is this company stringing me along?

A reader writes:

I am in the midst of job hunting, and almost two months ago, I applied and interviewed for a specific position with a company I have a real interest in working with. I did not get that job as they said they needed someone with more experience for that niche role, but they instead considered my application for another position that opened up that they thought I might be a better fit for, and I agreed too. So I interviewed for that position, only to find out that they also ended up taking someone with “more experience.” They are now asking me to interview this time for a third position that is available.

I appreciate the fact they think I might fit into their company culture, but I am starting to feel like I am getting the run-around. I don’t want to be ungrateful or picky and I am still interested in the company, but this will be the FIFTH time in two months that I am going in for an interview and for the third role. It’s also a role that I am not as excited about as the other two that I didn’t get. I’m just a little tired of being told I would be a “great fit” and then getting passed around from each department.

Given that it’s a role that I am less thrilled about and that they keep bringing me in but not hiring me, do you think this is a reflection on the company? Or on me? It’s a very niche industry that I have worked in a long time already, and yes, I know it’s a competitive market overall out there, but twice now I’ve been declined and passed over. If the third time’s a charm and I get this position, should I take it at this point and hope the position works out? And if I don’t get it, should I just cut my losses and forget about them in case they come knocking a fourth time? They have been prompt in getting back to me all these times, which I have been impressed with, but is this unusual to be passed on like this over and over? I have been out of work for two months and don’t know if by the way the company is running things, if I should keep looking when and if they do hire me, or take it since I need a job ASAP.

Employers don’t do this for fun. If they’re inviting you to interview, it’s because they think you’re a serious contender.

But serious contender doesn’t mean you’ll definitely get the position, and they’re not at fault for that.

So no, there’s nothing wrong with what they’re doing here, and doesn’t indicate that they’re flaky or disorganized. Take what they’re saying at face value: They think you’re a good candidate and they have several roles that you could be a good fit for, but for each, they’re interviewing multiple candidates, and each time they’re considering you as part of that broader pool, which means that you might not end up getting an offer. And they probably assume that if you’re not interested in continuing to explore a possible fit with them, you’ll decline to throw your hat in the ring for these positions; since you’re not, they assume you’re perfectly willing to be a candidate, which is a reasonable assumption on their end.

None of this is anything to be offended or frustrated by — it’s actually something promising, because they like you enough to keep thinking of you for more spots than the original one you approached them about.

I think you’re taking this a little personally when it’s not personal. You sound like you feel like they’re stringing you along, which is unlikely, and that they should know by now if they want to hire you for something or not. But hiring isn’t binary like that; it’s not always just a yes/no verdict on you. It’s a question of who in a given candidate pool is the best person for a particular job — so you can end up with “no” even when everyone agrees that you’d be good at the job, simply because someone else in the pool is better.

And all they’re offering to keep you in that pool. They haven’t promised more than that.

If you’re tired of it, then by all means move on and decline to be considered again — but since you say you need a job ASAP, I think you’d be letting your emotions have too much say … and that you shouldn’t walk away in frustration from a company that clearly finds you promising.

{ 54 comments… read them below }

  1. Rose

    Great advice! But what about what OP said about being less interested in this role? I took my job in a similar situation. I’m just waiting for my two years to be up so I can get out. Sometimes I wish I had looked for something I liked more, but I did need the work.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Well, in that case you evaluate it individually — is it a role you’d be willing to take, given the totality of your circumstances and the other options you have or don’t have? But I wouldn’t write it off just because it’s the third job she’s talked to them about.

      1. Reader

        Also what options are there for advancement? The third job could possibly lead to either of the other two in the future or an even better one.

        1. Celeste

          I might take it just to become an internal candidate in the future if the company really is all that–and working there will let you find out.

  2. KarenT

    Hang in there, OP! I got my first professional job in a similar situation. I interviewed and was rejected, then they contacted me to interview for a second position, and I was rejected, then they offered an interview for a third position and I was hired. It happens. I had really wanted the first two positions, but after I started working and learned more about the company I was really glad I ended up in the third role. It was the best fit for me.

