why do interviewers act like I’m about to be hired, and then reject me?

A reader writes:

Over the past two years, I’ve interviewed for many jobs. The most frustrating thing for me is two managers have pretended like I already had the job while interviewing me, then later told me I was not a good candidate for the position. Both of these jobs were jobs I REALLY REALLY wanted. Both of them (two different places) went out of their way to explain to me scheduling and how to ask for time off, and pretty much acted like I was the only person they were interviewing for the position. The most recent one flat-out told me that I was the only one she was interviewing and she said I sounded “absolutely perfect.” When I left, she said, “I just need to check scheduling and I’ll give you a call in a few days.” I called back to follow up and she didn’t even remember my name. The other woman showed me how to request time off, told me what holidays I could take, and went out of her way to show me the store and different jobs in the store I would be doing as well, as adding in something along the lines of “Barring any glaring problems on your background check I think we should be fine” before I left. She also went out of her way to introduce me to every one who worked there as if I was already a new hire.

I’m in my 30’s. I’ve had many job interviews. I am not “misreading” them. Have I gotten jobs where the manager acted like I had the job already? Yes. I’ve even been hired right on the spot. I’ve also left interviews knowing 100% I didn’t get the job and other interviews were more ambiguous. I know what signs people are giving me, and I’m wondering why managers would do this to people. It’s painful to find out they totally pretended to love you (and acted like you were on the verge of being hired) only to find out they were just being nice.

Why would they do this? Would you consider this unprofessional or out of the ordinary? Is there anyway to directly ask someone who is doing this how serious they are being, or would that make you less likely to get the job? I’d rather hear the truth, or even flat out that they don’t like me, so I stop getting my hopes up and move on.

Well, you say that you know you’re not misreading them … but you actually are misreading them, as evidenced by the fact that these conversations aren’t panning out into offers.

It would be different if any of these interviewers were giving a clear, explicit job offer — as in, “I’d like to offer you the job at $X salary and with a start date of January 16.” But they’re not. They’re saying things that imply that they really like you, but that’s not the same thing as offering you the job. That’s where you’re making the mistake.

You are definitely entitled to leave these interviews feeling pretty good about things and thinking “that seemed like it went well.” But you’re making the leap from that to “I have the job,” when there hasn’t been an offer.

And you just don’t have a job until you have an explicit offer for it.

Here’s the thing: An interviewer might think you’re a really strong candidate during the interview. She might think that she’s very likely to offer you the job. And then later, she might interview someone who’s an even stronger candidate. Or the job might change in ways that mean you’re not longer as well matched with it. Or they might decide to hire the VP’s neighbor. There’s just no way to know that you have the job until you hear an actual offer.

You’re also reading into signs that don’t really mean much. Some interviewers will explain scheduling or benefits to everyone they talk to, even people they’re likely to reject; it’s just part of their standard interview spiel. The same is true of introducing candidates to other people in the office. And showing you the different projects you’d be working on is a pretty standard part of an interview — it means “this is what the person who ends up in the job will be doing,” not “this is what you will be doing because we are hiring you.”

Now, you’re right that comments like “barring any glaring problems on your background check, I think we should be fine” are misleading — that’s someone who’s over-promising and inadvertently setting you up to be disappointed. That interviewer shouldn’t have said that. But you also have a responsibility to recognize that that’s not a job offer. It’s a good sign, yes, but it’s not an offer.

And no, you shouldn’t ask how serious they are about you, or whether their positive comments will lead to an offer. You should just always operate with the assumption that if they are ready to offer you the job, you will find out when they offer you the job — and that nothing before that is in any way concrete.

We can debate whether or not interviewers should be more careful about how they frame things (and certainly a couple of yours should have), but ultimately you have the power to solve this entire thing by just remembering that you don’t have an offer until you have an offer. It’s truly that simple. Frustrating maybe, but so much less frustrating than believing an offer is coming and then getting let down.

More on this here:

you are reading way too much into things employers say to you

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

they loved me — why didn’t I get the job?

{ 211 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. 123456789101112 do do do

    Do you have anything that might show up on a background check? Have you had a friend check your references? Just in case that’s where the problem lies.

    Reply
    1. Harper

      That’s the only other thing I would wonder about. Or check in with your references to see, first of all, if they are even being contacted, and then if maybe they aren’t saying great things.

      Reply
    2. stelmselms

      If background checks are common in your field and you also have a common name, it might not hurt to run one on yourself. Another “Sally Smith” could have quite the record, etc. and a potential employer could possibly think that is you. I’ve heard of this happening before.

      Reply
        1. HR Recruiter

          Backgrounds in the US are not done by SSN because most court records don’t include the SSN. They typically record the name and DOB only. Some smaller jurisdictions don’t even include DOB. We had someone with a common name like John Smith. We had to go through hundreds of results and look at mug shots because there was no other way to distinguish if they were the person we ran a check on. There were so many matches to the name and they were missing DOB. But the law does require the employer to send a copy of the background check to the applicant so they can verify that yes those charges are indeed theirs or dispute if there is an error.

          Reply
          1. Jessesgirl72

            There is a news local story about a dentist who had a local brokerage refuse to work with him on his (and his employees) retirement account. They wouldn’t tell him why, but eventually referred the local news station to the company that does their background checks. He has a history of thefts on his record. The name is the same and the SSN is “almost identical” to the person with the real record. He realized that was the problem, because he’d also been stuck with this once before- 25 years ago- and had to work to clear his name and credit report at the time. (The station had old footage from when it happened then, too) This kind of mistaken identity happens all the time.

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            1. JessaB

              If i had this happen to me I would totally beg or pay the station to make me a disc with that report on it so I had it the next time it happened.

              Reply
              1. Recruit-o-rama

                When a candidate is rejected for a background check, they are supposed to be sent an “adverse action” letter with a copy of the information along with instructions on how to clear it up if there is a mistake.

                Reply
                1. Stranger than fiction

                  In my experience, those letters and the ones for credit checks only send you info on how to order a copy, they don’t send the actual report.

                2. Recruit-o-rama

                  Well the letters we send when we reject a candidate for a background issue include a copy of the report. I can’t speak for other companies.

      1. Jenbug

        Background checks are run by Social Security Number and birthdate. You also have to verify the current address. Unless someone has stolen your identity, you’re not getting their results.

        Reply
        1. sarah

          But, isn’t it possible there could be identity theft here that the poster is not aware of? It’s not like this never happens.

          Reply
    3. Fleur

      And if you’re in the US, I believe you might be entitled to the results of the background check (possibly if it impacts or is related to your credit score? Or if the results are negative?), which you can dispute if it’s inaccurate.

      When I had my background check done, I was able to request a free copy of it from the company. You’d be surprised by how sloppy they can be. Apparently there’s another version of me happily living a crime free life in California, so I’m lucky in that this misidentification didn’t result in problems for me.

      Reply
    4. Laura

      Also, I found out 5 years later that my degree hadn’t been reported correctly to a database. I almost broke down in tears when I found out. I had a long term temp job and wondered how many interviews I though had gone well had been torpedoed by it.

      Reply
      1. Tuesday

        Oh, that’s awful. You’d hope someone at some point would double check and not just assume you’d lied about your education, but I guess I’m not surprised that no one wanted to initiate that potentially awkward conversation. That really stinks.

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        1. Laura

          A recruiter asked about it, which cleared it up. My boss at the time said their policy would have been to check with me in case it was some error. Once it was cleared up, I got two offers within a few months, so I have to think it made a difference.

          Reply
    5. Sleepy Unicorn

      This was my first thought too, that there might be something employers are finding in the OP’s reference checks or other background checks. (Especially in light of the one that apparently stated it was pretty much a done deal barring anything glaring in the background checks)

      Reply
    6. Amy

      My husband has an assault arrest that shows up on some background checks that’s not him ,anyone who looks into it can see it’s not him he would have been 13 when it happened. I think it was responsible for some dropped offers/interviews before he found out it was on there. He only found out because one job ran the check after he was hired and he was confronted by the HR person and he had to explain how it wasn’t him. He warns places now so they don’t freak out if it comes up.

      Reply
      1. SimonTheGreyWarden

        My husband has a name doppelganger who was accused (convicted? not sure) of murder. When he and I first started dating, he still warned me that if I Googled it, it would come up because the guy was either about to go to trial or appealing. It was in a far away state and clearly not my husband if you looked at the picture (different race), but it was still something he was aware of. However, that name has now dropped off of the search top page, so hopefully it is less of an issue!

        Reply
        1. Whats In A Name

          I disagree. A person’s background IS part of the decision-making process and should be run before an offer. If something flags the candidate should be called in to discuss the situation if warranted. They can talk about how they changed/fixed issue, explain it wasn’t them as in examples above and an offer can be made from there.

          Contrary to what you stated above, not all background checks are completed with SSN and that number doesn’t often show up on court documents, etc. anyways. That is why a follow up discussion is almost always a necessity.

          Reply
          1. Jenbug

            My understanding is that it may be illegal to refuse to hire someone based on their background if the charges are not relevant to the job duties. Either way, no one should be running a background check on you unless you’ve given your permission for them to do so. Every job I’ve had required me to sign a release and my company requires everyone we hire to sign a release.

            Both times I worked in a capacity to run background checks, both SSN and DOB were required information. I don’t know what systems other people are using, but the ones I have seen do require that information.

            Reply
            1. Whats In A Name

              I have never heard of someone conducting one without the candidates knowledge; I agree they should know. I just think that it should be run at the point you have decided they are worthy of an offer, not after an offer is extended.

              I might also say that an assault might not be relevant to and inside sales position but if someone was convicted of that I’d want to understand the circumstances before making a decision. I am not sure the legalities but I want to make sure my current employees are safe and that is my first priority.

              Reply
              1. Recruit-o-rama

                In some jurisdictions, it cannot be run until after an offer and the laws are such a patchwork of compliance risk that most companies have adopted a risk adverse policy of only offering a check AFTER the offer.

                Reply
                1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

                  That’s interesting. Do you know which jurisdictions require a background check only after an offer is in play?

              2. Steve

                I have always had to sign a form giving permission for a background check. Maybe it’s a law here in my state of Washington.

                Reply
              1. Steve

                Only some states have laws that prohibit discrimination based on *arrest* record, even if you’re never convicted.

                Reply
    7. Kix

      I’ve been on interviews where I’ve been introduced to staff, shown where the lunchroom is, etc., and it’s all just been part of the interview. I never count on anything until a formal offer is made.

