is this company stringing me along?

A reader writes:

I interviewed with a company earlier this month and for the first time in the year+ I have been unemployed, I knew I completely killed it. I was myself, I clicked with the people, and the technical portions of the interview could not have gone any better. The next day, my feelings were confirmed when the head of their HR team called me to tell me that the team really enjoyed meeting with me, wanted me to know I was the clear “front runner” but because they were early in their interview process, they would have to get back to me in two weeks when the interviews concluded. She also asked if that would be okay with my time line, and of course I said yes, and hung up very excited.

Well, two weeks passed and no word, so I emailed her to see what was going on. According to her, the snow in the last two weeks has pushed back some of the interviews and they won’t be able to make a decision for another “few weeks,” yet she reiterated that I am at the front of the pack with regards to candidates, the team really likes me and she hoped that I could accommodate their timing.

Maybe its because I have had a lot of crushing disappointments this last year+, but I don’t know if I can believe her. It seems (and this happened to me once before) that I am being strung along while they look for a better candidate. Am I paranoid or are my concerns valid?

I guess I feel like if I was truly the best person for the position, they would make me an offer ASAP, especially since they have two other positions open on the team, though in a slightly different role than the one I preferred (though I, and I assume all candidates, interviewed for both). Obviously there’s nothing I can do to speed up their process, but I am expecting to get an offer from another firm at the end of this week and while I am far less interested in that position, I have been unemployed for a LONG time and I don’t know that I can turn down a credible offer in the face of really great feedback with no clear action. What do you think? Am I being too anxious or could there be something to my paranoia?

Actually, there may be something you can do to speed up their process, but we’ll get to that in a second.

First, I wouldn’t assume they’re stringing you along at all. Some companies really take a while to move through the process. Some are just slow. Some have policies or conventions that require them to interview a certain number of candidates. And lots of hiring managers aren’t comfortable hiring a candidate right off the bat, even if the person is an obvious rock star; they still want to see a reasonable number of other candidates, because the responsible thing to do is make a good faith effort toward ensuring they really do have the best candidate, no matter how great you are.

So while you shouldn’t count on this until you have an offer in hand, it doesn’t sound like there’s any reason to doubt that you’re in the strong position they say you’re in. I would never tell a candidate she was my front-runner unless she really was; you just don’t say that to people if it’s not true. It would be weird and gratuitous, like saying “I love you” to a date you’re not sure you even want to see again. Again, none of this is a guarantee — but they don’t sound like they’re intentionally stringing you along.

Now. If you do get another offer in the meanwhile, here is what you should do: Ask the company making the offer when they need to hear back from you by. Best case scenario, you’ll get a week — but be aware that a few days is not uncommon, so you want to move quickly. (And if they ask how long you need in order to make a decision, don’t ask for longer than a week; they’ll start questioning your interest level.) Then, contact the other company immediately. Explain that they are your first choice and you really want to work for them, but that you just got an offer that the clock is ticking on. If they’re as interested in you as they seem, they may expedite things so that they don’t lose you.

A variation of this: You can contact them right now, without the other offer, and tell them that you’re expecting to get one within days. That may get things moving too.

Good luck!

{ 15 comments… read them below }

  1. Jobfree*

    I had this happen before and I did exactly what was suggested by AAM.

    I told the hiring manager that I was expecting another offer soon. He told me that if I wanted to pursue the other position, that they understood.

    Of course I didn't get another offer and the first company hired someone else. I think they were just stringing me along as a backup.

  2. Sara*

    I agree with the advice, and think the writer might be jumping to conclusions. Also, there is no offer here, so it's quite possible another front runner will appear, or who knows maybe someone else will hire someone for the job (that has happened numerous times, or at least used as an excuse numerous times in my situations). I say simmer, it sounds like they have a valid reason for the delay, but they also are wanting to interview others, there is no job offer, so keep on keeping on, stay positive (hard I know when circumstances feel dire) and don't count your chickens before they hatch, that kind of disappointment always stings more when you get your hopes up.

  3. Anonymous*

    Living in an area where the snow has hit multiple times this winter, it's understandable that snow has caused some delays in the interviewing process.