  3. Celeste

    I also think it’s okay to set a limit on how long you would be willing to wait for this company to hire you. I would start to have a concern that they have an internal favorite, but just need a warm body to interview so they have more than one candidate to pick from per a protocol. If this latest spot is more of an entry level position, that might bode well for your chances in that situation.

    I do think that you will know when you’ve reached your limit with them, even if they are polite, timely, etc.

    1. LQ

      I don’t think that the internal favorite is the case at all here. Unless this company is doing the worst job of advertising in the history of ever they have a bunch of applications for each of these jobs. If they were just looking for a warm body they’d have no reason to come back to the same person, they’d go for a new random person out of the stack. It’d be faster to just pull the top 3 resumes from the pile to meet your warm body quota.

      1. Celeste

        The OP said it’s a niche company; it might mean they actually don’t have a lot of candidates at any given time. We can’t know from the letter what their interviewing policies are; I just feel like it can’t be ruled out that they have a policy on not just interviewing only one person per position–kind of like how insurance makes you get multiple quotes for a repair.

        1. LQ

          Yeah, but it’s got to be so absurdly niche they never even advertise. So many people spam employers with resumes that it doesn’t really matter how niche, they are going to be getting resumes. (This may not be true for some things like my old hometown of less than 50 people had a feedlot that was “advertising” by putting a sign in it’s window. They still got 3 people who applied….)

          I’m not saying they would be GOOD resumes. But they’d be warm bodies. And if you’re saying they are just looking for warm bodies and they are so niche they don’t get a lot of people wouldn’t they want to not make the few in their industry upset?

          (I think the warm body thing happens, just not here.)

          1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec

            Yeah – It is possible, I suppose, but it would take someone pretty strange and inconsiderate to think it was okay to use the same individual over and over to fill “warm body” spots. If you haven’t gotten other indications that there is something mean/thoughtless about them, I wouldn’t go in this direction with my thinking.

  4. susanne

    In my experience, a candidate who makes enough of an impact to remain in consideration after one interview (let alone several!) is very rare. There are those rare times when you have a great candidate that just isn’t the best fit for a particular job, but you really hope to find a fit for them somewhere in the organization. OP, you should feel very good that you made that kind of impression — it doesn’t happen often. Of course, if you still want to work there, this is a great thing. And if not, you should politely withdraw from consideration. But all in all, it sounds like you’re doing something right!

    1. KTM

      Exactly. When I was hired into CurrentCompany, I was a bit annoyed that I kept coming in for repeated interviews for different positions, but I ended up taking the third one and it got my foot in the door. Less than a year later I am in the job I originally wanted (although this was discussed up front in the interview process). I’ve now seen this happen a lot here – typically we’ll keep bringing back people for different jobs because we think they would be a great fit for the company and are trying to find something that works. Each job has a different set of interviewers so it ends up occasionally that candidates come in multiple times. I would take it as a positive sign as well.

    2. Hooptie

      This is exactly right. When these kind of folks come along in my interviews, we will say, “there is a place for this person in this organization” and we start passing around the resume. I can’t tell you how many people have been hired here this way.

      1. KimmieSue

        Veteran recruiter here….we do this all the time with candidates that show a lot of promise. Yes, I’m sure it can be tough to be in your shoes. I’d try and flip it around and be very complimented. Trust me…companies, hiring managers, recruiters don’t have the time to string non-qualified or unfit candidates. They see something in you! :-)

  5. zillinith

    I think one of the challenges for folks in the OP’s position is the feeling that if they were the second choice for the original position, then it can feel like you’re being given the runaround if you’re not their first choice for the next position, especially if the employer invited you to apply for it. From my experience on the hiring side, one thing that may be going on is that each position has a different hiring manager.

    We had a situation similar to the one the OP describes above at my org recently. The candidate was first runner up for Job A, but Manager A still thought the candidate was strong, so they referred them to Job B, which is being hired by Manager B. But Hiring Manager B’s approach/selection criteria/whatever is slightly different than Manager A’s, so the candidate ends up first runner up again. But everyone still thinks the candidate is great, so they get referred to Job C, which is being hired by Manager C, etc. etc. etc.