      Reply
    8. Whats In A Name

      If something did pop up on OP’s reference or background check I would hope the company would call her and at least have a phone conversation with her about it. I realize that is not often the norm, but there are so many things it could have been.

      When I managed the steps of our hiring process at old job we would contact candidates who were flagged for any reason. (background checks were only conducted if next step was offer). If a violent crime popped we’d have the conversation via phone but for the guy who had 3 speeding tickets in 6 months? We called him in, had a discussion and then extending an offer.

      Reply
      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        I wonder if this is a function of one’s industry, as well. For example, it seems less likely that an employer would notify you in retail / food service / call centers or other positions where there is a large available workforce with fairly high turnover.

        Reply
  2. Sabine the Very Mean

    I’m going to offer my perspective as a one time hiring manager ( I was thrust into it and had no support or training–not there anymore). I would totally be the person who makes the person feel like they got it. Not intentionally but after reading the OP’s question, I can see how I would be that manager. I’m absolutely horrible with even pleasant confrontation. I don’t like saying no and actually struggle with it a lot. I am nice to the point of being detrimental to myself. I was the girl who led on boys because I didn’t have the heart or skills to say no. I can see how this would follow me into adulthood and into management and hiring. I’m in counseling, I’m taking a Crucial Conversations course, I’m really trying but I am not management material for these reasons. I feel for you, OP.

    Reply
    1. Jen RO

      I have to make a conscious effort in interviews to phrase things as “if you were to be hired, you would be doing X” rather than “when you are hired, you will do X”… and sometimes I still mess up!

      I also lean towards being extra-nice in interviews because I want to make people as comfortable as possible and sometimes I even have a great rapport with candidates, but it never means that the job is guaranteed. Some reasons why we didn’t hire people:
      * They were a good fit, but they were asking for more money than we could offer.
      * My co-interviewer or HR saw some red flags I missed.
      * The company had a hiring freeze a week after the interview.
      * They were good in the spoken interview part, but they bombed the written test (which we check after speaking with them)
      * They simply weren’t what we were looking for, even though they didn’t make any actual mistakes in the interview.

      Reply
      1. Busytrap

        This, 100%. I know I slip on this with my own candidates when I’m the hiring manager, and probably also on others where I might be asked to interview. I don’t mean to – it’s more about making the candidate comfortable and just, frankly, poor word choices in the heat of the moment.

        Other times, I might walk out of an interview and give HR the big thumbs up … only to learn that HR (or another manager) sussed out something later in the afternoon that was a huge red flag. In fact, I had this happen last week: I loved a candidate who was interviewing to join my team, but the mask must have slipped because the rest of my team AND HR thought she was incredibly condescending when she talked about how she works with other departments. I’m in Legal in a creative company, so that’s a HUGE no go.

        So yea, I agree with Alison: until you have the offer in hand, you can think the interview went well, but it’s not a done deal. :)

        Reply
      2. LBK

        Totally agreed with all of this. I think it’s rare a hiring manager is going to project any signs to you that they don’t want to hire you unless the interview has inarguably gone south to the point that they just end it prematurely rather than waste any more time. I’m just as cheery and friendly to the candidates I’m planning to reject as I am to the ones I end up hiring – professional standards generally dictate that in most meetings you keep on a pleasant face regardless of how you actually feel, and interviews are no exception to that.

        I’ve also interviewed people I would’ve chosen who later got rejected by someone higher up than me, so it’s possible I’ve misled those people because I was under the impression they would be getting hired. I do try to make a conscious effort to keep everything in hypothetical language but it’s easy to slip up.

        Reply
      3. Michele

        I agree completely, except that we don’t have a written test. I always try to use “if” language” not “when” language, but I am also trying to sell the company. I want people to leave the interview feeling excited about working here because IF we extend an offer, we want it to be accepted. Only if a candidate is horrible will I be less than enthusiastic toward them, but even then I will be polite.

        Reply
      4. BRR

        The first interview I ever conducted was on my own, I was 2 months into the workforce, and received no training. I caught myself in the middle of answering a question from the candidate saying “you will.” I’ve gone super general with “the person in this position will be responsible for.”

        Reply
  3. Collie

    I am so very, very guilty of running into this issue as the OP does. I had a pretty bad heartbreak last night after being rejected for something I felt I was promised. It’s a tough thing to get over and change your mindset on.

    Reply
    1. Kate

      So sorry to hear that. I think everyone’s been there at some point. I went on an interview where the hiring manager finished by saying, “I think this went really well, but company policy says I can’t make an offer until I get your references.” What I heard was, “You’re getting an offer as soon as I get your references.” I was also pretty heartbroken when I did not get an offer. This blog has really helped me adjust my perspective so I don’t read too much into what an interviewer says. I hope that if I’m ever in an interviewer position, I’ll also be more careful about the language I use when speaking to candidates.

      Reply
    2. SimonTheGreyWarden

      The worst was what happened once to my husband when he interviewed. They actually did offer him the job, but then called the next day to tell him that a volunteer had expressed interest in it and they had to hire her instead. He was absolutely devastated.

      Reply
      1. Caro in the UK

        The first time I ever saw my partner cry was when a very, very similar thing happened to him. It was his dream job, in a hard to get into industry, so he was heartbroken.

        Reply
  4. fposte

    I think I’m pretty circumspect with candidates, in that I don’t say things like “You’re perfect.” But I absolutely would talk about policies and schedules with every finalist, and I show them around the place and introduce them to other people in the workplace. All these things matter intensely to whether or not it’s the right job for that candidate, and I want them to have a good idea of what the job looks like and how it operates in order for expectations to be as clear as possible. I think you’re interpreting this kind of information as training and orientation, when it’s really meant to give you information to figure out if this is a job that will work for you.

    Reply
    1. Emi.

      This is a good point! I got shown around and introduced at my last interview, and I assumed they were seeing whether or not I clicked with them so we could both decide if I should work there.

      Reply
    2. Cynthia in HR

      I agree. In addition, I’m wondering what OP is doing in these interviews to find out more about the position or company as an employer to determine their suitability for her needs / wants, etc. I’m envisioning that to her an interview = job. Please remember that these discussions are a two-way street and candidates should be seeking to evaluate the employer at the same time. That could bring to light some aspects that are less desirable and she’ll leave with a more realistic picture or dismiss the opportunity all together.

      Reply
      1. SJ

        Since you’re in HR, and maybe others can weigh in: I’m wondering how common it is for HR people to review benefits in-depth with candidates. I am the queen of Not Reading Into Anything During an Interview after several disappointing situations, but I had an all-day interview for a position last year that included an interview with someone in HR. She asked me very basic questions about my background for maybe 10 minutes, but the rest of the time (40 minutes or so?) was devoted to reviewing the benefits packet and all the different healthcare options, etc. cover-to-cover. Like, the entire thing. I actually think it was more detailed than the benefits review I got at my last job. I’ve received benefits info in interviews before without any resulting offers, but this seemed like a LOT of effort to put forth for every single candidate coming in for an interview, and despite myself, I got my hopes up a bit (and ultimately did not get the job). Is this common practice?

        Reply
        1. K in the library

          In academia, this is very standard. As fposte stated above, I think this is really helpful in giving the candidate all of the information they need to determine if the job is a good fit for them.

          Reply
          1. Not the Droid You Are Looking For

            Both times I have applied for a staff member position at a University, I have had this happen.

            It was helpful to understand my benefits and salary as a package.

            Reply
            1. Not So NewReader

              They teach so the need to explain every. single. thing. carries over to the interview process also?

              Reply
              1. LQ

                I was thinking it leaned toward fields that might not pay as much but have better benefits. I’d rather go from a job making 50K where I paid 12K a year for health insurance to a job where I made 45K with 0K a year for health insurance than one where I made 55 with 24K in benefits. Benefits change that whole equation, so knowing about the pay without them is irrelevant.

                Reply
          2. Sparrow

            Huh, that’s interesting. I’ve never had that experience and I’ve worked almost exclusively in academia. In fact, I had one offer where I basically had to beg for the benefits info. (I never got it, btw. Not surprisingly, I turned that position down!)

            Reply
        2. Dan

          It’s not terribly common, I’ve had that happen once, and it was confusing. Why would I care about the benefits if I don’t even know if you’re going to pay me enough?

          But you know what? I’ve come to appreciate that. I’m at the point in my career where my salary requirements truly are flexible, depending on benefits. TBH, getting the detailed info at the offer stage is a little late. I need it earlier in the process, so when we’re doing that song and dance in the early phases, I’m better informed.

          For example, I have a generous 401k match — 10%, 4 weeks vacation, and pretty decent health coverage. My premiums are $200/mo for a really well covered HMO. I take my vacation however and whenever I feel like it, and “approval” is always a given.

          So, when the next company wants to know what my salary expectations are, I need to know what their 401k match is, how much vacation they give, and what their health premiums and type of plan is. I also need to know what their vacation approval process is, because if it’s hard to take, that matters.

          The answers to these questions can easily swing my compensation “requirements” by $10k to $20k.

          Reply
        3. De Minimis

          At my current employer we don’t do this until an offer has been made. I agree, in the past when employers would talk to me about benefits that gave me false hope. It also just doesn’t seem like a good use of interview time to me.

          Reply
          1. zora

            Honestly, I’m like Dan above, I’m at a point in my life where benefits are almost more important to me than salary. And I would actually prefer to get a lot of info about the health insurance and PTO/holidays before I make a decision about a job. That info could actually be a total deal-breaker for me no matter how awesome everything else is.

            I am currently slowly working down a $6,000 hospital bill, and that was WITH insurance. I think more companies should be clear about this stuff in the interviews, and let candidates have a full picture of what they are deciding on. Everyone has different things that are more important to them.

            Reply
            1. Elizabeth West

              Well, good benefits are nice, but not if I can’t pay my bills on the salary. Thank every universe out there I had insurance when hospitalized this summer, however. If I hadn’t, I’d be screwed, especially since I lost my job. Healthcare is an important part of the package. I’m trying to be very careful now since I have nothing!

              Reply
          2. Audiophile

            I think going into great detail about benefits packages can be misleading.

            I interviewed at a hospital and they gave me a huge folder full of benefits information, orientation schedules, etc. Then the HR person went through all the documents in the folder – health/vacation/sick benefits, education reimbursement, how employees are charged for parking, 401k options (including matching %). Lastly, she went through starting salary for the role. It was a long conversation. And this was all before I met with the hiring manager. It was misleading, I was SURE I was going to get an offer.

