Exactly! I’ve had letters from people saying, “My interviewer mentioned that they’re talking with other candidates; do you think they’re trying to tell me that I’m not in the running?”

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EngineerGirl August 27, 2012 at 9:52 pm

I’m flummoxed that people don’t understand that they don’t have the job until they get the offer. Why wouldn’t there be other candidates in the running? What has changed that this new crop of candidates don’t get that?

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Rana August 28, 2012 at 2:53 pm

I don’t know that it’s so much that people don’t know that there’s competition; I suspect it’s more that you rarely get to see your competition and almost never do you get to see their qualifications and compare them to your own. Under those circumstances, it’s easy to “forget” about the competition, since there’s so little you know about it, and there’s nothing you can do about it even if you did know.

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Ask a Manager August 28, 2012 at 3:26 pm

See, to me that’s baffling. The fact that there’s competition is so integral to the hiring process that I really can’t fathom how anyone would really lose sight of that.

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Rana August 28, 2012 at 8:57 pm

As I said, if you’re a candidate, you never see the other candidates, you never read their resumés or cover letters, you don’t know how many of them there are, or what their expectations are, etc. You’re aware of their existence, yes, but it’s so much more abstract than it is from the perspective of the hiring team.

For all you know, there’s just one other guy who sucks, or many there’s two hundred other people, all of whom are amazing. Which you lean toward depends on the kind of person you are, how much experience you have on the hiring side of things, how capable you are of assessing your own value, etc.

So for me it’s perfectly reasonable that you could know intellectually that you have competition without translating that abstract awareness into a gut-level understanding of what that means in practice.

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Ask a Manager August 28, 2012 at 9:03 pm

I hear what you’re saying, but I’m not willing to let candidates off the hook like that. People need to function in reality and not wishful thinking. (And if they don’t, then it can’t be any surprise when they end up disappointed.)

Rana August 29, 2012 at 12:45 am

Oh, I don’t mean to let people think that wishful thinking is a substitute for reality. I’m just saying that I understand how it can happen. If I spent all my time thinking about how many, many qualified people are competing with me, I’d go mad and give up. So I don’t. I focus on what I have to offer, instead of worrying about my competition.

But, yes, some people do take that approach to extremes! *laughs*

Catherine August 28, 2012 at 9:43 am

Very true. In the case of my supervisor, he takes candidates around the office to show them what it’s like and what nice personal offices we have. I’m sure many candidates interpret this action as “It means they’re going to hire me, they’re showing me my office!” but what he’s really doing is trying to sweeten the deal for the strong candidates – the pay here is lower than average so an office by yourself is a nice little bonus.

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fposte August 27, 2012 at 10:29 pm

Most interviewers have it in common because most people have it in common. We do not in general legalistically parse our speech. Note also that in most cases that what the interviewer says is actually true–you *would* be great at this, your qualifications *are* exactly what they’re looking for, and they *do* think they’ll get back to you in a week. None of which even in a literal interpretation means that they’re saying you have the job.

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Jamie August 27, 2012 at 9:05 pm

Every time we discuss this I realize that cynicism can be a flaw or a blessing depending on the situation.

It’s my nature to assume worst case scenario for everything – so I always just assumed no one would reply to my resume submissions or call after an interview. Not that I didn’t think I deserved it, it’s not a self esteem issue, I’ve just always prepared for the worst in everything.

It may make me the proverbial wet blanket, and I’m not exactly full of fun and spontaneity, but at least I side step this issue. I would be a mess if I got my hopes up about stuff.

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Catherine August 28, 2012 at 10:07 am

It’s a good tactic for this situation. I had an interview several months ago for a great position that I thought was in the bag…the HR manager told me I would start working for them in a couple of months (yes they moved VERY slowly), but I never received a written offer. Thank God I didn’t say anything to my current employers, because guess what? The job dried up. No offer ever came and the HR manager kept pushing out the start date. Then he fell off the face of the planet. I’m sad it didn’t work out but I’m glad I still have a job!

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HRAnon August 27, 2012 at 10:19 pm

Lol. Me too- it tends to annoy my friends and family, but I am always looking for the fangs on kittens and expecting unicorns to gore me with their horns. Can leave no rock unturned, but I have found the ugly thing underneath too often to change my ways now.

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Jamie August 27, 2012 at 10:22 pm

Lol – don’t knock it. People like us go through life being pleasantly surprised by everything, just because the sky isn’t falling.

It’s not a bad mindset.

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Esra August 27, 2012 at 10:52 pm

Didn’t wake up to a zombpocalypse? A+ Tuesday.

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Jamie August 27, 2012 at 11:04 pm

What does it mean when a zombpocalypse sounds relaxing since it would be a reason to take a couple of days off work?

I probably shouldn’t examine that too closely.

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Catherine August 28, 2012 at 10:07 am

+1

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KimR August 27, 2012 at 11:12 pm

What the interviewer says: Would you like to come for a trial day with us?
What you hear: At the end of the trial day – if we are both happy I will be getting the job.
What they mean: I have a couple of strong candidates coming for a trial day and I will be going with the best fit for the practice.

