HR rejected me, but interviewer said I’m still in play

A reader writes:

I interviewed with a company about a month ago, and I’m not sure what the deal is with these people.

I had an in-house interview on February 5th, and they initially told me it’d be a week or two before they made a decision. Everything seemed to have gone well and I felt like I had a good rapport with everyone. Two weeks later, I get a phone call from their HR rep and she tells me that they’re still considering me but that it will take another week or two. That was a Friday.

The subsequent Monday, I get a form letter rejection. I sent a nice email to everyone I spoke with thanking them for their time and asking if they had any advice. One of my interviewers responded right away saying there was some glitch in the automated system and I’m still being considered. About an hour later, I got a call from their HR rep and she said that they filled the position I interviewed for and that it was a really close call. However, the team wants me to apply for a job that will be open early this week.

I know it’s still “early this week” but I haven’t heard from anyone, and I’m starting to get a little paranoid here that I’m just being jerked around. This company isn’t known for swift hiring. In fact, one of my friends who works there in another division said it took him 8 months to go from “interview” to “hired.”

My question is how much should I be calling/emailing these people? I don’t want to be a pest, but I want to stay on their radar. Everything else about the position and the company is awesome–it’s this stage of the interview process that is driving me nuts.

Okay, this is a good illustration of a principle that I wish more people would follow: If something is weird or contradictory, speak up. Speak up nicely, but say something.

You’re getting rejected (twice!) by an HR rep while the interviewer is telling you that you’re still in the running. We need to find out what’s up, because they don’t seem to be on the same page.

Why not say to the interviewer, “Thanks so much for telling me I’m still in the running – I’m really glad to hear it. But about an hour after you told me that, I got a second contact from HR, reiterating that I’m not being considered for that position any longer (and that it’s been filled). I don’t mean to cause confusion, but I’m not entirely sure where things stand.”

Now, it’s entirely possible that the HR rep is right, and word just hasn’t made its way to the interviewer yet. But it’s also perfectly feasible that the HR rep is an incompetent. Don’t assume either way — just politely point out the discrepancy and wait for them to resolve it and give you a clearer answer.

So, to your question: How much can you follow up? Well, first you want to wait for the timeline they gave you to play out. They said you’d hear from them “early this week,” and it’s Monday. I’d give them at least until Wednesday, and follow up on Thursday if you haven’t heard anything. As a general rule, don’t follow up before the timeline has expired.

Also, on the subject of whether or not they’re jerking you around: I propose that it doesn’t matter. You should continue an active job search, regardless, and don’t count on anything from these people until you have a firm offer in hand. (That’s always true, but it’s especially true when you feel like you’re not getting clear and reliable signals.)

By the way, eight months to hire? I’m skeptical about this place. In general, you want to work somewhere that can make decisions.

{ 13 comments… read them below }

  1. ESL Teacher*

    I have heard of a lot of ginormous corporations who take that long to hire (I once heard 11 months!) You have your recruiters and HR and 80,000 managers and then they hire someone but then lose the person in a week and call up everyone from the first or second round and start again with the all day interviews and personality tests and god knows what else. Its a nightmare!

  2. Unemployed Gal*

    This would send up red flags for me. Miscommunication about who is still a candidate is sloppy, but not horrible. However, adding a candidate to the rejection letter list and telling him that they filled the position before the hiring manager makes a decision is a system breakdown.

    It could be a rogue manager who is interviewing as he pleases without approval. It could be a by-the-book HR rep who automatically rejects anyone with a 98% on the skills test. Maybe no one reads any emails. Maybe the interdepartmental process is chaos. Maybe the manager�s manager can�t wipe his nose without CEO approval, never mind actually hiring who he wants.

    Whatever is going on, I can guarantee that it spills outside the hiring process and into the employees� daily lives.

    Plus, they jerked your friend around for eight months. This company must require a two-thirds majority vote by the Board of Directors to add decaf to the break room.