    I understand the anxiety this person is in. You get hooked on people's words, the positive tone of them. Each day in the job search process feels like a lifetime, and it seems like they are wasting time when you get such great feedback. I haven't been told anything like this, but I have been given positive feedback within the interview in response to my answers.

    If you have been burned by a few companies, you tend to scrutinize the next. And when you get hooked by these words, you don't want to be burned, but you tend to look for signs that they are going to. It's almost like you are mentally daring them to do so, and you want to, in your mind, call them on their bluff. That's what I'm sensing here.

    OP, keep job searching; you don't have an offer from either the one you really want or the less interesting one. You can light a fire under the one you really want, but like Jobfree wrote above, they may show their true colors then. Follow AAM's advice.

    1. Anonymous*

      Excellent response! I’m experiencing the same frustrations. It almost seems as if some companies know how much power they have with all of the desperate job seekers “out there.” There are talented and well-educated folks competing for jobs that they have not considered since recently graduation from college.

      Job searching has a whole different dynamic than it did in the “old days.” The initial stages of job hunting feels almost humiliating to folks that are used to using a more personal dynamic to seeking employment. Now, the majority of companies seem to utilize, impersonal and frustratingly time-consuming computer systems to determine who the “top” candidates are. Handpicking is a thing of the past!

      Good luck to everybody!

  4. Anonymous*

    They're a week behind on all of their work, it's inevitable that they will take longer to get back to you.

  5. Anonymous*

    A similar situation happened to my husband. While waiting for an offer from the company for a job he really wanted, a second company called with an offer for a good, but less desirable position.

    He immediately let the first company know about the offer from the second company. The first company came through with an offer that day.

  6. Brian*

    I'm in a similar situation to the OP – in my case it has been 7 weeks since my interview. The 3rd party recruiter has been telling me that I'm the front runner and he expects me to get an offer since a few days after the interview. The excuse in my case has been that they got a new HR person who is imposing new requirements. I also was the first person they interviewed for the position and they didn't have anyone else lined up to interview. The hiring manager is now saying that he fully expects to wrap this up next week so here's hoping!

  7. Anonymous*

    Patience is a virtue. You have contacted them to see what the delay was and they informed you that they were still interested in you and you were still the front runner but because of bad weather the process is taking longer than it should have. Theres no reason to think theyre lying to you. If you do, in fact, get an offer from another organization I would inform them that you have received an offer from another firm but you would still prefer to work with them, but need to know one way or the other soon (give them a time frame) to let you know. Best case they give you an offer, worst case they say they are unable to commit at this time and wish you good luck. Then you take the other job.

    I wouldnt, personally, inform them that you are expecting an offer from another firm if you havent actually received one. Its possible they may see that as a tactic you are using to force them to give you an offer before they are ready (even if it isnt) and that could cause them to sour on you.

  8. green_with_energy*

    I have to add that if you have a social networking page that you feel is appropriate (no nudes, no alcohol, no sex – good grammar-spelling etc) companies are not hiring people with these pages and I THINK this is illegal discrimination…i can see if you have bad content but if you do not then it cannot be reason enough not to hire a competent person

  9. Original Poster*

    AMA and all the commentors – thanks so much for your feedback. I realized that I was infusing the situation with a lot of my feelings from previous experiences earlier in the air, and so I decided to wait and see what happened once I had an offer in hand and hence some leverage. As it turns out, I heard back from both companies on Friday.

    The first (the one I am/was worried about) asked for me to take an additional/final step in the process and so I let her know that I was waiting for an offer any day now, so she promised to put a rush on things, again reiterating that I was the front-runner, though she mentioned a second candidate.

    The second company got in touch with me to know that they would like to reach out to at least one of my references before they extend an offer, so they would be in touch early next week after they spoke to my former manager. My former manager became a very good friend of mine, so hopefully by early next week, I will at least have some sort of resolution (because even if I have to take this job, its still a fantastic company and probably a superior position with regards to skill sets, only the people were a little off when I interviewed raising a few potential red flags).

