you are reading way too much into things employers say to you

Most job seekers have a terrible habit of reading way more into things employers say than what’s actually meant. That’s understandable — job seeking can be anxiety-producing, and it’s natural to try to find clues about your candidacy.

But this tendency to try to read between the lines or take things far too literally can make job searching much more frustrating and disappointing.

A few years ago, I did a round-up of ways that people commonly misinterpret things their interview might say. Here are some additions.

What the employer says: You’re a really great fit for this job.
What you hear: We are highly likely to hire you, and possibly even entirely certain.
What they mean: You’re a good candidate. There will probably be other good candidates too, maybe some who are stronger, but you’re in that general group.

What the employer says: I’m looking forward with talking with you more.
What you hear: We will definitely be talking more, either when you advance to another interview or when we call to make you a job offer.
What they mean: We might talk more, if you move forward in the hiring process.

What the employer says: You’re a finalist for this job.
What you hear: You’re about to get an offer.
What they mean: We’ve narrowed down our candidate pool, and you’re still in it — but so are several other people, and we have not made a decision yet.

What the employer says: This is where your office would be.
What you hear: Here’s your new office! You’ll get a job offer soon.
What they mean: If you get the job, this would be your office. We show it to most/all candidates as a routine part of the interviews.

What the employer says: We’re talking with other candidates but should have a decision in a couple of weeks.
What you hear: I’m trying to let you down easy here.
What they mean: We’re talking with other candidates but should have a decision in a couple of weeks. I’m not trying to indicate anything about your candidacy; I’m giving you process information.

What the employer says: You’re not the right fit.
What you hear: We don’t like you, or you wouldn’t fit in with our culture because you are too old/too young/too quiet/too loud/too something/not enough something. Ugh, you’re awful or maybe we’re awful.
What they mean: We are rejecting you for reasons that could range anywhere from not liking you, to thinking you’d be unhappy here, to someone else having better qualifications, to deciding to hire the CEO’s niece. We’re just not hiring you, and there’s no clue here about the reason why.

What the employer says: Your credentials are impressive. (said in a rejection note)
What you hear: They were really impressed by me. (This often leads to bitterness, because if all these employers are so impressed by you, why aren’t they hiring you?)
What they mean: We are rejecting you, and your credentials may or may not be impressive. This is the normal boilerplate rejection language that we use with all candidates.

{ 158 comments… read them below }

  1. Turanga Leela*

    I still hold a grudge against a college (not even an employer) that rejected me without the boilerplate in the last example. “We had many very impressive applicants,” said their rejection letter. They did not say that I was one of them. It seemed like a pretty cold letter, and I held it against the university years later when I was applying to graduate school.

    It was a silly thing to get hung up on, but in my defense, I was 17 and the unfriendly letter made an impression.

    1. Myrin*

      My little sister got a letter like that just last year after applying to an art school – it literally said “you’re not at all meeting our standards” and was just generally written in a very rude and condescending tone. The upside: her sadness about not being accepted was severely alleviated.

      1. Vicki*

        I got one recently that said “We have rigorous minimum standards and unfortunately your application did not meet those.” This after I did the sample exercise.


    2. Leah*

      I always assumed that meant that I was included in the impressive group :) and that it was just a tough competition

    3. Stephanie*

      Oh, I got a rejection letter just like that two weeks ago.

      It said:

      “Dear applicant,

      I regret to inform you that the Graduate Committee did not accept your application. They are only accepting top applications & they felt your application was not competitive with the others received. I cannot give you any more specifics as to why the application was declined as committee comments are confidential. You may want to consider applying as a non-degree student to take a graduate level course or 2 to improve your application. Good luck in your pursuit of higher education elsewhere.”

      Yeah, didn’t leave a great taste in my mouth (even though I had already been accepted to higher-ranked programs).

      1. AVP*

        It is such a huge pet peeve of mine when people try to sell something in the course of sending a rejection. Film festivals do this often – “We’re sorry to say that we won’t be programming your film, but we do have a special discounted pass program for rejectees! Use code LOSER2016 for 5% off a weeklong pass!”

        Congrats on getting into other programs, though!

        1. fposte*

          It’s a legitimate path to entry in a lot of programs, though. Basically, you had some promise but we weren’t sure if you were going to cut it. If you take a non-degree course, we can see that you can cut it.