            I didn’t get an offer.

            If it had been a short conversation, just glossing over that information, it would have been fine. Going that in depth, made it seem more promising.

            Reply
            1. myswtghst

              I’m wondering if, in some situations like this, HR people are overcompensating for feedback from prior interviews where people said “you gave me all this documentation but barely explained any of it!” I think it can be a tough line to walk – ensuring the information is clear and the candidate knows why they’re getting it (i.e. not because an offer is imminent), but also that it is a good use of everyone’s time.

              Reply
        4. Busytrap

          We do this, and I know from chatting with HR (because I also thought it might be a bit much) it’s because we have a hard time recruiting candidates to our rural neck of the woods, so we want them to know right away that we have an awesome benefits package – above and beyond health care and 401k’s and whatnot – so they have a full picture of the position and benefits. We’re not dragging them out here, then deserting them. I can see both sides of it, but that’s where we’ve ended up on the issue.

          Reply
          1. Gabriela

            Yeah, although I may be misled my something like this at the time, I think I would really appreciate the information. It’s not always easy to get benefits info and often people are not willing to spend a significant amount of time going into it unless your hired.

            I’ve only hired for one position and the candidate asked me about the benefits and I felt bad that all I could do was send them the link to our HR page.

            Reply
        5. Cynthia in HR

          I provide all interviewees with a summary of our benefits as 99% will ask about healthcare coverage and the 401(k) plan. For top tier candidates, I’ll explain in more detail the elements that are especially attractive / substantial / generous and also discuss the bonus program.

          Reply
        6. Michele

          When I was looking for a job, interviews always lasted 1-2 days. I always expected to meet with HR to discuss benefits and bonus structures. If that hadn’t happened, it would have been a red flag.

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        7. Bethlam

          I work in manufacturing, and we supply a benefits information package with a lot of specifics to every candidate at their first interview (and I’ll e-mail it to prospective candidates ahead of time if they want it), for the very reasons Dan and Busytrap state below. We’re in a rural area, but not too far from the city where salaries are probably somewhat better, but our fabulous benefits package makes us very competitive.

          Unfortunately, my company is consolidating and closing my facility this summer. As everyone is starting to consider alternate employment, we all have to decide what is most important at the next stage. We all know that we’re unlikely to duplicate our situations here, so we have to figure out what our lines in the sand are. For me, at my age, pay is VERY negotiable depending on benefits and I’d rather have that information sooner than later so I don’t waste my time or a potential new employer’s time if what they can offer doesn’t match what I need or am willing to bend on.

          Reply
        8. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

          This happens often in law, also (not just the academy). I can’t say it’s a widespread industry practice because I only have my anecdotal experience and that of my friends, but in that small sample, we’ve had people review benefits with us pre-offer more often than not.

          Reply
          1. NotAnotherManager!

            I also work in legal, and we do provide pretty comprehensive information about our benefits once a candidate passes a phone screen and is scheduled for in-person interviews. It’s an important part of the comp package, and our benefits are competitive. (HR started doing it in response to questions they were consistently getting from candidates, actually. Now, they just send a detailed summary of options in advance so candidates can ask any questions they have during the HR portion of their in-persons.)

            Reply
        9. JanMA

          Same thing happened to me a couple years ago. I thought it indicated a bad HR rep. She couldn’t answer questions about the job but regaled me with every detail about their insurance plans which was premature and, ultimately, worthless because I wasn’t offered the job. It was just a way for her to fill up her 30 minutes with me.

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        10. Suzanne

          My son had that happen to him at a job interview during which the HR person went into great detail about benefits, how vacation worked, sick time, where he would put his coat…extreme detail. It was one of his first job interviews out of college and he (as did I) assumed he was about to be hired. Nope! Although they did call him and tell him they ended up hiring from the inside, so he felt better. But still.

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      2. TootsNYC

        “I’m envisioning that to her an interview = job.”

        Except that she has explicitly said that’s she’s experience enough to know that this is not the case.

        I think she’s just running into immature interviewers.

        Reply
    3. NotAnotherManager!

      Me, too. I work in a service-driven industry, and we have to be real with people that their schedule may not be set, what their workspace will look like, and that time off requests are handled in a particular way and are not guaranteed (I currently have an employee who is super-pissed at me because I denied a vacation request for the week between Christmas and New Years because we’d already hit minimum staffing before their last-minute request came in). I am usually hiring for something that I think is a good first job, but I would rather scare a candidate off at interview rather than 3 months into the job. And I’m sure I probably phrase it as “when you request time off” or “depending on what projects you are working on” because it sounds more natural.

      I do think it’s a mistake to call someone “perfect” or indicate that it’s a done-deal barring the formalities — I coordinate with my internal recruiter to make sure we both provide the same information about hiring timing and follow-up schedule and make a note of that so I can close the interview out with it. (I am also very lucky that our HR policy is to communicate with all applicants, successful or not, so we don’t have people hanging in limbo. For longer hiring processes, we also do interim checkins with candidates to let them know where things stand. I know not all places do that, but I’m glad we do because candidates’ time is valuable, too.)

      Reply
      1. fposte

        Yeah, I really try to be clear how non-final interviews are. I did once, in an unusual situation, mistakenly set up a dynamic that could have been awkward if I ended up not hiring the candidate, but I did hire him, so I got to learn without having hurt anything.

        Reply
      2. DragoCucina

        Agreed. I find walking someone around to see the work space and meet people is important. Sometimes after an interview where the candidate was very polite I’ll find out that the candidate has been consistently rude to the staff. Or, the candidate is shocked at how physical the job.

        Benefit packages are always reviewed. I talk about hourly wage, vacation and sick time, and medical. Because we’re public employees candidates often have way out of step expectations. I don’t like to whine, but being level funded for 5 years is tough.

        Reply
        1. Michele

          Yes on the rude thing. It is like the waiter test on a date. If someone isn’t nice to the receptionist or admins or whoever, they don’t get hired. Everyone deserves respect, regardless of position. You have to be able to work with everyone, not just kiss the butts of the people above you.

          Reply
    4. H.C.

      Ditto, I often discuss schedule flexibility & timeoff policies during interviews, partly because I get asked about them so often that it’s now a regular part of my spiel, and partly to ensure it’s a right fit for the candidate’s work-life balance.

      Reply
      1. Lance

        Exactly; if there are going to be any probable scheduling conflicts/issues regarding the job, those are things you’d want to get out of the way early on, to make sure the fit extends at least that far.

        Reply
      2. Malibu Stacey

        I actually appreciate it because I try not to ask too many questions like that in a first interview because I don’t want to give the impression I’ll be calling in sick all the time or something

        Reply
    5. hbc

      Yep, I’ll spend 15 minutes with each candidate talking about the ins and outs if it spares me just one hire who says “Oh, I thought since it was PTO I could just decide to take a day off with no notice” or “How come I can’t come early and leave early [on the assembly line that requires everyone to be in place to function properly]?”

      Reply
    6. NorCalHR

      Yes, this, times 1000. Fit is important and neither the candidate nor the company can evaluate that unless there is some ‘show and tell’ on the part of the interviewing team!

      Reply
      1. Rebeck

        Except that it’s not part of the consideration in a lot of places. Or not in a ‘meet the rest of the team’ kind of way. At my most recent employer, no-one (other than the interview panel – which does not include any member of the relevant team other than the position’s supervisor) is supposed to know anything about any candidates until after the decision has been made.

        Reply
    7. LBK

      I think you’re interpreting this kind of information as training and orientation, when it’s really meant to give you information to figure out if this is a job that will work for you.

      100% agreed. And it’s really easy to slip up and use future tense instead of conditional if you’re not actively thinking about it, so based on the phrasing I can see how it’s easy to see those steps as being an early induction to the company before a formal offer, but they really are just meant to be informational to you no matter how the hiring manager phrases their descriptions.

      Reply
    8. JessaB

      Exactly. An interview goes both directions. If you meet all the people and realise OMG this is not my job. Get me out of here, you get to self-select out as much as they get to decide whether to hire you.

      Reply
  5. AndersonDarling

    I felt bad reading the letter and remembering times I was in the same place. I really was a shoo in for a position, and I was getting out of a toxic job and I was just waiting for the official offer. But then the hiring manager was fired and the job I applied for vanished. When I got the form rejection email, I stared at the screen trying not to cry.
    But I learned what Alison said. It’s not your job until there is an offer. I keep my excitement in check and don’t go down that emotional/anticipation road anymore.

    Reply
    1. Ama

      I have been an admin on hiring processes where I would cringe when I’d hear the hiring manager tell a candidate something like “oh, there’s just X step or Y approval to go and you’ll be hearing from us soon” because they almost always oversold how easy it was. Often that last step meant going to a big boss who was just as likely to say they’d decided to completely change the focus of the position and the current top candidates were now no longer qualified, or clearing the position with the budget or HR who would suddenly have objections to something they said was fine when we were writing the job posting.

      Unless it is a very small company there’s almost always someone in addition to the hiring manager who has to sign off on the candidate, quite often bringing information the hiring manager doesn’t have when they are interviewing.

      Reply
      1. Jen RO

        In my (large) company the CEO and CFO personally approve all offers. Even for junior positions. We found two suitable candidates mid-December, but we haven’t yet made offers because the CEO has been off and there haven’t been any approval meetings scheduled between mid-December and now…

        Reply
      2. Amy

        All offers in our dept need to be approved by the SVP. He’s rejected people the hiring manager really wanted and probably had given the “shoo-in” impression to. I do think the hiring managers in our group should make that clear during the process. I also think they should also let people know our process is loooong ,even internal hires take forever.

        Reply
        1. AccidentalSysAdmin

          Been on both sides, as hiring manager, and as candidate. The last time I was making a hire I had been given latitude for a national search, approved to fly in candidates, interviewed a great pool, SVP was in agreement with top candidate – when they suddenly froze hiring completely and pulled the position.

          After that I decided to get out of that situation and on the market – I really wanted this job that included an all day interview process with no fewer than FOURTEEN people in multiple rounds of meetings, including HR, and got the email two weeks later when I inquired about their timeline that “they decided they weren’t quite sure what their needs were and a senior manager was leaving”

          Reply
  6. Lemon Zinger

    In my view, you don’t have a job until you have a formal offer, IN WRITING, with a start date and a fixed salary. I think OP is getting his/her hopes up too much.

    That said, there might be something off. Time to have a friend call your references and see what they actually say about you. And OP needs to run a background check and find out what’s on there.

