an employer told me I was their back-up candidate in case their first choice didn’t work out

A reader writes:

I recently applied for my dream job at a highly competitive company in my city. After two phone interviews with the hiring manager (Jane) and others, I was invited for an in-person interview with Jane and another staff member.

The interview lasted about an hour. My nerves got the better of me, so I’d say it went okay, but definitely not my best performance. At the end of the interview, Jane thanked me for coming in and let me know that the next round of interviews would take place a week from that day with her grand-boss (Sylvia), and that the final candidate would be asked to interview the following Monday with the CEO. She also said that the company was committed to letting candidates know the outcome either way and wanted to have a “transparent process where no one was left hanging,” so I’d be hearing back tomorrow — or at the very latest, the day after — to know where my candidacy stood.

Well, an entire week went by and I didn’t hear anything. The day she’d identified for interviews with Sylvia came and went with no word, as did the day of the interview with the CEO. So, I emailed Jane to check with the status of my application. She wrote back and said, “So great to hear from you! I’m so sorry we haven’t been in touch; Sylvia is taking longer than expected to review the candidate pool. I promise to keep you in the loop!” I assumed that the interview dates had been rescheduled, so I just waited to hear.

An entire month passed. Then, I heard from a friend who knew I had interviewed that a colleague of hers had gotten the job. Fine, but I was a little bothered that Jane had never gotten back to me. Then I got a call, which I couldn’t take since I was in a meeting. The voicemail: “Hi, this is Jane Smith! I just wanted to let you know that the position has been filled. The reason it took so long to get back to you is because we were keeping you on the back burner in case things didn’t work out with our other candidate. But, we really enjoyed meeting you and hope that you’ll apply again in the future!”

I was somewhat shocked, since as far as I know, this is not typical in the professional world. Certainly, I’ve gotten jobs and not gotten them, and have hired people and not hired them, but never has anyone actually told me I was the second-choice candidate, and I have never said that to a candidate I didn’t hire. A few hours later, I got an email: “Hi, it’s Jane here. I hope you got my voicemail. I just wanted to let you know that we have filled the position. Thank you again for applying– we loved meeting you and hoped that you will apply again with us in the future. I’ve copied Anne, our HR director, on this email. If you have any feedback about the process, please contact her.”

What do you think? Is it now normal to tell someone they’re the back-up candidate? Was this supposed to somehow make me feel better, or did it only serve to try and excuse the month of no communication? And what do you think about the HR director being copied on the email? Should I offer any feedback? On one hand, I think they could benefit from it, but on the other, I might want to work there again one day, and don’t want to hurt my future chances.

I don’t find this terribly outrageous!

It’s not insulting to be told that you were the second choice candidate. Second choice candidates are often excellent, and employers often happily hire them if the first choice doesn’t work out. Being the second choice means they though you were good enough to hire — someone else just happened to be a stronger fit.

It’s true that “we were keeping you on the back burner” isn’t the most thoughtful language to use, even though that’s an accurate description of what was going on. It sounds a little … inconsiderate of your time (and that you were waiting for an answer). It would have been better to say something like, “It came down to you and another candidate, and if she had turned down our offer, we would have been excited to offer the position to you. It took a little longer than I’d anticipated to work out those details, but we’re really grateful for your interest, blah blah.”

But really, that’s just quibbling over the language, not the substance of the message. Substance-wise, I think it’s fine for them to have told you what had been happening. And in some ways, it’s even good — employers so often don’t give candidates any transparency into their process, and it’s generally a good thing when they do. The alternative would have been to send you a bland rejection with no information in it, and you’d have less insight into their process and decision than you do now.

You’re right, of course, that they should have given some sort of update sooner, given what a big deal they made about not leaving you hanging. But hiring so frequently takes so much longer than people think it will, and employers’ timelines so regularly fall apart completely, that I’d just take that part of it as par for the course, unfortunately.

Because of that, I wouldn’t offer feedback on either of these things. The second-choice thing really is okay for them to share, and the month without updates is so typical that you risk alienating them. (Jane’s choice to copy the HR director on the email and to suggest sending her feedback is a little unusual — and I almost wonder if she’s annoyed with the process herself and hoping someone else will relay their own annoyances to HR — but there’s no real benefit to you in taking that bait if so.)

{ 139 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. LQ

    I have a friend who was told he was the second choice (the top choice had like 4 times the amount of experience, which he found out later), friend vented to me and wanted to go off on the business and send them a message about how unprofessional it was. I talked him out of it and into sending a thank you and a keep me in mind for future openings. A few months later they called him up and offered him the job (no interview, no round of anything, just the offer). The top choice turned out to not be a culture fit at all and so friend’s new boss managed to talk them into taking a chance on my friend who didn’t have the experience but had a lot of the other soft skills and wouldn’t piss everyone off.

    Friend is now a manager at that company after several promotions.

    It’s entirely ok to be a second choice and it’s kind of nice to know and while they could be nicer about it, I think that’s fairly reasonable. They could have been more on the ball, but don’t burn that bridge, they did think you were high on the list, and they might come back to you.

    Reply
    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      Absolutely this! I know how awful it can feel to feel like you were the second-choice, but I’ve been part of enough hiring processes to say that we’ve gone back to “second-choice” candidates because they’re excellent, and in many cases, they ended up being a better fit than the “first choice.”

      I would send a thank you and perhaps a kindly worded note about hearing back about the process in the moment, but otherwise I would not take this personally and would consider it a net plus.

      Reply
      1. Bigglesworth

        In my last job and in my current internship (1L summer law intern), I was the 2nd place candidate. In my last job, they went with someone younger because they thought she’d stay longer (5-6 years versus my 2-3 years). She lasted 6 weeks, pissed off most of the staff, screwed up most of the systems she was in charge of, and then quit. I got a call asking if I’d come in. I stayed two years before starting law school and left with glowing references. Being second place is a great achievement and who knows? You may end up working there sooner than you think!

        Reply
      2. West Wing fan

        On THE WEST WING, Toby Ziegler was Bartlett’s second choice for communications director. It worked out OK.

        Yes, I’ve made this comment before. Still a delightful example!

        Reply
        1. banana&tanger

          That’s the first example I thought of. He did get fired after an “egregious breach” of national security, though. But he was invited to the library opening so I suppose all was forgiven.

          Reply
    2. pleaset

      The head of one of the three main departments in my organization was the second choice candidate for a lower position a few years ago. She took that position, and has now moved up to heading the department.

      Reply
        1. Traffic_Spiral

          Yup. For a date, you tell me that and I’ll tell you to eat dirt. For a job, it’s “thank you for your consideration, and keep me in mind should things change.”

          Reply
    3. batshytecrazy

      You gave your friend good advice. I was the “back burner” candidate, who got hired after the first choice didn’t work out. I’ve been here nearly 30 years now.

