how to communicate with job candidates when a hiring process is dragging out

A reader writes:

I work at a small nonprofit with no dedicated HR rep. Last year, we were trying to hire an entry-level role. For a number of reasons, the process went on much longer than expected. We had to extend the deadline several times, then put the search on hold to focus on hiring for a more urgent position, and then decided to repost the job. In total (from posting to having the offer accepted), it took about six months, which was not what we’d planned on or hoped for. We’d been understaffed for quite a while and indicated our desire to move quickly with candidates.

My question is about a candidate who interviewed twice (once in person) during the middle of this process, right before the search was put on hold. Several other interviewees inquired about their status, and they were promptly responded to, but the candidate in question never followed up via phone or email to ask his status. I took it as lack of interest (during the interview, he did not seem that interested in the job). Looking back on it, we probably should have proactively informed him after we reposted the job that our timeline had changed or just rejected him right then. Based on hindsight, I think we reposted the job because we felt said candidate was the strongest option in a weak pool and didn’t really want to hire him, but we really needed help and also didn’t feel ready to remove him from contention.

Fast forward to the end of the process: When I sent him a rejection email, he wrote back to indicate his displeasure with our hiring process. I feel conflicted because having been on the other side, I know how tough unemployment is, especially the waiting game. On the other hand, I felt the particulars of the response were rather rude. I did not reply, as I didn’t feel that would be productive for anyone involved (feel free to tell me I should have).

That said, I’d love your thoughts on how we could do better next time, specifically on the issue of communicating “no new updates” to applicants, especially if they aren’t asking you for any, and whether it ever works out to keep a candidate in the mix who’d been interviewed before you decide to re-post the job.

I do think you erred by not proactively updating him on the status of his application and figuring that if he were interested, he’d check back in with you. If someone spends the time to come in and interview with you, you owe them a response — even if the response is just “things are on hold and I’m not sure when we’ll be moving forward.”

Does it ever work out to keep a candidate in the mix when you’re reposting the job because you’re not totally sold on that person or the other candidate? Yes — but it depends very much on the candidate and what your reasons for hesitation are.

If you’re hesitating because the person seems strong but you’d ideally like someone with more experience in X or with bonus skill Y, it’s reasonable to broaden your pool and see who else is out there, even if you ultimately end up deciding to hire the first person. Or, you might feel uneasy about hiring the first good person you talk to and want to talk to other strong candidates to make sure that you’re evaluating a reasonably sized pool before hiring. But if you’re hesitating because you see a real skill deficit, or not enough evidence the person will excel at the work, or interpersonal red flags (like defensiveness or constant interrupting), I wouldn’t keep that person in the pool just because you haven’t found someone better yet. You don’t want to hire someone who fundamentally isn’t right for the job, even if it means having a longer vacancy.

In the former case — where you’re not quite ready to reject someone, but are keeping them on the back burner as a “maybe” and meanwhile are reposting the job and moving forward with other candidates — you do want to reach out and let people know what’s going on. You don’t need to give a ton of detail; it’s fine to be relatively vague and just say something like, “We have more candidates to talk with, and I probably won’t be back in touch until next month.” But it’s also okay to be honest. For example:”We think you’re great, but we also think we might need someone with more experience in X for this job. Because of that, I think it makes sense to pause our conversation for now, but I do want to continue to keep you in mind and we may end up reaching back out in the next month or two, if you’re open to it.”

Regardless, though, do keep people posted in some way. If you leave them hanging with no communication after they invested time in interviewing with you, you’ll have a lot of frustrated former candidates out there.

{ 108 comments… read them below }

  1. F.*

    This is a very timely topic for me, and I’ll be reading the comments with interest. We are in the process of hiring a manager, and upper management is taking for-ev-er to make any forward progress. We only have one strong candidate, and I feel like I am running out of excuses as I update him approximately once a week.

    1. BRR*

      Instead of excuses, can you just be honest? “hey, there is currently a hold up from some people, the process is still open, but just taking longer than expected. I hope you’re still interested and sorry about the process’ speed.”

    2. Joanna*

      Also, you should manage expectations a bit. If things are going very slowly, it is probably better to tell him that you will give him an update in a couple of weeks. Also, you might want to tell him that you think he’s a strong candidate so that if he really wants to work for you he won’t rush out to accept offers elsewhere quite yet.

      1. NK*

        +1 on all of this. There’s no need to update him weekly; every couple weeks is fine (if you tell him that’s when you’ll be in touch). And ask him to let you know if he receives an offer elsewhere in the meantime. That might light a fire under the higher-ups if they don’t want to lose him as a candidate.

    3. Wendy Darling*

      I’m on the other side — a recruiter contacted me a week ago Tuesday to ask about my availability for an in-person interview, and I haven’t heard from her since. I’m really ambivalent about the job anyway due to very serious concerns about the company, and that situation is not helping.

  2. KiwiLib*

    I agree that it is polite (and in your best interests) to keep the candidate updated around delays, esp. if you repost the ad. I’d be tempted to reply to candidate’s latest email (unless it was really rude) to apologise for the lack of communication, and say you realise you could have done better to keep candidates informed and will take his feedback on board in future.

  3. Roscoe*

    Without knowing the specifics on his response, it does seem that YOU were the rude one here. You didn’t respond to him, yet basically took him out of the running because he didn’t follow up. So many companies don’t bother responding to follow ups anyway, I don’t blame him. I understand things happen, but when you don’t hear back for months on a job you interviewed for months ago, then all of a sudden its “sorry, we found a better candidate” it sounds crappy. You basically just strung him along because you didn’t want to lose him, yet you didn’t want to hire him either.