    Reply
  7. animaniactoo

    OP, I agree that introducing you to *everybody* and not just a couple of people you happen to pass as you walk through feels a lot more like an “I got the position” kind of move. Likewise “You’re the only candidate I’m interviewing”.

    I am willing to bet there are people who say and do these kinds of things because they want candidates to feel like they’re a shoe-in and be less invested in exploring other options and therefore be available if they decide to hire them.

    Other times, it’s probably about a hiring process where they *later* decided to interview another candidate. Or they are trying to be really really clear about what the job is and do a mini-onboarding setup to make sure there are no surprises and reduce the possibility of new employee dissatisfaction.

    If they are being purposely misleading – well, you wouldn’t want to work for a company that did that to people. So the ONLY way to protect yourself from being lead down the garden path is to treat it as if it’s the other perfectly normal situations and not be so invested, no matter what was said at the time. Unless it’s “We will be making you an offer next week.” with zero room for caveats about “If you’re the candidate we select”, etc. And even then – don’t get too caught up until you actually have the offer. Because things happen, and they may genuinely mean that but stuff happens and they end up going with someone else/the position gets pulled/hiring frozen, etc.

    Reply
    1. Leatherwings

      I’d imagine that the vast majority of the time, hiring managers don’t intend to mislead or manipulate candidates at all. I think it’s just most often the result of not thinking about the hiring process from the perspective of the candidate

      Reply
      1. animaniactoo

        I agree, but I’ve known a few situations to happen where it seems that the only logical conclusion is that the company was doing their best to keep *their* options open, and I think it’s worth acknowledging that – and pointing out that in those rare cases, you don’t want to work for a company that would treat people like that anyways.

        Reply
    2. MK

      “I am willing to bet there are people who say and do these kinds of things because they want candidates to feel like they’re a shoe-in and be less invested in exploring other options and therefore be available if they decide to hire them.”

      I am pretty sure you would loose that bet. I mean, maybe there are some loons out there who operate like that, but the chances of losing a candidate that might still be available if you lead them on are so small, I have a hard time imagining that most people would even make the connection. Almost any other explanation is more likely.

      Reply
      1. Leatherwings

        I totally agree with you. I also feel like there’s so much animosity and distrust among people towards hiring managers/HR because of actually bad practices (like ghosting on candidates) that it’s best to acknowledge the horses instead of imagining up zebras.

        Reply
      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        Yeah, I’m with MK et al. on this one. Even at my most dysfunctional jobs, I have never seen any hiring manager/HR ever say things to a candidate to manipulate them into being “less invested” in exploring other options. I think hiring manager’s are more likely to assume that a candidate is actively seeking or on the market until an offer is made and accepted.

        Reply
        1. NotAnotherManager!

          Agreed, and quite frankly, the candidates in which we’re most interested are not the types that would rest on their laurels waiting on a job offer. It’s part of recruiting’s conversation with candidates, and we make it clear that we know most people aren’t interviewing with just us and, once someone comes in for interviews, keep us in the loop if anything changes with their candidacy (including, for very strong candidates, a chance to counteroffer if they get something from another party before we do but would like to work for us based on the substance of the job).

          I interviewed five candidates for one job last year, and we ended up needing to open a second instance of the same job almost immediately after we made the offer. I had a runner-up that only missed the first offer by a millimeter, and I had my recruiter on the phone while the ink was still wet on the hiring approval form to try to get to her before she got another offer. (And, smart candidate that she was, asked all the right questions about why the job was suddenly back open. We had a nice conversation where we talked about the fact that it was a second opening to work on specific things and not that we’d scared our first hire off already and were fortunate that she accepted.)

          Reply
    3. LBK

      I haven’t done a ton of hiring, but it would never even cross my mind to do something like that. If I’m interested in a candidate, I try to reel them in by staying on top of my HR bureaucracy and coming it at a high salary offer. I don’t do it by misleading them and teasing them with an offer in hopes that it will discourage them from continuing their search (which I think any smart candidate isn’t going to do anyway because they’re not going to stop looking until an offer is completely said and done).

      Reply
      1. Not the Droid You Are Looking For

        This…I’m not going to try to “trap” a candidate I really want into stopping their job search.

        I run the hiring process efficiently, stay in communication, and stay on top of all the back-end stuff.

        Reply
        1. animaniactoo

          Fwiw, I tried to be really clear in my followup here that I don’t think this is the situation in the vast majority of cases. But I’ve seen people pull stuff where it’s the only logical conclusion and my point is that YES it says a lot about those people and none of it good about the company. My main point in making that statement was a viewpoint for the OP that if they have stumbled across somebody who did this, then the only way to protect themselves from that person’s intent is to not focus on whether or not they have done that, but simply to treat it as if it’s one of the more benign/changeable situations I gave as examples after that and not take it as a guarantee.

          In part, I went there because a) As I said, I’ve seen stuff pulled where that actually was the most logical conclusion and B) OP is so certain that they’re not misreading the situations about what they’re hearing that I feel that there’s a strong possibility that they’ll dismiss what Alison has said without the validation that yeah – there’s a rare person out there who does this kind of thing out of a misguided thought process about “what works” or “what’s fair”.

          Reply
  8. A Jane

    I’ve experienced interviewers using language like “when you start you’ll do x, y and z” or, “you use the holiday system like this” or “you’ll need to meet these other people when you start”. What they really mean is that the “successful candidate” will need to do those things, and that’s not necessarily “you”. It’s misleading language and it’s a shame that interviewers do that and get people’s hopes up.

    Reply
    1. fposte

      The thing is, that’s basic psychology. It’s really hard to keep talking to the person in front of you about a hypothetical other third person that might be your audience. For the same reason, I don’t see it as a presumption when a candidate asks, “Would I be working on spout lids?” rather than “Would the person hired be working on spout lids?” Your holiday system example is especially standard, because that’s really using that wonderful English impersonal “you,” since the U.S. doesn’t use “one.” When the answer to “Where do people park?” is “You park in the lot,” that’s the generic “you,” not the addressee.

      Reply
      1. animaniactoo

        Except that it’s pretty easy to edit those sentences to include the necessary bit of distancing that creates “if you’re hired” without explicitly saying those words while not talking in third person, etc.

        “you would use the holiday system like this” or “you’d need to meet these other people when you starting

        It’s just massaging the phrasing a little bit to not indicate certainty rather than possibility.

        Reply
        1. fposte

          Unfortunately, those are sufficiently linguistically abnormal to be difficult to do in practice, and they’re still not enough to keep people from hearing them as promises.

          Reply
          1. Alice

            fposte — obviously you are right, because there’s no other logical explanation for why people say “you will do this” instead of “you would do that”….
            But I think people who find it difficult to communicate in the conditional in their native language are very bad at communication — and if you can’t communicate effectively how can you manage effectively?

            Reply
            1. animaniactoo

              Hey, I completely disagree that conditional statements are linguistically abnormal and I think that treating them as such adds to the confusion and it’s a mistake to take that tack. There’s a reason that such phrasing exists and the point is to clearly communicate, REGARDLESS of whether the other person takes it the wrong way or not – it’s first upon us to make sure we are clear in our language and keep our side of the street clean.

              That said, the sarcasm in your first sentence here is an unwarranted attack imo. Please don’t do that. I get the point you’re trying to make (because I agree with it), but I think you can get it across without that.

              Reply
              1. Alice

                In fact I wasn’t trying to be sarcastic to fposte — I think her explanation of why people say “will” instead of “would” is probably right. I mean, I don’t think anyone is trying purposefully to cause confusion in these conversations, which is the other possible explanation that comes to mind.

                But this is a good illustration of the general principle that all of us sometimes communicate poorly, whether it’s by failing to use the conditional or by not sufficiently considering tone. Sorry, fposte!

                Reply
                1. animaniactoo

                  Might also have just been my misreading, because as my husband likes to say “the sarcasm is strong in this one”. My apologies to you!

            2. hbc

              Alice, I could just as well argue that if a candidate can’t understand that there’s a conditional over the entire interview, then how will they perform effectively?

              Future tense is far more common than conditional, and most people slip into it after a few sentences when the conditionals are understood. It sounds very stilted to me to keep doing it when I’m trying to play Grammatically-Correct Manager, and when I’ve been on the receiving end, it feels very discouraging and distancing.

              Reply
              1. animaniactoo

                Context clues are everything. I agree that if you’ve already clearly established conditional tense, shorthand future tense should fall under the “do not take as a given”.

                It’s possible I am used to thinking too grammatically correctly (although I screw it up plenty myself on the fly) due to all the packaging and product instructions I work on… because the general rule of thumb is that it is far easier to have the headache upfront to reduce the number of headaches you’ll have on the backend.

                Reply
                1. Alice

                  I think it’s easy to re-establish the conditional by including an if-clause or a reference to “the person who ends up filling this position” every so often among all the shorthand future tense verbs. It doesn’t have to be every sentence in the conversation — that’s what would make it feel stilted.

                  (I didn’t actually write that conditional on purpose BTW)

          2. Not So NewReader

            I will definitely agree that a person could use totally accurate wording to convey that the interviewee was not promised a job, and the interviewee could still “hear” a different message.

            However, I think OP still has a good point and I think it’s wise to be aware of these type of double messages not only in hiring but in many aspects of interactions.

            The last person we hired, I was super aware of how my words sounded and I still screwed up. What I did to balance my ambiguity was to restate “Here are our next steps in our search process.” And I listed the steps which made it plain that we were talking to other people then we would select a person and do a background. If the background did not work out then we would bump to our second choice, etc.

            I made it a point to make sure I told all the interviewers the same info. And I said that, too. “We have X number of people we are interviewing. I am making sure I tell all of the candidates the same info.” In another example, all the candidates who were interviewed understood that they had to have a tour of the place. “We want you to see first hand what you would be getting into so you can better gauge is this is something that interests you.”
            I think that frequent references to the process and frequent references to other candidates helped to balance out some of the poor word choices I had.

            BUT.
            Alison, it would be a kindness to humanity if you could collect some general guidelines that interviewers can use to help keep their candidates on an even keel and be less apt to walk away believing they are a shoe-in. I got to thinking about all the different ways that interviewers send an ambiguous message and it boggled my mind.

            However, I think that your best advice right along has been where you tell people to apply,interview and forget it, keep going until you have an offer from somewhere. That is such a valuable piece of advice for everyone. I hope you never stop saying that, people need to hear it over and over and over.

