recruiter said the position had been filled — but was it true?

A reader writes:

My husband and I are both in the same specialized field and have very similar education/degrees, skills and experience. He recently applied to a position that read like it was made for him, with the bonus that it was located in the area where he grew up and to which we wanted to move. This was a very rare combination and he tried really hard to get this job. After several phone interviews with recruiters and a hiring manager, he was getting great feedback and they seemed to really like him as a candidate. The recruiter called him on a Wednesday and said he was doing really well, and that the company would like to set up another interview with another key manager the next week. We were really happy about this, but the next Monday he received an email from the recruiter that said they filled the position with another candidate. We were disappointed but moved on.

A couple of weeks later, he received an email from a second person at the same recruiting agency, saying that she had an open position for which he should apply. It was the exact same job. He was annoyed and wanted to sent a nasty reply (he has been frustrated and cynical after job-hunting for many years), but I cajoled him into sending a pleasant but “confused” response that he had already gone through the interview process for that position, and he had been told that it had been filled. The second recruiter said she would look into it, but she never got back to him. He emailed her to say that he was no longer interested in the opportunity, and suggested that she contact me, since I have also been looking for employment.

I heard back from the first recruiter the next day, and she conducted an initial interview over the phone. At the end of the conversation, I told her that I understood this position had already been filled. She told me that it had not. I decided not to say anything about my husband because it seemed awkward at the time. After about a week, she emailed me to say that the position had been filled, and my contact ended there.

I suppose it’s possible that they had indeed made a job offer to someone and that fell through, but the whole experience struck me as being weird. My husband had a similar experience a few years ago where he made it through the final interview process but was told they chose another candidate — but then saw the same, unique position re-advertised a few weeks later. Is this common, or were they just trying to let him down easy?

Who knows. There’s rarely any point in trying to speculate on stuff like this, since there are so many possible explanations.

Maybe they had indeed offered the job to someone but that fell through, or maybe it was a miscommunication between the recruiter and the employer, or maybe it was just disorganization on the recruiter’s side, or maybe the recruiter meant to convey “they’re interested in going with someone else, although they don’t yet know who” but it got conveyed as “they did go with someone else,” or maybe the recruiter did indeed lie to your husband and said it was filled when it wasn’t. (But honestly, that last one is pretty unlikely, since recruiters have plenty of experience rejecting candidates; it’s not like they’re so uncomfortable with it that they have to lie to get out of being direct.)

Hell, it’s also possible that the recruiter was right when she told your husband the position had been filled, and it was all the subsequent communications that were wrong. (The second recruiter at the agency might not have realized the job had been filled when she contacted him and then you.)

The best thing you can do when dealing with recruiters — and when dealing with employers directly, too — is not to bother to try to read too much into any of this. It doesn’t really matter, after all. They’ve declined to proceed with you, and that’s really the relevant information; trying to read into what might have happened beyond that is generally a waste of energy, because unless someone tells you directly, you really can’t know. And don’t really need to, even though it’s tempting to try to do a post mortum on it all.

{ 12 comments… read them below }

  1. VictoriaHR*

    Ugh how frustrating!

    Dealing with recruiters can be a huge hassle, but some of them do get results. It’s figuring out the ones that can get results that is the ticket.

    Did your husband get the full names of the people that he spoke with via phone at the hiring company? If so, and if he hasn’t yet, he should definitely invite them to connect on LinkedIn. They may have decided not to use the recruiting agency after all and are looking on their own. At the very least, he can follow the company on LI and when they have a new opening he can apply directly.

    1. OP*

      Yeah, I got the impression from the first recruiter that she didn’t really “have time for” working with the job seeker. She was nice, but kind of frazzled. But there definitely are some good recruiters out there.

      Thanks for your suggestion about LinkedIn — my husband is really keeping up with his networking now that he is consulting, so I will encourage him to try to connect with these people. Who knows — maybe it will help me in the long run, too.

  2. DA*

    This is nothing different then the outright disfunction that most of HR tends to be.

