did I push an employer too hard to give me info on a job opening?

A reader writes:

I am reflecting on a recent job application (about three months ago) and wondering if I pushed too hard for more information.

I applied “cold” to a position that typically remains open on the company’s website. Three days later, I received the following response from an executive assistant: “I was asked by our Chief Teapot Officer to have you please check back in a month. Your experience is interesting to us, and we will know in a month if your skill set will apply well to another position.”

I wrote back, saying I would love to learn more about the other position, and asking if it was possible to talk to the Chief Teapot Officer about the position. The assistant responded, “Unfortunately, not at this time. Please check back in a month and let’s see what’s happening….”

A month later, I reached out to the assistant. She responded, “The position is still on a hiring freeze. We definitely want to hire this position as soon as we are able but just aren’t at this time. Please feel free to check back in another month.”

At the time, I was beginning to move forward more deliberately in my job search and wanted to know if I should hold out hope for this unnamed position. Ten days later, I emailed the assistant the following: “Thank you for the update! I am very interested in learning about the position so I can determine how it may fit into my career path. Having a little more information about the position will influence how I move forward with other opportunities. I would greatly appreciate any information you can share.” Three days later, she wrote: “Upon further reflection and adjustments made to this position, we no longer feel like you’d fit the position. I wish you luck in your job search.”

I know a lot can change over a couple months, but I am wondering if I pushed too hard for more information on the unnamed position. The original position I applied for is still an active posting (3+ months later), and I am still potentially interested in it. I didn’t get any information on my suitability for that position – should I apply again, and how should I address this in my application materials?

Yes, you pushed too hard. Way too hard.

When she told you clearly that they hadn’t even decided if the position was going to exist or not and to check back in a month, and you pushed for her to share more information about it with you now anyway because it would “influence how you moved forward with other jobs,” you scared them off.

From the employer’s side of things, it would be crazy for someone to let a position that doesn’t yet exist and that they don’t even know anything about to influence how they proceed with other jobs. The position might never come to fruition, and even if it did, you might be the wrong fit, or uninterested, or looking for a different salary range, or they might just find someone they liked better. So allowing it to play any kind of real role in your planning would be totally unwarranted — and telling them that you want them to give you more info now so that you can fit it into your planning, when they’d clearly told you that they’re not ready for that yet, came across as … well, weird, overly invested, and pushy.

And look, I know you probably just wanted a job description so you could figure out if it was even something you’d be interested in. And it’s not crazy to want a job description in this context. But they’d told you pretty clearly that this wasn’t something they were spending time on right now, and you responded with a request about your career path and implied that you might not pursue other jobs in the meantime, which is alarming.

I actually think it would have been fine if you’d instead framed it more like: “Sure, I’d be glad to check back in a month. If you’re able to share any info about the role you’re thinking of, I’d love to take a look now — but either way, I’ll get back in touch in February.” That’s much more low-key and low-pressure. But the way you framed it made it sound like you were giving something that may never even exist way too much weight in your own planning, and also that you weren’t hearing what they were saying to you (which was “leave us alone for the next month”). That’s too pushy.

I would not apply for the original position again. You already applied for it earlier in their hiring process, and they didn’t ask you to interview for it. Reapplying for it now, combined with the earlier exchange with the assistant, is going to compound their concerns about your approach being too aggressive.

I’d write this one off and move on.

{ 153 comments… read them below }

  1. Rex*

    OP, I feel for you. The employer didn’t handle this the best way either, dangling the job in front of you like that.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      But what’s wrong with saying, “hey, we might have an opening that you’d be perfect for but it’s not something we can field right now — check back in a month if you’re still on the market?” Most people would welcome that kind of thing; the problem was that the OP put more weight on it than she should have, and was misreading the employer’s signals to not push it right now.

      1. HigherEd Admin*

        I guess I’m confused as to why a job opening was posted on their website if there was a hiring freeze and they weren’t actively seeking applications. Why not take the posting down until you know what you want to do with it? (Unless this was one of those “apply to the company but not to any specific job” situations.)

        1. AMG*

          I think the assumption is that the freeze will be lifted soon, there are exceptions to hiring freezes, etc.

        2. BRR*

          I believe the hiring freeze was for a different position the company thought the OP might be good for. The original position the OP applied for was fine.

          1. Amtelope*

            Yeah, that was my impression as well — they didn’t want the OP for the position that was posted, but thought the OP might be a good fit for a new position that they hoped would materialize soon.

        3. INTP*

          The OP said it’s a position that is “usually on their website.” My interpretation was that this is a position that the company probably employs a large number of (i.e. software developers for a software company). It’s pretty standard for companies to post job descriptions and accept applications for those positions at all times whether they are actively hiring or not. With those positions the hiring situation can change quickly – if someone resigns or a new contract comes in, the freeze might be lifted immediately. It also sounds like they wanted the OP to interview for a different position, so they might have hired someone for the original position.

          1. Big10Professor*

            Adjunct professors are usually hired the same way. Because the staffing needs are often known last-minute and it’s a short-term contract (low risk), many schools just accept applications all of the time and then reach into the drawer and see what they have when a spot opens up.

      2. Artemesia*

        My daughter has a good job now after going through a similar process — they dangled the job as a might — because they didn’t know if they would have the business — she was hired first part time when they finally had the business and then full time later. Each stage involved promises and vague possibilities — she was doing consulting work but would have taken the right full time job if it had appeared.

        It is a trick to stay in touch while not driving the employer crazy. It is critical to listen to what they are saying. The double punch of not listening here and then also implying that life was on hold in hopes of the job did the OP in. I as an employer would have dropped the applicant exactly as happened here; the thought is — what would this person be to work with if they can’t listen and harass us before we even have the job approved.

        Hard lesson to learn — and really frustrating in a job market where seekers are yanked around and it is hard to read the tea leaves. It just reinforces AAM’s constant advice to consider that there is no job until a firm offer has been made and to proceed full speed on the search until there is one. And if you are counting chickens, at least don’t let the potential employer know that before they have a job listing.

      3. Rex*

        Don’t get me wrong, I think the OP erred, I just can see how it happened. I can see how the wording of the first email could raise some hopes, and how the frustration of it all leading to nothing for months, not even any clarifying details, could cause the OP to push a little harder than she should. I could see myself doing the same thing.

    2. Katie the Fed*

      Unless I’m missing something, they didn’t dangle anything. They said there might be a position that she’d be a fit for, and asked her to check back in a month. SHe ignored the first instruction to check back in a month and responded immediately requestiing more information.

      Then after a month, she checked again. They said give it another month, and FOR A SECOND TIME she ignored their instructions and wrote back 10 days later.

      The failure to follow instructions is the biggest red flag to me. An eager job candidate is one thing, but this level of blatantly ignoring their wishes is a whole different ball of wax. There may very well have been a job – they were just trying to set a timeline.

      1. AnonyMouse*

        Yep, agreed. I’m sympathetic to the OP possibly wanting more information to see if the other job was even of interest, but ultimately you do have to follow all stated instructions in an application process – and if you don’t it’s a definite red flag, especially if they’re fairly simple.

      2. OP*

        OP here – in your opinion, if I had just asked generically for information on the position in my first response (without mentioning the CTO), would that also come across as “I am ignoring the instructions”? Are there appropriate ways to request more info without coming off this way?

        1. Katie the Fed*

          You could have waited the month and then asked. They weren’t in a position to tell you more right then, so there was no need to ask for more information.

        2. IT Kat*

          Personally, I think that if you were going to ask that, the best time would have been right after the first response, when they mentioned the other position. You said that:

          “I wrote back, saying I would love to learn more about the other position, and asking if it was possible to talk to the Chief Teapot Officer about the position.”

