6 job search “signs” that don’t actually mean anything

Because job searching can be frustrating and full of disappointments, and because employers can be difficult to read, job seekers often try to find clues about their candidacy in things that employers say and do:  “They said X, so that’s a good sign.”  “They haven’t done Y, so I should be worried.”  Etc.

The problem, though, is that much of what job seekers think are signals from employers actually doesn’t mean anything at all.

Here are six actions that job seekers often see meaning in, but in reality often don’t mean anything at all.

1. The employer reposted the job. Job seekers often assume that if a job is re-advertised, it must mean that none of the candidates were satisfactory and the employer is starting from scratch. But to the contrary, many employers simply keep job listings active until the position has been filled, which often means refreshing ads that would otherwise expire. Don’t assume that if you see a job you applied for reposted, it means you aren’t still in the running.

2. The job is suddenly disappears from the employer’s website. At the opposite end from the employers in point #1 are employers who remove job listings as soon as the application period closes – even before they’ve begun conducting interviews. So don’t assume that just because a listing has been removed, the job has been filled. Plenty of the time, the hiring process is still ongoing.

3. An employer is taking longer to get back to you than they said they would. Employers regularly underestimate the amount of time that different stages of the hiring process will take – and they don’t generally take the time to proactively update candidates when timelines change. Candidates often don’t realize this and interpret delays as a bad sign, when they’re often just a normal part of the process.

4. After your interview, the hiring manager introduced you to others in the office or even showed you where your office would be. Job candidates often interpret these sorts of actions as a signal that they’ll probably get the job, figuring that the interviewer wouldn’t bother otherwise. And while this is sometimes true, it’s also sometimes just an employer’s standard practice for all job candidates. Don’t read too much into it.

5. The interviewer tells you that your qualifications are exactly what they’re looking for. When an interviewer seems enthusiastic, job candidates sometimes think that means that an offer can’t be far off. But most employers have multiple strong candidates, so enthusiasm for one in no way guarantees that the won’t be more enthusiastic about another. Job seekers can save themselves a lot of heartache and disappointment by remembering that even if the interview goes well, the employer is interviewing other candidates who may be just as strong a fit – or even stronger. Speaking of which…

6. The interviewer tells you that they’re interviewing other people. Candidates often think that an interviewer who mentions this is trying to let them down easily or signal that they shouldn’t get their hopes up. While that is indeed sometimes the case, it’s also something that many interviewers say as a matter of course to all candidates – because they are interviewing other people. It’s not a good or bad sign; it’s just how hiring works.

I originally published this at U.S. News & World Report.

{ 33 comments… read them below }

  1. Josh S*

    As a reader of this blog, all of the above now fall in the “Duh” category. For the majority of job-searchers out there, I’m sure it’s revelatory. Thank you for continuing to be awesome by sharing insight into the arcane workings of the hiring world.

  2. nyxalinth*

    Thanks for clearing up my “If they keep running the ad, something’s wrong” assumption. My next question is, if the interviewer has a sheet of interview questions to go from, and they don’t ask you a single one and the interview lasts less than ten minutes, does it mean they’re totally meh about you/they already know who they want and their supervisor is making them go through everyone first? That happened to me last week. I didn’t get the job, either, since she was supposed to call me Friday (though who knows, it might come back my way).

    1. fposte*

      Or they loved you, or they had to interview somebody else before they could hire the internal candidate, or they had the questions for more than one job on the sheet (we do that, because some applicants are eligible for both jobs), or…

      Really, the main signs are “We’d like to offer you a position” or “Unfortunately, we’ve hired someone else.” The rest is mostly tea leaves.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yes. In addition to the possibilities fposte suggests, they could just be a bad interviewer, or just got a call that their sister is in the hospital and are trying to get through this meeting as fast as possible, or so many other possibilities.

      2. Jamie*

        Everything fposte said and I’ll toss in – are you sure it was the person who you were supposed to interview with?

        Unfortunately sometimes people get dragged in to interview at the last minute who has no business conducting the interview for that position – just covering for the real interviewer who is unexpectedly unavailable.

        It should never happen (managers are not interchangeable) but it totally does. When this happened to be before I started reading AAM I tried to stretch that “so tell me about yourself…” as long as humanly possible since I had no freaking idea what I was doing.