    In the meantime, I'm going to try and remain patient and not freak out. However, I will say, as some have mentioned, its hard to not get wrapped up in the excitement of a possible resolution to a problem (in this case, LT unemployment). And since both positions would require a total relocation (to two varying cities), there is some added anxiety and worry on my end. One of my fears is making the most informed decision if I have a week to think about things, and during that week having to scramble with another company.

    I've been reticent to expend energy on further doing diligence on working at the first company and living in that city with the thought that they may be stringing me along, a phenomenon that has happened now about 3 times in varying forms (once after the longest interview process of my life – mutliple phone interviews, 14 hour in office technical test, 6 2-on-1 in-person interviews, etc.).

    But anyway, thanks for all your feedback and insight. I will let you all know what happens.

    (p.s. I must confess I have gotten lax on my job hunting since things began to firm up. I do have an interview lined up for next week with a third company, but its hard to summon the discipline & focus needed to continue seeking out opportunities and sending out my resume when I have a feeling that one of these two opportunities will work out. I know its a dumb move on my part, but I keep rationalizing that I wouldn't be able to complete a full interview process before I had to make a decision, anyway.)

  10. Anonymous*

    Thank you OP for responding with an update. Doesn't it seem once you hit the panic button and ask AAM that everything started to happen?

    Just calm down and focus on the third interview for now. It might keep the time from standing still with these two other companies. You should keep moving forward in your job search until you have an offer in hand, a chance to negotiate, and a contract (if applicable) to sign. I know I sound like "Johnny Raincloud" but I also don't want you to get your hopes so high and out of check that if, heaven forbids, the rug gets pulled out from you, you won't crash back on Earth too hard. I know the feeling, and it's not fun.

    But still, here's to you and the best of luck. Please let us know what happens in the weeks to come!

  11. Susan Kennedy*

    it ALWAYS takes longer than you think. AND, keep looking. set a goal of making two more contacts between now and next week. it will take away some of the sting if neither opportunity works out

  12. Shannon*

    To play devil's advocate: while the above is true for some companies, some do indeed string you along and often post job listings that they never actually fill. My last company was like that: they often put a want ad up for some specialized position, only to later yank it without ever filling it, made me feel bad for the candidates who wasted their time.

    I was on an interview that went really well many months ago and got the "strong candidate" song and dance, only to find out later that they decided to hire someone for a completely different position instead (they already had two/three employees in that role), while the role I went for went unfilled…guess they didn't need someone after all. After all, if you truly *need* someone, you're going to hire them. If my pipes were busted, while I might look up a few listings and make a few calls for advice from others, I'm going to call a plumber as soon as possible.

    Which, like my former job above, tells me much about a company: what does it say about their operations or the position they're hiring for when they can't make prompt or committed decisions?

  13. schrodinger*

    The string-along game is more the norm nowadays. My husband went through it, even getting as far as bieng brought in to fill out the IRS and “legal to work” papers (W-4 and I-9), getting the walk through and introductions, and even an employee manual only to be told, “Thank you for your time, but…”. On another occasion, he was being briefed on job hours and pay rate– then met the person who had just been hired for the job in another room while he was getting his interview. On another occasion, he was told, “We will call you in a few days with an offer”, and then the job was re-listed and he got the rejection letter. He’s far along in yet another interview process now, but he’s so jaded and skeptical that he’s afraid that he’ll blow it through his skepticism. I wonder if he should tell the interviewer, “Look, I’ve had several experiences recently where I was led to believe that I had the job and even had an offer with a start date but those opportunities fell through at the last minute. I’m rather wary right now, to be honest, and I need you to be as honest with me throughout this process as I have been with you. I need to know, if the time comes and an offer is made, if that offer is solid and not a string-along tactic. Sorry to be so direct, but when it happens to you repeatedly as a job seeker, and to more than one candidate, you get a little… um, cynical, perhaps. I imagine that it would be similar to a candidate accepting your offer, and then calling you a day or two before the start date to say that they are accepting a different position or aren’t interested.”

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I understand the temptation to say something like that, but he shouldn’t. It risks raising red flags for the hiring manager (“have these job offers fallen through because employers saw something problematic about this guy?”) even if that’s not actually the case.

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