          1. Stephanie*

            Yeah, that part didn’t bother me as much. he tone of the rest of it did, however. I had a couple of friends do post-bacc premed programs to get into med school (they either didn’t take the prerequisites or their grades in the prerequisites weren’t great). T

            1. Agnes*

              What do you think they should have said? It seems like a pretty straightforward summary of the situation to me.
              As someone who sits on grad school admissions committees, rejection for grad school does seem a bit different than a job rejection. There’s more than one position, and more than one year – we frequently have to reject people we would be happy to hear from the next year, and also often would be happy to have people re-apply once they’ve improved some part of their applications (prereqs, test scores, work experience, whatever the case may be). And actually telling people that, in general terms, can be useful.

              1. Stephanie*

                Hmm. I think if the reasoning behind the decision is confidential anyway, the letter’s not super useful, even written in the more straightforward manner. So it can feel like insult to injury a bit, especially given all the work that goes into a graduate application.

              2. Laura (Needs To Change Her Name)*

                This was my impression, too. It’s actually really good, clear feedback of the kind that is unusual in grad admissions. Standard boilerplate is “admission is very competitive.” So you don’t know if it was a matter of fit/luck and you should go ahead and apply again, or if you weren’t actually competitive.

                1. Dan*

                  Stephanie is an engineer (and I am too) and I don’t consider that response to be “good, clear” feedback.

                  Clear feedback would be, “take these two courses as a non-degree student, get at least a combined 3.5, and letters of rec from the professors.”

                  “Take a couple of classes and try again” doesn’t tell you if you’ll be competitive enough the next time around.

              3. Dan*

                In a vacuum, sure it’s a reasonable statement. But Stephanie was accepted to a better ranked program and given a scholarship. So to say that she wasn’t competitive is a bit “tone deaf.” Second, non-degree courses aren’t a guarantee of admission, and there’s no way for her to know if that would turn her into a “competitive” applicant, so why put it there?

                Another accurate, and “safer” statement to make is: “Thank you for your application to XYZ. We have given your application careful consideration and are unable to offer you admission at this time.”

              4. themmases*

                While literally true (everyone only accepts their top applicants), the letter implies that there are objective top applicants and that the recipient wasn’t one of them. An application can be competitive but still not be chosen– graduate programs use this term a lot on their applicant information to give you an idea who should apply. In that context it’s basically saying your application wasn’t even strong enough to be seriously considered… Really rude for boilerplate. A more normal statement just reiterates that applications are competitive, which doesn’t imply that that application was weak.

                Credit non degree is a thing but it really depends on the field… It can be good if you want the coursework anyway and to get to know potential recommenders at a specific school you’re hoping to attend, or just missed the application deadline. Suggesting it in the rejection implies that there was a lack of basic preparation or the committee thinks that anyone they rejected didn’t get in anywhere so they will wait around self funding credits and hoping. Grad school is as much about fit as anything and it’s normal to be rejected over lack of space or appropriate mentors even if you’re well qualified. Implying that anyone they rejected is unprepared is very insulting and not at all the norm.

                In my field people usually do a master’s separately from PhD so I did two application years. If I received this from a school I would never apply there again and I’d tell people why. It is not straightforward, it’s actually quite unusual in how harsh and condescending it is.

              5. Vicki*

                What should they have said?

                How about if they just left out the comparison to “top” candidates: i.e. do NOT say this: “They are only accepting top applications & they felt your application was not competitive with the others received. ”

                That says “you are not a ‘top’ applicant” (whatever ‘top’ means). It’s obvious that you weren’t “competitive” because you’ve been rejected. DOn’t make it worse by adding extra “nots” to the picture.

              6. Ghost Town*

                Our rejection letter (for an MA program) is really short and basically just says that we’ve completed the review of your application and are sorry that we are unable to admit you at this time. Then we wish them the best in their academic pursuits.

                Our alternate letter is a bit longer and includes a line about receiving more great applications than we can accommodate (then a bit about when they could expect to hear back should a spot open up).

      2. overeducated*

        Last week I got a rejection letter that devoted a full paragraph to describing the person who did get the job and her amazing background and qualifications. It was a level of detail about *exactly whom* I didn’t measure up to that I didn’t really need….