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Jamie August 27, 2012 at 11:28 pm

This has been referenced a couple of times here, what exactly is a trial day? I would imagine you can’t have people actually working, so are they shadowing various people?

I assume by practice lure referring to the medical field? Is this where it’s mainly done?

It’s a very interesting concept.

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Scott Woode August 28, 2012 at 8:58 am

In restaurant work it’s called a “Stage” which is short for “Stagiare.” It’s basically when an employer can see if you have the right skill set to succeed in their environment and is used to waiting on that particular set of guests (Front of House), or to see if your knife skills are “up to snuff” for the kind of cooking and prep you would be doing (Back of House). It’s a standard practice at pretty much every restaurant I’ve ever worked at. I can’t speak to any other field though…

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Marie August 28, 2012 at 11:01 am

not to be picky… but stage is not short for stagiaire, they are two different words.

I didn’t know it was common in restaurant.

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KimR August 27, 2012 at 11:40 pm

I am in the dental industry in Australia. We pay the candidate an amicable hourly rate to come and see if the work is a “fit” for them AND for us. I suppose we are not necessarily obliged to pay the trial candidates. The candidate shadows one of the most experienced team members who they would be working alongside.
It is interesting to see whether the candidate is truly interested in the line of work and asks the right questions etc.

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JustAQuestion August 28, 2012 at 12:58 am

I really enjoyed this post, but want to reiterate a point Senior Blogger Green A.K.A. Alison makes frequently: interviewing is a two-way street, and interviewees are also active participants in the evaluation.

As an interviewee, I have forced myself to act enthused for the less desirable aspects of a position and have assumed that the interviewer knew I was searching for other employment opportunities. I have never asked the people with whom I interviewed how they interpreted my responses to their questions.

Now I wonder if maybe they read too much into my comments and became overly eager to bring me on board. It’s a rather nice thought to have, especially as I continue with my job search.

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Joey August 28, 2012 at 9:37 am

Haha, you forgot some others:

Interviewer: We’ll be in touch.
You hear: You definitely will follow up with me.
Really means: we hope to get back to you but don’t hold it against us if we don’t.

Interviewer: what are your salary requirements?
You hear: whats the lowest you’ll work for?
Really means: Give us a salary number that we can afford that will keep you around for a while.

Interviewer: We’d like to show you around the workplace and introduce you to a few people.
You hear: Youre going to introduce me to my new co workers and show me my new office.
Really means: We want you to see the workplace to see if you will fit into our culture.

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Lisa August 28, 2012 at 9:38 am

What about the “we have every intention of getting you an offer by friday”? (said on wed on july 18) proceeded by emails every few days, discussing how they want to give me an offer but are dealing with a big transaction, and cant at the moment. Its been over a month! I finally emailed him yesterday and said “Thank you for checking in. I know that you are busy, but it has been over a month since I was first told that an offer would be forthcoming. If a full time offer isn’t in the cards, should we revisit this position as contract work instead?” I am apparently a doormat, because I let them string me along and I stopped applying for other jobs. I even tried telling them about another job that I was considering to get some info about what salary looks like. They proceeded to say that now that they know I am looking elsewhere that they were worried, I wouldnt take their offer. HELLO, I dont even have the offer yet!!! They spouted off company ownership, shares, blah … but no details on vesting schedule, or even a hint at base salary. The VP asked me to call him after my last email as he was SHOCKED that I reverting back to considering this as contract work vs full time. So we talked, and I laid it out … I don’t know what an offer looks like, and while ownership is intriguing I can’t make a decision to wait for this company over another offer if I have no details on base salary or vesting schedule. I am not playing games, I wish he never told me an offer was “coming” as I feel taken for granted and expected to wait with bated breathe. I have a feeling the salary is very low compared to the other company I am speaking with by 20k and the vesting schedule is a joke 5+ years. No thank you, and I will be declining if I am expected to take a low salary for 5 years and pray this company goes public. So I thought my email would force them to tell me something. I would prefer it as contract work, but I am also worried, that I wont ever get paid as a contractor if they stall like this on everything.

argh

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fposte August 28, 2012 at 10:52 am

They sound like flakes. And any place that would make an offer to you *less* likely because you’re still on the market? Is either crazy or knows they have a noncompetitive package, or both. (And ITA that this is a big warning sign for getting your pay as a contractor.)

When a company clearly likes you, it can be tough to look beyond that to figure out if you actually want to work there. Might be worth thinking about that in this case.

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Suzanne August 28, 2012 at 10:14 am

I get it for all of these scenarios but “What the interviewer says: When you meet with the CEO, he can tell you more about that.”

If the interviewer doesn’t know IF you will actually speak to the CEO, then why say WHEN? Why not just say IF if IF is what you mean?