        You would be surprised how many people cut their interviewing teeth with zero training – and unfortunately for every floundering interviewer there is a candidate who is paying the price.

        (That was over 5 years ago and I’m still irritated about that…in what universe will I ever be qualified to vet someone for robotic maintenance? I had scenes from the Jetson’s running through my head hoping to glean some wisdom from there…)

        1. Anonymous*

          To add a little stipulation to that, another thing that really irritates me is when you are scheduled for a panel interview, you start off with only one interviewer, and in the middle of the conversation the rest of the panel decides to show up. That happened to me once and it completely threw me off. If it’s not appropriate for an interviewer to be late for an interview, then the rest of the panel should not interrupt midway through a conversation.
          Also, even though this position was different from what I went to college for, I was doing a good job with marketing my degree to the one person I was talking to. Unfortunately, when the rest of the panel showed up, one of the panelists said something very negative about my degree and questioned why I would apply for such a position. I tried to recover from that, but I could tell she already made up her mind long before I could answer, and she moved on almost right away to ending the interview, saying “We got everything we need.” Needless to say, I didn’t get the job, but it makes me wonder if I would have had a better shot if the rest of the panel didn’t show up.

          1. Jamie*

            Ugh – people for whom meeting times are suggestions rather than you – actual meeting times. One of my biggest pet peeves.

            If I ever actually took the time to compile my pet peeves I’m thinking it would be a substantial sized book.

            I’ve heard of this being done deliberately as a stress interview, to see how you handle being derailed…but I’m not a big fan of that even if done deliberately. Although there may be times when it’s warranted, just not IME.

            It makes me wonder though, if she had made up her mind before you could even answer that means she pretty much made up her mind upon reading your resume. If someone with decision making authority knows they will veto someone no matter what happens in the interview it’s kinder not to call them at all. But too many people in these panel interviews are reading the resume for the first time as they are entering the room.

            Not saying that happened to you – just that I don’t think it’s right when it does happen. If you know there is nothing I can do short of performing actual miracles in the interview to change your mind pass on me before I change out of my jammies and fluffy socks.

            1. Anonymous*

              She could have made up her mind before coming into the room, but the person I was talking to was very receptive to my responses and sounded very impressed when I was explaining why I applied for that position that wasn’t directly related to my college degrees. It wasn’t until the rest of the panel showed up that I got grilled and saw that one of the late-arriving panelist wrinkled her face upon asking why I would apply for such a position with my degree. That was the moment I knew ended it for me.

              Also, this was my second interview, so I must have been doing something right if I made it that far.

        2. Anonymous*

          My husband drove all of the way to an interview once. When he was waiting in the parking lot (arrived 5 minutes earlier than anticipated… so about 10-15 minutes before interview) he got an e-mail saying he would be meeting with someone else. Upon commencement of the interview, he learned this someone else was an employee in the same role he applied for and who had about 5 questions total for him… the person he was supposed to meet with originally (the manager) came in at the end and shook his hand… he was in and out in 15 minutes.

          His immediate feeling was they scheduled the interview, then in the meantime interviewed a candidate they loved… and instead of cancelling his interview (given the late notice, it seems they may have even forgot they scheduled the interview) they had him do a fake interview that was pretty blatantly not very legit. I felt very bad for him!

          1. -X-*

            “His immediate feeling was they scheduled the interview, then in the meantime interviewed a candidate they loved”

            How can he possibly know this?

    2. Elizabeth West*

      Ick, I had this last week too. She asked me almost NO questions. Then she told me the job had no insurance and required doing personal crap for the attorney in question (HELL no). I’m thinking it doesn’t pay enough for me to drive to it, either. I really didn’t have many questions for her because I’d already decided it was a complete waste of time.

      1. Jamie*

        If they had listed the lack of benefits, the personal duties, and pay in the ad it would have saved you both a lot of time.

        I know they can’t put everything in the ad, but those three things tend to be deal breakers (at least the insurance and pay definitely are. If insurance is something you need no matter how well the interview goes they can’t make you not need it.)

        I know why they don’t – because it rules people out…but you’re ruling out the people who would turn it down anyway so it’s just a time-saver to be upfront.