        1. Anne*

          Whaaaaaaat?! That’s crazy. What’s the purpose of that? Making the rejected candidates feel terrible and probably making the person who did get the job incredibly uncomfortable.

          1. overeducated*

            I don’t know! Bragging about the new hire, I guess, and not thinking about the audience AT ALL.

            My favorite rejection was the one I got that was a form letter sent out to all 447 applicants rejected for 3 positions…not bcc’ed. It was kind of fun scrolling through the list of other rejectees, made me feel less alone, and gave me a good cackle when the horrified apology email came several hours later.

            1. Teapot, Teapot, and Teapot, LLC*

              Please tell us someone replied to all 447 people, highlighting their interest in applying for the soon to be vacant HR position. (“My Outlook skillset includes the Show BCC button, that little flag thingy, and not marking every e-mail I send as high importance.”)

        2. CMT*

          That’s weird. At the very least, it seems like it would just invite some rejected applicants to try to argue why they’re really better.

        3. Engineer Girl*

          Actually, they just gave you the standard you’re supposed to meet. People complain all the time that they don’t get feedback. You just got it. Look at the difference between your skill set and hers. That’s what you need to fix.

          1. Stephanie*

            I actually did find the person who got a job I wanted on LinkedIn (just looked up the position). I didn’t connect (that would be weird), but it was helpful to see who the team ended up hiring.

        4. Collarbone High*

          I once sent a similar rejection letter, and now I’m wondering if I did the wrong thing. This was my thinking:

          I was hiring for an internship, and we had two candidates who were fine, I would have been quite willing to hire. The third … it was like she was built in a lab to fill this position. She just had this unique combination of childhood experiences, work study and thesis subject that made her a once-in-a-lifetime fit.

          Because the rejected candidates were new to the work world and I didn’t want them agonizing over what they might have done wrong, I sent them candid letters that said they did a great job in the interview, they didn’t do anything that cost them the job, they just had the misfortune to go up against someone uniquely qualified, and that I would consider them if another position opened up. (I didn’t do a paragraph saying how great the successful candidate was though.) Maybe that’s what this person was trying for?

        5. Honeybee*

          There’s a thread on the Chronicle of Higher Education forums that categorizes “genres” of job rejection letters, and they call that one the “Baby Announcement” letter.

      3. Turanga Leela*

        Ooh, that is unpleasant. Even if they wanted to encourage you to take other courses, they could have done that in a kinder way. I would not be at all sorry about not going there.

    4. LQ*

      I got one of those in college but it said something like “We had a lot of very impressive applicants and regret we cannot accept them all.” or something along those lines so it was clear that you were supposed to include yourself in that group.

      1. Turanga Leela*

        Yes, I got some of those letters. They’re fine. This one very specifically did not say that I was impressive or that they regretted not having room for me. (And it was a form letter, so when I say “I,” I really mean “all of the rejected students.”)

        1. LQ*

          That is odd. It makes me wonder if it is supposed to foster some faux notion of exclusivity. Like the club that won’t let anyone in even those there are only 5 people on the dance floor.

      2. hermit crab*

        In high school, I applied for this selective state-run summer enrichment program; the full name of the program was something like “Pennsylvania Governor’s Schools of Excellence” and the rejection letter included the phrase “this in no way reflects your excellence.”

        1. Laura (Needs To Change Her Name)*

          I got rejected from that every summer! But I got to go downtown for an in person interview every time and eat at the reading terminal market so that was worth it.

      3. Hornswoggler*

        I’ve done exactly this even when the person is not included. It seems only polite.

    5. LawPancake*

      Ooh a former coworker got an intensely personal rejection letter from a recruiter-posted position. We were working on a contract project and the gist of the rejection was “well, since you’re doing contract work you’re clearly not valuable enough to consider for this prestigious position and you’re never going to get a “real” job anyway so stop kidding yourself.” It was so incredibly offensive and condescending we were speechless.

    6. B*

      I got a rejection letter that said:

      “You were not successful.” I think they meant that I didn’t succeed in making it to the next stage of the hiring process, but what a rude way to phrase it!