    1. Vicki*

      I’m thinking the same. We’ve been trained (here at AAM anyway) to interview and move on. We’ve been told multiple times (in letters here and articles elsewhere) not to be pushy. We’ve been convinced that “following up” will get us removed from consideration or we’ll seem desperate. Yet here’s a team deciding that someone who doesn’t follow up doesn’t care.

      He interviewed with you. He didn’t write back after the interview to say “Thanks but no thanks”. He cares.

      1. INFJ*

        I haven’t gotten that message here. Following up TOO much, maybe. But if you were told at the end of the interview that you’d hear back in 2 weeks, and 2 weeks go by and you don’t hear anything, you SHOULD follow up. And if you didn’t get a clear indication of the timeline during the interview, then shame on you.

        1. AGirlCalledFriday*

          Shame on you? I feel that’s a bit strong. Many interviewers don’t give you a timeline, and many candidates don’t think to ask for one. Candidates are anxious during interviews, and given the time to prep and research for an interview in combination with the emotional turmoil many feel, it ought to be on the interviewer to announce announce the timeline and respond within said timeline.

          There’s a lot of information about not being pushy on this site and others. While I don’t consider a single follow up to be pushy – ONLY if it’s been a few weeks – not every candidate is going to be on the same page.

        2. KC*

          if you were given an expected timeline and you hear nothing after some time has passed when you should have, then yes, it is reasonable to follow up. “if you didn’t get a clear indication of the timeline during the interview, then shame on you”? if i asked and wasn’t given one, how is that shame on me?

      1. NotherName*

        I agree. I consider the thank you letter/email to be my follow up. If the employer needs or has more information, the ball’s in their court.

        (I also know someone who hires PT workers at a college. Excessive follow-up drives him crazy! He doesn’t have time to deal with that, and it does negatively affect job candidates. I assume anyone else who needs to hire is also busy. Otherwise, why are they hiring?)

    2. MsChandandlerBong*

      I feel like this is one of those darned if you do, darned if you don’t situations. For every manager who thinks not following up shows a lack of interest, you have someone else complaining about candidates asking for updates.

    3. m3ggus*

      Agreed. Especially because in this case, it had been communicated at the beginning that they intended the process to be swift: “We’d been understaffed for quite a while and indicated our desire to move quickly with candidates.”

  4. West Coast Reader*

    If I’ve already applied, came in for an interview, I’ve already shown my interest. In terms of etiquette, the ball is in your court. I’m waiting on you to make a decision.

    As Alison has pointed out to job searchers, if an employer wants to hire you, they’re not going to forget you. Maybe that was the candidate’s way of testing your company to see if how you treat candidates and deciding if he wants to work there or not. We all know that the search process is the nicest time that an employer would be to you, so if you’re dissatisfied during this time, this might be a red flag that it’s not the right place to work.

    Remember, interviewing is a two-way street.

    1. BRR*

      Yeah, I’m not sure how much interest I need to show plus I worry about crossing the line into annoying.

      1. Stranger than fiction*

        That’s what I was going to say. So much advice out there not to bombard the company with follow ups after you’ve interviewed. The only time I’m comfortable following up is when they would give me a specific time they thought they’d get back to me and it’s been a week past that, and then I’d follow up but only once.

      2. NK*

        While expressing follow-up interest is a little tricky because it can be a fine line, I would say you definitely want to show clear interest/enthusiasm in the job during the interview. I’ve done quite a bit of interviewing in the last year, and among competitive candidate pools, decisions can sometimes come down to who seemed more interested in the job. I’m not talking about going crazy overboard, but we expect candidates to show some genuine enthusiasm about our industry (without naming the industry, it’s one of those where it’s pretty hard to not find at least one aspect or another interesting, and if you don’t, you really don’t belong here).

  5. the gold digger*

    I had my first interview for my current job (with the wonderful boss) in January 2014. I did not start until August 2014. There were a bunch of delays – they were bringing in a new VP and wanted me to interview with him, they redesigned the job after talking to me and had to re-post, etc – but every couple of weeks, the guy who is now my (wonderful) boss would call me to let me know what was going on.

  6. AFT123*

    For what it’s worth to hiring managers, keep in mind that a candidate may no show enthusiasm in the way that you’re expecting or accustomed to. If you can try, try take their response literally when you ask about how they feel about the opportunity. I’m not a super “bubbly” (yikes) person by nature, and for my newest position I was recruited and agreed to interview on an exploratory basis. The hiring process took 7+ interviews over 4 months, and while I was excited about the opportunity, I also still really liked my current job. I’m sure I didn’t come across as enthusiastic as some would have hoped, but I was truly in a good position for the company to woo me. They hired me, I’m so happy here so far, and glad they saw potential in me enough to reach out and bring me through the process.

    I know this isn’t always the case, but if you’ve got a candidate who shines in every other aspect, and seems fairly open and honest, don’t take a lack of enthusiasm as a lack of interest :)

    1. AFT123*

      Forgot to add – It can be challenging for an applicant to show unbridled enthusiasm when a process is taking months and months, and they aren’t getting enthusiastic vibes from the employer. Two-way street for sure.

      1. Dan*

        Yup. I had an interview that I was totally excited to go on, but got hugely bad vibes after I got on site. Made me rethink how badly I wanted that job. I certainly didn’t want to think I was at my “dream job”, working with people who rather would be elsewhere.

        The interviewer strung me out for two months with “we’re continuing to interview” updates. (On paper I was a strong match, their interviewing was really bureaucratic so harder to stand out.) They finally rejected me. I was getting to the point where I really wanted to tell them, “you’re not my first choice, I’m clearly not your first choice, can we just cut the bs and move on?” The pay would have been bad (they knew it) but I would have taken the job if the fit was right. Strangely, the fit would have been so-so.

