how to interpret common things job interviewers say

featured-on-usnJob seekers tend to overanalyze everything that happens during the hiring process – from how long it takes a company to respond to their application to how friendly the person calling to schedule an interview sounds. But what they analyze more than anything are the specific words they hear from interviewers. My mail is full of letters from people asking what their interviewer meant by remarks as simple as “we’ll be in touch soon” or even “good luck.”

At U.S. News & World Report today, I talk about seven of the most common things interviewers say that job seekers either misinterpret or read too much into. You can read it here.

{ 27 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous Educator

    I think this a lot of this can be summed up as “Nothing an interviewer says should be taken as an indication you’re getting the job or about to get the job, unless the interviewer actually offers you the job,” which is something Alison says a lot in answers to letters here.

    Don’t read into things. Don’t get your hopes up. Just do your best and keep trucking.

  2. BRR

    This serves as a good reminder. I recently got a response to a thank you note that said they “look forward to reconnecting very soon.” I should know better and need to not read too much into it.

  3. Kyrielle

    I admit I did read a little into it when the manager who ultimately hired me here said I was “viewed as a very strong contender for the position” after my interview (but before the rest of the interviews had been concluded). But…I still didn’t assume I had the job. I just assumed they liked me a lot and I still had a chance. After all, it was totally possible that someone else they interviewed would be an even stronger contender. It was so hard to remind myself of that, though.

    (In point of fact, they had three roles they were filling, and I think someone else was a stronger contender – I don’t think I got the senior-most role, and I don’t think I needed to either. If I’m right, the gentleman who did get it is in fact a stronger person in this role than I am, based on what I have seen so far of his contributions and mine. I like to think we are both plenty valuable overall, tho.)

  4. ThursdaysGeek

    I remember an interview I had where the hiring manager said several things that sounded like I was going to get an offer. But as we went through the interview, I was figuring out I didn’t want that job and I didn’t want to work for him. I was unemployed, however, and if I got an offer, I was going to have to take it. I was so glad when it turned out those were just normal empty words, and I did not get a job offer.

    1. AnonPi

      I just had a similar experience this afternoon. Had an interview for a job that I think I’d have liked, except the main person I’d be supporting is a grade A jerk, let me know he was a jerk, and pretty much said he wasn’t interested in me for the job. I’m constantly under threat of being unemployed so I’d pretty much have to take it if offered, but it sounds like it won’t and I’ll kinda be relieved. Of course my friend mentioned that since he didn’t seem to like me, and I didn’t seem to like him, naturally I’d get the job and have to work for him, lol

  5. LiLi

    So basically, nothing they say mean anything? Its just the standard lingo and is probably a memorised script?

    1. Kyrielle

      It may well mean something! But you can’t know, and it may well not. When they say something that seems positive, it could be, or it might not be. Some people are spouting a script, some people are being polite, some people are speaking without thinking, some people earnestly mean it but are about to meet someone who blows their socks off, and some people earnestly mean it and will extend an offer. And of that last set, some of them will do it four months from now when their glacial (or normally fast but temporarily mucked-up) process finishes.

      If you sit around holding your breath, in many cases you’re going to pass out before anything else happens – and in the cases where you wouldn’t, you still haven’t gained anything by holding your breath. If you keep acting like you have _nothing_ until you have _everything_ then you’re in a good position whether or not the hints meant what you hoped (or didn’t hope) they meant.

      1. F.

        I would add it could also be that some people are speaking the truth *as of that moment* until someone or something comes long and changes things. I have interviewed candidates for more than one position that was never actually filled due to not getting a particular contract or budgetary concerns. I do not lie to candidates. I would also add, do not take it personally. Many times it is just a matter of fitting or not fitting into the corporate culture, and the interviewer (especially in a small company) knows far more about the culture than any candidate does.

    2. The IT Manager

      No. The problem is candidates tend hear either “we will hire you” or “you’re out of the running.”

      For example: “This is the office where you WOULD be working” is completely true with the “if you get the job” left unsaid, but candidates often think that this means “This is the office where you WILL be working.”

    3. Ask a Manager Post author

      It’s unlikely that it’s a memorized script. Most of the issue is job candidates reading more into the interviewer’s words than what’s actually being said.

  6. Sascha

    I had an employer tell me “We’re creating another position for you because we liked you so much, and hope to bring you on board in 3 months, we’ll have HR contact you soon to start the hiring process.” That job never materialized. Thankfully I never even mentioned it to my current job so I’m still employed today. Don’t do anything with an offer letter!

    1. Sara

      I had the same thing happen, but in my case the timeline was shorter (3 weeks) and the position actually did materialize. (It’s my job now!) When they contacted me about the position, though, I was very skeptical while still being polite. The position immediately became my first choice…but I still went to the interviews I’d set up for the following two weeks until that offer letter came through!

  7. Ad Astra

    I’m guilty of reading at least a little bit into some of these statements in the past, before I was a regular AAM reader. I never assumed the job was mine until they made an offer, but I did think to myself “Oh man, that’s got to mean they want me, right?” I’ve been lucky enough that all the hiring managers who said things like that to me did indeed end up making an offer.

  8. Stranger than fiction

    I tend to read more into the poker face/ awkward silence type interviewers that don’t give any feedback or platitudes as I did terrible or won’t get the job, but often I’ve gotten the offer when that’s happened. The other stuff I tend to take as niceties.