          Instead of phrasing it as “I’d like to learn more, can I talk to someone” I would have phrased it as “Thank you for the follow-up! I’ll definitely check back with you in a month. Just curious, would there happen to be a job description that I might be able to review? I’d love to learn more about the position.” Then, if they responded as “No, not right now,” you drop it. And don’t ask again. When you follow up in a month, just mention you’re following up and let them make the next move. Assume there isn’t a job description until you get a “Yes, the job is open now” response.

          However, also personally, I probably wouldn’t have asked and just moved on, following their timetable. It only takes a few seconds to put a reminder on my calendar to follow up in a month, and a few seconds then to send an email to follow up. If they respond with a “yes, the job is open” you can ask for the job description then – even if they had one when you first emailed, it’s possible it might go through a dozen or more revisions in a month or three, so you’d want to ask again at that point (provided you haven’t already found a better position).

          1. OP*

            Thanks for the wording example – it much better matches my original intent than what I actually wrote!

            1. Not So NewReader*

              That implied “now”. I was just naturally doing it. I never realized how big a deal it is. “Now” is assumed by some people, unless you clearly say “later”. Some people feel that any request means do it now and “now” does not have to be spoken. Some people even feel it is rude to say “now”.

              “Gee, I’d like a cup of coffee.”
              Here, “now” is implied. It would be redundant almost to the point of rude to say “I would like a cup of coffee, now.”

              Tricky part: Not everyone thinks this way. But there is no way to tell for sure if you don’t know a person. With people I don’t know well, or at all, I try to make a point of saying “later” or “when it is good for you”.

              I did not even think about the implied “now” until I worked with someone who would say “Do you mean ‘now’?” each and every time I asked for help. This went on for a few years- before coworker caught on. I thought the coworker just did not want to help. No, not the case. He believed if no time frame was mentioned, some undefined time, later on, would be okay.

              I tend to believe that if no time frame is mentioned then the request is needed right away.

              1. Kelly L.*

                This is something I’m dealing with in CurrentJob–every time someone tells me to do something, my instinct is to drop all the previous things and do it OMGRIGHTNOW. Except I have about five different people doing this, and it gets hard to get any of the things done. And sometimes one will say “no rush” but then it turns out it really is, and conversely sometimes I find out after the fact that I lit my hair on fire for something that could have waited a week. I guess the only solution is just to get more comfortable and confident in asking about timeframes and deadlines…I was good at that at OldJob, but I’d been there forever.

    3. Biff*

      I agree. I feel like the candidate did what is often advised — show interest and gumption. The hiring company sort of behaved awkwardly, IMO.

      1. Adonday Veeah*

        “The hiring company” consists of very busy people with pressing priorities. Take it from one who knows first-hand, if there is no current opening, communicating with potential candidates moves waaaaaayyyyy down the list. To have someone ignore clear requests as to how to proceed, thereby forcing low priority items up the list for no good reason, is a crazy-maker. It makes one imagine how it might be to have that person on staff full time, ignoring clear requests on an ongoing basis. I don’t believe there was anything awkward about how the hiring company behaved.

      2. ExceptionToTheRule*

        Showing interest & gumption has to be balanced with the ability to follow specific directions.

      3. Katie the Fed*

        As in dating, there’s a clear line between “showing interest” and “coming on WAY too strong”

      4. fposte*

        I think the reason the “gumption” thing has become satirical is because it’s not actually advised by anybody who isn’t posting clickbait or passing it on from elderly relatives.

      5. HR Manager*

        It’s also why even AAM, and so many other recruiters, tells readers/candidates not to listen to that advice. That has been the case for years now (I’ve been saying this to friends for at least 10 years). I honestly am surprised that this myth is still so pervasive. HR, recruiters, hiring managers do NOT want candidates to follow-up aggressively. Calling to follow up on your application/interview, they have given clear instructions on process and timeline does not show how brilliantly assertive, brave and/or creative you are. It just shows that you’re not listening or paying attention to what the employer has requested, choose to ignore that because you think your application deserves special treatment, or you’re just a pushy and high-maintenance.

        1. INTP*

          I think the reason this myth, and many other hiring myths, are so pervasive is that many of the people dishing out career advice have never actually been part of the hiring process for a corporate job, or possibly any job, on either side of the table. You’ve got career freelance writers (not people like Alison but people with minimal experience prior to becoming freelance writers and none of it in HR, who write based on conventional wisdom and research from other sources and not first-hand experience), college career counselors who have spent their entire careers in academia and counseling, parents who want to advise their kids despite not having been in their positions since the world was very different, and friends/coworkers/relatives who got their information from the above sources and dish it out to others as advice. And there’s enough of those people to drown out the genuine advice from recruiters and former recruiters.

      6. Not So NewReader*

        One of the many things Alison stresses is to take companies at their word. This means reading carefully and thinking about what has been said. For me, it’s an area where Alison has been extremely helpful.

        I have done this and I think most people have done this, we read too much into a response. Or we miss the meaning of the response entirely.

        “What do you mean you don’t know what the position is yet? You’re a great big company, how come you don’t know? You have a thousand people figuring this out. It should take them five minutes to figure it out. That can’t be your real reason.”
        “I know they LOVE me. They told me to call next month. They love me, I can feel it. I will call early to let them know I love them, too.”

        It’s so easy for emotions to get in the mix. It’s more important to take them at their word and follow what is being said to a T.

    4. INTP*

      It doesn’t sound like dangling to me. They never said that the position WOULD be open in a month, just that it might be. The alternative would have been to completely withhold information about the position from the OP just for the sake of not getting the OP’s hopes up, which is not productive for candidates or employers.

      The lesson to take away from this is that you should never allow a position that you haven’t even interviewed for yet influence how you move forward with other opportunities. They may have felt like they needed to give the OP a definite “no” for her own sake after hearing that.

  2. MJH*

    I don’t really feel like you pushed *too* hard, OP. The whole thing sounds weird and you shouldn’t feel too badly.

    1. MousyNon*

      I mean, the potential employer laid out a precise timeline that the OP ignored–that’s functionally ignoring application instructions, the equivalent of forgetting to attach a cover letter to your resume. I don’t blame the employer at all for backing out, and frankly I think it was kind of them to let OP know they were no longer interested at the end of all of that back and forth.

      Take it as a learning experience, OP. Follow directions!

    2. Amtelope*

      I do feel like it’s pushing too hard when there was a clear time frame given for when to check in. They said check back in a month, and she emailed back immediately asking to talk to someone right away; then they said check back in another month, and she checked back in ten days. The first email I might chalk up to enthusiasm, but ignoring the second request to wait a month before checking in would tell me I was dealing with an applicant who couldn’t/wouldn’t follow directions.

    3. Lizzy*

      I am surprised that so many people side with the employer, but I agree with you — it is bizarre. My current position was in a hiring freeze when they were looking to fill it, but instead of stringing the candidates along they sent out an email saying that they don’t have a timetable at the moment and that they would be in contact with certain candidates when things changed. And 3 months later, I happen to be available when they were able to get the hiring process going again. I also knew the details of the position very well; there were no ambiguities about what the position entailed.

      I get that the OP came off as too eager and maybe wasn’t as composed as needed to be, but the organization isn’t doing a very good job with communicating to candidates either. If I were in the OP’s shoes, I would have blown them off after being told the second time to check back in month without further details. Stuff like that turns off candidates, especially ones with options.

    4. INTP*

      It didn’t come across like egregious massive-red-flag pushiness, but I can still see the company’s viewpoint. It sounds like the OP was asking for a concrete “yes or no” and they gave a “no.”

      This is someone the company hadn’t even had a phone interview with, it sounds like. At that point, neither the company nor the candidate should be highly invested in the other, especially to the point of passing on other opportunities, which is what the OP hinted at. It sounds like it became clear that continuing to correspond with this candidate would mean the admin having to field regular questions about the job and the candidate possibly passing on other opportunities while they waited for this one. In that situation, it makes sense to just let the candidate go.