            Reply
          3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

            I think people forget that there are different registers for communication, particularly in English. The register in which most (American) native English speakers converse doesn’t require grammatical perfection, but formal written English may require it. We’d all sound extremely strange if we spoke with the same level of formality we use when writing formal business communications.

            Reply
        2. LQ

          There is no way to create a sentence that someone won’t read into because I totally read “you would use the holiday system” as more of a given than “you use the holiday system”. When we are looking for jobs we want clues and we hunt for them everywhere. If an interviewer used caveats all the way through I’d think the interview was weirdly overly formal and I work for government! I suppose this is why there is a standard in gvt of everyone gets asked the exact same questions in the exact same way and gets the exact same information, and how incredibly grateful I am that I work for people who don’t think that’s the best way.

          Reply
          1. animaniactoo

            Trust me. I work on packaging. And product assembly instructions. I understand what you’re trying to say BUT – that doesn’t remove the responsibility to try to be clear from the speaker, only the responsibility for the effect once they have been as clear as it is possible to be (using “would” instead of “will” and “could” instead of “when” etc.)

            The goal is not to prevent *all possible* miscommunication it’s to prevent the majority of miscommunication in as easy and efficient a way possible.

            Reply
            1. Ask a Manager Post author

              Communication is a two-way street. It’s unreasonable for candidates to assume that their interviewer’s very common speech patterns are telling them they have the job, when they’re in an interview rather than a job offer conversation and when no explicit job offer has been made.

              And this entire thing is solvable by candidates keeping that in mind (which is so very much in their interests, since they’re the ones who are going to experience angst if they don’t).

              Reply
              1. animaniactoo

                I agree that communication is a two-way street, and I agree that candidates in general should not accept anything less than “We’re sending you a job offer” as an indication of a job offer. However, I thoroughly disagree that it’s okay to entirely discard (as some people are supporting here) the need to adjust one’s own speech pattern to be as clear as possible in what is also a very common way. If you’re interviewing, it’s part of the responsibility of the role you’re in.

                I’m not saying that people should look evilly upon those who haven’t made such an adjustment – I just would like to be clear that it IS a mistake they’re making and one they should work to correct if it’s something they’re doing themselves. Because yeah, it takes work to correct your speech patterns, but on the other hand this is one that matters in what you are trying to communicate and it’s worth the work to make the relatively simple corrections (simple in concept, not execution, I do get that).

                Reply
                1. Alice

                  Like Animaniactoo, I think hiring managers could (and should) choose their words more accurately. I mean, why say “we’ll be in touch next week” when you actually mean “we’ll be in touch sometime next month, or maybe earlier if everything goes smoothly”?

                  That said, in the real world not everyone speaks accurately, so in practical terms Alison is right that the best approach for the job-seeker is to reinterpret everything through the lens of “the hiring manager said X but for now I should assume she meant Y” — in this will-versus-would debate, or you-versus-people who work here, etc.

                2. Ask a Manager Post author

                  But the person asking for advice here is a job seeker. She has zero control over the speech patterns of her interviews. She has 100% control over how she chooses to interpret the conversation. There’s only one practical solution here for her and other job seekers.

                  Separately from that, should interviewers be thoughtful about their language? Yes, of course. But I can’t agree that they should never say “you’d do X” or “here’s where you’d sit” or “let me run through the benefits” or so forth. This stuff really is normal and not a big deal.

                  And for what it’s worth, many job seekers will read (positively or negatively) into anything you say; there is no way for interviewers to stamp that out, and trying would lead to very stilted conversations, which causes a far bigger problem.

                3. animaniactoo

                  But I can’t agree that they should never say “you’d do X” or “here’s where you’d sit” or “let me run through the benefits” or so forth. This stuff really is normal and not a big deal.

                  I think I am not being clear myself here, because I am perfectly fine with all of the above. It’s conditional “you’d” not a more certain “you’ll”, and running through the benefits is something that makes sense to head off potential new employee dissatisfaction when they realize that there are only 10 PTO days instead of the 15 they’re used to or that the employer doesn’t 401k match, etc. I am only arguing the point that some are supporting that *because* some candidates will misread/read into anything, it really doesn’t matter whether you use the conditional forms or not and that using conditional phrasing like “you’d” vs “you’ll” is verbally odd.

                4. LQ

                  People rarely sit down and carefully construct everything they are going to say in a spoken conversation. And when they do it usually comes off stilted and weird. Because conversations are back and forth, you should be listening and thinking carefully about what the other person says. If you then pause to stop and spend time double checking every piece of conversation in your head to make sure that no one could or would ever possibly misunderstand what you are saying? They are going to misunderstand what you are saying because that giant pause says way more than your words ever will. And unless all you do 100% of the time is talk to people about possible, but not likely future events you are going to slip back into other speech patterns. Especially if you are interested and engaged with the candidate.

                  I don’t want potential employers to not have interesting conversations with me about how I can work with the legislature in the next season because I clearly have a passion for that and it would be a good opportunity for me since they don’t pay well, so I could transition into a different job. I don’t want employers to not talk about how they can see using my skill in direct and actionable ways because they are worried about me hearing that and thinking I’ve got the job. Those are things that I, as a job seeker, want the employer to say. And if you are saying that they should question every bit of speech they will hold back on those valuable conversations.

                5. Ask a Manager Post author

                  I don’t think I’d ever say “you’ll” myself, but I just don’t think it’s a huge deal if people do, and I think nudging employers to stop doing that is focusing on the wrong side of the equation and fighting an unwinnable battle. It’s a much easier solution for candidates to keep the nature of the hiring process in mind (the employer is talking to many candidates and decisions probably won’t be made until the end of the process).

                6. animaniactoo

                  @LQ – not to question every bit of speech, but to work on developing their speech patterns overall so that are more likely to do what Alison is indicating that she apparently does by habit – automatically reach for “you’d” over “you’ll”. That’s all.

                7. animaniactoo

                  @Alison – hmmm, I’m not trying to say that the solution or the focus should be on the hiring managers, only that their end of it should not be completely overlooked. In part because discussing that it isn’t happening even though it should be is part of why people shouldn’t count on anything even if they’re getting language that appears to indicate certainty. On the other side though, because it’s there, it’s a piece and if it’s not called out as something that people *should* work on for everyone’s benefit, they won’t.

                  Big picture here, yes it’s the far more minor piece of it, and there might be all sorts of reasons why it hasn’t happened/they don’t do it going forward. But I’d rather see it acknowledged and not say “it’s normal and it’s fine and it doesn’t mean anything”. It does. Words matter. It’s why we have tenses and stuff like that. So even as we put the major onus on job seekers to take the whole thing as a possibility not a guarantee, I think it’s still worth nudging the employer side to do what they can.

                8. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

                  Y’all realize that the future conditional is conjugated the same way as the future tense, right? I’m a little puzzled by the hyper focus on conditional statements when it’s extremely common, in spoken English, to default to the future conditional in lieu of the present conditional. Of course, hiring folks should try to be considerate and clear, if they can, but I’m not sure it helps the OP for us to focus on policing the language of hiring managers instead of fine-tuning how we (job-seekers) hear certain phrases during the job search process.

            2. LQ

              But “you would” implies “me” and “you use” implies generic “one uses” rather than “I use” to me.

              I think part of this is that the entire idea of an interview is that 2 parties (employer and potential employee) are having a conversation to decide if it is a good fit for both parties. All things need to be based on that assumption. When I’m interviewing I don’t say “I think the person you hire should use analytics to increase performance” but I’m not promising to take the job by showing up.

              Reply
          2. Alice

            I’m really surprised at that. Maybe it’s because I used to teach English and talk about language all day, but to me “you use the holiday system” obviously means “people here use the holiday system” (because “you” in the conversation clearly doesn’t use the holiday system now). “You would use the holiday system” means “you would use it if you accepted the job.” Neither of those phrasings offers a promise like the version “you will use it.”
            I agree that there’s no best way to express any particular sentence — I think it would be fine to say “you use it,” “people here use it,” “you would use it,” “you will use it if you end up working here,” “you would use it if you ended up working here” — all those are accurate. “You will use it,” period, is not.

            Reply
            1. Not So NewReader

              Just in general conversation “you” singular verses plural seems to be a huge stumbling block.
              I have caught myself and seen others here doing the same thing- we will write the word “you” and then add “meaning people in general, not YOU, OP.”
              And, interestingly, when I decided years ago not to use the word “you” so much, I found that people seemed to follow conversations better.

              I am not sure when it happened but some where along the line we lost the ability to figure out when someone meant YOU personally and YOU generally.

              I have “you” on my weak word list. This is a list of words that, just on my own experiences, seem to cause more problems than they solve. While these words are not insulting words, they are just too ambiguous to people.

              Reply
              1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

                I actually intentionally use y’all for this exact reason (to make clear the difference between the second-person singular and second-person plural).

                Reply
        3. Purest Green

          I agree this is easy to do in writing and theoretically in speech, but the issue is, in practice, most people involved in the hiring process are more focused on covering all the necessary information, asking relevant but not illegal questions, and listening to the candidate’s responses and analyzing whether it’s a good fit. That’s a hefty mental workload without making sure all their sentences are conditional. Of course it would be nice if they did do that, but it’s also understandable (at least to me) why they don’t.

          Reply
          1. Purest Green

            I also think another factor is not everyone involved in the hiring process actually does hiring/interviewing as part of their regular tasks. I’ve been on interview teams exactly 3 times in my eight-year career. My own manager obviously conducts more interviews than that, but it’s still so infrequent that it’s probably not a well-developed skill for her.

            Reply
    2. NotAnotherManager!

      I use “you” statements in interviews in the general sense because the alternatives seem forced and overly formal and difficult to sustain for a half-hour interview. Saying “the successful candidate will X” and “if you get the job, you’ll do Y” for an extended period of time is awkward, and, when you’re having a direct conversation with people, is weird. I also find that “the successful candidate” phrasing tends to make the interviewee feel like “the successful candidate” is a third-party that’s not them. From my experience, using the generic “you” is pretty normal, even for jobs I wasn’t offered and it never occurred to me that it meant an offer was forthcoming. I would be taken a bit aback to have someone we elected not to hire tell me they thought our interview was “misleading” on that basis. The “if you are hired” caveat is implied in an interview because it is only an inteview.

      We do take great care to communicate promptly and honestly with candidates, though. We will disclose that we are interviewing other candidates and when we expect to make hiring decisions.

      Reply
      1. Mallory Janis Ian

        I tend to use the conditional tense, as in “You would work on such and such”, but I’m not sure whether candidates pick up on the distinction.