      Reply
    4. PNWJenn

      This exact thing happened to me. I’d applied for a job in July and come in second. The hiring manager told me to stay in touch and let her know if I was in the running for other jobs at the university. She offered to be a sort of “we almost hired this person” reference. The next January, I was a finalist for a position in another department and emailed her to take her up on her offer for the pseudo-reference. The person who’d take the position tendered her resignation that exact same day!

      The hiring manager offered me the job outright since I had already interviewed and come in second. I accepted immediately and was even able to have a bit of overlap with my immediate predecessor. I loved the job, stayed just over 4 years, and was able to advance my professional development considerably.

      Moral of the story: stay in touch with people who tell you to stay in touch! You never know when it’ll change your life.

      Reply
      1. Kuododi

        Oh good grief!!! The first”real” job I had out of seminary was as a counselor at a state mental health clinic. I was the second choice after my first round of interview… apparently the first choice candidate bailed completely the day before they were supposed to start. I was called the next day and interviewed on the spot, hired and on the job in about two weeks. It was a tough job but I learned a great deal about mental health care systems and the real issues in client care outside of the classroom. I would probably still be working there today if we hadn’t made the choice to relocate closer to family. All that to say…it’s really NBD if a person is second choice….sometimes good surprises can happen!!!

        Reply
    5. TootsNYC

      I also know of situations in which the second-choice candidate was simply offered the NEXT opening, without an interview.

      I’ve done it myself, actually.

      Reply
      1. Dobermom

        Yep, that’s exactly what happened to me 8 years ago! Had a great interview, but they ended up hiring someone that could start right away. 3 months later, there was another opening, they called me, and I started 2 weeks after that. I’ve been here (actually moved states for the company) ever since. It happens, for sure!

        Reply
        1. Erin

          This also happened to me five years ago! I was the second choice for one position and then about six months later I was offered a different position with only a preliminary refresher interview. I wound up staying for over four years, and only left because the salary just wasn’t enough for me.

          Reply
    6. smoke tree

      I had a somewhat similar experience once, where I was told that they thought I was a really good fit but there was someone with tons of experience who applied and they couldn’t say no (sadly this is par for the course in my field). I actually appreciated hearing that rather than just a generic rejection, because it confirmed my feeling that I was qualified for that kind of role.

      Reply
    7. Artemesia

      I know two people who were hired by companies where they were the ‘second choice’ and told so; one went on to be the COO within two years of a small company. Being told you are the second choice is very positive feedback.

      Reply
    8. RUKiddingMe

      Yep.

      I can vividly remember many years ago being told someone else was hired over me but that I was the second choice and feeling realllllyyyyy bummed out by it.

      I’d had “professional” and “polite” etc. drummed into me so thoroughly over the years however that I don’t think I would have been capable of saying anything that was even close to how I was feeling. I said “thank you for the opportunity to talk…blah, blah, blah…”

      Three days later they called and asked if I was still interested. Apparently (according to coworkers, not the boss) their first choice was a bad, bad, bad, bad, bad fit. So yay me for not letting them know I felt they’d wasted my time, or they were “unprofessional,” or any other such thing.

      Reply
  2. Kathleen_D

    Second choice isn’t nearly as good as first choice, of course – but at a highly desirable company, it is really, really good! So, OP, while the wording isn’t the greatest, I think Jane did a good thing here. She explained why it had taken longer than she expected, and she told you “You were one of our top two candidates.” Congratulations on that.

    Reply
    1. another scientist

      +1. The wording of you being second choice is not very sensitive, but really, you were in the top two of a presumably large field of qualified candidates! It stings when you don’t get the job, but you can and should reframe this. The silver medalist is very good at what they do. Your second favourite food is probably damn delicious.
      In academia, having been on the shortlist of three final candidates for a job opening is actually an achievement that goes on your resume and is seen as proof that you are great.

      Reply
    2. Mad Baggins

      I love that, Kathleen_D. It stings to be told “you are second-best” but feels great to hear “you are one of the top two.” I think Jane could have been a bit more sensitive about the wording she chose, but since you can’t control that, maybe you can choose to interpret it as the latter instead of the former.

      Reply
      1. Kathleen_A

        I think it is a very fair interpretation. Well, because that’s what the OP was, after all – one of the top two.

        Reply
  3. boo bot

    I think in the long run this is actually great news (in the short run, a job in the present would be better, obviously). You were their runner-up candidate, Jane clearly would have been happy to hire you if the first person didn’t work out, and based on her giving so much information, I would take her 100% at her word that she wants you to apply again.

    The “back burner” phrasing is terrible, but I suspect it is just a poor choice of phrase that soured the tone of the email.

    Reply
    1. uranus wars

      I agree with this and would say cc’ing the HR Manager was a way to be sure you name was flagged so that if you were to apply again they would find out. I absolutely would not hesitate to apply again if the job that comes up fits your qualifications/experience if I were in OPs shoes.

      Reply
      1. boo bot

        Yeah, I totally thought that to about CC’ing the HR person – it’s a green flag for the OP next time she applies for something.

        Reply
        1. Trout 'Waver

          Absolutely. OP, please do respond with a positive, up-beat message. Because the next time you apply at that company, they’re going to search their inbox for your name. And you want that positive message to be the first thing they see.

          Reply
      2. Atalanta0jess

        This is what I thought too. I think the email meant:
        “We thought you were awesome! It was a hard choice, but unfortunately we didn’t select you for this job…but we still think you’re a really strong fit for our company. Please reapply!! I’m copying the HR director so she’ll make a note of how awesome we thought you were, in case you do submit another application.”

        Reply
    2. NotAnotherMananger!

      Yep! I think this is terrible phrasing of a very positive message.

      I’ve had a good number of interview processes where I’d have happily hired the “runner up” and the difference between hired and not hired was miniscule. We do extra outreach to such candidates and have actually proactively contacted them again when another opening came up. I’ve hired at least two of them that I can recall.

      Reply
    3. MCMonkeyBean

      Yes, I think given the fact that she left that voicemail and also followed up with a pretty nice email she truly meant to convey that they thought she was a strong candidate and would honestly like to see her application again in the future if other positions open up.

      Reply
  4. Amber T

    I agree with Alison – there’s nothing wrong with being the second choice candidate. Their language was a bit… meh. “We’re leaving you on the back burner” seems pretty rude honestly. I agree they should have let you know sooner, or at least been in touch with you (even if it was “sorry this is taking so long, we’re still working through candidates/discussing/internal stuff”). But I would send a thank you note and be done with it.

    Reply
    1. A Reader

      I agree that the wording could have been a lot better over the phone. As you and others have pointed out, though, it’s not the worst thing!

      I was the “second choice” for my first job out of college, and wow, did two of my colleagues let me know that they wished the top candidate had worked out. That’s the only way, I think, that letting someone know they are the backup plan could be outright rude. My boss, btw, told me once or twice that I was the second choice, but would always say “and I’m glad things worked out the way they did.”