  3. some1*

    “I was asked by our Chief Teapot Officer to have you please check back in a month. Your experience is interesting to us, and we will know in a month if your skill set will apply well to another position.”

    I wrote back, saying I would love to learn more about the other position, and asking if it was possible to talk to the Chief Teapot Officer about the position.

    Just as an FYI, as an admin, “I was asked by So-and-so to reach out to and tell you X” = So-and-so asked me to deal with this so s/he doesn’t want or have to. If the C-level wanted to speak to you about the position, they’d reach out to you directly.

    1. voluptuousfire*

      I find it a bit odd that the employer reached out to the OP either way about a position that doesn’t exist yet. Why go through all of that to a) raise the OP’s hopes of possibly getting in with that company on a vague whim? and b) cause themselves trouble when they’re not even sure this job may come about. Putting the onus on the OP to follow back to close the loop sounds pretty inconveniencing to me. They alienated a potential employee. You shouldn’t do that. Having them check back month after month and going “nope, not yet!” seems pretty crappy to me. While I agree the OP framed their last interaction incorrectly and that caused the company to change their mind, it still sucks when people lead you on like that.

      1. fposte*

        Okay, but if I do think an applicant is somebody I’d be interested in talking to later, do you think I shouldn’t mention it, then? Because that seems weird to me too–I think applicants who would have an edge for a later opening would want to know that.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        This just seems like asking to treat job applicants way too delicately. These are business transactions. People should be able to handle hearing “there might be something opening up but we’re not sure so check back in a month” without being upset if they don’t get more info right away or if it doesn’t materialize.

        1. Steve*

          I’m not disagreeing with any of your advice to the OP. But the part I don’t really understand is why they wouldn’t have said “there might be something opening up, but we’re not sure, so check back in a month because we’re really interested in your experience with teapot inventory maintenance.” And had they not said that, I can’t really see a few additional questions in the right tone with the right timing should be out of line. Perhaps my experience in teapot inventory maintenance was the worst job I ever had. Maybe I was great at it and did it for a long time, but I swore I would NEVER do it again. And because you’ve told me that’s what piqued your interest in me, thank you, but no I won’t be calling back in a month.

          Your advice is solid about the manner the OP responded, but I would have definitely wanted to know a little bit more about why you thought I was worth talking to in a month (or two, or six, or whatever).

          1. OP*

            Steve, that’s what I was going for in asking for a follow-up conversation… And went about it the wrong way, in hindsight. Alison, Steve, or others, how might I have asked about this without coming off too strong?

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              That’s the language that I was suggesting in the third-to-last paragraph: “Sure, I’d be glad to check back in a month. If you’re able to share any info about the role you’re thinking of, I’d love to take a look now — but either way, I’ll get back in touch in February.”

              But if they didn’t give more info in response to that, you can’t keep asking for it.

            2. NK*

              I think the issue may be that they don’t want to discuss the position because they don’t want to make it public (internally or externally) that they are considering hiring for that position. While I completely understand the curiosity, the bottom line is it really doesn’t matter too much what the details of the position are. As Alison said, you shouldn’t be changing your job search in any way, shape, or form based on the potential for this position. So if you found out in a month it was either your dream position or something you would never want to do in a million years, it shouldn’t actually change anything.

            3. NewishAnon*

              The thing is, you didn’t actually need to get that information at that point. I understand curiosity and really wanting to know. Sometimes it’s hard to control yourself when you feel like that. But a good question to ask yourself before contacting an employer for more information is “will having this information really help me in some way?”

              In this case, no it wouldn’t. Even if you had a description, the job wasn’t open for another month so you couldn’t do anything with it. And it shouldn’t influence how you proceed with your job hunt anyway. The only reason to seek out the job description at that point is to satisfy the burning curiosity you’re feeling. So, it’s not worth contacting an employer for an untimely and currently irrelevant question. Each interaction you have with an employer is considered in the hiring decision. So I feel it’s best to be sure that each interaction will truly move you further along in the process; or at the very least be critical to a decision you’re making regarding your job search. This was neither.

              Also, if they had a description that they were ready to hand out they presumably would have given it to you. Of someone wanted to talk to you about it, they would have scheduled the conversation.

      3. some1*

        I think it was really a polite suggestion. They never expected the LW to put all her eggs in their basket.

      4. INTP*

        This is standard practice by recruiters. Tons of people who apply for jobs never even respond when you contact them back. Others might be disinterested in the alternative position. Responding allows them to create a pool of people who respond to emails and are interested in the job, and keep the relationship a bit warm so the candidate doesn’t totally forget about the employer. The intent isn’t to trick those candidates into thinking the job is going to materialize and make them slow down their job search and wait for it. Most recruiters and employers assume candidates have the common sense, frankly, to not assume that a job framed as a possibility is a given and certainly not to let it affect how they pursue other opportunities.

        1. KimmieSue*

          Recruiter here….
          I don’t see this as carrot dangling. Most of us don’t have time to create that kind of work for ourselves. I have reached out to candidates that have applicable industry, job or educational history for roles that I know are budgeted for upcoming hiring months or quarters. And some times, we’ve actually hired them. Prospective future candidates are usually flattered to hear from me. They also appreciate that I share my contact information (yikes, a real live person) and set up a time (typically a month out) to check-in with each other. There are MANY reasons why a budgeted job isn’t on a careers page, including:
          *Finance doesn’t like posting jobs that are not in this particular month/quarter
          *Internal transfers/promotions might be pending
          *Internal re-organizations might be pending
          *New products are not announced but companies are preparing for a launch
          Companies that actually have recruiting & headcount forecasts and solid recruiters often share this practice. OP and others should be complimented that there was something attractive about their background in the resume. That’s good! Just next time, as hard as it might be…a little more patience would be warranted.

        2. Not So NewReader*

          “Most recruiters and employers assume candidates have the common sense, frankly, to not assume that a job framed as a possibility is a given and certainly not to let it affect how they pursue other opportunities.”

          Gosh, one would hope.

          But you know, if you didn’t grow up learning this stuff and your friends are not savvy to these things and you don’t read AAM- where would you learn this stuff?
          I have a dear friend, very smart, who does job hunting the old-fashioned way and is not getting results. She has the skills/abilities to do most of the jobs she applies for. Job hunting advice from the 70s and 80s does not work any more. She’s getting results like our OP got. Ugh, hard to watch.

    2. Artemesia*

      This. It is hard to over estimate how much people high in the food chain do not want to deal with this stuff. If they are interested in interviewing you, THEN they will talk to you. If it is way early in the process, they don’t want to waste their time talking to potential employees. If they do, they know how to make it happen.

    3. AnonyMouse*

      I don’t know, I’m not an admin so maybe my experience is different…but I work on a small team and sometimes my manager asks me to reach out to someone she eventually wants to talk to because she’s super busy at the moment and thinks I’ll remember/have time and she won’t. It doesn’t mean she isn’t willing to talk to them at some point, but just that I might have a bit more free(-ish!) time to handle the initial back and forth.

      1. AnonyMouse*

        Oh and just to be clear, I think in this case you’re 100% spot on and the OP shouldn’t have assumed the exec was available to talk about it – just wanted to say that in general, getting an email on someone’s behalf doesn’t always mean it’s a brush-off or you won’t get to talk to them at some point.

        1. some1*

          No, the Officer in the letter could have definitely wanted to speak to the LW at some point, but for this communication, the EA was tasked to relay this info to the LW.

          Immediately responding asking to talk to the Officer made the LW look like she was ignoring the email and teh instructions it contained.

  4. Bend & Snap*

    I think it was way too hard a push. They laid out specific next steps and timelines and OP ignored them. That would be a red flag for me as a hiring manager.