    2. S.I. Newhouse*

      Congratulations on persevering and landing the job!
      But I have to ask, WHY do employers feel the need to interview people as many as seven times or more? It’s a disturbing workforce trend that makes no sense to me, but it’s become prevalent.
      I understand the high cost of onboarding a new employee and the fear of making a mistake. But that number of interviews means a process that takes weeks upon weeks, and the delays have got to also end up being expensive to the company in terms of loss of production. Not to mention, it’s extremely disruptive to the candidates’ lives.
      At my workplace, we’ve never needed more than two rounds of in-person interviews to make a decision, and for the most part, we’ve hired the right people. Seriously, after two interviews, what is left to ask?

      1. AFT123*

        I agree with that for the most part. The process I went through included an initial phone conversation with a company recruiter (with interview-y type questions), a conversation with the boss, a conversation with boss’ boss, a prep session for a sales presentation, another prep, the actual presentation, a follow-up, and finally, an in-person interview/lunch with boss. So I guess it was 8 meetings, ha! But the only in-person was the final meeting. Still very time consuming, I can appreciate the prep sessions and I see the value in all of the other meetings, so I was cool with everything.

      2. Ad Astra*

        Anything beyond three interviews makes me wonder if the company has to do everything by committee, which is often a very annoying way to run a department or a business. If collaboration is important in this job/company, it might make sense to have two or three key employees in each interview. But someone who already has a full-time job (as your strongest candidates often will) is going to have a really hard time finding seven occasions to meet with another company during business hours. I’m sure some companies who do this are sane and functional, but this practice would cause me to at least look critically about how things work around there.

        1. neverjaunty*

          Wow. This was really insightful, and a lightbulb just went on about a former workplace that had multiple interviews and in fact turned out to have a lot of gridlock.

        2. Dan*

          I’m with you on that. My field pays close to six figures for employees with a few years under their belts, and I’ve never had interviews stretch beyond a day. Half day is the norm.

          Lots of these extended interviewing stories come from people who are interviewing for jobs that pay half of what I make, if not less. I always scratch my head and say, “Just exactly what are the companies afraid of? At those pay rates, mistakes aren’t terribly costly.” Sure, hire the wrong CEO and you can really screw yourself, but entry level searches shouldn’t be as drawn out as the CEO search. The liability just isn’t as great.

          1. Terra*

            Out of curiosity what field? Even in general terms if you’re not comfortable revealing. I’m just curious since I’m in a field that the salary for two years experience is half – three-quarters what yours is and yet it’s not uncommon for large companies to require a phone interview, all day group interview, and final individual interview before hiring.

      3. seisy*

        I very much agree. I also suspect that at a certain point, any gains from more interviews, and involving more people in the hiring process are lost due to just the signal-to-noise ratio that crops up when you just start adding more stuff to consider or opinions to gather.

      4. mander*

        Yes, I find this idea bizarre. I’ve never experienced it myself — in my industry, an interview is pretty rare in the first place — but I just can’t imagine how multiple interviews are going to give them that much more information. Phone screen + in-person, maybe some kind of presentation etc. that is specific to your field, that stuff makes sense. But multiple sessions for a junior or entry level post seems like a waste of time.

  7. BRR*

    To the LW, I think you need to be more open about a lack of checking in. I don’t check in specifically because I don’t think it’s going to accomplish anything. I either don’t get a response because they can’t say anything or it’s not going to help me as a candidate so I don’t do it. If I checked in, I know it’s not going to give a response of, “Oh yeah, you! Here’s your interview/offer.”

    1. overeducated and underemployed*

      Agreed. I would think that “checking in” could be read as aggressive and annoying, in the “don’t bug the hiring manager, they’ll reach out if they want you” vein, and I’ve only done it when I had to make a decision about one offer while waiting to hear back about a preferred opportunity. Months of silence from a potential employer seems to be a form of passive rejection more often than it is a delay in hiring, anyway….

      1. BRR*

        Agree to the passive rejection and also the one exception I would make is if I had another offer. Again, I just don’t feel like it would ever help my case.

      2. Audiophile*

        I checked in once, with a job I really wanted and a hiring manager I felt I had truly established a rapport with. The reason I checked in was because the end of our discussion veeered more personal than professional, so checking in truly felt like continuing the conversation. But for interviews where they’ve ended more predictably, I follow up one time, usually a week or two later. If I don’t hear, I move on. Rarely, I won’t check up or follow up at all, though that’s usually not out of disinterest, just being caught up in other interviews and job applications. Like AAM said, if they like you and want to hire you, they definitely won’t forget that important step.

  8. Joanna*

    Hmm… Job-seekers usually have to be reined in because they follow up too often after interviewing, to the point of being a pest. They need to be reminded that the process does not magically go faster just because they keep calling or emailing: the company advertised an open position because they want to hire someone; if the company is moving slowly, it’s because something else is a higher priority for them or because they have something on their end holding up the process, not because they just forgot to keep going and need you to call them to remind them!

    But here we are and we have a candidate being judged for NOT following up! Wacky!

    Granted, if he didn’t appear interested during the interview and he didn’t write a thank-you note (I’m assuming he didn’t since it wasn’t mentioned), then he probably doesn’t care about the job that much. But like Alison he can see that the company handled this pretty badly and he decided to tell you about it. Even though he won’t ever work for you, you can use his anger to see how your actions come across to many applicants (even if they keep their mouths shut).

    1. bob*

      The guy took the time and effort to interview twice. How much more interest does he need to show? Assuming he didn’t care that much about the job doesn’t match his actions to that point.