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Jamie August 28, 2012 at 10:27 am

Because it’s just sloppy speech – it’s not intentional.

I hate to admit this, since I try to be careful, but I did something similar last week.

I had two phone interviews with developers in explaining a particular project I said something to the effect of ‘and then I’ll need you to (math in the formula) so when you’re done testing it should look like blah blah blah.’

I caught myself immediately and backtracked and said “I mean the person we hire will…” and a little laugh because I was remembering the threads about this and got self-conscious. Had we not been talking about it here, it might not have even registered with me what I said.

The interviews I do are very infrequent (fortunately for all involved) and it’s really easy to slip into casual speech because I’m thinking of what the programmer will do, not necessarily Dave the programmer to whom I’m speaking at the moment.

When Alison first brought this up in a post a couple of weeks ago my reaction was initially that she was right that no one should read into it, but that interviewers should not say stuff in a way that can be misinterpreted. Well, it had been a long time since I had interviewed anyone (besides a pop in to other people’s interviews – which is MUCH easier) and it’s easy to know exactly what to say in theory.

In practice people are human and trip up over less than exact speech all the time. We need to make allowances for that.

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Ask a Manager August 28, 2012 at 10:37 am

Yep, what Jamie said. And also, the interviewer is thinking of how it works on their end — “we funnel candidates through this process, the next step is to meet with the CEO, etc.” It’s normal to speak like that. It’s how humans talk to one another, in all situations, not just hiring. As fposte said above, “We do not in general legalistically parse our speech.”

The problem is the job candidates are forgetting very basic facts about the hiring process and reading something into the words that isn’t there.

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fposte August 28, 2012 at 10:54 am

And you know, sometimes people misremember what got said, too. So that’s another reason to wait until you have something concrete–your memory may be prettying things up for you.

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needle August 28, 2012 at 2:52 pm

i understand the normal speech thing in detailing duties of a position (you’ll talk to, you’ll write), but i have to disagree with this not being misleading. if the person isn’t moving on to the next round just give them a b.s. answer. if you’re unsure of next steps for them say something like “that’s a question for x.”

this is a great post, though. i got an email from a hiring manager with rather specific detail about when they would get back to me. even after reading this multiple articles on the subject and knowing i should just put it out of my mind, i’m still analyzing her words. i would rather have more vagueness.

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Ask a Manager August 28, 2012 at 2:58 pm

I just think it’s unrealistic to expect. This is how people talk. They just do. Job seekers need to stop trying to read so many clues into things — it hurts no one but them.

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Rana August 28, 2012 at 3:01 pm

I think, in addition to all the dynamics already mentioned, it’s worth noting that for some people the line between “if” and “when” is thinner than it is for others. “When” can be conditional, too, if not as obviously as “if”:

When Chocolate Teapots becomes a real company, I will apply there.

When zombies attack, I will run away.

When an earthquake happens, people should take cover.

And so on.

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fposte August 28, 2012 at 5:54 pm

Heh, I was going to go into that when I mentioned parsing but couldn’t figure out how to say it with anywhere near that clarity.

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Doug August 28, 2012 at 11:55 am

Alison, of all your entries on this site, this has to be one of your best articles, and that’s saying a lot considering that you always have good stuff.

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Ask a Manager August 28, 2012 at 11:58 am

Thank you!

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Michelle August 30, 2012 at 8:46 pm

I believe that professionals should treat everyone they interact with in their professional role with respect.

So, for example, if you would not tell a client/customer or prospective client/customer that you will get back to them in a time frame and then let it fall through the cracks, don’t tell that to an interviewee either.

Interviewers treating prospective employees with real courtesy is not only a matter of human respect, it’s also a matter of professional intelligence. The interviewee might someday be a decision-maker in a context where you need something, and if they remember you as a flake, that will affect their decision.

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Aaron August 31, 2012 at 5:17 pm

Finally, someone who gets it.

For all the people, the author included, who are like “People need to stop making assumptions”. “If they’re disappointed, it’s their fault”, or “That’s just the way people talk,” I truly wonder what would happen if they pulled that with a client, customer……potential donor.

That’s the point, you wouldn’t. So don’t make excuses for your own misleading statements. Be professional and forthcoming to everyone, regardless of whether or not you’re holding the cards in that instance or not.

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Ask a Manager August 31, 2012 at 5:20 pm

What exactly here was not professional or forthcoming?

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Michelle September 1, 2012 at 5:28 pm

Ask a Manager, here’s the easiest one and requires the least editing, but there are others in what you wrote:

So. Consider this interaction between a professional and a customer/client (edited from the OP only for the people involved):

What the professional says: “We should get back to you in about a week.”
What the client/customer hears: “It’s Wednesday now. You will hear from us by next Tuesday.”
What the professional means: “Off the top of my head, I’d think we should probably be able to move forward in about a week, if nothing else gets in the way.”

Now, stop and think about this. And hey, substitute other characters if that would help you understand – what if it’s a board member instead of a client/customer? What if it’s a program officer for a foundation that is considering a grant proposal your organization has submitted?