    And you still want to work for this �awesome� company?

  3. Anonymous*

    I was talking to a person who works in federal law enforcement (not the FBI, a lesser agency) who told me it took him 2 years and 5 months from the time he submitted his application to receiving his acceptance letter.

    How's that for a long time?

    Not that that was on topic or anything…

  4. Anonymous*

    Hi, I'm the OP. This company is in the defense industry, which means it often moves at the pace of government. Therefore, I'm sure there is a ton of red tape to do everything. Another friend who works in this industry told me that since he handles classified data, he had to get his wireless mouse approved to ensure it wasn't capable of transmitting data or something.

    I mean, the length of the hiring process isn't what I hate, it's the fact that I'm not really sure what's going on or where I stand.

  5. Anonymous*

    I don't know who anyone is, but I am wondering about the HR rep. Why is s/he constantly rejecting you while upstairs is saying otherwise? AAM, would a hiring manager say you're still a candidate if HR is getting ready to send out the rejection? The HR rep is making me think it's a personal thing (not like she knows the candidate but just has that instant dislike we sometimes can't explain) or else it's a power struggle within the company showing its colors here. Who knows? OP, let us know what happens. It'd be interesting to read what the response is to this debacle.

    Also, to AAM, if she points out this discrepancy and someone gets in major trouble at that company, what are the chances for the OP to get the job then, having pointed out this major error/confusion?

  6. Anonymous*

    OP here again- I think it's more likely that the confusion is the result of the hiring process being a giant cluster fcuk as opposed to someone being out to get me.

  7. Rebecca*

    Ahhhhh, it's government. I think you just answered your own question there, dude. But it's good that you're sticking around the best you can… I'm sure a lot of people in the same spot just slink away and sulk.

  8. Ask a Manager*

    Anonymous wrote: "Why is s/he constantly rejecting you while upstairs is saying otherwise? AAM, would a hiring manager say you're still a candidate if HR is getting ready to send out the rejection?"

    I think the most likely reason is incompetence/lack of communication. It's possible that the HR rep knows something that the manager doesn't know yet, either because the HR rep is unorganized or slow to update people or the company has poor information flow. Or the HR rep just has her facts wrong, another possibility.

    "If she points out this discrepancy and someone gets in major trouble at that company, what are the chances for the OP to get the job then, having pointed out this major error/confusion?" Depends on the company and the people you're dealing with. See, I would like it if someone pointed this out, especially if they handled it really diplomatically — shows the ability to be assertive, spot and address inconsistencies, handle awkward situations with grace while still getting what you need, etc. — all things I want in a candidate. But there are certainly managers and companies where they really just want you to shut up and not make waves — but you don't want to work for one of those anyway.

  9. Anonymous*

    Hi…I'm the OP from another post "offer withdrawn due to criminal conviction, which I disclosed." I'm living proof that if hiring managers and HR disagree, it's the employee that gets screwed.

  10. Tom*

    Eight months to do a hiring process is rare and very frustrating.

    In 2008-2009, I went through 13 months for the hirin process for a position in the Canadian government. It wasn't anythig sensitive like intelligence or the military (it was a library. The worst part? There was a lag of 2-4 months between each section of the process. I was also never told WHAT or WHEN the next step o the process would be. I still struggle to understand why it took that long.

  11. Anonymous*

    I actually got an automated computer rejection letter from a company a few weeks after I started the job. It said something to the effect: "We've found someone who's a better fit for the job and are proceeding with another candidate". It was some sort of computer(?) error.

  12. Anonymous*

    I've recently interviewed for a job which I thought would be a perfect fit I got a automated rejection response.

    I did send a thank you to everyone, but the following day I got a link for Personality Index test. What probably occurred was the test administrator lives in the east coast and didn't receive the email that I got rejected.

    What everyone should do in this circumstance is to keep looking. In a way maybe you dodged the bullet if they can't make a decision.

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