    Quite frankly, I’m amazed that most HR people can figure out how to put pants on in the morning based on the results they produce in their job.

    Don’t look too much into this experience, but keep hammering away at your and your husband’s job search…something will break for you two!

    1. Forrest*

      This nastiness is uncalled for. For one, I was under the impression that recruiters were different from HR. For another, there are people in every profession who make their peers look bad.

  3. Esra*

    I feel your pain, OP! Recently a fantastic opportunity came up, I got an email for an interview, set a date, booked the time off, then half an hour later got an email back saying the position had been filled. It’s such a punch to the gut.

    But it could be anything, miscommunication in the company, problems with the recruiter, problems with someone they offered the job to, or any number of things. All you can do is move on and try not to dwell.

  4. OP*

    Alison, thanks for addressing my question (which was probably more of a vent than anything). If I’ve learned anything from your advice, it’s just to move on! There is a silver lining to this, though — right after the rejection, my husband threw himself into self-employment and is now consulting for a number of customers he met through a sales job years ago. It’s not paying the bills yet, but he is so much happier after being dejected by the job hunt and by two previous jobs with horrible management. Now, if only I can find something to get away from *my* bipolar, germ-spreading, B.O.-reeking, gossipy, condescending, know-it-all, walking-on-the-sexual-harassment-tightrope egomaniacal control freak boss!

    Ironically, I look back on one job rejection with joy — when I was an undergrad, I was devastated after I didn’t get a summer job with a state agency. But if I had gotten that job, I never would have worked for a guy who turned out to be an amazing mentor….never would have gone to grad school…. and never would have met my husband. It sounds cheesy, but I love the Rascal Flatts song “Bless the Broken Road” because of that. Bless the broken road of failed interviews, recruiter/HR/hiring manager non-communication, and job rejections! Hopefully it will be clearer when we look back years from now.

    1. Arbynka*

      “if only I can find something to get away from *my* bipolar, germ-spreading, B.O.-reeking, gossipy, condescending, know-it-all, walking-on-the-sexual-harassment-tightrope egomaniacal control freak boss!”

      Sounds like you have some material ther to write a TV show. In fact, I often think if we would put together all the experiences writters shared together on this blog, “The Office” wouldn´t stand a chance :)

      OP, Alison is right, there is no point in speculating, but I understand it is hard not to. But it sounds like you “venting” clear the air for you and that is so nice to read. Good luck to you and your husband.

  5. Michelle*

    As a recruiter I definitely agree with what has said here. Weather they actually made a hire for the position or if you just aren’t a good fit, it doesn’t really matter after all. They’ve decided not to proceed with you, and that’s really the relevant information. In regards to good hiring practices, I will say that there is no reason for a recruiter to lie. They can just as easy send you an email saying, “Thank you, but at this time you are a not a match for the position.”

  6. Sara*

    I hate recruiters at times because they’re not always clear. I interviewed with a company and loved it. The recruiter said I was their top candidate but then told me they were waiting on client budgeting. She has not emailed me in two weeks, should I contact the employer directly and ask them to consider me for future positions?
    I don’t see harm in that.

  7. Lesley*

    If this is not the result of poor communication, it’s officially an asshole thing to do. If you don’t want a candidate for a job, tell them that. I had this same thing happen to me Hearing that “the position is filled” and then seeing the same job re-posted or never taken down from a posting suggests to me that their first pick fell through and maybe I still have a chance. And yet I’m also told not to contact the company and inquire about it because *heaven forbid* that might waste some REALLY IMPORTANT BUSY PERSON’s time for three minutes. If you have absolutely no intent of giving me the job then just say “your qualifications do not match our requirements.” Then I will get out of your hair. Lies and/or contradictory information is just going to make me push for answers whether or not I get them. I don’t think feeling I have a right to not be lied to is unreasonable.

    1. Lillie Lane*

      Job hunting is so frustrating, and even more so when this happens! Sorry you had a similar experience.

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