I understand that some people move in a world in which it’s acceptable to treat others with lack of professional courtesy and thoughtlessness provided you have assessed that those others are below you in a hierarchy of value and they therefore don’t merit the kind of care you would show those who have something you want (all general “you” here).

But even on a shallow level: The thing is – the positions might someday be reversed. You don’t know that an interviewee today won’t someday be on the volunteer board of an organization your own organization needs to develop a partnership with for funding purposes. Or on the hiring committee of an organization you apply to after you lose the job you mistakenly believed that you would never lose.

You just don’t know what possible configurations you might experience in the future.

And on the human level, it demeans everyone involved when people treat others with discourtesy because they have assessed that they can due to the others being somehow less important.

I do understand that it can be hard to understand, especially from a mindset of relative human value based on a hierarchy. I just don’t come from that mindset.

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JohnB January 12, 2013 at 6:04 pm

This exactly. I would NEVER say to one of the company’s clients “I’ll get back to you next week…” and then let 3 weeks go by without contacting them at all. It lacks all professionalism and I’m sorry, but being “busy” is not an excuse. Yet, somehow the people who are in charge of hiring think that it excuses their poor manners and lack or courtesy.

I can’t even count how many times I’ve wondered how these people have jobs, but I don’t?

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Aaron August 31, 2012 at 5:30 pm

Maybe my own frustration with dead-end interviews seeped through, so I backtrack on the “not professional” or “not forthcoming” bit.

All I mean is, like Michelle stated, an interviewer feels it is acceptable to tell a candidate “You should hear from us in a week” when they really mean, according to you “Off the top of my head, I’d think we should probably be able to move forward in about a week, if nothing else gets in the way.” They feel comfortable saying that and justifying it because the candidate can’t do anything to them if they flake on their deadline.

As someone who works in fundraising, I could never pull such a stunt with even a bottom-tier funder. My managers wouldn’t tolerate it, our donors wouldn’t tolerate it, and I wouldn’t tolerate it from myself.

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Ask a Manager August 31, 2012 at 5:38 pm

It’s not the same dynamic as with a funder. You are not asking a job candidate to give you a charitable donation.

It’s more similar to, say, a first date who says “I’ve got some stuff going on, but I’ll give you a call in about a week.” Are you going to take offense and/or freak out if it takes two weeks instead? I hope not.

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Aaron August 31, 2012 at 5:50 pm

See Alison, this is where we differ. I think people are people and that’s the only dynamic that matters. As in, I’ll give the most accurate answer regardless.

If I’m on a first date and she says “I’ll call you in a week” and she calls in two, of course I won’t freak out….IF she says “Hey sorry I’m a bit late but….” or “Hey some things came up.” If she already knew she couldn’t commit to a calling in a week and threw out that line anyway on the assumption I’d ‘simply understand’, then it’s probably safe to say there’d be no second date.

Integrity is a either-or game. You don’t have it for ‘some’ situations but not others. Nobody expects people to be lawyers and vet their every syllable. But being reasonably accurate isn’t a strain, it only seems so because we tolerate less.

I’m thankful my career in development taught me that. I worked for an org that treated it’s funders based on their status, so naturally top-tier funders got more attention and more timely callbacks as opposed to the casual donors.

The org I work with now treats ALL funders of every level the same. As in, if we say we’ll get back to you in a week, then we mean a week or earlier. If we really mean, we’ll try to get back to you in a week, then we say “We’ll try to get back to you in a week.”

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Ask a Manager August 31, 2012 at 5:52 pm

I’m a huge fan of precision in language, but I just think this is setting people up to be frustrated and disappointed in the context of hiring.

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Aaron August 31, 2012 at 6:03 pm

How is it setting people up to be frustrated?

Will candidates continue to hear what they want? Of course; heck as a fundraiser it’s easy to hear “I’d love to contribute to your mission” and take it to mean “I’m writing the check to your right now.”

But at the end it comes down to the Golden Rule, if you don’t want it being done to you, don’t do it to someone else.

As a manager, would you be okay with it if an employee said a project would be completed by a certain time but really meant “it’ll be completed by a certain time if nothing else comes up”?

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Ask a Manager August 31, 2012 at 6:05 pm

We’re going to have to agree to disagree.

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Michelle September 1, 2012 at 5:37 pm

Aaron, I’m really enjoying your clarity on these matters.

I think there are two worlds here. And I actually feel kind of bad for the people who only see and move in a landscape of use and power hierarchies.

It’s great to hear about the communication practices of organization you currently work for. There is real value in that kind of ethos.

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Michelle September 1, 2012 at 5:34 pm

And here it is!

“It’s not the same dynamic as with a funder. You are not asking a job candidate to give you a charitable donation.”

See, this is precisely the mindset I was talking about in my comment above. This is a a perceptual world of relative human value based on use and power. A world in which you treat people with thoughtfulness and professional courtesy only when they have something you want.