    Plus, honestly, most people don’t want to spend time on a candidate when there’s not an open position. People are busy. There was no benefit to the company by engaging more deeply with the OP than they requested to do.

  5. BRR*

    “wanted to know if I should hold out hope for this unnamed position”

    In general I don’t feel like you should hold out for any position, especially in cases like this where it’s still pretty hazy.

    1. fposte*

      And my guess is the position wasn’t even unnamed, it was unformed. They said “Oh, OP might be good for the upcoming expansion we’re considering in Spouts,” but they were still figuring out the name of the position and who it reports to and whether it was going to take over the white chocolate stuff Wakeen said he’s sick of. I think that’s one reason why the employer pushed back on this–they felt like it was an attempt to pin down a position that was still not even fully created.

      1. BRR*

        I think that could definitely be a possibility. We really have no way of knowing. I was also thinking somebody may be fired/promoted/retiring soon. They could just be waiting for approval from another department.

  6. amp2140*

    Sometimes as a candidate, it’s hard to remember how totally disorganized employers can be.

    Currently my boss is looking for a parts room person. I went so far to have a friend apply and someone from the client company applied as well. Originally my friend was a shoo in, then my boss changed his mind and rejected both. Now the position is being combined with another one, and no postings have been made. This has been a 2 month time frame.

    I could very easily have been in the position of telling someone they would be a good candidate whenever we could get ourselves together and put a job description and an opening.

  7. 2 Cents*

    I feel like something I’ve learned from reading this blog is that what we (as job applicants) tend to write and what Allison tends to suggest for wording are miles apart as far as tone goes. I think in the job process, we read too many books and other blogs and recall our college career offices saying “you must write in this way,” which is very stiff and formal, whereas Allison’s responses are (usually) more like you would speak to an acquaintance: friendly, not-to-familiar, pretty straightforward, but not like you’re addressing some alien from another planet who is unfamiliar with the job process.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      OMG yes, this is in the top three things I hope people will take away from this blog. Write to prospective employers the same way you’d write to a coworker who you didn’t know too well yet — no need to be crazily formal. You want them to see you as a possible coworker, not a weirdly stiff stranger.

        1. Aunt Vixen*

          Like you, I have always hoped for an opportunity to eradicate the odd, inflexible, extraterrestrial tone of a great deal of today’s candidate-to-employer correspondence. I look forward to hearing from you with a more complete web log article on the subject.


          Me too. Can’t wait for the post.

          1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

            This is a great start! I would be happy to contribute actual sentences from cover letters.

        2. BRR*

          But it’s difficult because I work with some people who are very old fashioned and prefer the stiff style of writing.

          1. CrazyCatLady*

            I work in a really small office/company (< 10 people) and everyone here writes in an extremely formal, stiff-sounding way. So weird.

        3. Ella*

          I wish you would address it in some way, if you could. Even now I’m looking at a job whose posting seems very informal and trendy even with their language and I’m concerned if I write an overly formal cover letter will it scream ‘I’m not cool enough’ to work there. The email to send it is cheryl@teapotinc.com so do I address it to cheryl or track down a last name to address it (may have found one but not sure it’s correct)? I wish I had a better sense of where professional but not too stiff or formal live. Ugh!

          1. LizNYC*

            I’d address it to Cheryl too! Even if it’s going to Cheryl’s assistant or Cheryl’s address is a dummy one (and named after the owner’s dog), it shows you know how email addresses at companies usually work and aren’t just blasting our resumes and cover letters with “Dear Sir/Madam.”

            1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

              “blasting” and “madam” in the same sentence just made me burst out laughing.

            2. LizB*

              If I ever have my own business I am totally going to name the overall/dummy email account after my dog!

        4. RG*

          That would be a great topic! I don’t know about others, but I’m in my first job out of college and at a law firm, so I know that some of my emails probably come off as a bit odd. Then, when you add in the factors of confidentiality and email being somewhat discoverable, it becomes a mess. Help would be appreciated.

        5. CheeryO*

          Oooh, please write that post! I’m pretty new to the workforce, and I am still battling urges to write weirdly robotic emails. (And let’s not get started on my first cover letters. Yikes.) I don’t know when or how it got ingrained in me that work-related correspondence should be ultra-formal, but it sure did, and it seems pretty common among my friends/peers.

        6. NK*

          I would love a post about this! My husband writes his cover letters with the stiff alien-speak and I can’t seem to talk him out of it. Would love a post that addresses this head-on.

        7. Mal*

          Can I send you some of the email responses I’m getting to a “teapot construction builders” ad I’m currently running?
          THEY. ARE. APPALLING. And not in a too formal way. As in:
          “Helio, i saw ur post and in very intrested in this oppurtunity.”…
          This is just one of about a dozen responses I’ve received so far, probably 10 of the 12 are like the above.
          I just call them all, bring them in for interviews and hope they speak better than they write.
          *I spoke to this guy on the phone. Normal mid-westerner. English is his first and only language, so there isn’t a language barrier or anything here just apathy.

      1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

        yes, yes, yes. To top this off, when people start using formal language they aren’t comfortable with, they sound super strange! and awkward! and weird! and pretentious! Also every cover letter I read where someone is trying to be extra-formal is full of poor syntax and word choice. The person might actually be a pretty good writer, but I can’t tell.

      2. OP*

        Alison, quick question for you regarding conversational style in written professional communication: exclamation points – yay or nay? I often feel that my writing can come off as brusque or clipped, and I have the urge to use exclamation points to insert some friendliness or soften the tone. Is an exclamation point to express enthusiasm or friendliness okay when communicating with potential employers during the job search or application process?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I tend to over-use exclamation marks so I think they’re fine, as long as you don’t use them inappropriately.

          Fine (in response to an email setting up a phone interview): Looking forward to talking!

          Overly effusive: I have 10 years of experience with teapot making!

    2. AnonyMouse*

      This is such a good point. In a lot of cases it doesn’t really *hurt* you so much as elicit a few raised eyebrows, but I think there are definitely times when weird “alien-speak” can make an otherwise normal request or follow-up into something kind of alarming.

    3. OP*

      OP here – were there specific things in my message that came across this way (stiff/formal/alien-like)?

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Oh, no, I didn’t mean that — I think 2 Cents was just reacting to the suggested language I gave.

        That said, I do think that this sentence is a bit stiff — I think you probably wouldn’t say that talking out loud:
        “I am very interested in learning about the position so I can determine how it may fit into my career path.”
        But I don’t think think that was the real issue here — I think 2 Cents was just interested in the fact that my suggested wording was more casual than what career sites often advise.

        1. 2 Cents*

          Yeah, I wasn’t trying to pick on you, OP. I was speaking more generally. (Trust me: I could be in the “Hall of Fame” for boring cover letters, except I think the judges would fall asleep before reading through one.)

    4. HR Manager*

      Maybe this has changed a lot in the last few years (though given the propensity for change in an academic environment, I find this highly doubtful) — when I was in college many moons ago, a college career adviser has little to no actual recruiting experience in any environment, much less corporate vs non-profit. They are counselors, and may have qualified credentials in counseling, but knowledge of and experience with practical recruiting processes or suggestions? Absolutely zilch. If you do not believe me, look up a career counselor job description on the web — you will see that the only consistent requirements are the graduate degrees in career counseling.

      Please keep this in mind as you think about all the “advice” from these folks on how to approach a job application at a company. By all means, they serve a purpose, but their value is no not in offering good, sage advice on how to navigate a company’s recruiting process. Note: I’m not trying to bash them, but this is one area where they have always consistently mis-stepped in decades of work.

  8. OP*

    Wow, I am so glad I sent this in and that you answered it, Alison! After I submitted it I thought “Nah, I was probably over-thinking this one.” It is great to read all the comments from folks making hiring decisions to see what this feels like from the hirer’s perspective, which all indicate “yep, red flag!”