        Reply
    3. ThatGirl

      It seems similar to what realtors say when you tour a house, like “this would be your master bedroom” or “you could put your kitchen table over there” … it’s a sales pitch, more or less. They want you to picture yourself there. Doesn’t mean you’re going to buy the house; doesn’t mean you’re going to get the job. But I get buying into the mental fantasy.

      Reply
      1. Mallory Janis Ian

        To me, using “would” or “could” is less subject to misinterpretation than “will”. “You would work here”; “You would have X days vacation”; etc. are all conditional statements. “You will work here” sounds more definite (but people being interviewed should still read it as conditional).

        Reply
    4. Jadelyn

      Just as reasonable to say it’s a shame that candidates aren’t understanding the difference between generic “you” (which is an incredibly common construction in spoken English) and a specific “you, this person I’m talking to right now”. It’s not misleading – it’s a very common and natural way of speaking. Can you imagine trying to have that conversation but saying “the successful candidate” or “whoever we hire” instead of just “you”? I actually feel like it would send the opposite message – rather than being neutral, it would come off undermining and candidates might take it as a sign that they’re not getting the job, because job seekers tend to take comments from interviewers incredibly personally (which is understandable, as it’s a high-stakes conversation, but still something to note).

      Reply
      1. INFJ

        Huh. The interviews I’ve participated in for my company (as interviewer) have been like, “we do x, y, z”; “our work is more like a, b, c”; “this position/department is like d,e, f” (“we” being teapot makers when there’s an open teapot maker position).

        Reply
        1. 42

          My thoughts as well. I see myself as naturally slipping in to “we” and “would”. It would feel unnatural for me to keep saying “you”, because I wouldn’t be meaning “YOU”.

          “We get 15 days of PTO.”
          “We’re hoping to have the job filled by the 21st.”…and never, “You’d start by the 21st.”

          Reply
        2. NotAnotherManager!

          In my case, I can say that “we” don’t do the tasks that the candidate would. I am not down in the trenches with them (and, with rare exception, have no additional supervisor between me and the entry-level staff, so I’d feel odd saying that “we do X” in most cases because I’m not involved in the weeds of their tasks. (I also accrue time off differently than staff, so that’s not a “we” either.)

          “We” would make sense for me for organizational statements (e.g., “We have a strong commitment to community service and offer a lot of opportunities to participate.”) or high-level generics (“We do a lot of work in this particular subarea.”), but not so much in discussing the particulars of job requirements, which is what I find most candidates are most concerned with – what would I be doing in a day-to-day basis?

          Reply
      2. JB (not in Houston)

        Yes, it’s _such_ a common way of speaking that, outside of the job interview context, doesn’t seem to create much confusion. The confusion in this context comes from job seekers trying to look for signs. If candidates just assume that there are no hints being given, no signs being shown, no code being used, and they don’t have a job until they have the offer, then this kind of language shouldn’t confuse them.

        Reply
        1. Jadelyn

          Absolutely. If you’re looking for signs…well, you’ll find signs because that’s how our brains work, but those “signs” might not actually mean what you take them to mean.

          Reply
        2. CMT

          Right. There seems to be a pretty easy solution to this problem: Candidates should realize that there’s no offer before the offer. That’s just a way better, easier answer to the problem than expecting interviewers to conform with exacting and unusual speech patterns.

          Reply
        3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

          Exactly. Instead of trying to change common, spoken English to have special rules in the job interview context, we should remind job seekers to apply the same meaning to spoken words that they would apply if this were not a job interview.

          Reply
  9. teapot enthusiast

    When I worked in a front desk position at a university office we would routinely hire grad students to cover lunch breaks, sick days, etc for the full-time person. We had a manager who was fairly capricious and a student who came in to interview with just this manager (already a bad idea, but it was summertime and not too many other staff were around). After a ten-minute interview in the conference room, the manager brought the candidate out and asked me to show her the basics of the job – scheduling, phone protocol. email management, etc. I spent a half hour with her showing her how to do the basics of the job. Once she had left, the manager came and said “yeah, she clearly wasn’t a good fit, but I didn’t know what else to do with her once I’d realized that”. This is a fairly extreme example (and should never have happened, I can’t imagine how disappointed the poor student was once she’d realized) but goes to show that sometimes in an interview situation the interviewers themselves are poorly prepared, prejudiced, or just clueless – it might not have anything to do with you! (The student did reapply for the position the following year and thought she was a shoo-in because she had done other work with the office. However, she didn’t actually prepare for the interview, so she didn’t get it that time, either.)

    Reply
    1. Lemon Zinger

      What a mess! I agree with you, many hiring managers are probably new to the process and haven’t been taught how to hire or what to do when a candidate is obviously not right for the job. This has been clear to me in several interviews.

      Reply
      1. NotAnotherManager!

        +1 and what a waste of everyone involved’s time! A simple, “Well, I’ll let you get back to your [day/work/whatever]. Jane in HR will follow up with you directly [or other next step here]. Thanks for your time! It was nice to meet you.” would suffice.

        Reply
    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      I would be so irritated if a coworker did this to me. It’s just wildly disrespectful of everyone’s time (even if there was no bad intent, just cluelessness).

      Reply
  10. Kelly L.

    Yeah, there are a lot of things that can come off as good signs when you’re hopeful, that actually come with a big “IF you’re the one we hire” attached to them, like “this would be your office,” etc. You kind of just have to mentally add the “if” in your head, and when my department’s hiring somebody, I try to think through my wording too, but a lot of people just aren’t super careful with this.

    There are interviewers who take it to extremes–I had one job interview where they essentially trained me on their whole idiosyncratic filing system for several hours and then turned me down, and I felt like it had been a waste of those hours. But a lot of times it’s just careless wording.

    Reply
  11. Allison

    I feel your pain, OP. I’ve been job hunting for a couple months now, and I’m tired of people acting like I’m a great fit and they’d love to bring me in, or interview me with enthusiasm and make it seem like they’re totally psyched to hire me as soon as they can, and then they either reject me, have someone else tell me they’re going in another direction, or straight up ghost me.

    The last one is the worst, how do I go from being an exciting candidate to not even being worth the 30 seconds it takes to shoot me a boilerplate rejection e-mail? Did they look me up and decide, based on stuff I posted on Twitter years ago, that I’m an unstable sociopath who’ll leave something gross on their doorstep if they don’t hire me?

    I know, from reading this blog for years, not to assume I have a job until I *have* the job, but I also wish there was more honesty and clear communication in the hiring process. I really appreciate the phone screens that end with the interviewer telling me they’re not moving forward, it saves me a few days of waiting for an e-mail, and planning my followup, and I appreciate the times I interview somewhere and get an e-mail a few days later telling me they’re not going to hire me.

    Reply
    1. Amy

      My husband was searching for a job for the past year (he did find one and started in December) but the behavior of a lot of the places he interviewed with was terrible. He would go through several interviews and not even the courtesy of a rejection email or phone call. I wouldn’t expect one from every place you apply but when they have you come in for several hour + interviews they can drop you a call if you didn’t get the job.
      I will say he go a lot of benefits packages packets early on from some places which I think is just a SOP for some places but I can see how it would make someone think they had a good chance of being chosen.

      Reply
      1. Allison

        Right? I also don’t expect a rejection e-mail from every place I apply; I know a lot of talent acquisition managers feel that the team doesn’t owe anyone anything just for sending in an application (although I think it’s a good idea), but once I speak to someone at the company, I want closure once you decide you’re not gonna hire me. I don’t need a full report on what went into the decisions or what their reasons were, just tell me we’re not moving forward. I can take rejection a lot better than I can take waiting for weeks, wondering what’s going on or what happened.

        Reply
  12. Lora

    Or something stupid happened. We just interviewed a few people who seemed great, aaaaand then HR told us that another site was closing and we were supposed to give them preference if they applied for the openings in our department. Or funding we thought was a sure deal fell through at the last minute. Or you have a new senior manager who wussed out in budget negotiations for the year while the other senior managers were playing hardball. Or they literally JUST announced a re-org the day after you interviewed.

    It happens. It’s the pits for us too.

    Reply
  13. Caroline

    Some people are just like this. They’ll say “oh yes, you seem like a great candidate!” even if there is already some rason they don’t like you. You can’t really read into it.

    Case in point:
    A couple of years ago, I interviewed for what would be a second job for me. In my view, I was perfect for the job. I had relevant experience, I thought I hit it off with the employer, etc. It was as a personal assistant to someone, so I was being interviewed by that person in her home–no HR or anything like that. At the end of the interview, she said how nice it was to meet me, that she would be in touch in a week or so, and everything seemed really positive and I felt good about it.

    And then I heard nothing for a couple of weeks, which was frustrating but I knew that these things happen and tried to stay positive. And then I ran into her at the grocery store! I re-introduced myself and told her that I was still interested, and had she moved forward on hiring someone?

    She said no, she had just been too busy to move forward and hadn’t gotten around to it, but would be contacting me soon with a decision.

    Another week goes by, and I decide to follow up by email. No reply. Another week goes by, I decide to follow up by phone. No answer, no call-back.

    And then I see the advertisement re-posted.

    I felt devastated at that point, because with all of the positive vibes coming from her, it turned out that she was not interested in hiring me at all–not even that a better candidate had come along, but that for whatever reason, she did not consider me suitable for the job. It sucks, but one has to chalk this up to the personality of the interviewer. Some people just can’t be critical or truthful when it comes to a negative response.

    Reply
  14. NW Mossy

    For those that are fans of the HGTV show “Property Brothers,” this is like when Drew shows the househunters the not-at-all-in-the-budget house and says things like “This would be your kitchen.” He knows full well that they’re not buying that house because they can’t afford it, but it’s part of his patter as a real estate agent because helping people envision themselves living in a particular home is so important to his work. And like the OP, some of the househunters feel hurt when it’s revealed that no, this unaffordable house is not happening.

    Part of coping with this is recognizing if you’re a person who tends to take things very literally and consciously making the effort to dial back your expectations. Yes, it’s hard, and yes, the people you’re dealing with should be more plain-spoken. But people vary, and not everyone you interview with will get candidate communication exactly right. As Alison often says, keeping your expectations low and letting good outcomes be a pleasant surprise is crucial to surviving an extended job hunt.

    Reply
  15. Hermione

    I sympathize, OP, I’ve been there. It’s definitely hard not to read more into these things.