      Reply
    2. smoke tree

      The “back burner” remark was a bit unfortunate, but it’s a pretty typical way to discuss the process to other people involved in hiring. Obviously more tact is required when delivering disappointing news to a candidate, but I suspect she was just thoughtlessly using the same language that she had been using internally. I wouldn’t read much into it.

      Reply
      1. Elsajeni

        Yes — especially since that language was in the voicemail, where there’s no chance to go back and edit something you accidentally said without thinking it through, and not in the email that went along with it.

        Reply
  5. Emi.

    I figured copying the HR director was so that they could somehow flag you in their system as a good candidate to keep you from falling through the cracks if you apply in the future.

    Reply
    1. CBH

      I was thinking this too. I think it’s a very positive aspect that HR was cc’d. I would definitely keep my eye open for future openings at this company.

      Reply
    2. Kimberlee, no longer Esq.

      It might be that, but I sort of suspect that it’s simply that they want to have a non-hiring-manager person for folks to give feedback to (since it might be more honest that way), and that is the person in HR who is in charge of gathering, aggregating, and reporting on feedback in the hiring process for the entire org. Seems entirely reasonable to me!

      Reply
  6. Hiring Mgr

    This is ok and refreshingly honest. Yes, maybe the phrasing could be a little better, but this is what happens all the time anyway, they just told you the truth about it!

    Reply
    1. Rookie Biz Chick

      And that they told you anything is awesome, considering all the interviewers ghosting candidates we hear about so often!

      Reply
  7. Myrin

    I can honestly say that this is a case where I feel 100% like Alison in every way.

    I think the “back burner” language is somewhat off-putting, or, hm, just too casual-sounding that evokes the very literal mental image of keeping you simmering in the back while all the action with the top choice candidate happened in the front, but the meaning they wanted to convey seems perfectly fine to me.

    I also agree that they were a bit negligent in keeping you up-to-date especially since they emphasised how soon you’d hear from them so strongly (and this is also a special pet peeve of mine – I have literally never delivered anything in my life later than promised and always keep people in the loop, so I can get irrationally peeved when others aren’t the same), but that doesn’t seem generally unusual or unforgivable.

    Reply
    1. Lil Fidget

      Yeah their real mistake was only in naively over-promising how communicative they’d be able to be. It’s so, so typical that this stuff takes longer than you think (and that you don’t have updates while things are still in the air) that someone experienced in hiring would not have made these promises in the first place. But that’s nothing to spend a lot of capital on providing feedback, IMO.

      Reply
      1. smoke tree

        Yeah, my read is that the hiring manager was possibly new to this team’s hiring practices and was hoping things would go more smoothly. I’ve definitely been in the position of putting off responding to someone until I had something concrete to say, and then realizing it’s been weeks since they heard from me. I’m trying to get better about providing an update, even if it’s an unsatisfying one.

        Reply
    2. Kimberlee, no longer Esq.

      Yeah, when I’m working in a hiring process, I advocate that the line is that we’ll notify every candidate either way, but giving specific timelines or promising interim communication just doesn’t work out very well. There’s only so many times you can send a “no updates!” email before it feels ridiculous, even if you know, on an intellectual level, that many candidates prefer that to no communication at all.

      I *also* really hate sending someone a “this is taking longer than we thought, but we’ll get back to you!” and then following up with a rejection. Whenever I start writing the update, I just end up thinking “We need to just make a decision here, not send a non-update update” but that doesn’t really help if the roadblock isn’t on you specifically.

      Reply
      1. Lil Fidget

        Yeah so often I think we might just be one day away from an actual helpful update versus a no-update update – but it keeps being pushed back one more day, one more day, one more day …

        Reply
  8. I Wrote This in the Bathroom

    The way I see it, it’s a highly competitive company, you were their second choice out of everyone who’d applied, and they offered you to apply again! I’d call it a good outcome. I would be pretty satisfied if I got this response myself, and would have taken advantage of their suggestion to apply again in the future!

    Personal anecdote: At my OldJob, I became their first candidate after their real first candidate accepted a counter-offer. Worked there six years, then got an offer from someone who’d been the head of the department when I was hired, he’d started a new company and hired me, which is where I’ve worked for the last five years. So, I owe the last 11-12 years of my career to me initially being the second candidate!

    Reply
    1. LQ

      Apply again is a really good point. Especially if they said you were their #2 choice they mean apply again. Keep an eye open for future openings, especially if they are in this area and do apply again.

      Reply
    2. Caramel & Cheddar

      Yeah, this. By the LW’s own admission, the company is highly competitive *and* they didn’t necessarily nail the interview, though apparently did well enough to be considered as a backup. These are good things!

      Reply
  9. Paige

    I was once told I was the second choice candidate, and that I would’ve been chosen, but the person they hired had an extra qualification I didn’t. It was a job that I had really wanted, and I appreciated being told. It made the rejection easier, knowing that I would’ve been chosen if that other person hadn’t come along.

    It also gave me the kick in the pants I needed to go after another certification once I had a job, which paid off greatly a couple years later when I needed to move and found a new job immediately.

    Reply
    1. TootsNYC

      I have also coupled that news with some encouragement: “I’m telling you this because I want you to feel confident in your qualifications. You are a strong candidate, and this rejection shouldn’t make you question yourself. It’s not really a rejection; it’s just that someone edged you out, and I have only one position.”

      And if ever I don’t actually go on to say those words, if I say, “you were our second choice,” then the paragraph above is what I really mean.

      Reply
  10. Sarah

    Believe it or not this is a great opportunity for you to network to get into this company. If this is the company you want to work for than take this perfect opportunity to reach back out to the hiring manager and the recruiter and thank them for the interview, let them know how impressed with your area and the company and while you know that they have filled that particular position if they by chance hear about another position within the company to please pass your resume on or if it wouldn’t be too much trouble to email you and let you know.

    Reply
    1. TootsNYC

      ˆ ˆ ˆ

      This, absolutely. A door is open, even if it only leads to the foyer. Step in, and say “hello.” Continue that good impression.

      Regard this as an opportunity to follow up in a way that compensates for that not-so-great interview.

      Reply
  11. MrsCHX

    The one time I went to a company as the second choice it was horrible. To date, that is my only nightmare job. But in my current role (I’m in HR), we had two people who were SO strong and ended up going with the one with slightly more experience. Well 3 months later a new position opened in that department and we hired 2nd choice. They are both really amazing employees!

    Reply
  12. Howard Bannister

    I remember one time I was the second choice candidate to get on a team. It crushed me at the time–especially since I felt I was a stronger candidate than the person who went up.

    Fastforward to the next time my organization was putting a team together to do a very similar job. I was on the top of the list to get in–the job was mine to turn down.