      I’ve been in the same position as the interviewee and it’s infuriating to waste your time (twice in this case) and never hear back or hear back many months later after you have long since forgotten about the job.

      1. Joanna*

        That’s a good point. I’ve actually done phone interviews without being very excited about the job, but I wouldn’t go through the stress of an in-person interview if I didn’t want the job. While I might follow up if the hiring manager has taken significantly longer to contact me than they told me they would (because they might have lost my file or something), that is me doing it out of my own best interest, not to demonstrate interest in the job. After the interview is over (and maybe the thank-you notes, since that has become custom), my responsibility to show interest in the job is over.

        1. Dan*

          At what point am I supposed to be excited about the job anyway? Job ads suck, and it takes me most of the interview to figure out if 1) I like the work, 2) I want to work here, and 3) I want to work with you. Being all excited the moment I walk in is just fake because I don’t know the rest of it yet.

    2. KC*

      i don’t think we can assume he didn’t send a thank-you email just because it wasn’t mentioned. it’s one of those things that i would expect to be mentioned if it wasn’t done. otherwise, it’s a regular part of the job search, not exactly worth mentioning.

  9. Suzanne*

    Absolutely you should have kept the applicant informed of the delays in the hiring process. So many companies (and employment counselors) explicitly ask applicants not to bug the hiring people. Don’t call us, we’ll call you. Think of how you would view an applicant who delayed and delayed and delayed giving you a decision after you had made an offer. Then think of how you’d view that same person if he or she let you know why there was such a delay. As someone said above, hiring is a two way street.

  10. Workfromhome*

    I’m not sure of the details of their rude response but a less than positive response to being strung along for 6 months should not be unexpected.
    People are often justifiably scared of asking for updates because they often receive either no response or worse a “don’t call us we’ll call you don’t bother me” type of response. They fear that if they bother you they might get eliminated.

    To interview twice (once in person) and then hear nothing for months only to get a rejection letter does seem to be rather dismissive of someone’s effort to interview. After all taking hours out of your day to travel to a location and interview does deserve the 10 seconds of effort that iot takes to send an email that says sorry there has been a delay.

    While I am employed so not in the same situation I know that the way updates are handled plays a huge part in perception,whether I would work somewhere and in my word of mouth recommendations to others.

    I interviewed with two companies a couple years ago while I was already employed. Job 1 I actually took a day off work and flew for an interview (I was a final 2 candidate and actually knew the other candidate) and then heard nothing for months, I found out through a work source that the other candidate had been hired. Another MONTH when by before they finally contacted me that I did not get the job. I swore I wouldn’t work there even if they offered me a job later because of their process and when others have asked about potential jobs there I passed on their poor practices.

    Another job I had only a single phone interview (although I was referred for the job) and I received weekly updates from the hiring manager. Even though I didn’t get the job I would happily apply again and recommend them to friends because of their approach.

    You never know when even an entry level candidate you reject may become important down the road so the courtesy of an update or prompt rejection takes little time but can be very mich appreciated and worth it.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Unless they were telling him he was a very strong candidate and they were very interested — and not meaning it — I don’t agree they strung him along. They should have updated him, of course, but that’s a different thing.

  11. grasshopper*

    As much as you want candidates to sell themselves to you, you also need to sell the job to candidates. Since you are in non-profit, one way to emphasize the importance of good hiring practices to those in charge is to remind them that all job candidates (and their friends and family) are potential donors. The candidate will be sharing their job search stories with people who might have an impact on your bottom line.

  12. ADL*

    OP, I believe the fault is yours. Your tale could have been mine except that I was eventually hired. The company took forever to get back to me every time (and even then, it was, I’ll contact you next week and the next week turned out to be two weeks later). I didn’t follow up every time week after week, other than a simple, thank you for letting me know, as I did not want to come across as annoying. Nothing new was ever said. The ball is in your court; I interviewed, I showed up in person. I don’t know what else I can do to show you I’m interested as me constantly asking about the job doesn’t mean it is going to magically appear in my lap.

  13. S.I. Newhouse*

    While the OP does not come away smelling like a rose here, I applaud him/her for asking the question and hopefully being cognizant of this issue in the future. Too many employers don’t follow up with their candidates and don’t care. My wife was on the wrong end of complete radio silence after interviews for months during her job search (even when she followed up in some cases), and it was really stressful for us both.

  14. LW*

    Hi all, Thanks for the comments so far (very insightful). I am on the road so just wanted to add one thing now, but will comment more later. I agree with Alison’s point about showing up for an interview being a big (the main?) sign of interest and that not everyone shows enthusiasm in the same way (I believe that was AFT123 who pointed that out). Great reminders for those of us in the position to hire someone.

    That said, I wanted to clarify something that I didn’t explain well in my letter, which is that we didn’t take him out of the running just or even mainly because he didn’t follow up. There were several things that gave us pause about his fit and enthusiasm for the job, both big (very average interview in which he couldn’t articulate why his skills were a fit nor more broadly why he was interested the job, our org, etc.) and small (dressed *very* casually, low energy to the point that most of the time the conversation seemed boring to him, no thank you note). Together it painted a certain picture, and I think that had those things been different the lack of follow-up would not have been a deal breaker. I say that not to excuse rude behavior on our part, but just simply to add info (as an AAM reader I know I love as many details as possible).

    1. S.I. Newhouse*

      Thank you for the update and clarification. That makes far more sense than just rejecting the candidate because he didn’t follow up!

    2. Bookworm*

      Thanks for the additional info & nice follow-up.