    However, I also wonder whether there might be something about your interview style (or background check, in the case of the second interview) that might be turning you from apparent shoo-in to crossed-off? It’s possible that you just had two non-confrontational interviewers who got your hopes up, but I would take a look at my interview style and go back over my interactions to see if there might be something that took me from great on paper to ‘sorry we’re not interested!’

    Reply
  16. Katie F

    No matter what the interviewer says, I assume anything not in writing isn’t a real job offer at this point. I’ve run into the same issues before, and it really was just interviewers/HR people who wanted to be optimistic and upbeat and cut down on training time (“our candidates already know how to request time off and log in for the day!”) and weren’t aware of the sort of accidental cruelty of making ti SEEM like I had the job when I didn’t.

    Even when my current boss offered me the position over the phone and we discussed compensation, etc – I didn’t give my two weeks at my previous job until I signed a job offer in New Boss’s office.

    Reply
  17. Jesmlet

    For my current job on the third interview I was told by the owner that he would “call me next week with a formal offer”. I of course spent the next week fretting and obsessing over whether that in itself was actually an offer. I ended up having to follow up with him and have one last interview with a different manager before things were final. Obviously things worked out but I wish things had been phrased more clearly.

    I would definitely check into the background and reference situation. Seems a little strange that they would say some of what they said.

    Reply
  18. Honeybee

    OP, it may be helpful to assume that everyone interviewing you is simply trying to be friendly and warm – maybe to their detriment – but also assume that everyone is interviewing more than just you, even if they tell you otherwise. After all, even a team that says they’re only interviewing you may schedule someone after you without you necessarily knowing.

    The other thing to remember is that when you really, really want something – and you really want to believe that someone wants to give you that thing, however unconsciously – you are more likely to remember the positive cues that indicate you might get that thing and less likely to notice/remember any cues that indicate you might not get it. For example, I don’t know what other cues you got, but “I need to check scheduling and I’ll give you a call in a few days” could mean anything – that she’ll call you about next steps, to give an update, to give you the decision either way it goes…that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re sure to hire you. When we interview people we also introduce them to lots of people on the team – it’s so they feel comfortable in the environment and also because they will be seeing those faces a lot, since they go through several interviews and are here for hours. They may just be a really welcoming team of people who likes to introduce candidates.

    Reply
    1. LQ

      To the friendly and warm thing I think that’s a great point. I have a coworker who is super friendly and excited about EVERYTHING. There is nothing that doesn’t fill her with glee in the moment. (Every single movie she is watching is the best ever, etc) It is only when she steps back and has time to process after that she will find the flaws. I have no doubt some people have walked away from her thinking that they were the best person in the world because she does what she can to make people feel like that, to everyone for everything. But if that is your one and only interaction with her, I could absolutely see someone thinking that means they are getting the job, even though she really is careful to use not definitive language.
      (Your other point is right on the nose too.)

      Reply
  19. OG OM

    I think this phenomenon has gotten much worse in the past few years as the job market has stagnated. It is partially because job seekers are so desperate and the demand for work is much higher than supply. I think this desperation and endless pool of qualified candidates has led to a decrease in respect and decorum towards job candidates. Particularly towards candidates who would be very employable in a better market. I believe that many interviewers “mislead” candidates because it is easier, but mostly because they do not know what else to say to an overwhelmingly qualified candidate. I would guess that many times they are choosing from a pool of hundreds where well over 50 of them would do an excellent job in the position. What do you say when everyone you interview would be a good choice? What do you say when it is not your time that is being wasted? That being said, I have been aggressively job hunting for 2 years and had similar experiences. I don’t think the OP is imagining things when comparing what is considered normal recruitment procedure in 2017 versus what was normal in 2003.

    Reply
    1. Frustrated Optimist

      Thank you for this post. Every word resonates with me, as I’ve now hit the 18-month mark on my own search and am also an experienced professional with a solid work history.

      Reply
  20. Dorothy Lawyer

    I’m having a lot of trouble on the mobile site, it tries to re-direct me to the app store (and I’ve been very careful not to touch the ads).

    Reply
  21. MissGirl

    You have my sympathies. During my first professional job hunt, one manager brought me into a staff meeting, introduced me to everyone, and had me sit in on a meeting. After it was over and I’m thinking I nailed it, he rejected me. I think he thought the meeting would be educational for me as a new grad, but I read it as him liking me for the position.

    Now I know to keep my expectations in check until an offer.

    Reply
  22. RVA Cat

    Also not that talking about scheduling and benefits is really about finding out if what the company offers is something you can accept, not a preview of new hire orientation as you may be taking it.

    Reply
  23. Christian Troy

    I’ve had a job search about the same length as your’s and I realized i could not keep going through the emotional highs and lows if I read too much into things people said to me. I think I’ve said this before, but you have to practice the art of non attachment. It’s kind of like how Buddhism talks about learning to be content in the present but not being attached to it, just appreciating it for what it is. As mentioned in the response, you can’t control what other people say and do, only how you respond. You can listen to these comments and appreciate them for what they are (people trying to give you information to help you learn about the job and company), but not take them home as indications of a job offer so you can move on to other applications.

    Anyway, all of this sucks and can feel very confusing at times.

    Reply
  24. Dan

    Speaking of things potential employers do that are confusing… I had an offer (in late 2013) from a job I ultimately declined, where they overnighted a hard copy of the employee handbook, phone directory, and instructions on how to get a corporate discount at a clothing store.

    That was a LOT of paper. I understand the handbook (although, they could do a soft copy in this day and age), as my previous employer emailed out a word doc and asked that you sign a piece of paper acknowledging receipt and review as part of your offer acceptance. It was a chance to review things and turn down an offer if they had policies I didn’t agree with. (It was standard stuff, nothing alarming.)

    The second place didn’t ask you to review the handbook as part of the acceptance. (Maybe it was assumed?) But mailing out the employee phone directory (and clothing discount info) seemed a little presumptuous before I even accepted the offer.

    Reply
    1. zora

      Yeah, that is weird. I mean, why would you want a ton of outside people to have direct phone numbers for every single person in the company? That doesn’t seem like a great idea.

      Reply
  25. JP

    Alison is spot on. For a recent opening, there were three of us on the interview panel. including the director of the organization (who was not the hiring manager). We were instructed to take anybody we liked around on a tour. There were people that the director liked a lot and she made a lot of positive statements to the candidate, but the actual hiring managers were not as enthusiastic. One candidate who we did not hire was basically asked when she could start. Hiring managers are not trying to mislead you, there’s just so many different variables when it comes to hiring someone.

    Reply
  26. Trout 'Waver

    I always introduce candidates to everyone because:
    1. It’s a small world and they may recognize someone.
    2. If I do hire them, they’re would want to have met everyone on the interview.
    3. It gives me more people’s opinions and views on the candidate.
    4. If the candidate isn’t the right fit on my team, she may be the right fit on another team. I’ve twice interviewed someone who wound up on another team only because I had introduced the candidate to the other manager.

    Also, given the vast power and information disparity between candidates and hiring managers, you really can’t fault candidates for scrutinizing everything. And there is no shortage of hiring managers that over sell and under deliver.

    Reply
  27. Recruit-o-rama

    Reading through the comments here and I just want to add that hiring managers and HR professionals are imperfect people like anyone else. We are trying to engage with our candidates and are not generally trying to mislead people. I say “generally” because there are obviously outliers. It’s very difficult to stay “formal” in our speech patterns because a successful interview develops into a natural back and forth exchange of information that feels good for both parties.

    In my years as a recruiter I have connected really well with hundreds of qualified candidates and have still not hired them for hundreds of different reasons. From our (company) perspective, it’s not a personal rejection, it’s a business decision made (typically) by more than one person. The worst part of my job is calling people I genuinely like and connected with to tell them they did not get the job.

    Reply
    1. Jean who seeks to be Ingenious

      Thank you! As a current job-seeker, I think you’ve summarized your side of the situation very well. It helps me endure the stress and uncertainty if I take the attitude that
      – My anguish is inversely proportional to my emotional detachment–so while I won’t interview like a robot, I also will do my best to Do My Best as an Applicant/Interviewee, and Then Move On .
      – Everyone involved is doing their best within the circumstances.
      – Everyone involved is dealing with background issues that are not appropriate to share. (See all over this thread for business examples; see all over AAM for personal/candidate examples).

      Reply
  28. Amtelope

    Reasons we might reject someone after giving positive signals in an interview:

    1) You were a good candidate, but the next day we got a great one.
    2) You were a good candidate, but the actual hiring decision-maker decided to hire a family member.
    3) The job you were applying for abruptly turned into something different requiring different skills.
    4) We want to hire you, but the client for the project you’d be working on has to approve the hire, and they are holding out for a magical unicorn candidate who does not exist.
    5) The project we were hiring you to work on dematerialized.
    5) Our budget just got cut, and we can’t hire anyone.

    I think we’ve done all of these at one point or another (although we try to be honest about the situation when we can). All of these are frustrating, but not your fault. The only thing that gives me pause here is that you say that both managers told you that you weren’t a good candidate. Did they actually say so directly, or did they just say that they hired someone else? If they actually flipped from “you’re a great candidate!” to “you’re not a good candidate for this role,” I’d be concerned that something weird is showing up in your background check.

    Reply
  29. Anon 12

    The thing is that not every interviewer is or feels empowered to signal strongly one way or the other in an interview, or they may need to process the results of all the interviews themselves or with a hiring team before making a final decision. And remember that many hiring managers are not professional interviewers so they may have a shtick that represents the company brand or opportunity a certain way and don’t have the finesse to dial it down in real time for candidates. Even as an HR person who interviewed a lot I found it hard to not oversell to candidates who may or may not have been finalists down the road.

    Reply
    1. Recruit-o-rama

      Exactly! This is especially true if you really like the candidate which happens all the time because most people are engaging and interesting to talk to (at least they are for me, which is why I like my job so much)

      Reply
  30. Michele

    What are everyone’s thoughts on “we” language? When I interview people, I am always careful to say “if” not “when”, as in, “if you are hired, there will be an extensive training program.” However, I also say we a lot. When I give the tour, for example, I say, “we manufacture over 300,000 teapots a year” or “sometimes we have to put in extra hours to get projects done on time, especially new employees who are still learning our processes.”

    Is using “we” a lot misleading?

    Reply
    1. ZVA

      I don’t see how it could be! You’re talking about yourself and your coworkers, right? No reason for the interviewee to assume that “we” includes them.

      Reply
  31. ZVA

    I’d rather hear the truth, or even flat out that they don’t like me, so I stop getting my hopes up and move on.