  9. nerfmobile

    You really never can tell what’s going on behind the scenes. When I interviewed for my current job (on a Tuesday), the hiring manager told me that they had another candidate coming in later in the week and hoped to make a decision by Friday. So I figured I might hear back something by the following week, if I was lucky. I was quite surprised when I got a call back on Thursday verbally offering me the position! I found out later that I and the other candidate were the two finalists, invited for all-day on-site interviews (Tuesday and Wednesday). The other candidate was actually favored – a former colleague of the hiring manager and with a stronger resume. But he totally bombed in person (by mid-way through the day enough people said no that it was clear they couldn’t offer him the job) and they were satisfied enough with my interview to go ahead and make me the offer. (It did take a week to work out the details and get a final offer letter).

    So, when the hiring manager first told me her timeline, she wasn’t expecting to talk to me again. And if the other candidate had had a decent interview, I wouldn’t have gotten the call back. But sometimes luck is with you.

    1. KiwiLib

      As a hiring manager, I always tried not to build false hope, by giving the deadline when I’d let interviewees know be further out than I expected it to actually be. This turned slightly against me once – managed to get hold of the referees the same day, the sucessful candidate accepted immediately. I then phoned the other candidates to decline them, much earlier than they expected, and I could hear the excitement in one person’s voice, as she obviously figured the early call was a good sign – she was disappointed.

  10. JM in England

    Back in my younger (and more naive!) days, I too would tend to read more into what interviewers said. Especially the more positive signs. Now after years of having my hopes raised then dashed, I’ve learnt to maintain a healthy scepticism and that the job isn’t mine until I have the offer in writing.

  11. Anonymous Educator

    I used to do this a lot (reading into things interviewers said) before I became the interviewer. Once I got involved in hiring, it was a lot easier for me to see, from the candidate side, what things could mean… or not mean.

  12. Anon for this

    Before AAM, I would read into things and get too excited about a job offer. Now I know to keep looking for jobs and don’t start the dance party until I get an offer in writing!

  13. heatherskib

    I am definitely one of those who believes in showing the work place to the candidates! Our stretch is inner hallway with small cubicles and an industrial copier/printer that handles bulk jobs for the entire office. This would be a deal breaker to some candidates, and it works to everyone’s benefit if people know what they’re coming into!

  14. The End Of Greatness

    I generally agree with what AAM wrote, but I can’t resist a few comments from my own experiences:

    “We’re ironing out some details about the position.” – I do not believe I have ever actually said these words, but in my experience, if I find myself biting my tongue to prevent saying such a thing, it tends to be a sign that there may be some Change going on behind the scenes. No, I don’t mean that I would jerk someone around and have them interview for a job that I know doesn’t exist anymore. But there have been times when an interview is all scheduled and set up, and then I hear a rumor that there might be some Change. There’s not a lot that I can do except carry on. And sometimes the rumor is true; other times, it’s not. Thankfully this does not happen often, and it’s never happened where someone was expected to come in to the office. (I like to think that if I ever encountered a high level of uncertainty about a F2F interview, I’d go raise a ruckus with management).

    “We’ll get back to you soon / in two weeks / by Friday.” – Let’s just say that we’re all optimists. To my credit (and despite what some people might think), I do send out rejection letters.

    “I look forward to talking more.” – I can’t speak for anyone else, but for me, this is the closest thing to a ‘tell’ on the list. I can try real hard to not say it, or try to render it meaningless by always saying it, but the fact is that if I like someone, I’ll probably say something like this. If I don’t like someone, I’ll probably say something more like “Thank you. We’ll be in touch.”

    1. The End Of Greatness

      Oh, and – in case it’s not obvious – whether I liked the candidate or not is a rather small part of the final decision. It’s neither a guarantee of acceptance nor an early warning that they’ve been rejected.

  15. Mimmy

    “We’re ironing out details about the position” – I honestly think that anything more than minor details warrants not continuing on with interviews. I know that sounds harsh, but why waste an interviewee’s time if there are uncertainties, such as with funding or the job description, as described in the article.

    Also, I think employers would be wise to not say “I look forward to talking more” or “We’ll get back to you in…”. We AAM readers know not to read into such statements, but others will likely take them literally. Although, yes, candidates should also learn to take a step back. When I interview, I make sure to specifically say something like “what are the next steps?”, not “when will I hear back?”

  16. FreelanceStrategist

    I’m currently at the last stage of the recruitment process for an organization, which I’ve been courting for over two months.

    The last interview set stared with a panel interview, followed by a one-on-one with the VP, who repeatedly told me, “you have a lot of fans here,” “I called you back immediately last month to make sure you didn’t take a job somewhere else.”

    I originally interviewed for a related position, that required travel I am unwilling to make. Immediately after leaving the office I was called directly by the VP who shared with me the details of another position ‘in the works,’ who said they would call me back in a month or so when the budget for said position was approved.

    They did call back, conduct another phone screen, and asked me in for a set of interviews again. I have never had so much praise lavished during an interview, and frankly, was very flattered but maintained a professional demeanor.

    I was introduced to everyone, shown “where I would be sitting,” and told “we’re using that office space for storage at the moment but will clean it out before your start.” I was told I would be sent a research assignment to complete, which I did and sent back.

    After completing three phone screenings, and three sets of in-person interviews – all of which went very well – I’m still hearing “we haven’t made a decision yet” from the VP – and only after reaching out myself twice of a month’s period of time to follow up.

    Frankly, I’m confused – despite knowing ‘how things work’ on their end. In the interview I heard from a few people who “value transparency, and open communication,” as well as received some pretty gratuitous praise, only to receive no communication what so ever after the fact.

    Would I take the job if offered? Absolutely, this is a dream organization and position for me. However, I do believe that the hiring process – when involving multiple players – reflects the operations and communication style of the corresponding department, and thus would be mindful of that after accepting an offer.

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