      I knew I wasn’t quite the right fit anyway, but I was like, um, YES, I am “successful” (in my career). I was actually planning on recommending a friend to apply bc it was a better fit for her, but after that letter I was like nope.

    1. Interviewer*

      Right? From the bottom of my heart, thank you for posting this translation. I know it feels like I’m speaking in code, but I swear I’m not! So frustrating for everyone when they hear something else. I really appreciate you clarifying these very common statements.

  2. Anonymous Educator*

    I think the real issue here is that all hiring managers have been candidates at one point or another, but a lot of candidates have never been hiring managers, so the whole hiring side is a like a black box to them, so there’s a lot of guessing and speculating. Hiring managers are just humans. They aren’t trying to send secret signals most of the time.

    1. Stranger than fiction*

      That’s a really good point, and I’m not a manger. I think also, when you’re unemployed it just plain messes with your head. And your confidence. And it gets worse the longer you’re out of work.

      1. PatM*

        I concur! Add being an unemployed, over 50 year old into the equation. It’s downright devastating.

        1. Jean*

          +1 to Stranger than fiction
          +1,000 (OMG, yes yes yes!) to PatM
          Here’s wishing all of us elders (unemployed, partially employed, sure-to-face-the-job-market-at-least-one-more-time, whatever) lots of strength, confidence, competence, calm, interpersonal warmth, and the ability to project all of the above convincingly even when we’re secretly shaking with doubt.

    2. The Bimmer Guy*

      “…but a lot of candidates have never been hiring managers, so the whole hiring side is a like a black box to them…”

      That’s why Alison is so great :)

    3. De Minimis*

      I just recently started seeing the hiring side, and these communications are just something we need to do to close out the recruiting process.

      The only time I’ve said anything so far that was more than just the standardized language we use was that I told a student applicant that the issue was his lack of availability during our hours of operation. I didn’t want him to think he was rejected for being a poor candidate, because he actually was really good and we would have loved to have been able to hire him. I wanted to let him know to look at us again if his schedule changed in later semesters.

    4. Kyrielle*

      This! If they want to send you “you have the job” signals, they have good ways to do that – being a verbal offer, a written offer, or at the very outside a contact that tells you they are working on an offer (though I wouldn’t hold my breath, or my job search, on the basis of the last alone – I might be happy to hear it, but I wouldn’t assume it would come through).

  3. Artemesia*

    If you actually do make it to the finals or through several rounds of interviews THAT tells you your credentials are impressive. Any situation where you are dismissed without being interviewed in person the letter means nothing at all about how you impressed them or your credentials. It also doesn’t mean you were not better than many other candidates, but you’ll never know. Hiring decisions often get made for reasons that have nothing to do with the quality of your application and credentials e.g. the nephew, the friend’s son, the inside hire we already promised it to but for EEOC reasons we ‘have to advertise’ and go through the motions.

    1. Kimberlee, Esq*

      And I’ve certainly rejected candidates with very impressive credentials/experience/etc but who were just not right for the job I was actually hiring for.

    2. Stephanie*

      I was just telling my friend this–she’s interviewing for an academic job. She was nervous about not being qualified and I’m like “Dude, you know the humanities PhD market! Bask in this!”

  4. sam*

    What the employer says: This is where your office would be.
    What you hear: Here’s your new office! You’ll get a job offer soon.
    What they mean: If you get the job, this would be your office. We show it to most/all candidates as a routine part of the interviews.

    This makes me think of nothing so much as the time, when my parents were househunting when I was 12 and my brother was all of 6, and they had to sternly pull us aside and tell us to stop “picking out our rooms” at every open house and house tour we went to, because the potential sellers kept thinking we were significantly more invested in buying their houses than we (meaning *my parents*) actually were.

    Of course, I also kept trying to take their cats home with me, so clearly I had the inside track on what my parents were thinking.

    1. Kristine*

      My sister and I did this all the time as kids! My mom loves going to open houses just to see what’s new in town and what’s available, so I went to hundreds of them throughout my childhood. My sister and I would pick out “our” rooms and talk about how we’d paint the walls neon colors and all these things that we knew were never gonna happen. And I picked up this habit from my mother, I’m a major house creeper and can sense an open house at 200 paces.