      I’m inclined to think that the only fault was not sending a quick follow-up note proactively when the process was put on hold. It seems that it may just not really have registered for you with this candidate (perhaps because you were so understaffed) but the ones who reached out reminded you of their interested, so you thought to respond them, which I think is what people are picking up on.

      Now you know for next time. I agree with Alison that it’s probably best to be honest when you can, especially as that frankness may tell you more about certain applicants (they could clarify something about their skill set, for example. Or if they respond poorly, it may confirm your apprehensions.)

    3. Not Today Satan*

      I don’t think anyone’s saying that you should have hired him, so how poorly he interviewed isn’t at issue. I think what bothering people (and him) is that you should have either officially taken him out of the running after the bad interview or given him an update on the search.

      I’ve had interviews that I’ve bombed but I still get annoyed if those hiring managers never update me. I don’t just think to myself, “well I’m not the best fit, so they’re off the hook in terms of basic courtesy.”

      1. Hattie McDoogal*

        Interviews I’ve bombed are pretty much the only time I’m *not* annoyed about a lack of follow-up. I usually just want to put the whole debacle out of my head, and I know I’m not getting the job, so I don’t need someone emailing me to tell me I’m an unemployable bozo. But that’s just me personally — you’re right that a poor fit doesn’t absolve the interviewer of courtesy.

    4. Ann Cognito*

      We always communicate with every single person we interview, no matter what the decision, or if there’s a delay in the process. Since they came in to meet with us face-to-face, I always call them in the hope of speaking with them, rather than via email. We decided as an organization that we wanted to leave candidates with as positive an experience as possible, even if the answer is a “no”. So many times, candidates have thanked me for following-up, and said how few places do that.

      It’s such a simple thing to do, and I think it goes such a long way towards remembering a place positively or not.

      1. neverjaunty*

        This is a great point. You may not want that candidate now, but you might want them in a few years. Or you might be interviewing someone they know.

        1. Emmy Rae*

          Yep. I used to volunteer for a political organization – once gave a fundraising speech that netted $13,000. A person there reached out and asked me to apply for an opening they had, which I did. They interviewed me (gave me a one hour window which was the only time they were willing to conduct the interview) and during the interview kept asking questions about my current job, which I was miserable in. (Not about job duties – personal stuff about my boss, who I had complained about in the past when I was not a job candidate.) I was nearly crying. They rejected me for the position via form letter, and when I reached out to follow up I never heard from them again.

          And now I am not a volunteer for that organization.

    5. Ad Astra*

      Like others have said, I think your only real error is in not updating him more proactively when you had information to share. It may not be a great practice to assume no follow-up = no interest, but even in your original letter it’s clear that you had legitimate reservations about this candidate.

      I’m curious… just how rude was this candidate’s response? If it were somewhat cordial, but frank, feedback about the process, it might be worth it to thank him for his insight and apologize for any inconvenience. But I don’t see that being helpful if the guy really was rude, for all the reasons you mentioned.

      1. LW*

        I thought it was really rude in terms of the language/tone (not just frank). I did ask some other people to read it as I know email can be a tough medium to judge emotions and tone, and they agreed. The applicant wrote back very quickly so I think it was a first-wave of emotion, which I get. Again (in hindsight), I now think I should of written back to say “I hear you.”

  15. neverjaunty*

    OP, it sounds as though you really didn’t want this guy anyway, and by saying ‘he should have followed up’ you shifted the responsibility of rejection from you to him. That’s… really kind of not cool.

    1. Anonymous Educator*

      Yeah, I’m really hoping that was more of an internal monologue and not what was actually communicated to the candidate (“You should have followed up more, even though we didn’t really like you that much…”).

    2. Dan*

      I got the same vibe. OP followed up as you were writing this (presumably, based on the time stamps) and her post really screams, “We didn’t want to hire this guy.” I’m left wondering why they didn’t outright reject him early on. If someone is that weak, they likely don’t even pass the warm body test.

      1. LW*

        I think the reason we didn’t reject him right after the second interview was mainly that on paper he looked great (both in terms of skills and knowledge) and his first interview via phone was great too. The first impression we had was so different from the next one (given by the interview I described) that we weren’t sure how to move forward…hence the reposting. As I said in my letter though, in hindsight I think that decision seems bad for all involved him (us, him, etc.) and that we should have handled it differently.

  16. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

    One of the best bits of advice my old boss ever gave me was “don’t tell candidates the process will move quickly, because everyone’s definitions of quickly are different.”

    I always try to give candidate hard deadlines like, “we are conducting interviews over the next two weeks, and will be in contact by x date about next steps.”

    I hate sending the “we have reposted the position” email, because likely it means that the person I’m sending it to won’t be hired, but in the past it has proven to be a kindness. I had a candidate let me know that they had received an offer but were waiting for us in response to my “we’ve reposted” email. After I followed up with our new timeline and why we were reopening the pool, he took the other job.

  17. Student*

    How (un)acceptable is it to make those communications when you aren’t in charge of the hiring process?

    I’ve heavily participated in hiring for my department, often moreso than the hiring managers. I see them delaying for various reasons and not communicating to the candidate. I see them make the decision to pass on someone but not tell that person they’re out of the running. I pressure them to update candidates (or move faster on decisions, etc.) with no success. I have let the hiring manager make the final call on it so far, but I feel terrible for candidates that don’t get a simple update on our timeline getting drawn out. I feel like telling someone he’s been rejected is a step too far beyond my authority, but would it be horrible of me to update candidates on the timeline behind the hiring manager’s back when the hiring manager refuses to do so (only reason for it is “too busy to deal with it”, and I am absolutely sure of that)?