    I have been with the same company for 9+ years so my recent experience as an applicant is scant. This blog is so helpful in figuring out what is normal practice and what comes off as strange.

    I think what led me down the pushy-red-flag road was I mistakenly saw the first reply as an invitation to engage. Like “Hey, we think you are interesting and let’s stay connected.” I was super excited because I’ve been following this company for a while and some of my close professional connections are well-acquainted with the C-suite leadership there. So I think I assumed a level of familiarity that was in retrospect inappropriate for the actual response I received (ah, wishful thinking!).

    In my day-to-day life I am the opposite of aggressive (like, to a fault), so I was actually patting myself on the back for going out on a limb with this one. Yikes, I am glad to get this feedback!

    1. fposte*

      Ah, OP, it’s hard to calibrate these things. This really isn’t like pooping in a potted plant :-). I think you’re probably right about what you brought to it that misled you, too; that’ll happen sometimes, and it’s hard to see in the moment.

        1. catsAreCool*

          Good for you for trying, and good for you for writing to Alison. Now you know more – if you hadn’t tried, you wouldn’t know. It’s not easy to try for a new job.

    2. Ella*

      Good luck on your job search. I feel the employer could have handled this differently but we’re all always learning. I feel the practice we get and lessons we learn are always valuable, hopefully it makes the process smoother as we move forward :)

  9. Ella*

    Maybe cause I feel I deal with a fair amount on nonsense from potential employers while job searching lately but… while the I agree that the OP should have followed their directions more closely, I think it was poor of the company to play games. Say you’ll keep the res on file for a possible opening down the line, and when you’re ready you contact them. If you ask the person to check in, in a month, do it once. To keep this person on the line in a way is in poor taste. If I was the OP, after the one month check in I would have let it go and just check the website for the opening. I mean we’re asked to respect employers and hiring managers, is it too much to ask for respect in return? It’s not easy out here, I can understand the frustration of being told we’re interested but not just yet, twice. And A LOT of career advice I read really encourages you to be aggressive and assertive, standout, show you’re interested, go the extra mile – I’ve certainly gotten to the point where you don’t know if you’re doing anything right. Just saying the employers behavior seems strange and arrogant, IMO.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      But what was the game-playing here? They were pretty straightforward: we might have an opening that would be a good fit, we’re not ready to talk about it, but check with us in a month. That’s not game-playing or disrespectful; it’s just telling her the actual situation.

      1. Colette*

        Yeah, I don’t see that as game playing, either. It’s not like there’s a big benefit to the company if the OP follows up in a month (other than, of course, they might be interested in her skills for their potential position). If they weren’t interested or didn’t expect that they might have a position, all asking her to follow up would do would be waste their own time. They’re not likely to do that.

      2. Mimi*

        Agreed, but a month later, the admin asst said, “Nope, still not ready yet. Check back in another month.”

        I don’t think it’s game-playing, just inconsiderate. You just want this person to keep calling back, monthly, until you have more info? I don’t think that’s the most effective use of anyone’s time. Keep the candidate’s resume somewhere – stick a post-it on it, I don’t care. Come up with a better way than that.

        1. fposte*

          In general, it’s not that the prospective employer deeply *wants* the candidate to keep calling; it’s that they think the candidate might have something to gain from doing so. And almost always it’s the candidate who has more to gain than the prospective employer here, so if the candidate doesn’t have more to gain, she can always just skip following up and the company will be fine with that.

          1. Mimi*

            In that case, I’d just advise the candidate to set an alert on her phone. Every 30 days, shoot off an email to the employer expressing interest. Other than that, explore other opportunities. Who knows if/when this employer will get back to you. If they do, great – if not, you won’t have wasted time and energy worrying about it.

            1. INTP*

              The sense I got was that that’s exactly what the employer was advising her to do. Email roughly monthly as long as she’s interested and still on the job market. I didn’t see anything in the OP’s email suggesting they advised her to turn down open opportunities to wait on this possible job. The alternative to not get anyone’s hopes up would be to withhold any information about this potential job from potential candidates for it because they might get too invested, and I just don’t think employers should be expected to manage candidates’ emotions like that. They should be honest and not imply that possibilities are a definite, but I don’t see that here.

        2. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

          I see what you mean, but when you’re hiring, the #1 priority isn’t to be considerate to a candidate, it’s to be sure that you’re thinking through what you really need and taking time to really define the job. If you can’t do that within the original timeline (because there’s something more important), then it’s not wrong for the employer to take more time to figure out what their business needs are.

          1. Mimi*

            Here’s the thing, though: when I post an opening, I’ve already thought through what my business needs are, and have taken the time to really define the job. So yeah, once I start reviewing applications, being considerate *is* at the top of my list. And applicants really seem to appreciate that. It gives my organization an edge in the hiring market.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Of course, but this isn’t about a job that’s been posted. It’s about a job that they don’t even know will exist yet, which is why they’re declining to give the OP information now and instead suggested she check back in a month.

              1. Mimi*

                I think you’re missing the point: it’s not that I take exception to “check back with us in a month.” It’s the idea of suggesting a candidate check-in monthly for an indefinite amount of time. I’ve made that suggestion a few times, and it always came back to bite me. Employer-time and candidate-time is vastly different. I have other projects going on, but that candidate may have few leads. And they’re excited about a potential position.

                I think employers are better served thinking to themselves, “huh, this could be a good candidate for that potential XYC job,” rather than voicing that to a candidate and getting his/her hopes up.

                Now, should a candidate’s hopes go up, just based on that suggestion? No way. But the reality is, they do. And in their excitement, end up coming off as pushy or aggressive. All I’m saying is, I think an employer should take some (not all, just some) of that responsibility.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  But they didn’t suggest she check back monthly indefinitely. They suggested she check back in a month, and when she did, they asked for another month. That was it.

                  The way I see it is this: She applied for work with them. They decided she wasn’t quite right for that role but that she could be right for a different one and suggested she inquire about it in a month when they’d know more. Unless they thought she was likely to be one of the top candidates for the job (something they probably couldn’t know, since they never even had a phone interview), they’re just not that motivated to keep track of her and reach back out. But she’s the one who contacted them looking for work, and it’s reasonable to say “not this job, but check with us down the road for another that might come up and could be a better fit.” If she doesn’t want to do that, that’s fine. But it’s crazy (to me) to suggest that employers shouldn’t even give candidates job leads.

                2. Not So NewReader*

                  I think it boils down to how bad an individual is experiencing PTSD. I can totally see how someone could read the conversation as “they are yanking my chain”.
                  It could be based on where a person has been and what they have seen.

                  When I first started reading here, I was incredulous that people actually believed things companies told them. I did not comment for quite a while because this was something so foreign to me. I could fill volumes of books.
                  But we also see plenty of horror stories here- broken promises, empty promises, last minute switches, you name it.

                  What I enjoy about Alison’s approach is the adult behavior/professional approaches. Like draws like. If I am role modeling adult behavior/professional approaches, I am more apt to draw those types of people and employers.

                  OP, if you don’t take away anything else, carry this one with you: Expect employers to mean what they say. If you have to second guess or beg or play games, this is not an employer you want. Because, guess what? The whole time you work there you will have to second guess, beg and play games. That is a waste of your time and your talent. Bad employers do not deserve good employees.

        3. Kimberlee, Esq.*

          If it’s not the most effective use of that candidate’s time to put a reminder on their calendar once a month, and shoot off a corresponding email once a month, then there’s a strong argument that it’s not worth the assistant’s time to keep track of every candidate that shows a general promise for a position that may or may not materialize and that may or may not take any specific form. Heck, the assistant might have had no idea what the eventual position would be, and thus would have no real idea when to flag OP (and the potentially hundreds of other people that may or may not be a good match for a position that may or may not happen in the future) to apply. There are roughly a billion ways that this could be a major pain for the assistant, but very few ways that it is truly an inconvenience to the applicant.