      1. Jean*

        “I’m a major house creeper and can sense an open house at 200 paces.”
        This reminds me of one of Erma Bombeck’s many immortal lines [closely paraphrased]: “I can drive on the highway, seeing nothing around me except cement, sniff the air, and announce ‘I smell a sale.’ ”
        I think it was later in the same essay that she praised places such as Costco by saying [more paraphrasing] that “they ensure immortality…who’s going to die when they have an 800-gallon drum of oatmeal…?”

        Back to house creeping: Only in my (not-very-recent) dreams! In real life, I’m much more restrained. Sigh.

      2. Kyrielle*

        Honestly, I kind of miss house shopping. Not because I want to buy another house (aie, please no, I like the one we are in!), but because there was so much excitement of seeing things.

        Although my favorite places would NEVER have had an open house. They would not have dared. (The place with the giant moose head hanging in the two-story entryway…my only concern was what the mounting for it had done to the wall behind it, but the real estate agent we were working with refused to walk under it, she was worried it would come down. I wasn’t; it looked pretty solid. I was just worried what it took to keep it there, and what the wall would look like without it.)

        The best one was the place that I said we *had* to look at because it was easily worth three times the listing price even if it needed some fixing up and re-landscaping, based on the writeup. They had photos of the outside – it was nice! They had photos of the inside – it was gorgeous. And huge. And features like nobody’s business. The lot was three acres. I mean…wildly good. The price was in our range, which is how it turned up on my search. There was NO WAY something wasn’t ridiculously wrong. So I asked to see it, explicitly because I wanted to know what they were hiding.

        …how about the outdoor sauna, since removed, that went bad? They hadn’t included any outdoor shots of THAT side of the house. The side of the house covered in plywood for over half its area, because the siding had presumably rotted and come off. They also hadn’t used a photo of the downstairs bathroom whose window was covered by the plywood. And the lovely upstairs mother-in-law suite had been photographed to hide the sliding glass doors that led out to where the balcony *had been*, and which now opened on open air.

        And for some reason they didn’t photograph the huge twisty vine-tree growing up through the outside closet that had been next to the sauna, so you opened the doors and saw this vine-thing with a trunk probably four inches across at a guess, that went up to the ceiling of the closet and *disappeared into it* and presumably into the wall/side of the house.

        I feel bad for the previous owners. (Not for the next owners, unless they didn’t look at it first – presumably they got into it knowing some of what they’d have to deal with!) But it didn’t keep me from laughing my posterior off. Some of the gorgeous shots of the grounds had been *taken from* the spot right under that wall, clearly, but no one was foolish enough to photograph the extent of the mess.

        1. Sigrid*

          That is a hilarious story. Especially the tree! Growing through the closet! A whole tree! I hope the next owners didn’t buy it sight unseen…

      3. ThursdaysGeek*

        My neighbor and I love to walk through houses as they are being built in our area.

      4. Honeybee*

        Haha, I’m a house creeper too, I guess! My mom and I used to go to open houses for fun when I was a kid.

    2. Stranger than fiction*

      Ha that’s so cute. I did something similar when my parents were shopping for a car. I laid down in the backseat and wouldn’t get out because it had comfy cloth seats and all our other cars were hot sticky vinyl. I didn’t get at the time why my dad was so pissed, now I know he didn’t want that car.

    3. Jillociraptor*

      That’s so funny. When we worked with a broker and were looking at rentals, he told us the same thing! Play it cool, don’t let them know you’re interested, and you have a better bargaining position when you want to pursue a place.

      On the other hand, you see agents encouraging you to think about how your furniture would fit, how you would get to work, etc. The psychology of this is so interesting.

      1. Kyrielle*

        I think it depends in part on who’s there. If neither the seller nor their agent is there, then you can look it over and trying to put your furniture and stuff in place and think about logistics to your heart’s content, and that can rule out some places that look lovely on first glance. But if you’re talking through it in front of the seller or their agent…yeah, that can weaken your position if you do decide you want it.

        1. Jadelyn*

          This is also why it can be helpful to bring a non-invested party along for the negotiations. I recently bought a car, and got a much better deal on my loan than I would have otherwise because I was far too invested in that specific car and my boyfriend was the one who, being less invested in that car, stopped me from yes-yes-yes-yes’ing my way through it and pushed the bank for better terms, which I did get. I was really glad he was there to rein me in like that, tbh.