    I’m taking this issue as a cue that I need to step back and not do so much of the hiring manager’s work for him, but that ultimately means that candidates are going to have a worse experience with us and our slots will stay open even longer.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Do you mean hiring manager in the traditional sense (the person who will manage the new hire) or “the manager of hiring” (like HR)? If they’re the former, it’s really that person’s call. If you mean the latter and you’re the former — the manager of the hire — then sure, you should have standing to do that.

    2. fposte*

      I’m going with a no, it’s not appropriate for you to reach out unless you’re authorized by the hiring manager to do so. I’m not clear if you’ve asked the hiring manager if you could update people–if you haven’t, you could try that, but if you have and it’s been rejected, then you *really* can’t do it.

  18. Anonymous Educator*

    Maybe I didn’t read the letter carefully enough, but I don’t feel the OP was in the wrong. It sounds to me as if the candidate in question wasn’t really in the running anyway. He was the strongest in a weak pool? That sounds to me as if the OP didn’t want to outright reject him and didn’t want to hire him either (in school admissions, we call this the “perma-waitlist”). Alison’s advice about not being too pushy totally stands. No sane hiring manager is going to let an excellent candidate go. If he were a real contender, she would have kept him in the loop.

    I’ve applied as both a strong candidate and a weak candidate for various positions. I can tell based on how much communication is going on from the hiring manager. One position I was definitely the top contender for my future boss kept checking in with me every 1-2 weeks to let me know what was going on and told me to definitely let him know if I got an offer from another school before taking it. Another position I clearly wasn’t a top contender for brought me in and then never even let me know I didn’t get the job (I had to find out second-hand that they eventually hired someone else—not even a form rejection email).

    In situations like the one described in this letter, if they later decide the candidate is a contender, they’ll discuss amongst themselves:
    “I don’t know. He didn’t sound that interested.”
    “I think he could be good, though. Why don’t we reach out to him and see if he’s willing to come in a third and final time?”

    1. Roscoe*

      Even still, why not just let him know SOMETHING. Like, “Hey, sorry, our timeline on this got pushed back”. Hell, use that time to tell him he isn’t really in the running. But she literally is mad that he didn’t reach out when the ball is in their court.

      1. Anonymous Educator*

        That’s the thing, though—I don’t think she’s mad that he didn’t reach out. The vibe I was getting was more like “Yeah, we weren’t that enthused with him, and he didn’t seem that enthused with us either” and not so much “He’d be the perfect candidate, but he never reached out, so let’s cut him off!”

        1. Observer*

          True. But the reality is that it would have been courteous of the OP’s org to reach out, and it is really unfair to ding the candidate for not following up. That doesn’t mean that they had to hire him, of course. Just that THIS is not an issue that they have any reason to complain about and that he does have a valid complaint.

      2. LW*

        I agree we should have been more communicative/decisive/etc, but I was not mad that he didn’t follow up. (See my comment above about other concerns we had; it was not a deal breaker nor is it something we expect from candidates). I think I added the lack of follow-up detail because (based on a number of things) the candidate didn’t seem interested in the job during his 2nd interview so his response surprised me. Again, that’s no excuse for our rudeness or making assumptions regarding candidates interest….

    2. Mike B.*

      I think any wrongdoing on the part of the OP is far outweighed by her willingness to honestly appraise her handling of the situation. Many if not most employers wouldn’t even have sent a candidate a formal rejection after two interviews, let alone kept the entire pool informed about the current state of their hiring process.

      1. Anonymous Educator*

        It’s sad, but if I even get a form-email bulk rejection, I’m happy about it, because I’ve been in more than one situation in which I have interviewed in person (all day—not just a single person for 45 minutes) and then heard nothing at all.

        1. Ad Astra*

          I feel the same way. Last time I was job searching, two of the four companies I interviewed with in person just ghosted on me and I never heard back. One of those companies hired me. So that leaves only one company that bothered to let me know I wasn’t in the running.

      2. Roscoe*

        I don’t know, I think its common courtesy to let someone know that they didn’t get the job after they took the time to come in. I agree that it doesn’t happen, but I don’t think she deserves praise for doing it months later either.

  19. Pwyll*

    I guess I’ll take counter-point here. I think OP definitely should have kept the candidates informed about what was going on with the process. But I’m honestly surprised by the number of comments saying that folks shouldn’t be following up. When I’m job searching, I absolutely follow up after interviews for positions I really want. I mean, after you send your thank you note, you shouldn’t be following up a week later. But if I interviewed somewhere in person, I would absolutely shoot a quick, short, friendly “It’s been 3-4 weeks, just checking in” e-mail (unless they have given me a specific timeframe, then I e-mail at the end of that timeframe).

    On the flip side, I honestly can’t think of a candidate we’ve hired who didn’t follow up. That might be because I tell people up front that our hiring process can be months long, that we’re small and have no dedicated HR staff and sometimes the hiring process becomes a lower priority than our other work, and that they should contact me if they haven’t heard back in a month. There are times where more than a month has gone by before we even have a chance to discuss the candidates we’ve interviewed, let alone decide on one. And if we’re ambivalent, we’ll hold off and interview more people similar to that of OP. (I still would have sent out an e-mail blast to everyone saying that we’re still interviewing, though.) That timeframe stinks, I recognize that, but them’s the breaks in a tiny firm and it was my experience in tiny non-profits as well. But if it’s been awhile, I am absolutely going to be taking into account the people who followed up moreso than the ones who didn’t.

    And really, I can think of very few scenarios where a rude response to a rejection is ever appropriate.

    1. Anonymous Educator*

      I mean, after you send your thank you note, you shouldn’t be following up a week later. But if I interviewed somewhere in person, I would absolutely shoot a quick, short, friendly “It’s been 3-4 weeks, just checking in” e-mail (unless they have given me a specific timeframe, then I e-mail at the end of that timeframe).