        4. NewishAnon*

          But I don’t think them asking her to call back in a month for a second time means they are planning to keep stringing her along, or that they were stringing her along at all. Most likely they were interested and wanted to let her know. It’s a lot easier for a candidate to remember to follow up with a job in a certain time frame, than for an employer keep track of all the applicants they might like to hear from again. They thought they would have an opening in a month, that didn’t happen (which is far from unheard of), and they told OP to try again. Two times is a bit of a letdown, possibly even annoying. Three times is when it becomes a problem.

          The alternative here was for the employer to say nothing and leave OP in the dark about a position that could be opening up. For the OP that means there’s no job to apply to if she’s still searching in a month because she doesn’t know about it or that they were interested. For the employer it means potentially missing out on a candidate that resonated with them.

          OP was given a gift. She had a leg up on any applicants for this future job because she knew it was coming and that they were interested in her. She had an in already in that she was at the point of speaking with them, not just staring into the silent abyss that she shot her resume into. She could have used that time to research the company and maybe even prepare herself for certain parts of the interview if she had some spare.

      3. Cheesecake*

        As employer was clearly interested, why didn’t they come back to OP when the position materialised?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          See fposte’s response above, which I agree with. The OP is coming to them saying “I’m interested in working with you.” The employer is saying “we don’t have the right thing for you now but check back in a month because we might then.” That’s pretty straightforward.

      4. Ella*

        Again I may be a little tired given my own job search nonsense… I’ve had some ‘interesting’ interactions lately… but IMO of someone replies to my application with the Chief Teapot Officer is interested in you (or any C level person) check back… that tells me I’m on their radar! then when you do, it’s ‘check back again’ with no additional info really, I would feel I was getting jerked around a bit. You’re either interested or you’re not. Like dating: of I’m told I’m interested but it’s not a good time, check with me in a few weeks. .. ok… i do and it’s oh wait another few weeks and check in again… ok bye!

        Again being a job seeker right now I come from that perspective. I notice a huge difference when I talk to people who are job searching as opposed to those who aren’t, about the application process and what goes on… we all come from our point of view. I wouldn’t like this and would prefer not to be given mixed messages and strung along.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I think you’re feeling resentful about power dynamics in job searching in general and misapplying that here. The employer here was very, very straightforward. They didn’t string her along (which implies there was no real job possibility). They didn’t play games with her; they told her directly when to check back. She doesn’t have to check back if she doesn’t want to, but she approached them about work and they let her know that they don’t have anything that’s a match now but might in a month. It doesn’t get any more direct than that.

          I think your reading of this is being colored by your frustration with job searching in general and that you’re falling into a (not uncommon) trap of starting to feel that employers should cater to job seekers’ anxieties, but that’s just not realistic or even reasonable.

          Again, as I said above, these are business transactions. People shouldn’t be so delicate or high-strung about the process that they can’t handle hearing “there might be something opening up but we’re not sure so check back in a month” without being upset if they don’t get more info right away or if it doesn’t materialize.

          1. Concerned*

            But I think telling her to check back gave her a sense of hope and the sign that the job was a sure thing. Would it have been better if they said they would let her know.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              A sure thing?! That would be crazy. They said, “Your experience is interesting to us, and we will know in a month if your skill set will apply well to another position.” That is so far from indicating the job is a sure thing that taking it as such would require almost willful ignoring of the facts. They were clear that there might not be another job. They were clear that if there was, the most they were promising is that she might be a candidate for it. Nowhere did they say “If this job opens up, we’d offer it to you.”

              I understand — probably more than most, given the mail I read daily — that job seekers are tempted to read into communications from employers. But when you have the chance to slow down and really think about it, as we do with this letter, there’s no way to reasonably conclude that they signaled the job was a sure thing.

              As for any sense of hope … that’s on the OP, not the employer. They were clear about what they were saying, which was frankly very, very little.

            2. INTP*

              As a job seeker, I’d interpret “We’ll let you know” followed by a long period of silence as a definite “no.” It’s saying “I don’t want to hear from you again.” As a recruiter you don’t want to let viable candidates slip through the cracks by discouraging them from contacting you at appropriate intervals. They probably would have scared off some candidates if they did that.

              If a job is a definite, the employer will try to lock you down. A job seeker should not interpret an invitation to check back later as a definite job offer.

          2. Ella*

            Oh I totally admit I’m frustrated :). I come here and enjoy your posts and the feedback and am grateful for it… everyone seems very professional and articulate and I find it all very helpful… reminds me a lot of a professional environment I used to be in and loved. But in my recent experience job searching, I’m not finding people who feel or act in this way at all. It’s amazing what some people think is appropriate during the interview/hiring process. And I’m human, it wears on me.

            I don’t feel companies need to cater to anyone though. I just feel there can at times be a lack of respect in the process. Just like an applicant needs to understand it’s not all about them and harass hiring managers or get upset when no promises have been made, etc. I feel it’s just as important that employers need to understand it’s not all about them either and not mislead applicants in any way. I get that employers have the power, especially now. But it doesn’t cost anything to treat people with respect, in any interaction. And you never know who will be a client or a boss one day. Again just my IMO.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              I don’t disagree with any of that. But I don’t think the employer here treated the applicant with disrespect (and I don’t want to belabor that point, just clarify where we’re disagreeing).

              1. Ella*

                Agreed :)

                Can I ask you something different about this post. The OP maybe pushed too hard, ok. Is it common to then become uninterested in a candidate based on agressiveness, as in this example? Just curious if this is common, again I’ve read a lot about how certain behaviors get you put on the bottom of the pile, but this isn’t something I’ve dealt with.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  I think so, absolutely. When you’re hiring, you’re not just interested in the person’s skill set. You’re also interested in what they’ll be like as an employee/coworker, as well as the evidence you see of their judgment, attendance to business norms, how they communicate, how well they pick up on and response to cues, etc. And because you have very, very limited data about people, the data that you do get counts for a lot. I’ve written more on this here:

                2. Cheesecake*

                  I will jump in on “absolutely”. This is a clear example of shooting oneself in the foot.When employer gets 100 applications a week, it is easy to put someone pushy to the bottom of the pile or completely out, because there are 99 decent patient candidates. In case we recruit for a very specific role where we will not receive 100 applications a week, the CV won’t move to the bottom, but we have already raised our eyebrows and there is a negative vibe about candidate before s/he came.

              2. Not So NewReader*

                I think this is a huge thing right here, about respect, Alison.

                Maybe at some point you could write something on how to tell if an employer is being disrespectful or if the employer is operating within norms.

                Part of what is going on here is people (myself included) don’t always know what is normal and what is disrespectful. For example: we have had lots of questions about doing writing samples or other samples as part of an interview. We have also had questions on various tests.
                Lots of people feel really jerked around by some of this stuff. Understanding what is normal or reasonable would be helpful.

                And you have older people like me. In the 70s and 80s, if the OP wrote this letter the answer would have been “yeah, they are stringing you along but you have to play the game if you want the job”. Peach.

                OP, I’m glad you asked this question and I am impressed with how you are taking these responses in stride. Good for you!

                1. OP*

                  Not So New Reader, I can’t help but appreciate the responses posted here because I would have had *no idea* I had broken norms! It is a little hard because I do find myself saying “but, but, but!” to some of the replies, but hey, I certainly won’t do it again…

                  I am seeing now that one of the downsides to being in my comfy 9 years in a small nonprofit is that I am missing a lot about the power dynamics in the job search. This has given me a new lens for my current searches…

            2. Christian Troy*

              Ella, I’ve been interviewing for jobs for about eight months. I totally know where you’re coming from and I’ve dealt with a lot of frustrating situations. I think the most important lesson to get from this website if you’re job searching it is absolutely critical you mentally move on and do not assign too much weight to every single interaction with an employer. I know it’s easier said than done, but I think the mental shift is absolutely crucial for not only your own sanity but coming across positively to hiring managers. In this situation, I understand where the OP is coming from, as I’ve been in situations where people tell me to follow up in a week or two or a month or two, and I do usually once or twice, but then I let it go.