    Basically, employers will refer candidates to other jobs within their org if they think the candidate is a strong one, but each interview process may be pretty separate, and not feel as continuously connected to the employer as it (understandably) does to the candidate.

    1. HM in Atlanta

      This exactly! As long as they are treating you professionally during each recruiting/interviewing process, I would try to view it as if you were interviewing at different companies – you had a referral going in that gave you a great start.

    2. Anon for this

      It doesn’t even have to be different managers! We’ve asked candidates back in later openings of an equivalent position, and had them come in runner-up to a new candidate that wasn’t in the previous pool. But we wouldn’t call them back if we knew they wouldn’t be first – what a waste of our time and theirs!

      We had a candidate completely remove himself from the process by having a snit in email when he was passed over the second time (for a new candidate). It was generally agreed he would otherwise have been the hire for the third position opened, had he not told us he never wanted to talk to us again.

      I hope he found a good fit. I’m kind of glad it wasn’t us, based on his reaction when he did get frustrated. And I hope he some day finds the perspective that’s being offered here, on what being asked back means.

      1. Graciosa

        Behavior as a candidate really matters.

        I just vetoed a candidate who started off an interview with a bit of an attitude. His first remark – apparently without thinking – showed that a perfectly innocent question got his back up.

        I finished up the rest of a short version of the interview as a matter of courtesy, and it was obvious as it continued that he was belatedly realizing it was a really good opportunity and maybe he should try a little harder – sorry, too late.

        Candidates are generally on their best behavior during an interview, and someone who takes offense where none was intended is probably going to do so on the job – maybe more frequently. I don’t need the drama. I need good judgment.

        If the OP really can’t manage to deal professionally with multiple efforts by hiring managers to find a place for the OP in the company, it is better to decline an opportunity gracefully and preserve the relationship and the OP’s professional reputation.

        1. Jaymie

          Graciosa, I definitely agree with the experience you described as well as with Anon For This’ example. If the candidate is clearly showing attitude regardless of the situation, they clearly aren’t professional enough to be considered at that time or in the future and are not going to be an ultimate fit in the company. I think the original posting however is not necessarily in regards to attitude or the OP not dealing with it professionally, as it sounds like they are in the process of accepting another interview for a 3rd position. It’s more about frustration, which is going to be natural at this stage in the game and he or she is trying to find out if it is the norm for hiring managers to ask candidates back severe times…. so really the OP just needs a little reassurance or confidence boost! And it seems like the comments so far are encouraging that this request to interview again is a positive sign, which I agree. So to say that the OP should throw in the towel and decline because he or she may not be able to gracefully accept potential hiring efforts and is frustrated, isn’t really the case here. He or she clearly wants to work for the company and get hired, they never said they weren’t dealing with said company unprofessionally! However, in the case of Anon’s example where the interviewee wrote them an email saying he was through with that company, well that’s a different story all together and yeah, he just put the nail in his own coffin. But I think that’s a different scenario comparing to the original OP’s question and current standing on the situation.

          1. HW

            ya, it does not sound like the OP is showing any unprofessionalism so far based on the scenario they wrote and is willing to interview for a third job unlike the dude above who wrote an email back telling HR to get lost. so that is like saying to the op, “well if you’re frustrated about still not getting hired and are complaining, you might as well decline to be considered now because you are going to end up being a waste of our time”. The company clearly still likes the OP enough to come back for a third try and don’t feel like he/she has burnt any bridge yet…. so unless this new job title is completely out of your comfort level or does not interest you at all (or any other strong negative reasons), then I say GO FOR IT, you are still a contender and if you want to get in with this company, this might be your third shot! I’d be frustrated too, job hunting is the worst and being patient can be hard when you have bills to pay. But hopefully as long as you don’t write them an email telling them they had their chance and to leave you alone, you will get hired eventually, LOL!

            1. Anon for this

              Agreed! And also, if the current job isn’t the right fit for you but you love the company, by all means say that. But politely declining doesn’t burn bridges, IMO.

          2. Anon for this

            Agreed! I don’t think the OP is doing this – and I more meant my story to illustrate that, no matter how frustrated you are, and even if you are interviewing with the same manager, it may really be legitimate.