      I do this as well, but I also believe (and have seen from my experience on both sides of hiring) that a hiring manager or committee that thinks you’re in the top three (or the top one) will not let you get away just because you didn’t follow up.

      1. Pwyll*

        I do agree with that, certainly. But I guess my point is that sometimes in small firms it isn’t about the candidate at all. I’ve worked for 2-3 really tiny firms; it took forever to convince the owners/Board to bring on new help. Then, we’d start the process and a client would go nuts or a grant application would magically appear, and the choice was to spend time on my work, or to spend time on hiring someone. Now, I know that if I hire the right person, in the long run everyone’s workload will be better. But that knowledge doesn’t get that 250+ page grant application out the door. Sometimes you have amazing candidates that you don’t want to get away, but you literally can’t spend the hour to finish up the process to get approval to make the offer. And next thing you know it’s been 3 weeks. And in trying to play catch up, you don’t even remember you’re supposed to be hiring someone until they send in a follow up.

        I know that sounds dysfunctional, but it can be reality for the <10 employee crowd. And as bad as that sounds, they were pretty awesome places to work. So I still vote for following up for a job you're very interested in.

    2. Not Today Satan*

      When I was interviewing, I would follow up— but only for my own sake, so I could psychologically close the book on that job. I’ve never been offered a job after the employer left me hanging so long that I’d feel the need to follow up.

  20. AndersonDarling*

    I just wanted to point out that if the job was reposted 6 months later, the original candidate pool may have gained the experience to make them better fits. The lukewarm candidate may have learned the key skills or gained better soft skills in 1/2 a year and may now be a great fit. If a communication line was kept open, the recruiter may have learned this and offered another interview.

    1. LW*

      Good point about candidates gaining skills in the meantime, though may not have applied in this case. The total process for us as the hiring org was half a year; we re-posted the job a month or two after we’d interviewed said candidate the second time.

  21. Bookworm*

    I think I might be reading this differently than others. Of course I think that OP should have proactively updated the candidates (especially those who came in for interviews) but I’m not sure that I see the decision making was quite so…abrupt as some people are suggesting. I don’t think we have reason to believe that she eliminated the applicant for not following-up, or that her not updating him was some sort of punishment.

    What I was picturing was sort of:

    1 – we interviewed some candidates, but didn’t anyone who wowed us, even though we were understaffed and really need someone.

    2 – for a variety of reasons, the hiring was postponed

    3 – totally swamped due to being understaffed, we didn’t even think to update the candidates to tell them we were putting hiring on hold

    4 – several candidates reached out, and of course we responded to them, but didn’t respond to the candidate who didn’t reach out

    5 – the hiring process was picked-up again, and we eventually found someone and sent out rejections.

    6 – one of the applicants reached out to complain about the process.

    Unless I’m missing something, it seems that the flaw is more thoughtlessness. They should be more proactive in the future, but I think its a little hyperbolic to suggest that OP is trying to shift the blame to this candidate, or that she was effectively eliminating him because he didn’t respond.

    1. Mike B.*


      OP forgot about a candidate who merited forgetting. (Showed up dressed casually, didn’t act enthusiastic or engaged, didn’t send a thank-you, responded rudely to the rejection–she dodged a bullet, and she’s apparently too kind to say so outright.)

      1. neverjaunty*

        I’m not really following this argument. If the candidate merited forgetting, then the correct thing to do was remove him from the pool (i.e. send a rejection). The fact that other candidates reached out despite the OP’s mistake doesn’t mean this guy is a terrible person who warranted rudeness – for one thing, as others have noted, there’s a lot of bad advice about there about not ‘bugging’ employers or ‘seeming desperate’.

        1. Bookworm*

          I don’t think anyone is arguing that he shouldn’t have gotten an update. I think we’re all in agreement that they should have a system in place to proactively update all applicants next time something like this happens.

          I think it’s more become a discussion about the ‘severity’ of the offense. You mention rudeness, but personally I don’t think OP was particularly rude. Their hiring timeline changed, she was swamped, and it sounds like she just didn’t think to proactively update people. She comments that she didn’t update him as she didn’t think he was interested, but that reads to me like a reflection in retrospect after receiving his note. I doubt that she sat down at her desk, thought “should I update the candidates?” and then thought “no, he didn’t even follow-up.”

          It seems far more likely that she was busy and more time elapsed than she realized and suddenly it had been several months and they were sending rejection notices. I certainly agree that next time she should update candidates before that…but I also don’t think this one incident is that much of a smear on her record. And, without more information? I don’t think she was especially rude and doubt she merited an upset e-mail from him. (ESPECIALLY if he didn’t follow up. I mean, what if she had, but it had gone to his spam? He probably should have attempted a clarifying e-mail before sending a complaint.)

          I’m sure everyone in this thread has occasionally forgotten to follow-up proactively when they should have, it’s not all that uncommon to forget an RSVP, to a project update, or a hiring update. I guess I just think OP’s mistake was a fairly minor faux-pas.

  22. INFJ*

    Isn’t communication a two-way street? So he didn’t follow up, and then got mad at you for not following up. I call this one a draw.

  23. hbc*

    I often use some version of the following when interviewing people: “You might have heard from [Over-Promising Owner] that we plan to move quickly, and while that’s definitely our intention, it’s rarely what we actually achieve. So don’t be surprised if you hear something by the end of the week, but don’t get nervous if it’s three weeks before we contact you either. Also, if you get the offer, I’m not going to pressure you to give less notice or anything because we dragged our feet on our end.”