              1. Ella*

                I totally agree, you have to be interested, allow yourself to get excited even but also have a measure of indifference and let it go otherwise like you said you don’t stay sane for long. It’s a challenge, no doubt. You see an ad, you clearly see how you could be a great fit, apply, wait and many times… nothing. The sounds of silence. Sometimes you’ll see the job reposted and have to wonder why are they still looking? Did my application get lost in some ATS? Is there anything else I can do or should do? No, guess it wasn’t for me, there is something better out there and move onto the next. Over and over. It’s beyond exhausting.

                And when you do get a response it sometimes can be difficult to go on interviews where people are dishonest about job functions, salary ranges or are just straight up rude and you have to (well I choose to) keep your class about you and shake it all off and focus on the next application. And in my case I worked my way up over several years to now be in a market that most jobs that suit me want a degree I don’t have. Do I dumb myself down and apply for jobs I’m over qualified for? Tried that and it didn’t work well. I have sat in more than one interview where I’m told about issues with other employees who don’t want to work, actually refuse to perform cerain tasks or have other major performance issues and I keep wondering why is it I am unemployed and these people are working (or pretending to). Employers want you to come in, fix the issues you didn’t create and by the way we can’t pay you much… and there’s no flexibility in salary.

                Excuse me venting. As I’m writing I can feel I’m still reeling from an experience where after 6 weeks of hoop jumping – apply to one job, after hiring process was started, told it was filled, presented with another opening, multiple interviews (sometimes with the same people, one meeting hours away in a coffee shop), personality tests, being asked to provide 15 references and a low ball offer, i negotiated more money and took the job. Covered that job and the reception job and oh, took out the office garbage every day cause the cleaning service only comes once a month! Did whatever needed to be done… found out the person I replaced could not even transfer a call.. after being there a short time they wanted to promote me but again started playing games around the salary, not wanting to pay what the current adminstrator was making. The incumbent was literally dancing in her office saying ‘soon she’d be free’. She barely wanted to stay long enough to train me, even on the financial systems. I should have heeded the red flags going in, decided to leave right then, prior to the promotion, before I sunk further. In the end I hired and trained my replacement (who saw a lot of the same issues I did going in) and left. I was told to prepare to be docked on my last check for the 3 hours I missed when i left sick one day, a job i worked late almost every day. Never late once. Even though I was told to stay in touch, there was going to be a reorg, maybe a chance to come back they don’t even reply to a simple employment verification request. Now I don’t want to go back but to not even reply to a request to verify my time there? am I pissed? I’m beyond. But gotta be bright and shiny for the next… I’m not sure I even know how to do that anymore.

                As I said I can empathize with the OP. I personally err on the side of not aggressive at all, I’m so not a pushy person but I can see how the OP wanted more info, went a little too far, in the end to be told ‘you’re not a good fit after all’ for a job that didn’t even exist yet or wasn’t even explained to her. But then again I clearly have some PTSD going on.

  10. Cheesecake*

    Maybe it is only me, but i find employer’s response weird. Why on earth would i myself get in touch if they don’t know anything about the job yet? What would this “get in touch” change? Or is it a way to set a reminder in case they forgot to get this position approved? Just.don’t.get.it

    I personally would move on immediately after i got rejected for the official position and would only write that email if that was employer of my dreams.

    1. HumbleOnion*

      Yeah, I agree with this. I’d be like ‘Get in touch and say what?’ I wouldn’t get in touch unless I saw an actual job posting.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        “Hey, Jane, you suggested I touch base with you around now because you might have an opening that matched my background.”

        You’re not obligated to be interested once you learn more about the opening.

        But if you’re job searching, why on earth wouldn’t you take the 10 seconds to email a company that had expressed interest?

        1. Cheesecake*

          Ok, it will not hurt to spend 10 seconds writing an email. But i would love to hear how these vague “come back in a month” proposals lead to an actual job, because i have never heard a success story. It is not getting in touch for a coffee, it is getting in touch for a job. And a job is either ready to be filled in and paid for or not. The only one who knows it is the employer.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I’ve hired at least two people, maybe more, in a similar context — I didn’t have a job opening then but thought there was something coming down the pike that could be perfect for them. In one case, it was that I strongly suspected I’d have a vacancy in a role that was currently filled, and in another it was that I thought it was pretty likely we were going to create a brand new position.

            1. Cheesecake*

              And so did we, but reached out to people in our talent pipeline and informed them prior to that that we might be coming back. Luckily they were available. What surprises me is that in OPs story it is the other way round. But maybe i read it wrong; i though there was a clear opportunity that wasn’t transformed into a job yet.

            2. catsAreCool*

              I had one co-worker who, while applying at the company, wasn’t selected for 2 different jobs, but management thought well of him and eventually hired him for another job.

          2. fposte*

            I’ve done that too. However, to be clear, I think both the OP and some commenters may be interpreting the company’s “stay in touch” as being “if we have an opening we will hire you for it,” and I wouldn’t mean exactly that with “stay in touch”–I’d mean “we liked you or your application package, and we think we’ve got something coming up that might be worth further exploration on both sides.” It’s not an offer of an upcoming job.

          3. beatrix*

            Well, N=1 and all that, but:

            About six years ago I interviewed for a position. It was a pleasant interview (as far as these things can be pleasant!) but it was clear to me as we discussed the details of the role that I wasn’t a great fit for it. Also, they would have needed an immediate start and I was on a contract elsewhere that I really wanted to see out, or close to, and it had a few months to go.

            The chair of the panel walked me out and said something like: “We don’t think we’ll be offering you this position but we’re very interested in having you work for us. Can we get in touch with you in a month or two if a position opens up?”

            I thought: well, that’s the nicest rejection I’ve ever had. Didn’t expect to hear another word. Continued pursuing other options.

            Six years later, I am still in that organisation, having taken up the role they offered a month after the interview.

            Now, admittedly, they did call me and didn’t ask me to check back–but sometimes when they say they’re waiting for a position to become available, that’s exactly what they’re doing.

        2. HumbleOnion*

          I guess I’m not good at networking or making small talk. A ten second email would seriously take me 2 hours to write!

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            But it’s not networking or making small talk. It’s literally just, “Hi Jane, you asked me to check back in with you around now because you’d mentioned you might have a position opening up that we should discuss. I’d love to hear more if you have more information about it now.”

    2. HR Manager*

      Because if/when the job does open up, they could be buried in resumes. If there is someone they want to flag as a potential fit, it’s just as good for the candidate to reach out. Plus, the candidate can easily fall off the market by then. If the person is no longer in the hunt for a new job, then it’s moot and the employer doesn’t have to fish for his/her application.

      If you are totally bummed by not getting the chance to talk to someone, sure you have no obligation to get in touch. There is no guarantee in what the employer is offering. It’s just a request to stay in touch, and you are free to accept or decline.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yep – and it can also be that it’s less about “wow, she would definitely be our top candidate for this job if it comes into being” and more about “she might be a solid candidate for that job, and it’s worth her applying if we end up hiring for it.” In the former, the employer should reach out on their own; in the latter situation, they’re just giving her helpful information that she might appreciate having (that she should apply if the job materializes), but they’re not “going after her” in the same way as scenario #1.