    Not all organizations are put together well enough to do that, of course. But if they’re paying attention and they’re looking for talent, ‘second choice’ isn’t just empty words.

    Reply
    1. serenity

      I just wanted to say I love your screen name and avatar – big fan of “What’s Up, Doc” myself :-)

      Reply
  13. Detorit

    Just like the candidate make an employer the 2nd choice if the first choice offer didn’t work out.

    Reply
  14. socrescentfresh

    My brother-in-law was told he was the THIRD choice for a position. After he got it.
    Awkward.

    Reply
    1. Antilles

      Okay, now that’s just odd. Like why would you tell someone they were your #3 choice? It’s definitely the standard to always pretend that you were the real target all along.
      Even in something like pro sports (where *everybody* knows that, no, you only signed me after failing with LeBron), people still pretend that this was actually The Plan.

      Reply
  15. Lily in NYC

    I’ve been told I was a second choice candidate twice. The reasons made sense (the one they chose first had more experience, for example) and I didn’t take it personally. At my current job, we never close out our interview process until the person actually starts the job. There have been several times where the person pulled out before their start date and we ended up with our second choice. We usually have a difficult time choosing between our top two or three candidates so being second choice is really meaningless (as a negative).

    Reply
  16. Louise

    Not the main point of the letter, but I do so wish more hiring managers would take the “under promise, over deliver” approach, though I realize there’s not a whole lot of incentive to do that. I feel like the reason hiring always takes “longer than planned” is because hiring managers are sooo aspirational in their communication with applicants, and for me personally I’d rather be given no promises about timelines than be told something that doesn’t happen.

    Reply
    1. TootsNYC

      I warn people, “This may take awhile; I have deadlines intervening in the middle. So don’t get discouraged if you haven’t heard back from me. Feel free to ping me in a week or two, if it makes you feel better. But I won’t forget you, and I ‘ll get back to you either way. Just, it might take awhile.”

      Reply
    2. NW Mossy

      I do something of a hybrid – I promise a response on “are you moving forward or not” within a specific week rather than a day, because that’s typically enough buffer than even if something goes haywire on my end, I can at least hit that mark. It’s important to communicate at least some timeframe, though, because it extends respect to candidates and keeps me accountable for honoring my commitment to them.

      Reply
    3. MK

      It’s a good idea in general, not just in hiring. If I think something will take X time, I tell people it will probably be ready in 2X.

      Reply
  17. Genny

    I really dislike the “backburner” language – it feels dismissive of you as a person and of your time. If they’d just left if at “you were our second choice, blah, blah, blah”, there’d be nothing wrong with any of it. That being said, roll your eyes and inwardly harumph about the rude language, and then let it go. It’s not so glaringly rude that you need to let the company know, and since the rest of the process was normal, you risk coming off as overly sensitive.

    Reply
    1. Mark132

      I agree, I find it rather insulting, it would have been far better to have informed the candidate immediately that they didn’t get the job, but shared the rest of the info. It’s not like the LW signed up to hang around as the backup candidate. I find it fairly presumptuous. And if I were the person hired and I found this out, I would be fairly insulted as well.

      Ok outrage out of the way. This is something I would get over quickly, and still respond politely, it doesn’t mean they aren’t worth working for later.

      Reply
  18. Jess

    I totally agree w/ Alison here. And personally, I would love to know such things about jobs I’ve interviewed for. I don’t generally take rejections personally, but it would still be super helpful to know how I was received. It’s hard to evaluate yourself and improve when you don’t know whether you weren’t hired just b/c there was another person who had more experience or better credentials or if it was something about the way you presented yourself or answered a question or whatever. Knowing I was the second choice would mean that I could be fairly confident in continuing to do what I’m doing.

    Reply
    1. The New Wanderer

      Yes! I was recently second choice for a job I really wanted and thought was a great fit. The HR person had told me up front that the company policy is no feedback of any kind to candidates, and in her message to me about the final decision, she made a point of saying she was really sorry she couldn’t provide feedback.

      Now I don’t know whether the feedback was “you were really great, just edged out by one tiny thing, luck of the draw” or “you would have been first choice if only you’d done this/that during the interview.” Ultimately it probably doesn’t matter, every set of interviewers will be looking for something different.

      Reply
    2. NoMoreFirstTimeCommenter

      THIS! I’ve had several interviews in my life where I’ve left the interview thinking I did OK, and then heard I wasn’t hired. It would be really helpful to hear why, and if it’s just about someone else being a tiny little bit better in some way, it would be easier to accept the situation and feel good about it. Being the second or third best among, for example, 100 candidates or more isn’t a bad thing to be! Also if there’s a specific thing about me that made the interviewer(s) not hire me, it’s also good to know. If it’s something I’ve presented in a bad way and given the wrong impression, then I know what to do differently next time. If it’s something about my experience or qualifications, then I know that job just wasn’t for me. If it’s about cultural fit, then I know I wouldn’t have been happy in that job for long. And if it’s something truly bizarre, then I know I’ve dodged a bullet!

      Reply
  19. HyacinthB

    I was a second choice for a job… well, first choice depending on which panel member you ask. I did not get that job but did get the job that was vacated by the first choice (with no additional interviews). Long story short, it’s worth it to keep your mouth shut.

    Reply
  20. HDL

    Three years into my current job I learned from a member of my hiring committee that the 1st choice candidate had turned down the original offer and I was actually the 2nd choice. I was rather taken aback and then I thanked my lucky stars that 1st choice had decided to go a different direction. But that explained why it took a few extra days for me to hear back after my interview. I’m really glad the hiring manager didn’t tell me I was “on the back burner” while I was waiting for that offer, though. That would have upped the stress immensely. Anyway, I think it’s common practice to have a runner up or even two in case the 1st offer falls through. Maybe not so common to be told about it after the fact, though.

    Reply
    1. TootsNYC

      It’s worth nothing that this woman didn’t tell our OP she was “on the back burner” until AFTER the decision was final. Which, as you point out, was good form.

      Reply
  21. Workfromhome

    The back burner comment is really off putting given that they promised to keep them updated but left them hanging.
    I agree overall its not horrible but only because they did notify them immediately (sounds like same day) they made the hire.
    “An entire month passed. Then, I heard from a friend who knew I had interviewed that a colleague of hers had gotten the job.”

    I was in a very similar situation. I was one of final two candidates both flown in to meet with the President. The other candidate happened to work for a client of mine. A week after the interview I got a call to remove the ID for the other candidate because they had accepted the job I was waiting to hear about. But hey it was a weird situation for me to find out that way..so I just planned to try to act surprised and graceful when they called me in the next day or to inform me.