            I think it’s very legitimate for the OP to be frustrated – but that it’s important not to let it show to the hiring company (here is fine!), and to know that they may really have the best intentions (and probably do).

  6. SJ

    It’s annoying, but be flattered. This company wants you in some way, shape, or form. That doesn’t mean you have to take the job, but try not to take it personally — it sounds like it’s a good thing.

  7. Adam

    This is the lousy thing about being a job hunter vs. a hiring employer: 99% of the time in the employer’s case it definitely isn’t personal. When you’re the job hunter who desperately needs a job everything can feel personal.

    Keep your head up OP! For most of us pretty much no facet of the job hunt process is enjoyable except the “I accept your offer” part, but you don’t want to let frustration ruin your chances with this employer and any others you come across. From what you describe it sounds like you’re in a good way with this organization already. I’ve never had an interview with a company where I was turned down for one role but then have them consider me for other possible roles, twice no less. And remember, it’s always in your power to say “Thank you, but no thank you” as well.

    1. Lizzy May

      +1 for all of this. Its easy to take this personally because a job is a personal thing for you. Take a step back and remember that this is only one part of your job search and you obviously make a good impression between your cover letter, resume and interviews if they’re remembering you two jobs later.

  8. Josh S

    At my current employer, I interviewed for2 different positions before being hired for the 3rd. While I was most excited about the first position, it would have been a stretch, and I’m pretty happy to be where I am now.

    But at the time, after 4 different days of interviews (and that doesn’t count phone screening!) I was about to throw in the towel. “They like me enough to keep talking to me, but not enough to hire me? What gives!?!”

    That said, if/when an offer comes, you need to evaluate it on the merit of the position they’re offering, NOT based purely on the company or the other positions you interviewed for (because the chance to shift to those may never materialize).

    Is *this job* with the responsibilities, compensation, management, and team that go with it, a situation I want to be part of for the next X years?

    Just because you’ve interviewed so much doesn’t mean they are obligated to offer you the job. Nor does it mean that you’re obligated to take it. Pretend it’s the first time you’ve interviewed with the company (don’t forget to negotiate salary if you get to that point!) and treat it as you would any other job prospect/offer.

  9. Writer

    Alison, thank-you for the confidence boost. I am glad you think that the third job I am interviewing for could still be a promising way into the company. I think you’re right, I suppose their HR wouldn’t waste their time bringing me back in twice more if they weren’t interested in me in the long run. I suppose I’ve gotten emotionally invested in it because if I don’t get the job the third time around, it will indeed be upsetting after all those efforts, and I might be skiddish about that rejection. It’s a growing organization too, so if fingers crossed, I get a job offer for this third position, perhaps I’ll love the job after all and with that said because it is growing, I am hopeful there is room for advancement down the road. I’ve taken jobs in the past that I thought would be amazing and were NOT, and I’ve taken jobs before that I was apprehensive about and ended up LOVING. Thanks everyone else so far for the feedback.

    1. Adam

      Good luck! We’ve all been there. Job hunting is a special kind of hell in that I can think of no other area of life where you can put so much work towards a single goal and routinely feel like you’re not getting any results at all.

      It sounds like somebody at this company really thinks you have potential, so if the right opportunity opens up it could be a great thing for you.

  10. Cupcake with Sprinkles

    Something similar happened to me a few years ago. I applied for Job A in CorporateCo and Hiring Manager #1 had to hire another candidate for political reasons. Hiring Manager #1 knew that another hiring manager (HM #2) had an opening that was going to be coming open very soon and passed my resume along to them. HM #2 loved my background and expertise and the recruiter then called me about Job B to see if I was interested. I ended up accepting Job B and when some roles changed on our team, I eventually ended reporting to HM #1. Talk about a strange turn of events! But it all worked out for the best.

    I agree with Alison’s statement that none of this is personal. I took me awhile to really “get that,” but it has made the job hunting process a lot less painful. The silver lining in this situation is that they think you are a viable candidate with the potential to fit in culturally as well – that’s a big deal, considering that finding the right culture fit is extremely important in today’s marketplace.

  11. C Average

    Anyone who’s been on the other side of the hiring process can probably relate to what I’m about to write.

