am I a back-up candidate?

A reader writes:

I am curious to know what the message is to back-up candidates while a the company is waiting for someone to respond to a job offer. I was told that a decision would be made late last week, and I recently received an update that it will be another week and a half.

I know that there are only 2 other candidates up for the job, and I’m pretty sure the decision will be made by 3 people who are in the same department and work together daily. This makes me think that they have already made a decision and made the offer, and I’m in a back-up candidate in case their first choice declines. Are my instincts right or am I overanalyzing? How do hiring managers typically communicate with “alternates” in this stage of the game?

Heh. Well, that was exactly what I used to do when someone was a back-up candidate, until it occurred to me to build a buffer into the timelines I was giving people.

But let me tell you, there is no shame in being a back-up candidate. In this economy, it’s not unusual for me to end up with three back-up candidates of stellar quality, any one of whom I’d be excited to hire.

On the other hand, it’s also possible that it doesn’t indicate that you are a back-up candidate at all. It could indicate that their process is dragging out for some other reason — it’s taking a long time to check someone’s references, or the company moves really slowly on putting together offer paperwork, or their interview with one of the other candidates got delayed, or the person who has to sign off on the final decision is on vacation, or whatever. So you definitely can’t take it as anything certain — more just as fodder for speculation.

{ 3 comments… read them below }

  1. Andy Lester*

    I suggest that the answer to your question doesn't matter.

    You only have two states: Hired and not hired. If you have not been hired, you keep looking for a job.

    If you find that you are a "back-up candidate", are you going to use that as a reason to slow down your job hunt? You shouldn't.

    Until you're actually working on the job, consider yourself as not having a job and keep looking.

  2. Anonymous*

    For one position I interviewed for, on paper, I was a 100% match, or at least close to it.

    But once I got onsite and completed the interviews, I knew a few things: the pay was below average, the cultural fit was lousy, the people I interviewed with seemed a bit cold and distant, and that had they made me an offer, it would be a hard choice to make. The economy being what it is, I didn't want to turn down the only offer I might get in a long while. I didn't feel very excited about the company or the position.

    Well, they must have read my mind, 'cause an offer never materialized. I must have gotten two or three "we still haven't made a decision" over the span of a month or two. It was getting to the point where it was painfully obvious I was not a first choice candidate; I almost told them to forget it, just to end the song and dance. But finally, I got my rejection letter :) Is a candidate every *happy* to get a rejection letter?

  3. Rachel - I Hate HR*

    Who cares!

    I remember when my brother was applying for teaching jobs and was always ecstatic that he was in the finally two.

    I have had many times where there are multiple great candidates. The reason we kept the other person on the line was because we DID want that person if the other was unavailable.

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