In this world, everyone is an object to be treated according to who’s on top in a particular interaction.

But seriously, in these times, you never know when your positions will flip. If you show someone you’re a flake by giving them a wrong timeline when they’re applying for a job, and that affects them negatively, they may remember you and/or your organization. And if you ever need something from them in the future … well, I guess it’s a lesson I hope you have the opportunity to learn someday, Ask a Manager.

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Ask a Manager September 1, 2012 at 9:11 pm

Dude. Contrary to your last sentence, I am EXTREMELY precise with the timelines I give candidates. I get back to every single candidate who applies for a job, whether they’re moving forward to an interview or not. I tell everyone I talk to when they can expect to next hear from me. And if that timeline changes, I email and tell them. I do not need to learn the lesson you’re wishing upon me.

I do, however, want to minimize the angst and frustration that job seekers go through. You may or may not have noticed that I have an entire blog dedicated to doing exactly that. And one huge thing they could do for themselves is to stop reading as much meaning into the sort of statements I discussed in this post as they do.

Is there a power dynamic in hiring? Yes, the majority of the time there absolutely is. That is the reality of it. I can’t change that, but I can tell people how to better navigate it. I’m mystified by why you would discourage that.

(And as for your point about treating funders differently, if you’re ever been exposed to professional fundraising, you know that indeed major donors or prospective major donors are indeed treated differently than other people. That’s also the reality of that world.)

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Michelle September 2, 2012 at 3:09 am

“Is there a power dynamic in hiring? Yes, the majority of the time there absolutely is. That is the reality of it. I can’t change that, but I can tell people how to better navigate it. I’m mystified by why you would discourage that.”

What I don’t like about your approach in this piece, and in the comments, is that it opposes what for some people is an equally important aspect of the process under discussion: staying clear that while someone may be an interviewee and thus low in the power hierarchy at that point, s/he is also a real person, a worker and professional, and someone deserving of respect and professional courtesy.

In my view, this piece has psychological, material and ethical/ethos implications.

On the psychological level, it can be important for some job seekers not to internalize a view of themselves as objects to be disrespected because of the power hierarchy location. Staying clear that it’s the interviewer’s lack of professional respect can help prevent such internalization.

On the material level, the positioning of prospective workers as people who should expect to be treated with less than full professional courtesy can function as a conditioning for exploitation in the workplace. This is as much a larger systems issue as any individual company or organization.

And on the ethical/ethos level, we’re dealing with a lack of humanity and respect overall.

Ask a Manager, I understand that it’s important for you to locate what you do as helping people. But in this case, there are implications to your advice that are negative as well.

I suspect you already know this. After all, your own choices for how to communicate show you as someone who knows it’s important to treat interviewees with professional courtesy. Making excuses for those who don’t may be helpful in some ways but it also has a downside.

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Ask a Manager September 2, 2012 at 3:16 am

If you really think that reminding people not to take “you’d be great at this” or “I look forward to talking more” as a certain impending job offer, then you’re reacting to some issue of your own that isn’t in the post.

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Michelle September 4, 2012 at 9:25 pm

Ask a Manager, it seems like you’re far more interested in defending your position than in understanding the real-world implications of what I and some other people here are sharing about the limitations/downsides of your position.

While such closed and rigid “must be right no matter what” behavior is common in internet discussions, it’s interesting to see it in the public blog of a professional consultant who works with people for a living.

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Ask a Manager September 4, 2012 at 9:27 pm

No :) I have no problem admitting when I’m wrong. But I don’t think I am here, which is why I’m continuing to restate my position.

Job Hunter September 4, 2012 at 9:41 pm

Just because Alison isn’t changing her mind doesn’t mean that her position is rigid and “must be right no matter what”. Based on what I know of her through the rest of her writings, the most likely conclusion is that she’s thought over the arguments presented by others but doesn’t agree with them.

Characterizing someone the way you have here just because they didn’t come around to your point of view doesn’t seem very well thought-out, especially when the person you’re saying those things about has shown herself to be reasonable and fair and very willing to defend & sympathize with those looking for jobs.

Kristi August 31, 2012 at 8:30 pm

Nice to see this thread on idealist.org today!

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Ask a Manager August 31, 2012 at 8:35 pm

Do you have a link? I couldn’t spot it over there.

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Kristi August 31, 2012 at 11:19 pm

From their home page its the second screen in rotation, right after Job and Internship Spotlight: Labor Day Edition.

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Ask a Manager August 31, 2012 at 11:22 pm

Thanks!

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Saint September 1, 2012 at 2:25 pm

I think the article highlights one thing only, job applicants are expected to be careful with their speech because it has consequences, interviewing managers don’t have to because it does not affect them. They can afford to be sloppy and inaccurate with minimal precision or timeliness, you need them, they don’t, They can judge you on a word, you can not, ..etc.

Bottom line for job applicants, only pay attention to job related questions and statements, the rest is just unprofessional talk, don’t expect courtesy or notices.