    They’ve usually had enough information during the course of the interview to understand that we’re understaffed and a bit disorganized, so if they can’t handle a range versus an exact date (with updates if the range turns out to be wrong), they’re probably not going to be a good fit.

  24. Ask a Manager* Post author

    Just to clarify what I suggest people do, since it sounds like there’s some confusion on this point: I don’t suggest following up after simply applying (although if you must, do it by email, not phone). But after interviewing, it’s different: it’s reasonable to check in by email after the timeline they gave you is up, and once more a few weeks later if you you haven’t heard anything. But after that, no more.

    1. Anonymous Educator*

      I usually wait slightly afterwards. So if they say “We’ll get back to you in a week with next steps,” I wait about a week and a half or two weeks to follow up with them if I haven’t heard anything.

  25. Tuckerman*

    “[We] indicated our desire to move quickly with candidates”
    It’s especially frustrating to wait when you hear this.

    1. LW*

      Very true. I like a lot of the suggestions people had about different ways to phrase timelines and updates, so I’ll need to figure out what the right mix is for us and our reality. A couple commentators (I’m assuming they also work at tiny non profits where people wear multiple hats) picked up on some of the issues going on organizationally; I think a big key would be indicating initially that though we sometimes move nimbly (more nimbly than huge for-profit companies) and really want to move nimbly it doesn’t always happen….and then following up of course.

      1. Tuckerman*

        I think your candidates would appreciate that extra information. I work in higher ed so I totally understand how ridiculously long the hiring process can be.
        If the timeline changes from what I originally anticipated, I reach out to candidates with a projected timeline for when they’ll hear from me. “We haven’t decided yet if we need a second intern. We hope to know in the next month. I’ll touch base by the beginning of March. ” Then, I add that email to my task list in Outlook, with a due date a month in the future. I may set a reminder for the task is my task list is long.

  26. Mimmy*

    Giving updates to candidates is so rare in my experience, I’ve come to accept it with just mild annoyance. It is a pleasant surprise when I do get an update beyond a “we’ve gone with someone else” letter or email. My first post-MSW job was like this. The hiring manager updated me at least once by email about a week or two after my interview. About a week later, I accepted the job offer.

  27. Liz T*

    This rallied me to check in today! I got a heads-up a month ago that they would need more time deciding, and that I’d hear from them in early January. Then, nothing. So today I emailed to follow up. Fingers crossed.

  28. Waiting for the call*

    This question now has me worried. I interviewed for a position last Friday and got a call on Monday about an hour after my reference was called. The head of the department told me that I was ‘shortlisted from the shortlist’ and asked a couple of follow up questions, one of which was ‘what are your salary expectations.’ I told them my range and they said that now it would go to the CEO for consideration in the budget as they were making a number of hires. My range was higher than they anticipated and she told me it was understandable given my experience. The interview went so well and I believe this is the position and company for me.

    It’s now Friday and I have not heard back. I want this job so badly! Should I follow up with a call or email, or just leave it? I got the impression I was ‘the one’ but they didn’t actually say that or offer me the position. They also did not give me a timeline, just soon.

    The call on Monday is what is throwing me. What good would it do to call now, other than ease my own mind? Just call me already!

    1. Rebel Yellow*

      They’ll call when there is something to call about. Don’t call them, it’s only been four days (at most) and that’s nothing in hiring. It could take some time for them to decide. If/when it’s been a couple of weeks since you last had contact, you could call to ask if they have an idea of the timeline, but until then resist.

      1. Waiting for the call*

        They called. I didn’t get it. They went with the candidate who asked for less money. I asked for my current salary so I feel there’s nothing more I could have done. It still hurts.

  29. flabbergasted at unprofessional behaviour*

    OP says: “but the candidate in question never followed up via phone or email to ask his status. I took it as lack of interest . . .”

    He applied. He interviewed. How much more interest do you expect him to show? What other hoops should he have jumped through – for an entry level position?

    And he sort of called you out on your poor performance at hiring – and, again you are making an excuse to not hire him – “he was kind of rude.” Fine, don’t hire him then; but, please tell him that you’re moving on with other candidates – don’t drag him along. Following up isn’t just a nice thing to do; it isn’t just common courtesy. A follow up to job candidates after they have interviewed is professional behavior; anything less just isn’t professional. And that is not how you want to represent your organization.

    Ask a Manager says: “If you leave them hanging with no communication after they invested time in interviewing with you, you’ll have a lot of frustrated former candidates out there.”

    I’d also add: Remember, every job candidate is a potential client or donor. Treat them that way.

  30. KC*

    Unfortunately it seems like a lot of companies nowadays, especially for entry-levelish positions, feel no obligation whatsoever to keep candidates in the loop. I don’t blame the guy for expressing his dissatisfaction. I think you need to view this process as more of a two way street and discard the outdated advise of “follow up every ____” in assessing candidates. If you didn’t ask him to follow up, then why would you expect him to? He interviewed with you, the ball is now in your court.

  31. Pitbitin Mad*

    When you get a canned response like this, am I wrong to feel like it is a slap in the face? I believe they just think I am too old to work with them because the people I interviewed with were all younger. I hardly feel it went badly considering they were reading off a paper and firing endless questions at me. I feel like I could have done this job in my sleep and I am sorry, if they cannot find anyone after 3 months, it is lame….so I wrote back and told I thought this was kind of a nasty email.

    “Thank you for interviewing for the XXXXXXX position. We have closed this position and will soon be reposting it, in the hopes of better finding an appropriate candidate. Although you are not being offered this position, we appreciated the opportunity to consider your qualifications.

    Best of luck with your career.”

Comments are closed.