is this employer signaling that they plan to offer me a job?

A reader writes:

I had an interview with a large company at the end of November. I think the interview went great and that they liked me a lot. At the interview, they said that all interviews would finish by the end of the same week as my interview. The following Monday, they contacted me and said that some of the interviews were rescheduled and to remain patient as they will “personally contact me at the end of the hiring process.” Due to the holiday season, I didn’t hear back from them at all until last Thursday. They contacted me then and said that they are updating some specifics about the position with HR, and that once ready they will directly contact me. Also, they were really nice and apologized for the delay at the end of the email.

After reading the last email, I became hopeful since they said once ready they would contact me; its hard for me to believe that someone has to be ready to reject the offer! But a week has passed since then and I haven’t heard anything. What do you think about my situation? Am I probably right in assuming that they are hoping to offer me the position based on the email?

Don’t read anything into it at all. I know it’s really tempting to try to interpret employers’ communications in situations like this, but you really, really, really can’t.

There are just way too many possibilities here for you to be able to know which one is correct. For instance, they might indeed be planning to offer you the job. Or they might be planning to offer it to you, but something will change at the last minute and it won’t happen. Or they might not be planning to offer it to you. Or you might be their second-choice candidate, and they’re waiting to see whether their first choice accepts their offer or not. Or they might have decided not to offer it to you at all, but they have a policy of not rejecting candidates until the position is accepted by someone else. Or they might be revamping the position entirely and re-posting it for a different skill set or with different requirements. Or they might have no intentions at all, and they’re planning to review all candidates and make a choice next week. Or all sorts of other things too.

In other words, when they said they would contact you “once they’re ready,” that doesn’t translate into “once they’re ready to hire you.” It means “once they’re ready to make a decision and inform candidates of it.”

People drive themselves crazy trying to read things into what employers say to them in this type of context. The best thing you can do is to take their words at exactly face value: They are getting ready to make a decision, and they’ll contact you when they have. That’s really all!

{ 28 comments… read them below }

  1. Jo

    This is true – sometimes it is circumstances completely beyond our control. Recently I was hiring for a position and was about to make an offer when a sister company announced a large group of redundancies. Legally I had to give those at risk a chance to apply for my vacancy. I had to put my candidate of choice on hold for several extra weeks while we waited to see if anyone would apply before the specially-extended deadline. Luckily no one did and I was eventually able to make the offer. I was terrified of losing my candidates as I would have been obliged to interview anyone who applied and met the base criteria. Good luck!

  2. SCW

    When you aren’t being interviewed, these questions always seem sort of obvious–but there is something about the process of interviewing that sends sense out the window. I am interviewing for an internal transfer/promotion and got responses from follow up notes where the interviewers mentioned they thought I did a good/excellent job. While I know it doesn’t mean anything towards my likelihood of getting another interview or the job, (I tend to think people are sometimes more polite when they know the person and have to work with them.) I keep reading it and thinking what does it mean–“stay tuned” should be straight forward–until you look at it through job interviewee glasses.

    1. Greg

      People often make the analogy between job interviews and dating; this is a perfect example. We’ve all had that friend who sits and overanalyzes every aspect of their interaction with a potential partner, even when it was obvious to us that she just wasn’t that into him (or vice versa). But of course, when it’s your own future at stake, it’s much harder to keep all of that in perspective.

      1. SCW

        I know–I have a friend who also has been interviewing for a similar position–she and I had lunch and hashed out every single question. It was a little high school–“they said this, so I think they like me.”

        For me, it has been hard to take my mind off this new job, because I’m acting manager (the job is permanent manager) during the interview process–so I’m in the middle of the job every day, thinking of the things I’d do if I was really in charge.

        Also super awkward because the people they don’t hire for the position my friend has interviewed for will be considered for this position–so I may also be competing against my friend.

        1. Rana

          I have a friend that I had to avoid if we were both having job interviews at the same conference* because he was either talking about how nervous he was about the interviews to come, or dissecting the meaning of every little twitch or comment afterward. For the sake of my own anxiety levels, I just couldn’t be around him at such times.

          *A lot of academic departments hold initial interviews at the big national conferences, then winnow those candidates down to the handful of people they plan to ask to an all-day on-campus interview. What this means is that there’s always some big room of nervous over-dressed people waiting for their slot (if the interviews are being held at “tables” aka cubicles set up in a seminar hall) or wandering the halls fretfully (if the interviews are being held in hotel suites). I do not miss that aspect of conferences, at all.

          1. SCW

            They do that for libraries too–but I’ve always managed to avoid them. I was doing good with the nerves until she texted me to ask me if I’d heard back and was I nervous–not until she asked!

      2. Job seeker

        I do not see dating and job searching alike at all. Although it has been quite some time since I dated (been married 30 years) I always knew where I stood with a date. You could tell if there was something there with a guy and he was going to keep calling. In a job situation you never really know. With a date, he had to be interested in you in the first place to ask you out. He was also trying just as hard to impress you. In a job, you are doing the impressing. Just saying.

        1. SCW

          Though if they are interviewing you they have to have had at least a little bit of interest–maybe not a lot, like going on a blind date with someone you are not interested in to get your mom off your back.

        2. Esra

          I always knew where I stood with a date.