    I totally get where you’re coming from, OP, but like Alison said—you’re the only one who has control over your hopes! You can’t control what these prospective employers say or do, but you can change the way you react to them, and that’s going to be the key here.

    As others have commented, they may be perfectly serious about liking you in that moment—but the next day someone better comes along, or one of your references scares them off, or whatever else. So asking how serious they are won’t solve this problem. Only recalibrating your hopes & expectations will. I’m in sales, and this is the only way I stay sane—even if I’m getting great vibes, I never assume I’ve won a job until I’m explicitly told so. I’d get so demoralized otherwise.

    Reply
    1. Jean who seeks to be Ingenious

      YES. THIS. I cannot control anything except my own ability to control my enthusiasm and my hopes.
      I do my best to treat every job-hunt-related activity as one more learning and character-building experience on my road to full-time employment, including life-sustaining wages and benefits, in a non-toxic environment. It’s tough but it beats the rollercoaster of hope and dejection.

      Reply
    2. Allison

      Right, but I think a lot of people commenting here are trying to make those hopes more visible to the people who often participate in the hiring process. Maybe they’ve been thinking it’s best to sugar coat everything and spare the person’s feelings, lest they have to deal with someone’s butthurt face to face, but we wish there was a way to tell these people “hey, most of us are rational and prefer honesty.”

      Reply
      1. ZVA

        I guess part of the point I’m trying to make is that maybe those people are being honest! To use another commenter’s example, maybe they loved that candidate the day of the interview, but ended up having to hire the owner’s son instead. Or someone way better came along the next day. In cases like that, it’s not about honesty or sugarcoating—it’s just a “life happens” kind of thing.

        Reply
  32. EmilyG

    I used to be guilty of not hedging enough and saying things like “The person in this job will do X.” The thing that helped me most in building new habits is doing alumni interviews for my university. I don’t have time to volunteer to do tons of them, so it’s statistically likely that zero of the people I interview in a given year will get in. We get instructions about never indicating whether we think a candidate will be offered admission (which is largely because we don’t know!). I tend to dial down my enthusiasm altogether because being all “rah-rah School is the best! The only place where you can do X!” probably just leads to more disappointment. It’s about having a good conversation, not salesmanship. Once I got into that taking-it-down-a-notch habit, it’s been easy to bring to the workplace too even though that’s a different kind of interview with good odds at least one person will get the prize!

    (Come to think of it, this isn’t the only time academic work has helped in the day job. Being forced to constantly evaluate student work in the form of, you know, *grading* it made me a much better feedback giver.)

    Reply
  33. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain

    “Over the past two years, I’ve interviewed for many jobs.” Unfortunately, the OP’s long job search may be a large part of what’s putting employers off. Even if the interview goes really well and the background check comes up clear, there is still a bias against someone who has been job searching for 2 years. Sort of “If no one else wants him, there must be something I’m missing.” I’m assuming the OP is unemployed, rather than employed but looking to change. Some places have made discrimination against unemployment illegal, but there is no federal law. Or, it could be that the OP is job hopping/searching a bit too much.

    Reply
    1. JM in England

      I too would like to see unemployed made a protected class under anti-discrimination law, along with race, sex and religion. In today’s job market, people are often unemployed through no fault of their own………….

      Reply
      1. Jessica

        It also seems silly to not hire someone simply based on the fact that they’ve been unemployed for a certain time. That’s a problem that makes itself worse. If one employer thinks 2 months is “too long” to have been looking, then they don’t hire that person even if the person is qualified and seems like a good candidate; then it goes to 3 months, then 5, then 8… just because of a “hunch” that there’s some intangible, invisible reason not to hire someone? That’s what references and background checks are for.

        Reply
  34. Blossom

    You could just ask “When do you expect to be making a decision?”, and/or “When can I expect to hear from you?”. That can’t hurt, and might even spur them into remembering to actually get back to you.

    Something like this did happen to me once, with a summer waitressing job. I interviewed with the manager, was offered the job on the spot – it was all very casual, so there was never going to be any official offer. When the summer came round, I hadn’t heard anything more and the manager didn’t return any of my calls. I’ve no idea what happened, but I imagine there was a surfeit of students and casual labour around so keeping track of me wasn’t a priority. The manager did seem pretty erratic too.

    Reply
  35. Lily Rowan

    Eh, it’s only happened twice over applying to “many” jobs. I’m willing to give the OP the benefit of the doubt and assume they came across two bad interviewers, rather than that they have some larger issue going on.

    Reply
  36. BioPharma

    In lieu of a phone interview with the hiring manager, I met with her in person since I was local anyway. By the end of that hour, I felt like she was offering me the position on the spot! Later, instead of receiving an offer letter from HR, I got my schedule for an on-site interview with a bunch of other folks. I really thought I mis-read/mis-heard the hiring manager and was disappointed, but after starting, I learned that my manager DID offer me the position and told HR, but that HR pushed back saying “You can’t just hire someone without other people interviewing him/her!”

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  37. Joe Jobseeker

    OP and Allison (with two ls), I feel your pain. Of course, any who reads this blog knows until there is an offer, nothing is certain; and not to read to much into any “signal”. But we’re also human and it would be hard not to get your hopes up when they are getting into the nitty-gritty of which holiday you can take off. I agree with Allison (with two ls) that just a teeny bit of extra care in hiring manager communication would go such a long way. The number of genuinely inconsiderate instances I have had while searching is mind boggling.

    Reply
  38. Cyril Figgis

    There have been comments about background checks, but not all checks are formal. Simply searching for someone on social media sites like Facebook or Linked In is common practice. Does the letter writer have a public presence that could turn off employers?

    Reply
  39. Newt

    This is such an important lesson to learn, and one that I had to learn the hard way.

    Frustratingly, the few times I’ve had one of these wildly misleading interviews (interviewer telling me they’re only interviewing 1-2 other people and I’m better qualified than either, interviewer telling me they definitely want me in the role and will be in touch before the end of the week with the offer etc, interviewer gushing with praise post-interview about how great and perfect my responses to questions were and how ideal I seem for the role – really over the top stuff that is definitely not normal), it always happened when I was also in a situation that meant I had a lot of pressure to get the job. Which tended to have an influence on the usually cool head I try to keep post-interview. Those hurt.

    The worst one, I attended 3 separate interviews with people increasingly high up the chain, including taking a train ride into London to meet the boss in their head office location, was told I was *the* only finalist and that while the boss had interviewed other people, they hadn’t liked them much, and I’d definitely have a formal offer by the end of the week. And of course 3 weeks later when I chased them up, there was no job offer. Actually, there was no job. The company had decided to put potential applicants through all that without having even checked to see whether the company books would allow for the opening of the new position they were interviewing for. And when it turned out they didn’t have the budget for it yet, they never even bothered to follow up with anyone. (Which is their prerogative, if not best practice under the circumstances, and something I’ve since learned not to take personally).

    But as I learned, the best attitude you can take after an interview is to act as though that’s the end of the line. Don’t wait for the answer with baited breath. Start booking your next interview elsewhere. Then if/when you hear back, it won’t hit you so hard if you don’t get the answer you expected.

    Reply
  40. Audiophile

    I’ve had so many interviews end this way: interviewer says “Can we reach out to your references?” I, of course, say yes. Though recently I’ve asked that they reach out to me in some way, because I know many of my references are in and out of the office. Either way, they’ve never contacted my references. I’ve even reached out to references to ask if they’d been contacted and they hadn’t.

    I think the company and interviewers have the best intentions, I didn’t see it as anything malicious. I generally assume, they met a stronger candidate or they said this to most candidates they met with.

    Regardless, it’s frustrating. You leave feeling excited, which you should be, thinking you might have an imminent offer. And then crickets. Generally I never receive a rejection either.

    Reply
  41. Former Computer Professional

    I once had an interview end with them saying that I was hired, I was a perfect fit, that my start date would be (about a month away), and that I’d have the written offer in my email within a week. A week went by, nothing. I waited three business days and contacted them; no reply. A week after that I got “Thank so much but we’ve filled the position.”

    It was a small community for the field in that location, so it was only a few weeks before I knew that they’d hired someone who was, unlike me, male, half my age, and not disabled. (Bonus: It was a government contractor job!)

    Never count any chickens until you have that written offer.

    Reply
    1. Worried all the time

      See I am getting worried about something similar. Yes I have had good interviews but I would not make the leap that I was hired until I got official confirmation. In my most recent interview, my interviewer explicitly said as he was walking me to the lobby, “I would like to offer you the job.” Still haven’t gotten anything in writing but if I didn’t get it then that is one hell of a mixed message.

      Reply
  42. Sci-fi_worker_girl

    Thanks for the comments – I had to work on “recalibration” my expectations because I definitely have read too much positivity into an interview. Where I had a challenge though, was with an email that followed a positive interview. I applied for a leadership position (which based on the standard I was more than qualified for) and after the interview days got an email for the person who would be the boss: “subject: leadership position for X, email: I would love to speak with you about position when you get a chance.” I was so surprised and disappointed when we talked becaus they offered me a lower position (and a significant step down from current role). I completely misread the “love to speak with you” with ‘yay, offer is coming for the job you wanted.’ I thanked them and declined a few days later. Boy, that one smarted. Was I still drinking the berry-berry-positive juice on email? Is this common to be positive when it may not the offer? (Turns out it was a good thing, I got an unexpected promotion here).

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  43. Huh

    Last year I had an applicant who attended an interview in tracksuits, disheveled hair, and no make up. She was obviously ill qualified for a fashion sales role. However I still followed the same interview format (explained the role/remuneration, checked reference details, answered questions in detail, etc). As a matter of courtesy I want candidates to feel their application was given fair consideration.

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  44. Audiophile

    Just today, I was a rejected for a position I interviewed for right before Thanksgiving. They ended the interview asking if they could contact my references.

    I figured at this point that I hadn’t gotten the offer, but I’m glad I know enough now not to read into questions like that.

    Reply
  45. Meagan

    I wonder if OP is in banking? I listened to a story on NPR a bit ago during the Wells Fargo scandle that talked about people in financial services getting unwittingly blacklisted using some kind of finance specific personal “score.” They hadn’t done anything wrong (aside from not going along with the unwritten illegal WF policies), didn’t know it had happened until much later… many of them ended up having to leave the field.

    If OP is reading them correctly, I think that’s something that would pop up during the background check phase even though it’s not part of a more traditional background check.

    Reply

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