Your life would be much easier (for an unemployed person that is)

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Ask a Manager September 1, 2012 at 2:29 pm

Job applicants ARE judged more than employers, generally. (Although applicants with lots of options would be smart to judge employers just as rigorously.)

However, I disagree that the type of statements we’re talking about here are discourteous or unprofessional. Take them at face value, don’t read more into them than what’s been said, have a basic understanding of how hiring works, and your expectations won’t get away from you.

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Saint September 1, 2012 at 2:45 pm

Dear Friend,

I don’t take them at any value at all, I just consider them gap fillers. I never had expectations raised by such statements, in fact I have learned that the only thing that matters is hearing from them that you are hired. I still think they lack in courtesy, when you are told that you are a finalist after a reference check and that you will be called when a decision about hiring is made, you expect a note of a “NO” or “YES”.
At any rate, like someone said, we all would be in a better environment if hiring managers act as professionally as they expect potential employees to do.
Advice: act professionally even if the hiring managers do not, they can get away with speaking without consequences, you don’t have that luxury.

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Aaron September 3, 2012 at 12:13 am

Alison, I do understand the point you are trying to make in this article. We live in a professional world where habit and time pressure means that interviewers won’t always be so precise. I wholeheartdely agree with you that applicants would better spend their time simply not pinning to much on what’s said and setting themselves up for disappointment. Nobody can argue with that logic.

What I and others are concerned with is the way you present such imprecision as par for the course; an accepted part of the professional landscape. Considering how intelligent your articles are normally, this is disheartening. And what’s worse is that you freely admit to a hierarchy of courtesy; that you wouldn’t speak to a client with the same vagueness.

Based on your past insights, we expect you to encourage more precision; not less. We expect to point out the benefits of across-the-board punctuality, not encourage people to settle for selective professionalism.

I say this as someone who most certainly is exposed to professional funraising and has been his whole career. You are correct, not all levels of donors are treated the same nor should they be. But I’ll share what an old VP of Development told me, “The way to make casual donors more involved donors is to TREAT them like more involved donors. It’s like crops, not all of them will pan out, but the ones that do will yield results.”

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Ask a Manager September 3, 2012 at 12:16 am

Am I correct in thinking that you’re referring here only to statements about timeline, and not to any of the others (such as “I look forward to talking more”)? If so, then sure, I can agree you — not updating people when your timeline changes is rude and I’ve written that it’s rude before. Ranted about it, in fact. (Although that doesn’t change the reality that employers will continue to do it, and job seekers need to understand that. And this article is speaking to job seekers, not employers.)

But any of the statements in the post other than ones about the timeline? I really don’t see how they fit what you’re saying here.

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Leslie October 31, 2012 at 5:09 am

Love this! But one question, what does it mean when they say ” we’ll be in touch” 2 times during the interview?

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Ask a Manager October 31, 2012 at 10:41 am

That they intend to be in touch :)

That’s also sometimes a phrase used to wrap up a conversation, so they might have been signaling that they were concluding the conversation.

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Lena November 10, 2012 at 9:19 pm

Ok so I completed the interview and was told I was hired. I filled out the new hire form and was told that I would be called later on that day to schedule a time when I could come in for training but its been 2 almost 3 days since then. Am I overreacting or its not a good sign? I called and left a message and plan to return to the office to find out what’s going on. What should I do?

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Cjb November 19, 2012 at 7:08 pm

What if an employer says we will be in touch? I had a interview although the person that reached out to me called it a meeting. I was supposed to meet with the vice president of a fashion pr firm while she was in town gor the week from New York,however when I came in for the interview something came up and I ended up interviewing with a manager over one I departments at the firm. The interview went pretty well, however I think she was just gong me a general interview , not specifically for her dept, but to see if I would be a good fit for the firm period. After the interview she requested that I send her some additional information . They ate actually in the middle of moving to a bigger office. After sending her the info her reply was thanks ( my name) we will be in touch. I feel like that is a no? Is that what we will be in touch means?.

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Ask a Manager November 19, 2012 at 7:47 pm

It means they’ll be in touch. You can follow up in a week or two to ask about timeline.

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popcorn_cheesits December 6, 2012 at 10:47 am

I had a series of interviews 2 months ago. Was flown into the state, met the entire executive staff, and was given, what I considered to be hints that I would be offered a job from each of executive members. Within 1 week, my references were checked. Then, I was provided with vague responses, such as, they are evaluating the position more, and are communicating within the executive team the details of the position. I politely followed up 3 weeks later, and was told that there will be opportunities, and that they will be finalizing details before Christmas. The he stated, lets touch base at the beginning of December. Does that mean, I should reach out? If so when is the right time to do it?

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Ask a Manager December 6, 2012 at 11:21 am

Seems reasonable to reach out right now.

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Alex December 11, 2012 at 6:39 am

Hi MY NAME IS Alexandra Partridge
I have a question what does it mean if your boss says after working for her for almost 5 months at the end of the working year in promotions jobs Thanks for your hard work and i will be in touch next year
what does it mean??