    Guess what they didn’t get around to actually calling me for over a month! By that time everyone in the industry knew this guy had gotten this job. Needless to say it took everything I had not to say something but I managed it.
    6 months later the guy they hired didn’t work out So you’d think since I was the second choice and so graceful when they told me (sent a very nice note too) that that would earn me a call. It DID!! but they said well the other guy didn’t work out are you still interested? When I said yes they said great but you will need to go through the entire interview process again. We’ll bring in a bunch of new people do the interviews all over again and here are tow personality tests you need to do to start the process over again. Once again it took me everything I had not to tell them to eff off. I declined to participate again and decided I’d not work there as long as those same recruiters were there.

    Reply
    1. Lisa B

      Ugh, yes, that was SO poorly handled on their part. Unbelievable that they wanted you to go through the entire hiring process all over!! How much do they think your personality would have changed in 6 months???

      Reply
  22. Bea

    Poorly worded and I can see why it stings! I agree this really isn’t egregious, just insensitive at best.

    I was a second choice and ended up staying for over a decade. You may still get a job there, don’t go scorched earth!!

    Reply
  23. lulu

    Maybe I’m missing something, but I don’t see where the applicant has been told they were the second choice. They were kept on the back burner because they were a very good candidate, but there could have been 2 or 3 people on the back burner, who were not notified the position had been filled until the new hire started, just in case things didn’t work out.

    Reply
  24. Nonsensical

    I was the 2nd choice candidate for a prestigious internship. I wasn’t told this at the time of the offer, just an off hand comment my supervisor made to me. Considering how competitive the internship was, I was stunned to be even 2nd choice!

    Reply
    1. PhyllisB

      My son got an awesome internship after his Freshman year in college. He was “second choice” after someone else dropped out. Didn’t phase him one bit. He was just excited to be selected.

      Reply
      1. Nonsensical

        Yeah, the internship was the kind that many dream of! When I had the phone call to offer the job, I was too busy being shocked that I was even offered it! The reason the first candidate didn’t get the offer was most likely because they told the interviewer they didn’t have a car or housing (which you’re supposed to say yes you can provide that). So it is somewhat common for them to end up going to back up candidates.

        Being the back up candidate is in no ways bad. It means you were in the top of the pick. I was first choice for my permanent job.

        Reply
  25. PNWJenn

    Years ago I was on a hiring committee.

    Candidate #1 was incredible. We offered him the job and he turned it down b/c he’d been waiting for the offer to leverage into a better position with another department. Working with him in that other department, it was clear he wouldn’t have been a good cultural fit.

    Candidate #2 was great. We offered her the job and she turned it down. I can’t remember why.

    We took a deep breath offered the job to candidate #3. As it turned out, she was fantastic. She was dedicated and insightful. She developed the program from infancy into maturity. She was, after all was said and done, the perfect fit.

    Reply
    1. Anonymous Educator

      She was, after all was said and done, the perfect fit.

      I think this is worth highlighting.

      A first choice just means the hiring committee or hiring manager feels, based on the information they have, that the candidate is a better or stronger fit for the position than the other candidates. It doesn’t mean the 1st-choice candidate necessarily is a better or stronger fit.

      They have the information they have (résumé, references, interviews, etc.), and they’re trying to make their best judgment call. Sometimes those judgments are wrong. Or sometimes the difference between 1st and 2nd is so miniscule, it might as well have been a coin toss, but one person on the hiring committee had a bit more say and leaned toward a particular candidate.

      Reply
  26. TootsNYC

    The only time I tell someone they were the number two choice is if it’s really close, and I’d like to hire them in the future.

    I tend to say “someone else edged you out” and maybe even say “they had a little more experience in X, which is particularly valuable to us right now.” I’ve said, “it was really close, you were a very competitive candidate,” etc.

    But if I say ANYTHING beyond “we went with someone else, and thank you for your time and effort,” it is a compliment. It means I thought you were really good, and I’d love to have you apply sometime. You’ll go to the top of the “interview” pile if you ever apply again.

    I agree, “back burner” seems a little graceless, but interpret that as “we didn’t want to lose you if it turned out the other person didn’t want us.”

    Reply
  27. Nonny

    How ridiculous that Jane went on about their transparency and desire to keep you in the loop, but then she did neither of those things! She should have been honest as soon as she knew this info, instead of pretending that the process was going slowly for everyone. If she isn’t going to do that, then stop describing the process that way!

    Reply
  28. MLB

    I guess I’m in the minority based on Alison’s advice and the other comments, but I would provide feedback. You don’t need to be snarky or nasty about it, and in most cases being told you were second choice AND waiting a month for a response is normal and ok. It’s the fact that she made a big deal about getting back to you right away AND mentioned the reason behind not getting back to you immediately was because they were keeping you on the back burner. I’ll admit it would probably take me an hour to compose an email response, and I would probably edit it a bunch of times, but I would definitely send something (especially since the HR person is copied) and let them know that it’s not cool to tell someone they’re being kept on the back burner in case things don’t work out with #1. Because they’re basically telling you that they weren’t responding so you would hold out hope and not accept another position with another company. And that’s downright shitty.

    Reply
    1. Leenie

      To what end? She wants to work there in the future. As of right now, they feel good about her. A complaint could, at the least, complicate that.

      And as far as turning something else down – most people would go to this company and say they have an offer in hand and would like feedback before they made a decision. It would only truly be shitty if the LW went to the company in that situation and they strung her along. That didn’t happen here. They simply didn’t give her an answer until they had a definitive answer, and then used slightly graceless language to express that. The delay wasn’t great, but that is so normal. I think a complaint would be a self-defeating move with no possible upside for the LW.

      Reply
      1. Tuxedo Cat

        Yeah. The letter writer isn’t in a position to complain if she wants to work there. Maybe if she gets a job there and is involved with hiring, she can talk that, but not now.

        Reply
    2. OP

      I was a little thrown by the “copied my HR director here for feedback” thing, just because I’ve never encountered it before.

      I know that the hiring manager was recently promoted to her first management position when she took this job (a friend of mine is a mentor of hers, and I knew this before I applied), so I’m wondering if she was genuinely seeking feedback as a new manager on her processes, or if something else was going on. If I were to give feedback, I’d encourage them to choose their words differently, and to be more communicative. But in this case, I think it makes more sense just to let it go. I sent back a graceful reply saying that I appreciated the opportunity to interview and hoped our paths would cross again in the future.

      Reply
      1. Scubacat

        I expect that the HR director was flagged because you are a promising candidate for future openings. In my company, it’s common to send HR notice this way to keep the applicant’s name on file.

        Reply
  29. Almost ready to leave

    I interviewed for a position and was told I was the second choice; first choice was an applicant who already worked for the company in a different division. If she didn’t take the job, they would offer it to me. Didn’t get the job but I kept in contact with the HR person – 4-5 months later a similar job came up within the company. That one I got.