    Sometimes you’ll get a candidate you really connect with strongly. You believe he/she’d be a great fit for the company and just overall have really good feelings about his/her intelligence, presentation, background, etc. You wish you could offer him/her a job right on the spot! But you don’t have the perfect job available, or there’s a hiring process that needs to be followed, or there’s one particular credential the ideal candidate MUST have that this person lacks, or whatever. So you keep trying. You look for roles. You pass his/her resume to a colleague in another group. You are looking for ways to bring this person on board! It’s frustrating, because it takes time and there are obstacles and you know this person is jobless and frustrated and may have other options.

    OP, the hiring managers and HR folks at this company are having these kinds of conversations about you. That’s a really good thing. If you want to work there (especially if you want to work there enough to take a foot-in-the-door job), you’re in a good place and should stay the course.

    1. KTM

      Yep – I agreed with all of this in my post above. Additionally you could look at it from the opposite viewpoint – If we interview a candidate that we think is generally terrible and do not have great feelings about their intelligence/ cultural fit/etc, we would absolutely not bring them to interview for another job in the company regardless of how different the roles might be.

    2. Zuckerman's Famous Pig

      …there’s one particular credential the ideal candidate MUST have that this person lacks…

      This makes me wonder? Did you not know that this was a requirement beforehand? If so, why waste the candidate’s time if they didn’t have the “must have” credential? I’m not trying to troll you or anything, I’m just trying to figure out how this happens, and you make it sound like its fairly common. Is there really this big of a disconnect between HR and the hiring team?

      1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec

        It might be something on the ‘soft skill’ side that you can’t know until you meet them?

      2. C Average

        It’s a good question.

        I’m not sure how typical my company is, but we tend to get a lot of great candidates from a lot of sources, and they’re often already on the hiring manager’s radar before they go through HR. Maybe they’re a referral from a friend, or someone you’ve worked with from another department, or someone who’s volunteered for a company event and chatted you up about their interest in working for your company. (These are all real-life examples.) In these cases, there’s often a lot of informal conversation about the role before formal interviews, often with the tacit understanding that the person in question is the leading candidate. And sometimes these pre-interview interviews reveal a deficit that can’t be overcome.

        For example, last year a woman from another department approached me about a role on her team she thought I’d be good at. We’ve worked together on projects a lot and know each other well. The conversation was informal at that point–the job hadn’t even been posted on the company’s site yet–but she made it clear she was interested in me specifically for the role. We’d done coffee and discussed the role several times. I think it’s safe to say I was her top candidate, possibly her only candidate, at that point.

        And then it came up in conversation that there was a specific skill I’d never picked up. She’d assumed that someone with my title and responsibilities had experience with the skill in question, but I didn’t. And that was a deal-breaker. We both were sorry about it–I’d have loved to work for her, and she really wanted me on her team–but, well, it was what it was. She needed someone who could show up on the first day with practical experience with that skill. And I didn’t have it. It unfortunately wasn’t something I could just pick up on my own, either. She was looking for demonstrated experience in a production environment.

        Maybe other companies have a more linear approach, where every single candidate goes through HR and gets vetted thoroughly before even coming into contact with the hiring manager. For us, particularly with regard to internal hires, that’s often not the case.

        1. Zuckerman's Famous Pig

          Thanks for your thorough explanation! I had a co-worker long ago that accepted an external job offer and on the 11th hour had it rescinded because apparently a degree in x was a requirement, which he did not have, and apparently the person who offered the job either didn’t know about the requirement or the fact that he didn’t have it. To be fair, I don’t know that he didn’t lie about it and hope they wouldn’t catch it, but he ended up working for that company a year or so later, so I doubt that was the case.

          1. Zuckerman's Famous Pig

            And I excessively worry that something like this will happen to me! :)

  12. OOF

    OP, I just hired a candidate for a position, and it was his third time applying for a position at my workplace. Each time, I invited him to re-apply because he is a strong candidate. It just so happened that in the first two application cycles, there was always one other person just a bit stronger. Third time was a charm – and it could be for you too!

    1. Writer

      Thank-you, OOF. It’s really positive to hear that this is more common practice than I realized. I hope you’re right that the 3rd time’s a charm!