          1. Lindsay J*

            Way late posting but I totally second this.

            My boyfriend came when I brought my car and I specifically told him to help make sure A. I didn’t get taken advantage of, and B. That I didn’t just fall in love with the car and buy it without thinking.

            So we test drove it. The salesperson and I talked about price, and then the value of my trade in. I wasn’t 100% thrilled about the value they were going to give me on the trade-in, but wasn’t sure how to negotiate it or whether they were even giving me a fair price. The sales person left the room to talk to their manager, and he and I discussed the trade in and he brought up the idea of going down the street, which I liked. So when the sales person came back he pretty much told the salesperson, “So, we’re going to go to DriveTime and see what they give us for the car.” The salesperson started to panic and put pressure on us, but her manager was like, “nah, let them go.” He pretty much told us to go down to DriveTime, and if they gave us more for the car to come back with the check, and if not his offer on the car stood.

            So we went down to DriveTime, test drove another car (which I didn’t like as much as the one I brought), got the offer on my car (which was much less than the other dealership was offering me, which I suspect the manager knew was going to happen and is why we he was so okay with letting us walk).

            Then we got some lunch, and went back and closed out the deal.

            It was so much nicer A. Not feeling pressured. B. Not having to feel hungry after being there for hours going through the sales process. C. Knowing I got as much as I could for my trade in so I wouldn’t regret my decision later.

    4. Agnes*

      I use that to my advantage:
      Kids: “This is my room! And this is Mary’s room!”
      Me, sternly, no matter how interested I am: “You kids say that at every house! You know we can’t buy them all, right?”

    5. Honeybee*

      I get where your parents are coming from, but I would think any experienced real estate agent would understand that children just do stuff like that. When my parents house hunted I picked out my favorite room at each house, too. It was my way of injecting a little control into a process I actually had zero control over. (Sellers, however, I guess are a different story.)

    1. Faith*

      At one of my previous jobs, we had to reject some people so that we could hire CEO’s daughter’s boyfriend.

    2. Elle*

      We hired someone who was let go when the CEO’s daughter graduated from college and needed a job. Worked out for us, she’s wonderful!

  5. SL #2*

    Haha, my problem is that I read so much AAM that I know better than to try and read too much into what they’re saying… and then I got totally thrown off-guard by two job offers that I wasn’t expecting. It was a nice surprise, but I worked in an open office back then and when I got calls from them, I had to hide myself in the supply closet to take the call.

  6. Amber Rose*

    I understand that template letters are necessary when you have 10000 resumes, but it meant a lot to me once to hear “it was between you and one other person and they have a little more relevant experience.”

    Because at least I knew it wasn’t something I screwed up. Which has happened in the past.

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      I had this happen a couple of years ago. I got two amazing candidates for a typically hard-to-fill position, and, any other year, the candidate we ultimately rejected would have been a shoe-in. We did tell them that they had only missed out due to one additional piece of experience and asked if we could keep their resume in case another similar position opened up — which it did about 9 months later and we were able to hire them.

      1. Amber Rose*

        That happened to me with a job as well. Turned down initially only to be offered the position a few months later.

        It pays to be calm and civil about rejection.

  7. Snarkus Aurelius*

    To this day, this is the best rejection I ever got:

    SCENE: Final interview with nonprofit CEO

    TIME: Five minutes into the interview

    REJECTION FROM CEO: Let me stop you right there before you go any further.  We already have an internal candidate, our current intern, for this [entry-level] position.  It’s just that our Board of Directors and organizational charter require us to interview external candidates no matter the circumstances so thanks for coming in…we’ll be in touch.

    (They were not in touch.)

    BONUS: The CEO was cleaning her glasses the whole time she was rejecting me.

          1. Snarkus Aurelius*

            No. The charter requires the organization to waste other people’s time three times provided the CEO doesn’t tell job candidates that.

        1. overeducated*

          Geez. Did the board and external charter require making you go through three rounds? That seems unnecessarily inconsiderate!

          1. Snarkus Aurelius*

            At that time, I seriously considered writing a letter to that Board of Directors to let them know of my experience and that I was less than thrilled at being considered a filler candidate. I had paid my own flight and hotel too! Although this was a very well-known profit that gave lots of money to the less fortunate, I felt less fortunate myself having gone through this experience.