    I agree with other posters, the hiring manager used a poor choice of words and should have notified you sooner. That sucks. However, at least they did notify you …

    Reply
  30. Jaybeetee

    I have been told in the past I was second-choice – after I emailed back asking for feedback upon not getting those jobs. In fact, for two interviews back-to-back, I found out I was on their short lists, and in each case there was just someone more qualified. I took that as a positive, as in context, both companies were saying “We don’t have any real feedback for you and you interviewed strongly – it was strictly a matter of someone else having more experience/better qualifications/etc.” Of course, I was unemployed at the time, so that part was discouraging, but it was good to know that I was at least making positive impressions. And in hindsight, both of those jobs would have been fairly dead-end admin assistant roles – shortly afterwards, I did get a job that gave me much better experience and upward mobility. So OP, while the language was callous, overall it’s not a bad thing to be second choice, so try not to let it rattle you too much!

    Reply
  31. HertzTriesHarder

    Was up for a job once I really wanted, didn’t get it. Heard back from the Headhunter who put me up for it that I was their 2nd choice. Bummer. Moved on. Got a phone call from the Headhunter about a month later, the company liked me so much they created a 2nd position so they could hire me after all. Started my training about 2 weeks behind their #1 pick. She ended up hating the job, and walked out with no notice in the middle of the day about a month later. Best job I ever had.

    Reply
  32. Akcipitrokulo

    Thing is – being turned down for the job means they are telling you you’re not number one. You already know that. So their telling you that you’re no 2 choice – given you already know you’re not 1 – is pretty good :)

    Reply
  33. Snarkastic

    The Hiring Manager/HR Person does not have a gift for delivering bad news. Telling someone that they kept you hanging on because you were on the back-burner is exceptionally rude. There was no such transparency during the process.

    Vent to your friends and then on to the next thing! At least you know you are a desirable employee to some extent.

    Reply
    1. Kimberlee, no longer Esq.

      Eh, I don’t think it’s in itself rude. The fact is that there’s almost always going to be a #2 and #3 choice in a process, and they’re not going to reject you if you’re in one of those positions until they have an accepted offer from the #1 choice. Which means, basically inevitably, there’s some interview levels/back and forth that you’re just sitting through. You’re left hanging, in some way, either way, but the actual things you’re doing on your end shouldn’t change; keep applying for other jobs.

      (If I’m still potentially interested in a candidate but know that they’re not the #1 choice and I’m keeping them in the pool just in case, I don’t say that directly, but I do tell them that we’re working through the process and that if they get an offer or something else changes on their end and they need a quicker response, to let me know. That way, we can both acknowledge that this person is applying for other jobs, and I’m reiterating my interest and telling them exactly what they should do on their end, as well.)

      Reply
  34. Fabulous

    I was second choice for my job as well – a temp job at that! They called me after a week of having their first choice flake out to come in and take her place. It’s 2 years later and it turned into a permanent position with the company with an upcoming promotion. Goes to show that you never know.

    Reply
  35. Ama

    My direct report was actually the 2nd choice for another department’s position here — they loved her but the first choice candidate had direct experience with a database program they use for 90 % of their work. Then it so happened before they could even reach out to her to tell her they were going with someone else, my position opened up unexpectedly and they encouraged me to reach out to her (especially since my position involved the skills she was strong in but not nearly as much of the database work).

    She’s mentioned to me a couple of times now that seeing what the other department’s day-to-day looks like versus her own role, she feels like she is better suited to and happier where she is then she would have been in the original role.

    Reply
  36. Blossom

    I have to say, waiting A MONTH is not normal in my experience. I don’t know whether it’s my industry or my part of the world (UK), but I’m often staggered at the long gaps deemed normal on this blog. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the decision making and initial offer go on longer than a week, at all levels – good candidates get snapped up, so you don’t want to lose them!

    I don’t say this to argue with Alison, but in case there are any other readers in contexts where a month seems as crazy as it does to me, who read this and wonder if they’re the crazy ones. This isn’t normal everywhere.

    Reply
    1. LQ

      I interviewed for a place that took 6 months and 4 interviews at least. When I declined interview , someone reached out to me and said I was their top pick and they only had 2 interviews (that everyone would have to do, not 2 more people to interview). I said unfortunately I’d accepted a job offer from a government agency. They were much, much slower than the government agency. I hear they’ve since sped up their process and it’s under 3 months now.

      Reply
    2. Akcipitrokulo

      Agreed! I’ve just chalked it up to another culture difference… every time I’ve got a job offer, and there have been a few, it’s been first interview, second within a week and offer within a few days. Any more than that would seem really weird!

      Also from other side when we were hiring… getting someone in before their predecessor leaves is a huge bonus! Knowledge transfer is so valuable.

      Reply
    3. Ron McDon

      Also in the UK; for every job I’ve applied for I have just had one interview, and been phoned that same day to be offered the job / received a letter the next day telling me I didn’t get the job.

      I think it’s unusual for people here to have to wait so long after interviewing to find out if they have the job (with the caveat of course that it’s probably common in some industries/companies) – I don’t think my nerves could take that amount of waiting!

      It’s interesting there is such a difference, and wonder if in part it is due to the size disparity between our two countries – in terms of there being a smaller candidate pool in the UK, so decisions must be made faster?

      Reply
      1. Akcipitrokulo

        I’m not sure about the candidate pool… because there’s a smaller job pool too :) so would balance out?

        But yeah, if decision was going to be more than a week away because other interviews I’d expect to be told “we won’t be making a decision until…” as it’s a little unusual. Last time I was interviewing I got offered 1 on day of interview, 2 the day after, rejections same or next day apart from one where they contacted me next day to say liked me but I was missing X, so were discussing with bosses if training was an option (came back a few days later… it wasn’t).

        I wonder if it’s to do with the differences in notice period? If it’s accepted that you won’t have any overlap, it’s easier for gap in coverage to be bigger once had the initial psychological bump of having a vacant post?

        Mind you, took us ages to fill an admin role once! But that was filling, not offering.

        I think there’s also very much an awareness that good candidates will be getting other offers! When I was helping with interviewing, we interviewed the person we wanted, got their test results from HR and asked them to make an offer, HR contacted agent, agent contacted candidate, they accepted by close of business and started on Monday.

        That was a little faster than usual but not startlingly so… we really didn’t want to lose them and knew they had other interviews scheduled.

        Reply
      2. Nonsensical

        I wouldn’t say this is a UK versus US thing. It is very very common for office positions to take a few months, and with government positions, you’re looking at potentially 6 months or more!

        For my first internship, I interviewed and only heard back 2 months later.

        Reply
        1. Lucy

          Wait – you’ve experienced lots of office jobs in the UK taking a few months between interview and offer?! Over ten years, I’ve never experienced more than a few days’ gap.