          You’re definitely one of the lucky few! Maybe the dating scene has just changed, but pretty much everyone I know has gone through the whole “Oh god, they like me right? They wouldn’t have done XYZ if they didn’t like me. Or maybe they’re just nice??” stages of over-analyzing the situation.

        3. Job seeker

          Yes, but there are many signals guys give on dates when they are very interested. On a job interview, it is liking playing poker.

            1. Job seeker

              Didn’t you just know when things were going good. Come on, it has been awhile since I dated but I dated a lot. You could tell the way the guy acted. Even on a first date.

              1. Rana

                Well, once you’re on the date, maybe. But it’s harder to tell when you’re at that stage where you’re not sure if a date’s even in the offing. ;)

              2. Min

                I wonder if maybe you just had more self-confidence than some of the rest of us. :) Insecurity would make me question everything, even when my date would be giving off signals that were quite obvious to others.

              3. Esra

                You could tell the way the guy acted.

                Trust me, you are one of the lucky few. Google does he/she like me? and you will find about 2 billion results.

                Do they want to hire me? returns very similar results about self-improvement, improving your odds of being selected, reading the interview better etc etc. For the most part it is human nature to see things in a way that’s beneficial to ourselves and it can be difficult to not let too much hope or doubt get in the way of honestly assessing the situation.

                1. Job seeker

                  Men I understand. They do certain things that are not hard to figure out. Dating was fun, job searching not so much. To me looking for a job is stressful and like playing poker. Can’t figure it out.:-)

              1. Andrea

                In my best interviews, I just knew, too. My answers generated follow-up questions and genuine interest. On the other hand, interviewing is more like dating someone who’s also dating an unspecified number of other people at the same time. Even if they really like you, they might like someone else more.

  3. EngineerGirl

    I think the basic rule of this should be – take everything literally and at face value. That’s it, no more, stop assuming. If it is better than that, then bonus points.

  4. Beth

    I hope the OP responded to the email saying: thank you for keeping me informed. I remain very interested in this position and feel I’m a good fit because of X,Y,Z.

  5. fposte

    I think we’re also seeing a consequence of the bad behavior of many other hiring managers here. As a result if a company offers this level of basic courtesy it can seem particularly enthusiastic and significant to a hopeful candidate who’s used to dead silence. In reality, you’ve just hit a civilized organization.

  6. AB

    This blog needs a banner with the title “Is this employer signaling X?”, linking to all the Q&A in this area that Alison have patiently addressed over the years :-).

    I think that the best way to convince yourself to take words at their face value in this type of situation is to go through this thought process:

    Imagine that you are right “assuming that they are hoping to offer me the position based on the email”. Still, even in this happy circumstance, A LOT could go wrong. As one commenter noted, an unexpected process of layoff may require the manager to put hiring on hold. Or, as it happened recently at the company I was working for, an unexpected company-wide hiring freeze was put in place, preventing my manager to send out an offer to a person he was ready to hire. Lots of other things can get in the way of an offer: the hiring manager being suddenly fired, budgets being cut, etc.

    So, getting your hopes up is never a good idea. Even if they loved you 10x more than their second choice, and are dying to present you a wonderful offer, too many things can go wrong to make the offer never materialize. It’s much better not to read anything into what is said and wait for the developments while continuing your job search normally.

    1. Rana

      Yep, that happened to me a couple of times. It was heartbreaking all around when a hiring committee which had all but offered me the job had to call me up and explain that their funding had been cut and so they couldn’t hire anyone. It’s no fun for anyone.

  7. Anonymous

    I know all too well the desire to read into signals from prospective employers, but keeping in mind, as Allison warns, that those signals might not mean anything at all. It keeps me sane, however. Just last week I celebrated receiving an automated reply telling me that my resume was forwarded to the hiring manager for two admin positions I applied for at a world famous university, knowing that it’s insignificance.

    I used to teach at a small private school abroad. The director/principal/owner had hired a science teacher from Scotland who was to arrive shortly. In accepting the job, he quit his previous job and subletted his house.

    In the interim, however, the director discovered a local teacher with much less epxerience willing to accept a lower salary than the Scot. He got so excited, showing me the resume and trying to convince me how great this super inexpereinced teacher was.

    Of course, I asked him, ‘What about the Scot? He’s arrving tomorrow.’ He said without batting an eye, “Oh, I just meet him at the train station and tell him the deal is off.” Mouth agape, I said, “No, you can’t do that” repeating all the trouble he had gone to accept the position. He ultimately decided to keep the Scot because he could also teach math, art and music as well as all the sciences.

    The point is, someone cheaper pops up and suddenly the employer gets starry-eyed, regardless of what they might’ve told you.

    1. tangoecho5

      Oh my goodness! How devastating for the Scottish teacher if he showed up to find out that he no longer had a job. Good for you for standing up for him.

      Accepting a new job and giving notice at your current employer is truly a leap of faith. Faith that the new job will not only be as you expect it to be from the interview process but that it will even still exist the first day you show up to work!

  8. Jill

    I have been in the same boat as you for what I feel like has been a million times and the best piece of advice I can give you is what Alison always says. Take your mind off of it and continue to look for work. The first time I read it I laughed because I never thought it was possible but the more you read into it the more you will drive yourself crazy. With that said I really do hope you get the job! Good luck and stay sane!

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