            1. Honeybee*

              Wait…a nonprofit organization allowed you to pay to fly and stay for an interview for a job they had no intention of seriously considering you for?

              That is really shitty.

    1. Crystal Vu*

      That charter really ought to be changed or it needs to be announced in the job ad some way. Preferably the first. In my current position, I was promoted into it internally without any attempt to hire anybody from outside, and we are a non-profit organization which receives state funding, and it’s still not mandatory to advertise every position externally. That really stinks.

      1. Snarkus Aurelius*

        At the very least, the job ad should have said, “Internal candidate(s) preferred.”

    2. Jadelyn*

      They let you get THREE ROUNDS before telling you this? What the actual f. We do sometimes need to post a position externally for form’s sake, but we never go further than one interview with externals if we have a good internal candidate, and most of the time just collecting and reviewing the external resumes satisfies the “we tried” requirement. How bizarre and inconsiderate.

    3. Wendy Darling*

      Mine was when at my third interview I met the CEO, who had not read my resume. So I gave her a copy, and she glanced at it and said, “You don’t have any startup experience?” I confirmed that I did not. “Well we’re looking for someone with startup experience.” I tried to explain that I thought much of my experience was relevant (and so had the FOUR OTHER PEOPLE WHO HAD INTERVIEWED ME SO FAR) but she just repeated that she wanted someone with startup experience. Then she stared at me expectantly until I said thank you and saw myself out.

      Apparently she hadn’t told any of the people who were trying to fill this job while she was on maternity leave that startup experience was a requirement. Then right when they were about to make the final hiring decisions she came back to work and demanded to interview the finalists.

      1. Honeybee*

        That’s also a stupid requirement to have. I mean, I get that startups have a somewhat different culture than more established companies and they may have preferred someone who’s worked in that culture before and know what’s expected. In some positions – like business operations – it may even make more sense to only hire someone with startup experience. But for most roles, by pre-emptively eliminating everyone who hasn’t worked at a startup, you run the risk of eliminating people with the skills, experience, and personality to do the job who may be really good at working in a startup and simply haven’t had the opportunity to do so before.

        Besides, I’d also argue that startups could probably use some folks with non-startup experience to keep the place sane and from running out of control. “Startup culture” is sometimes shorthand for “You’ll work long hours and you’ll be expected to do everything that’s even tangentially related to your job, but hey, in the exceedingly small chance that we turn a profit and go big maybe you’ll get rich. And you can play ping pong!”

  8. overeducated*

    What has thrown me for a loop lately: reference checks. Every time I’ve gotten to the reference check stage for past jobs, it was the step immediately preceding an offer, so I assume that means I’m likely to hear back soon with either an offer or a personalized rejection. A month ago, two of my references told me they’d had half hour conversations with a hiring manager I’d interviewed with, and then….total radio silence. This week, at least one other reference got contacted after a 9 minute phone screen, wrote them an email recommendation, and then I didn’t get invited for an in person interview.

    Aren’t a) ghosting after reference checks and b) requiring references before interviews both kind of rude and out of the norm? Or am I mistaken that reference checks are something you generally only do at the finalist stage? Is there no common practice after all?

    1. Christian Troy*

      I have found it really common in my job search for references to be contacted before a phone interview/first round as well as after the first round. I really don’t like it and prefer it was only done if I was a serious candidate, but it is what it is. It seems like it’s the protocol within quite a few places.

    2. Guinness*

      I’m going through this right now. It’s throwing me for a loop (even though I know better to read into anything…. it’s easier said than done.)

    3. LQ*

      I worked on a project with someone who thought that a good time to call references was after you’ve culled your list of resumes down. Before a phone screen. Before an interview. Before final candidates. But as basically the second step in the process. This person considered himself an expert on interviewing/job searching/etc. He refused to listen to reason on the reference fatigue, on if you have basic phone culling skills why not cull from the 1 call to the applicant rather than 3+ calls to the references. Like dude this is so much more work!

      1. Laurel Gray*

        I’m confused, do you include your references on your application materials or are these small fields where everyone knows everybody? I don’t have my references anywhere on my resume or cover letters and expect they will be asked for if I my candidacy makes it to a certain point.