          Reply
      3. Teapot Reader

        I agree! You interview, they meet to discuss candidates that afternoon, they get in touch that evening, and you’re sorted. Then you just need to wait 3 months for the notice period…

        Reply
  37. clickk

    Agree with Alison here. When I interviewed for my current job, I was the second-choice candidate against someone with a bit more relevant experience than me. The hiring manager called me to explain that if they could have hired us both they would have, and that she would keep my application on the top of the stack if another position opened up. A few weeks later, when the first-choice candidate accepted another position before her start date, they called me back and offered me the job. It was great because I never felt like a runner-up or “the next best thing.”

    Reply
  38. SecondIstheBest

    I was the second choice candidate for two different positions at my current company. Didn’t get hired for either. They created a more junior position for me, and when I get promoted a year later, everyone who was familiar with the situation said they should have just hired me in the first place. Second place means they like you a lot, and if you like the company, it’s worth being gracious to maintain the relationship.

    Reply
  39. Laura

    This is good news! It means you are on the right track. I might even reply back and ask if there’s something you could do to make you a better candidate. My story – I interviewed for a departmental transfer promotion at one point. The interview went well but someone had a bit more experience, yadda, yadda. I decided to finish a major that I had started to remove that weak point. A couple years later, the position was posted again (this department had about 25 of the same position). I applied again. One of the managers reached out to me to give me advice and a link to the HR intranet to point out the questions they would ask. She didn’t interview me but I know she recommended me to the other manager and the director. I got the job, while it turned out I wasn’t a great culture fit there, I am good at the job and have continued in the position elsewhere.

    Reply
  40. Snowe

    So, the phrasing was not ideal, but they could sincerely hope that you apply for another position.
    We had this happen with a job opening; one candidate had a different skillset that fit a bit better. Happily, the #2 applicant reapplied to our next opening, a slightly different job, and has worked out great.

    Reply
  41. Free Meerkats

    We hired our second choice after the first used us to leverage a promotion and raise at his previous agency and left after 3 months. And truthfully, second choice has been a better fit than first choice was.

    Second choice knew he was in second place as we tell everyone where they ranked out of the interviewed applicants. We’re Civil Service, and that’s how we roll. If you’re 12th out of 15, you know that.

    Reply
  42. nep

    I would feel good about being the second-place candidate for a job I didn’t get. I would also appreciate learning that from the employer.

    Reply
  43. Old Cynic

    I find it just a bit odd that, if you were the back-up/second choice, you never interviewed with grand-boss Sylvia. ( could see skipping the CEO interview if Sylvia felt really strong about one candidate.)

    Reply
    1. JamieS

      Yeah that’s what stood out to me too. The lack of other interviews. I’m guessing once they selected a candidate they liked only that person was interviewed multiple times. Doesn’t seem very efficient though

      Reply
  44. OP

    Hey guys, original poster here!

    Thank you so much for all the comments. It’s definitely helping to reframe this more positively for me, and I’m so grateful for that!

    For what it’s worth, I’m not really bothered that I wasn’t chosen and I’m proud of getting pretty far in the process– it’s definitely the way it was communicated that came across as strange to me. If the hiring manager had said something like, “It came down to two really qualified candidates, and we decided to go with the other candidate,” that would have come across a million times better to me. The whole messaging of “we just kept you hanging around in case the other person didn’t work out” just came across as a bit insensitive to me, and I still wish she’d been more communicative during the longer-than-expected hiring process (even just to say, we’re sorry it’s taking longer than expected, please bear with us).

    I do appreciate her honesty, though, and the fact that she eventually did get back to me.

    It was all for the best, because just a few weeks later, I was offered a much better job at a higher pay scale at another company, leading a larger team. I’ll also get to relocate to a city with a lower cost of living closer to my family. I guess it just reinforces my belief that things usually do work out in the end! Thanks again to all the commenters.

    Reply
    1. LQ

      Congratulations on the new job!

      I think you’re right about the language not being ideal.
      I do think Lil Fidget’s point above about people thinking, oh we’ll have good information for them tomorrow and that going on for way to long is absolutely a thing and plays into delays like this. I’m sure I’m going to get this in front of Boss tomorrow for final sign off.

      Reply
      1. OP

        Thanks! I think you and Lil Fidget are on to something, I’d like to think they hoped things would move faster than they did.

        Reply
    2. Let's Talk About Splett

      It could be that in the past they rejected their second choice only to contact them like, “Just kidding!” after the first choice didn’t work out, and they didn’t want to go through that again?

      Reply
    3. Jennifer

      Well, that is how things work these days. For them I guess it beats turning the second down and then finding out that the first choice bailed and then having to call back again.

      But yay new job elsewhere!

      Reply
    4. jo

      Yay, congrats on the new job!!! That is totally the outcome I would have expected for you based on your story. Glad you found something even better than the could’ve-been “dream job.”

      The other hiring manager’s language wasn’t the most sensitive, and I understand it’s easy to interpret her words in a negative light. But I don’t think “you were on the back burner” is the same thing as “we were ONLY keeping you there to cover our butts.” Hiring/job hunting isn’t the same as dating in that way. They kept you in the wings because you were a great candidate. I think their wording means “we had to pick one of two great candidates, but nothing was finalized, and we didn’t want to lose out on the chance to hire you in the event things didn’t work out with the other person.” I’m sure you know it’s standard practice for employers to keep their options open until they have the new person solidly on board, since people sometimes back out. And job seekers keep their options open by continuing to search until they accept an offer. That’s what happened here–not a “consolation prize” scenario.

      Reply
      1. OP

        Thanks everyone for the congratulations!
        I’m sure the HM didn’t mean for it to come across as a “consolation prize,” I guess the word choice just made it feel that way. She could have said it in a different way and the message would have been very differently received, but I feel much better about the job I wound up accepting in the end!

        Reply
  45. Jill

    My partner was told this during his screening interview (that the company already had another candidate in mind, but they needed someone who could start sooner). He felt like he bombed the rest of it, because it threw him so much off base. (The interviewer had some other questionable… interview question practices, so maybe it was for the best).

    Reply
  46. Persephoneunderground

    Haven’t read the other comments, but wanted to chime in that I got my first decent full-time job because I was the second choice! It was temp-to-perm and the person they had picked apparently just didn’t come back on the second day of work. So, they called and offered me the spot instead. Turned into a great full-time job where I stayed for 4 years. Hiring is not an exact science- you might even have been the better candidate, they just did the best they could with the information they had, so it’s not a personal insult to be second. Don’t burn the bridge with people who obviously were impressed by you over bruised pride. They told you twice that they’re interested in you for the future, so by all means believe them and keep them in mind.

    Reply
  47. Tara

    My current employer hired me as the second choice. But they were much more polite than that. I was emailed not too long after the interview (a week or 2) and told that I didn’t get the job, they’d hired someone they thought was a better fit, and gave me reasons why I didn’t make the cut, which boiled down to my long commute and the job not being exactly what I had told them I was most interested in. They told me that if I hadn’t found a job by the time I graduated (in a few months) to contact them and they’d see if they could help. I replied back a polite thank you note.