  13. AndersonDarling

    This may be a good sign about the company you are interviewing with. They may put a high emphasis on the people they hire (and not just say that they do). I’m guessing there is something about your character that is important to the organization (honesty, able to work well with co-workers) and they don’t want to loose you.

    Finding good character can be just as difficult as finding good skills.

    If you do get hired, you would know that your co-workers were hired for their good character as well. That would be a great place to work!

  14. Waiting Patiently

    Job hunting stinks and all the emotions that it brings. But judging from the replies it seems like there is promise out there for you!

  15. Ali

    This sounds like my job hunt, albeit I haven’t had it happen with one company. I’ve had plenty of interviews where I’ve made it to the final stage, had references checked or even only had one interview where the company said “you’d be an asset here” or “you have a lot of talent in X” etc. But ultimately, there was always someone who was more local or someone who was just a bit stronger, and I wouldn’t get the job. I’ve gone crazy at times trying to figure out what is wrong with me that it’s clicking for others, but I just try to relax knowing that I have a job and can take my time hunting.

    I hope you’re successful soon!

  16. Artemesia

    My daughter made the final cut for a series of different companies and was beginning to wonder if she had a bad reference or something as she kept coming up short. Then one company she really had high hopes for hired the other guy, but invited her to the Christmas party and told her, they had some irons in the fire and hoped they might have a part time contract coming up. She went and a couple of months later, the contract came through and she took the contract. They said they might be able to hire her full time by summer and when June rolled around, they were able to hire her full time. So even when it feels like you are being strung along, sometimes it works out.

    I’d consider carefully the promotion possibilities from the third job and only take it if you really think the job will work for you — but don’t take it personally — they obviously ‘like you’ even if you are not getting the offer.

  17. Portlandia

    My team is currently desperately trying to fill an open position. We have been in the current hiring round for almost eight months, applications closed last year, and we still haven’t gotten to interview stage. It’s down to poor organization by team management and ridiculous HR requirements. I can’t believe anyone is still willing to interview for a job they applied for before Christmas!

    1. KimmieSue

      Portlandia – ridiculously long. I recruit mostly hardware and software engineers. Even in tough markets where these folks have multiple job opportunities/offers – positions are filled in average of 70 days (posting of job to offer accept). Your company would drive me nuts. You must have the patience of a saint.

      1. Portlandia

        Luckily I am not involved in hiring and the open post doesn’t affect me too much, so I am mostly just gaping at the car crash of our hiring procedures from a safe distance.

  18. Ilf

    It could also mean that HR really liked the candidate and they send it to different hiring managers, for different positions, hoping she’ll be a better fit.

  19. Not So NewReader

    OP, you got some great stories here of folks who made it work for them. Honestly, before I started reading AAM, if I hit a situation like yours I would have been upset- wth?! But, now I can see, yeah, they do like you. And they are putting effort into plugging you in some where.
    Good luck! I hope this lands in a good place for you.

  20. Liz

    I just in this situation. I started interviewing with parent company in mid April. Two things they were interested in me for never panned out. Third time they called supposed to call me back in 20 minutes, never did so I wrote them off. Two days later they call back and ask if I can interview again for a position at different location. Deep sigh, but I go because I was unemployed, it was almost up, and I had zero other offers. After that, I still had to interview with 5 different people all over the place to get the position I am in now. And I love it. The manager told me last week that I interviewed so often, because they wanted to make sure I was the right fit. Today is the beginning of my third week with them, and I am learning so much. Plus company has incredible growth opportunities from within.

  21. Writer

    I’ve been overwhelmed with all of the replies, wonderful advice, and examples. Thanks to all so far who have commented on my question on AAM. I will keep you posted on what happens!

  22. Writer/OP

    I just wanted to provide an update that I found out on FRIDAY that I did indeed get the job! Third time’s a charm! Thanks to Alison and everyone else who commented for their advice! I am accepting the position and will be starting in a month, and even though this is not the job I originally had applied for, I have been analyzing this new one carefully and think at the end of the day, is going to be a lot less dry than the department I had wanted to work for. Thanks!!!

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