  11. illini02*

    Add me to the group who think the employer handled this badly. When an employer does have a job opening they think you would be good for, its great. But to not give ANY information on this job, and just say “check back later on this thing that may or may not exist, and no I won’t even tell you what department its in” seems like a bad way to handle it as well. Why even bring this potential position up? IF/when this position does open, just reach out to OP to see if they are still looking. I do agree that asking to speak to a higher level person right away was a bit much, but otherwise, I don’t think its that bad.

    1. Kimberlee, Esq.*

      The assistant, and whoever the assistant is working for, might not really know that much about the job. There are plenty of jobs I’ve been involved with the hiring process for (especially entry-level or low-level jobs, but plenty of mid as well) that don’t demand a specific experience set, but do demand a general background/skillset. Like, there are applicants where I look at them and say “They’re totally wrong for this job. But I can think of about 3 jobs in 2 departments that this person might be good for in the future.” I’m not going to keep that person’s phone number on a sticky note on my desk, but I do let them know that they should check back in the future, in almost those exact words: “This position isn’t right for you, but we think you’re promising, and we hope you apply for other positions in the future.”

      The executive might have been thinking of a specific position, but they might instead have been thinking of any number of positions that tend to open up each month, or every couple months, etc.

    2. jennie*

      From an employer’s perspective, that’s not the either/or on offer. It’s not reach out to us or we’ll reach out to you. It’s reach out to us to remind us about this discussion or we’ll start from scratch with other candidates when the time comes. The opportunity to follow up with a warm connection rather than telling them to keep checking the website to see if anything is posted is what’s being offered. To me, as an employer, inviting them to follow up is offering something of value to an interesting candidate. It’s very rare that a candidate is so unique that I’d make a special note to follow up with them if something comes up in the future. There’s really no process for setting something like that up when the timeline and even the position’s existence and requirements are unknown.

  12. Steven M*

    I fall in the ‘it was too much follow’ camp, but I do think the company could have said *something* as to why the OP should keep contacting them. I know I’d want some indication of whether it was worth putting the reminder in my notes. Some subsets of my experience are more interesting to me than others, and I’d like to have some faith that the subset they like me for has reasonable overlap with the subset I actually like doing. The company presumably knows what they’re interested in, it can’t be that hard to say ‘your experience in X YZ’ instead of just ‘your experience’.

  13. Christian Troy*

    This was a pretty interesting post and I am surprised at some of the responses.

    I’ve been job searching a pretty long time and I find these kind of interactions pretty common in my field where a lot of positions are held up because of grants or outside funding. People tell me they like my resume but to follow up with them in a month or two when they know more about funding or budgeting. I continue to apply to other positions but will often drop an email around the timeline they suggested. If they don’t respond, it’s NBD, as I’ve already been pursuing other positions and if they continue offering a vague timeline, follow up maybe once more, but still focus on the here and now roles.

    I don’t find this stuff disrespectful as a candidate, it seems like a pretty neutral interaction, like this thing may or may not exist but we don’t really know much more than that. It seems like OP was not really actively searching during the first email and it wasn’t really the company’s problem that her job searching needs changed. Overall, I’m glad she got something constructive out of this post and comments.

  14. Dawn88*

    Job searching is like blind dating…think about it.

    So the guy calls, “I saw you on line and you look like someone I’d like to go out with.”
    She says, “Oh really? When should we meet?”
    Guy says, “I dunno…give me a month and call me. I might decide to meet you in person.”

    Those of us job searching a day away from living in our cars don’t take to this cat and mouse game very kindly. Analyze, or make excuses or conjecture all day. It’s all about ego, power and control to those who have jobs.

    You must be “enthusiastic,” yet not “pushy.”
    You must be “confident,” yet not “arrogant.”
    You can’t seem “desperate,” or “over eager.” (they can feel it in your voice)
    Gee…having no money for food could be a big motivator, ya think?

    People get jobs for one reason. MONEY. It’s not for love, fun or entertainment. People need money to live, or they end up sleeping in their cars. They need food, shelter and heat…it’s not because they have fantasized for years of working for just over minimum wage, with no security or benefits, for some selfish company that treats them like an inmate. Why not base a job on BUSINESS…can you do this job? Have the skills? Will you take this pay? Stop “people shopping” and shove the “overqualified” crap. How exactly is getting a seasoned pro (with all the skills needed) for a bargain rate a negative?

    You must convince the gatekeepers you’d be “thrilled” to have their wonderful, amazing job? The one that pays 30% less, with no benefits included…because you are late on your mortgage and need to eat? Have no savings left? Live on credit cards? Can’t sleep at night? All you want is a job…AN INCOME! You would be so happy to have gainful employment, you’d do cartwheels, not pout! You aren’t going to look for another job, since this step-down job took 200 applications and 25 interviews to get! Who in their right mind would want to go through that all over again? All you want is to work, do a good job and get paid. Survive. Be able to buy gas and FOOD. Somehow this desire to survive brands you as a washed up loser?

    So it’s better to play “hard to get?” Don’t return calls quickly, act like you are above it all, don’t “need” their job? Is this what hiring managers want? Seriously?

    1. LizB*

      If I was faced with your dating scenario, I would say “no thanks” and look for somebody else — which is also a totally reasonable option in the job scenario. The “check back in a month” thing doesn’t mean “we’ll give you a job, but we need you to put your search on hold and use up all your savings first,” it means “if you’re still looking a month from now, send us an email and we might have a position you’d like to apply for.” If you want to check back, check back; if you can’t or don’t want to wait, that’s fine. It’s totally your call to make.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      The “check back in a month” thing doesn’t mean “we’ll give you a job, but we need you to put your search on hold and use up all your savings first,” it means “if you’re still looking a month from now, send us an email and we might have a position you’d like to apply for.” If you want to check back, check back; if you can’t or don’t want to wait, that’s fine. It’s totally your call to make.

      This, exactly.

      I just don’t think the dating scenario applies here. And honestly, it’s not that hard to get the tone right — be pleasant, professional, interested in learning more, but not planning your life around a job that you don’t have yet. Most people strike that tone just fine.

    3. LisaS*

      While I can understand – and sympathize – with the desperation and raw fear being unemployed can create, I think that communicating that desperation, whether you’re trying to get a job or start a long-term relationship, can be fatal to the process… to extend your analogy, if I messaged someone on a dating site & they replied saying, “Not now, but check back,” I might or might not write them off as a jerk and might or might not check back. But if *I* sent that message out in reply to someone and that person started asking me why and pushing my timetable, I would definitely block them – I don’t care if it’s the inability to read what’s below the surface or just simply an inability to listen, it’s a big red flag for me.

      Similarly, the anger you’re communicating here may be coming through to potential employers, and perhaps even louder & more clearly to the ones who aren’t jerks, since they tend to be people who are more sensitive to nuance. If you’ve got someplace else to put that anger and fear – which, as I said, I totally understand! – it might help to make things go more smoothly in your interactions with HR screeners and hiring managers if you can do so.

  15. forWhatItsWorth*

    The power dynamic between candidate and potential employer is mostly on the side of employer, but there are many other factors. One big part of the equation is “who started it?” If a head-hunter calls me out of the blue to recruit me for a position (I wish!), I will have much higher expectations than I would if I had merely submitted a cold application.

    I think that when the company came back to the OP with mention of MYSTERY JOB #2, this triggered something in the dynamic. Since the OP had not applied for this position, the interest (from the CPO, no less) felt more like a recruitment, which raised their expectations.

    If someone suggested to me that the CPO was thinking of me for a job that was not even on my radar, I would probably feel like they were recruiting me, even though I had approached them first. I would be wrong, but I might not notice it in all the excitement and hopefulness. Maybe this is what many people (including the OP) are reacting to when they interpret the company as “stringing them along” and similar?

    1. OP*

      For What It’s Worth, yep, that pretty much sums up my (flawed) reasoning, when I go back and unpack it!

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