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Broke & Unemployed December 30, 2012 at 9:14 pm

So, what’s your answer for when a company invites you for an interview, you drive 2 hrs. away and take time to accommodate the interview on their schedule, the interview goes extremely well and at the end they tell you-I was told I can’t hire now because a customer didn’t come through on a project so our workload has changed? Like he didn’t know about the week between calling me to interview and the interview itself. I know I’m the one needing a job, but it seems because this is an employer’s market these days, that manager’s continue to get away with poor & inconsiderate behavior while you as a job seeker have to continue to kiss ass just to get a simple interview and not burn any potential bridges. So, I guess I’m wondering, what your advice is about that? Send him a thank you note-for wasting my time and just suck it up and hope that he may in what could be weeks to months down the road he’ll hire me? Pfft..I’ll be living on the streets by then and then they wonder about gaps in resume’s puhleezzzzz! Let’s get real here….they look for reasons NOT to hire you, rather than to HIRE you these days..but KEEP POSITIVE people haha right..

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Ask a Manager December 31, 2012 at 3:52 pm

That sucks. He was absolutely inconsiderate in not telling you the situation beforehand.

If you’d be willing to consider an offer from him down the road, then yes, send him a thank-you note, etc. If you’re not interested in ever working with him, then there’s no need to do that.

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Alex January 1, 2013 at 3:45 am

Hi what does it mean when your boss says she will be in touch next year???

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Ask a Manager January 1, 2013 at 3:06 pm

It sound like it means she’ll be in touch after the new year….?

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Alex January 2, 2013 at 1:58 am

thank you for the advice

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Felicity S. January 22, 2013 at 9:58 pm

Mine is kind of tricky. Through informational interview requests, I was able reach out to some smaller firms in my dream industry, which is very fragmented, so I was able to chat with the CEO/owners. One of them told me about an opening next month, which did get posted publicly. I only reached out a day after the original timeline he gave me has passed. He emailed back quickly saying the next round of interviews will be late next week and that he can email me a date and time ‘in a day or so’ and that they are interested in having a ‘more formal interview with me with the other partners’. I’m kind of getting mixed messages because it really seems like there’s going to be a formal interview but I have to keep following up. What should I do if I find myself following up again for the 2nd time? Should I pretend like I didn’t follow up before and not acknowledge he did specifically say he will be the one to email me (only that the 2nd timeline has passed). Either way I can’t be resentful because he did grant me an info interview but this is driving me crazy… What is going on?

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Ask a Manager January 22, 2013 at 10:04 pm

I’m not sure what’s unsettling you here — it sounds like he’s being pretty straightforward with you.

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Felicity S. January 22, 2013 at 10:17 pm

That IS what’s confusing me: He’s straightforward but does not keep the timeline. I guess this goes back to the earlier posts. Why say ‘in a day or so’ when they really mean ‘in a week or two’?

Is he buying time or genuinely busy with the first round of canditates? If he is truly busy, should I call as my 2nd follow up or just email again?

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Ask a Manager January 22, 2013 at 10:19 pm

It’s really common for timelines to change during hiring processes. More common than not, in fact. Don’t read anything into it; it’s just how this stuff works.

Email, don’t call.

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Jamie February 26, 2013 at 7:22 am

If it makes people feel any better the changing time lines can be very frustrating for the hiring manager as well.

I was asked once to reach out to a contact I had for an upcoming position. This was a former colleague and not a personal friend – so I did and she was interested so she sent in her resume as requested. She was perfect on paper and everything looked good to bring her in and if a good fit the job was slated to start in weeks.

Then things changed internally – now the job was a maybe and if so in a couple of months – but tptb really still wanted to meet with her if and when they moved forward. Sigh. We (I) reached out to her. She was minding her own business and I was told to talk to her about a pretty awesome position. By the time – 7 months later – they were ready to move she was already employed elsewhere and believe it or not there was disappointment on their end that she wasn’t available.

Sometimes things change and when the people in charge are disorganized it can be really frustrating on both sides.

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Sara February 15, 2013 at 5:54 am

Had my 3rd interview with COO who seemed to say everything possible to put me off the job/organization. I was then passed me to HR. I was told they’d be in touch to schedule the next step, an interview with CEO. I do not feel this interview went well and feel HR didn’t make eye contact .

Realistically, what should i be thinking?

Thx

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Limon February 25, 2013 at 11:47 pm

Sara,

If the COO him/herself is trying to put you off then there must be a reason that you are not able to see or know. Just accept it, be gracious and let it go.

Send a polite response to thank them and say that you appreciated the opportunity to interview, etc and that you know they will make the best hiring decision that works for them and wish them every success with their new hire. Or something like that, polite and respectful of them and yourself.