    About a week later they called me… their original pick had decided not to take the job, so they wanted to hire me.

    I think the big difference is that I was not kept hanging until the hire of the other person was certain. I was told I was second pick, but I WASN’T kept on the back burner, my employer was considerate enough to tell me promptly so I could keep job hunting. So I think that’s where this employer went wrong.

    Reply
    1. jo

      I think your story compared to the OP’s story illustrates why Alison always advises job seekers to keep job hunting at every stage of the process, even if you’re under serious consideration somewhere, since you can’t really predict the outcome even if you have every reason to hope for an offer.

      Reply
  48. SciDiver

    Adding my story to the list–I was the second choice for my dream job at a research lab but the first choice candidate accepted the position (she had experience in the highly specific area they wanted while mine was more general and it turns out she was already an MS student there). It feels awful when you want something that badly and get so close, but you did beat out a number of people and they would have been excited to hire you too! Keep them in mind as you go forward and don’t let your disappointment burn that bridge.

    Reply
  49. jo

    I can think of at least one occasion when I was told (after a slow process, and after the final decision had been made) that I was the second-choice candidate for a job in a competitive industry. I just pulled up their email and it said the final candidate and I were “both really well suited and prepared for the job, it was a virtual tie–which made making a final selection very difficult (and, indeed, the last time I did this I made the absolute wrong choice).” They said the other person was “a slightly better fit.”

    I think you should take the feedback to mean pretty much the same things I concluded when I was in that position:
    1) I would have been welcomed on board if this other person hadn’t been in the mix (i.e. I was considered totally qualified and desirable for the job)
    2) I had a good shot at a job at this company if a suitable role were to open up in the future
    3) I was, at the time, very close to getting hired somewhere else for a similar role. So close that someone was already not 100% sure it was the right decision to pass me over. That instinct turned out to be true. A month later, I was hired at a company where I was an excellent fit and found a stellar mentor.

    Short version: Hearing you were the second choice should tell you you’re on the right track, and that you rock.

    The “keeping you on the back burner language” wasn’t very tactful, and they could have been better about updates, but at least they were honest and transparent in the end instead of leaving you in the dark for all time about the reasons you weren’t chosen. And the way they told you to apply again indicates they truly were excited about you and would have happily hired you under slightly different circumstances.

    Reply
    1. Mrs. Fenris

      That’s how a company worded their rejection of me once. I had met two hiring managers, and the one that called me said that “it was a hard decision and not unanimous.” I’ve always wondered who voted which way.

      Reply
  50. Nisie

    I was the second choice for a job- another opening happened within two months and I got the position without interviewing. This was a state job, so you know how rare that is

    Reply
  51. Vendelle

    I am in a job right now where I was the second choice, and I’ve been working here for more than 13 years by this time. Sometimes salary negotiations or scheduling don’t work out.
    Also, next time they have an opening, they will remember you and that can really help you, so who knows what will come of this?

    Reply
  52. Logan

    I would just think that “backburner” phrase was just extra words said on voicemail…I know I can babble a little when leaving a voicemail… It sounded like the email was more precise about what she/he wanted to say. As for hearing you were second choice/runner up, I’d be thrilled. A few years ago when interviewing I probably would’ve given up if it hadn’t been for an interviewer calling me to say I didn’t get the job (but she wanted to hire me) and said something very positive about me. Sure it would’ve been nice to get the job and stop interviewing but I was more inspired, it really gave me momentum to keep going, and not disappointed/let down, etc. I only wish more people would do stuff like that instead of leaving cryptic messages that they seem to want me to decode. Yeah, I know I’m in the minority about rejections by phone….but when they’re said positively….they can be helpful! :)

    Reply
  53. Ruffen

    I work in the public sector in Norway. When we hire, we actually have to make a prioritised list of the top candidates we would like to hire, and if the first one turns down the offer, we extend the offer to numer 2 etc. The candidates can ask to see the list, and we would give it to them (but not to others). So people would know if they were ranked as numer 2 or 3, but as Allison says, that means that we actually would hire them, just that someone else was a stronger candiate. Candidates we don’t want to hire, never end up on the list.

    Reply
    1. LifeOrDeath

      Wow! I would not be ok with that – It is no ones business but mine if I interview at a company and handing over a list with my name on it to a third party would feel like a huge breach of confidetiality to me and potentially cost someone on that list their current job if the recipient of that list could somehow use the information.

      Reply
  54. Birch

    This happened to me and I was actually really grateful! It was a position that I really wanted, in a place I would have LOVED to move to, but the actual work wasn’t an exact fit. They took longer to reply to me and then told me I was the second choice. I ended up finding a better fit elsewhere, but in fact just today my current boss told me she had recently spoken to this almost-boss (at a conference–we are academics) and he said some nice things about me.

    So I consider it as having made a great impression, networking, and I feel like the almost-boss will keep me in mind for all sorts of future possibilities. And I got a job that was a better fit for my interests in the meantime. Plus, my boss sees that other people know and value my work. Win-win-win! It sucks to not have got the job, but all things considered, being told you were right up there in their candidate pool is great because it means you know exactly where your skill quality measures up in that company/field.

    Reply
  55. Bookworm

    I somewhat disagree. There’s nothing wrong with *being* the second choice (there are any number of reasons as to why that was so and you admit the interview wasn’t your best go) but to keep you hanging like that with no update and then with what felt like a CYA message letting you know that they wanted to “try out” the first candidate I can see why you’re a bit insulted.

    I’ve had experiences where managers do let me know in the timeframe stated and then I receive a rejection sometime (sometimes I assume it takes an extra weekend or week or so to settle on a candidate) after. Sometimes I’ve gotten rejections and then the hiring manager will circle back months later and ask if I’m still interested and/or that they have another job I’d be interested in: it became clear that I was simple *a* candidate to create some sort of pool for them and was never under any serious consideration. It was certainly a waste of my time and possibly sounds like it was for you as well.

    I do understand why you’d want to give feedback, too, although you might risk being placed in the “absolutely no” pile if you do. Good luck.

    Reply
  56. Eileen

    You don’t screw around with someone for a month and then go “Oh, you were our backup prom date in case who we REALLY wanted didn’t show up.” The letter writer deserved to know that he/she was not the frontrunner and she should continue to pursue options elsewhere. Be honest with people and don’t waste their time. A simple “We are moving forward with another candidate. However we truly enjoyed meeting you and will absolutely consider you should things not materialize with our candidate of choice.” would have sufficed. They were rude, and did the letter writer no favors.

    Reply
  57. Noah

    I don’t really get how this is worse than keeping you on the back burner and NOT telling you about it, which happens all the time. To me, it would be better because it’s really clear they’d be interested in my in the future. But you’re certainly entitled to feel bothered by that comment and not consider the employer later.

    Reply

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