        And I’m always on my soapbox about how pay ranges should be stated up front, so I’ll save my rant.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Exactly. I’m sure it was just as frustrating for her.

          You’re ranting to the choir here; I think ranges should be an open book. I can’t waste my time and theirs applying to something that pays less than unemployment for full-time work. If I had another income in my household and there were opportunities there, maybe. But I don’t, and this wasn’t one of those jobs.

  3. Anonymous*

    I had an interview for my current job. The interview went terrible. I was at the top of my game, super prepared. I thought this was the job MADE FOR ME! I get to the interview, they aren’t ready, they ask questions like “what is your biggest weakness” and future boss yawned. I was so put off I didn’t even send a thank you note. Turns out they were just busy and I came in really early. They loved me and I got a call back for a second interview less than a week later. I got offered the job and it’s been amazing. This job was made just for me and my bosses are wonderful, but they still yawn at 9am.

      1. Anonymous*

        I literally had written the place off. The interview was 20 minutes top, the generic questions, the yawning. I didn’t send a follow up note in response. hahaha. On my first day I opened a thank you note from the other candidate. awkward.

    1. Jamie*

      Yawning – sigh. I cannot help myself if other people are yawning – I desperately try to control it but I have no idea why yawns are contagious or why I am hyper-susceptible but I dread anyone yawning in a meeting as I spend the rest of the time focusing on trying not to join in.

      Just typing about it – I yawned 4x in the time it took to type this.

      I’m glad it all worked out for you – you’re living proof that you can’t read the tea leaves.

      1. NDR*

        If anyone even says the word “yawn,” I am a goner. My husband says it just to mess with me sometimes. And in reading your post and writing mine, 2x.

        1. Catherine*

          Yep, make me sit for 10 minutes straight and listen to someone talk – I will absolutely yawn. I can’t help it. I may be enraptured, but my body rebels at having to sit and listen, and not participate in an actual discussion. My eyes also water and my nose runs. So I’m sure interview candidates think I’m either 1) sick 2) distressed 3) about to die.

    2. Job Seeker*

      What is your greatest weakness, that question through me last week at an interview. I answered it, but I felt like saying I have so many which one do you want? I loved this article. Actually, I am a lot more confident lately, I am getting responses. I believe I am a good judge of people and can read people very well. I can pretty much tell at a interview what a person is all about and if we connect. I think sometimes your intuition is your best friend.

    3. Revanche*

      One of my interview candidates that my manager-in-training wanted to rule out for a technicality looked like she was going to fall over in her seat if I left her alone for a minute during the interview, she was so sleepylidded. She even had me starting to second guess myself!

      I went with my gut anyway because so many other substantive things were good: her manners, her conversational skills, her in-depth conversation, her references, her honesty about tougher subjects that other people would shy away from or try to fudge. And I’ve been lied to directly before, so that’s speaking from experience.

      She was one of my best hires but she always looks a little bit sleepy at certain times. Just how it is! :)

  4. Elizabeth West*

    Re #3–delays: Thanks to Alison, I don’t panic if there is a delay, but keep looking just in case. I’m glad I didn’t get too het up about it because I just got a call from an employer I really wanted to work for, who had delayed contact, and they already filled the position. :(

    Because of my follow-up, she actually called me instead of making me wait for the rejection letter (her words). Thank you AAM, for teaching me how to do this.

  5. Meg*

    Re #4: In my experience, I’ve found that assuming the interview was conducted by the intended interviewer in a manner it was supposed to be conducted, being shown the facility and introduced to potential coworkers is more of a sign that you DIDN’T completely bomb the interview. If you’re not a potential candidate, I find it hard to believe that a company would tour you around the facility and introduce you to coworkers after an awful interview. If they do it before, then that’s a different story. And some companies don’t even show potential candidates around and introduce them to people.

    tl;dr Getting a tour/introductions can be a good sign that you DIDN’T bomb the interview, but doesn’t mean that you’re the ONLY potential candidate.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Some employers really do do the tour for everyone. Especially at companies where they’ve been told they have to treat all candidates the same and aren’t allowed to exercise any judgment in treating different people differently.