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Limon February 25, 2013 at 11:43 pm

Oy vey, the bad interview. Why do some interviewers treat the person being interviewed so badly? I do agree with Michelle and Aaron above, their thoughts are good ones and I wish I worked in their companies.

The truth is that in this economy today there are many disrespectful interviewers and managers. I have been interviewing and have had a few that really made me wonder: why did you invite me in here if you don’t like me or what I have to offer? Some interviewers were minimally polite, didn’t seem to like my background and a few kept grilling me like they expected me to crack and admit: ok! I am a secret felon and was in jail for three years. All my information is on the 27 page online application, you now know more about me than my best friend. If you choose to not read it, that is your problem and I will be polite and smile while you pretend that you did read it.

The best interview was wonderful! polite, very respectful and I felt like it was a great fit of skills and people. When I didn’t get it (not enough experience, that’s ok!) I got a very prompt and polite email. Nice company.

It takes alot of emotional strength to remain polite when someone is rude to you, not take it personally when people are disrespectful and to let it go and remember that you have value and worth and you are not a reflection of how others treat you.

Good luck everybody!

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voluptuousfire August 12, 2013 at 1:51 pm

I never got why an interviewer would purposely go out of their way to make the job sound like something you wouldn’t want. Just thank the candidate for their time and send a rejection email a reasonable time later. Easy peasy, no?

I had one phone interview a few months back where the HM appeared to have made up her mind about my resume well before our scheduled phone interview and it ended up being an exercise in futility. If I really was not what she was looking for, why not just cancel the interview beforehand and save us both 15 minutes we can use to put towards something else? People rescind interviews all the time!

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Anabel March 21, 2013 at 12:28 am

Hello, I had an interview, which I hope I really get :) I believe it was a great interview, we joked around and at the end he complimented me by saying that ” you have a great personality, and it is excatly what this position calls for” . He also asked about my city. I know that you can never be certain if it went well, but I just would like to know if aleast it was a good sign.

Thank you! <3

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Job seeker March 21, 2013 at 2:03 pm

I hope you get this job. I had a interview last week too, that I am still waiting the result. This was last Thursday and he still had two more days of interviewing. I felt so crummy in there, I had a horrible cold and coughed and could barely talk. He did give me some compliments, said he liked my Southern accent and the way I dressed and made a good first impression. There were 60 people that applied for this position but he only called 20 of us. He said he would call some of us back for a typing test and personality test. I still don’t even know if this is the job for me. I would have to go out of town for a few weeks to train and I have a parent staying with me right now. I guess I am just wanting to find something soon. This was in a medical office which is what I want. Good luck to you Anabel, I hope you hear back soon.

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HC April 27, 2013 at 8:58 pm

I had my interview with the Ministry of Environment and when I asked them when I will be notified, the interviewer responded by saying: You would be notified at this point, but probably within the week.
What does this mean? I didn’t get the job …. right?

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Russ July 8, 2013 at 8:03 pm

When an interviewer rejects me by saying “We decided to hire someone with more experience.” I follow up with the question, How does one get the experience you’re looking for?” It’s a reasonable question I think but the interviewer always gets defensive. Why is that?

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Carlos August 6, 2013 at 1:37 pm

I had an interview with papa johns yesterday and the man said he will get together with the hireing mangers and will call me and a few days is that good or bad

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Ruthan September 5, 2013 at 12:32 pm

“What they mean: If you end up moving forward in the process, we’ll talk more.”

Or possibly: “I don’t actively dread the prospect of talking to you more and am slightly overstating my case for the sake of building positive relationships with people I might work with.” ;)

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Dean September 17, 2013 at 11:10 am

I have had two good interviews, lastly including a power point presentation. After the second, they asked me for references, which I thought was good, and said I will hear back next week. Two weeks later and nothing, so I email the sales manager and he calls me today and says “at this we cannot move forward, but let’s circle back around in a couple of weeks” then “good luck to you”. What do those two comments mean, especially the cannot move forward one?

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Tonniee July 16, 2014 at 10:15 am

Hi all Please help me understand, I was referred by a friend to a company , the good news is the company rang me for a phone interview, he sent a role play lam suppose to do for the phone interview, and he asked me for day I want to do it between Thursday and Friday, I chose Friday he said he will ring me back with the time I said okay he didn’t ring , I sent him an email he said he has to move it to wed or Thursday next week, I said okay no problem , before I knew it the Team leader rang me and said she wants to interview me right away I said okay no problem, we did the interview she gave me a feed back saying I was successful for the third round and she will get to the recruiter to give me a date for the face to face I said perfect, I sent an email to the hr he said he will get back to me with the date, its been 2 and half weeks still no date I sent him email to ask when I will have the interview he said he has been looking for me the past week and couldn’t get hold of me, and he said when am I available to do the interview I said to him anytime, he should give me the date and time and I will come he said thanks will confirm something soon, my question is do u think he is telling the truth or he will just end up shutting me down, I really want this job, hat should I do to go for the face to face if the hr is keep on giving excuses about the date , what do you guys think ?/???

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