      1. Meg*

        Seems like a humongus waste of time for everyone. I know that the company I interviewed for went out of their way to show me around and introduce me to people, and the other finalist who had an in-person interview before me didn’t get the tour/introductions because he really did bomb the interview (or wasn’t what they were looking for) and they pretty much did the whole “Ooookay well thanks for coming. We’ll be in touch. Bye.”

        I understand that it’s meant to be a generalization and YMMV, but I have yet to come across any instance where I have been interviewed or doing the interviewing where a candidate that has been marked as ineligible for hire during the interview (not even a second choice, just a straight up DO NOT WANT) got to tour and introduced. It’s like telling the candidate “Here’s what you won’t get.”

        I think it’s interesting and totally unfair for employers to do this if they KNOW they aren’t going to hire this candidate.

        1. S*

          oh boy. i had an interview like this a few months back–there were several candidates for the same position, the interviewer chose the prettiest girl, their interview lasted for almost an hour and a half (!) and he led her out the elevator, and they were laughing and stuff.
          Meanwhile, my interview was done in less than 5 minutes (and for 3 of those minutes, he’d gone “hunting” for my resume [I had brought another copy but he needed his copy of it]), and he didn’t even lead me out. I’m sure that candidate was a great candidate, but I was still crushed to have waited almost 2 hours for a 3 minute chat.

  6. Victoria*

    I’ve had very mixed messages from a hiring manager recently.

    They reached out to me several months ago via a headhunter. I did the phone interview, then heard back a couple of weeks later that they gave it to someone else. Bummer, c’est la vie.

    Last month, a recruiter within the company found me on LinkedIn and reached out to me. This is for a local position in my specific sphere of experience (I have 3 years of experience doing this exact role for this exact client). This recruiter said she thought I’d be a good fit, and the phone interview went well. The very next day, I had a phone interview with the hiring manager. She was enthusiastic as well.

    The day after that, I received an email from the manager of Talent Acquisition that asked me to fill out a paper app, send W-2’s for 2011, fill out EO info, etc. I sent that information back soon after. On the app, I did answer truthfully that I was discharged from a previous job, but of course there was nowhere to write in why (undiagnosed medical condition + 5 month old baby not sleeping through the night = fell asleep at work and missed a deadline, totally my fault, I was fine with their decision, medical issues are dealt with, would never happen again).

    After that, I heard nothing from the TA manager. 2 days later, I emailed her to follow up. At that time, she said “Thank you for following up. We have received feedback that we will require a more senior candidate for the position at this time. We would like to consider you again in the future as other positions become available. Let’s plan to stay in contact!”

    I do wonder if I’ve been blacklisted in my niche because I was fired. Unfortunately I don’t really have anyone in that field of expertise whom I would feel comfortable asking. One person who is a professional reference of mine, works for this company and would have been my direct supervisor. I wonder if she had heard that I’d been fired and thus said she didn’t want me there.

    Does everyone think I should continue to follow up with that TA manager from what she said about staying in contact, or was it a kissoff? I’m a very honest person so I tend to take people at face value and miss nuances like that :(

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      There’s no way to say for sure, but generally speaking, employers don’t encourage people to stay in touch if they don’t really mean it.

  7. LindaG*

    Have you ever had an interviewer suggest a different job/career?
    In the last year I had two interviews where the hiring manager suggested I consider teaching instead of engineering as a career.

  8. Job Seeker*

    I am in a difficult situation. I think I have a job offer, but the hours are not what I can do right now. I got a call back this afternoon from a interview last week. I am helping a parent with some health issues right now and full-time isn’t possible. I am so surprised with this because this job is not entry-level. It is a opportunity to learn so much and I feel so surprised they picked me. I don’t know how to respond to this. Also, I have been looking for a few months, now I hope I am not shooting myself in the foot.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      From the sounds of it- you have nothing to lose by asking them what they think. Could you start part time, then later become full time? Just explain the setting. Be prepared to explain why you applied while you have a conflicting commitment.

      1. Job Seeker*

        The job was listed as part-time when I responded to the ad. When I went for the interview, I was told the hours were only 3 less than full-time so it was considered part-time. Everyday would be full-time except one and that day only 3 hours less.

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