        1. overeducated*

          I don’t automatically include them, but many job listings specifically ask for references at the time of application, as an extra document, like some ask for writing samples or transcripts. In my experience this is especially common with government and university jobs, but also pops up in other organizations sometimes.

        2. LQ*

          He assumed everyone included them on the resume. But there are some applications that require you to enter them as well.

          1. Laurel Gray*

            Oh ok that makes sense. Recently, in the (online) application systems I have just entered personal and job related info manually and uploaded a resume and cover letter. I don’t include references or save them anywhere in the profile. But I do remember around my undergrad years entering this info into a Taleo-esque system.

        3. Jadelyn*

          Our online application includes a section for references. Not sure if it’s required or not though.

    4. AnotherFed*

      I’ve been the hiring manager on the other side of semi-ghosting after references checks… it’s not that we’re ghosting, it’s just taking about 6 times as long as I thought it would to finish reference checks for all the candidates (it was multiple opening posting), get them approved by my supervisor, get HR to approve the candidates (which might be a multi-step process itself), have HR contact the candidates to get official transcripts and some other info necessary for the offer letters, and actually have the offers go out.

      1. overeducated*

        I understand that it can take a while, but I think if more than a month has gone by with no communication, not even a “we’re still not finished our process and will update you later” note, that looks pretty much identical to a rejection-via-ghosting.

  9. hayling*

    We often pair up when interviewing candidates, and I’ve had a couple colleagues use the future tense “you will” instead of “you would” when talking to a candidate. I really hate that! Candidates are already reading too much into something like “this would be your office,” don’t say “this *will* be your office!

    1. Stranger than fiction*

      I think even the whole “this would be your office/cube” thing is weird. But maybe that’s because what stands out in my mind is one interview I had in particular. Two very long interviews with a lighting distributor for customer service. They made a huge deal of walking me around the office, showing me the breakdown, etc and then walked me over to the customer service dept and introduced me to everyone (almost, a couple were on the phone). Then walked me over to the CEO’s office for a quick intro. It felt like my first day! It was over the top and not necessary. I didn’t end up getting the job after all that because I was a bit overqualified and the pay was less than I wanted. (But they knew that from the start and we still went through all this, so the whole time I thought there was a chance they’d come up on the pay)

      1. overeducated*

        Ugh this happened to me a few months ago. Even questions about my kids with potential future co-workers and stuff, and the hiring manager repeatedly saying she “liked” me – kind of over the top. A week or two later I had to decide whether to accept a term job, contacted the hiring manager to ask about my status, and she said the hiring process had been delayed and she wasn’t even sure if she’d be able to fill the position. Sigh. That’s why it’s unprofessional to give people too much hope!

      2. Laurel Gray*

        I like the idea of a tour sans introductions. It gives a candidate a chance to see the office during normal business hours and pick up on things that may be deal breakers. Is it dog friendly with soil stains in the carpet? Is it an open office plan with 60% of the staff on the phone all day? Is there one apartment size kitchen to support 100 employees? Are the bathrooms gross/too small/too far away? You read AAM long enough and all these things matter!

        1. some1*

          Yeah, I try to take it as just a chance to see what the vibe of the place is. The only place where I got a job and wasn’t allowed to see where I would be working was probably the worst job I ever had.

        2. Stranger than fiction*

          Oh totally that’s fine. But I had already seen much of the office when walking to the hiring managers office for the interview.

      3. MK*

        Eh, maybe they thought you might come down on pay too, if you knew what they were offering and still went through the process.

  10. Crystal Vu*

    How about this one:

    (after finishing second interview and in response to question asked by candidate whose initials are CV)
    What the employer says: We’ll have a decision in one to two weeks. And let you know, *either* way.
    What CV heard: We’ll have a decision maybe tomorrow or maybe four weeks from now, and you’ll just have to dangle and check your email daily juuuuuust in case.
    What they mean: ??????

    Anybody? Sorry, I’m obviously–I mean, CV is obviously on serious tenterhooks here. :}

    1. SJ*

      That one seems pretty straight-forward to me! I’m in the same exact boat. I had an all-day interview 3 weeks ago, didn’t hear back, followed up with an email on Monday, and they let me know that the big boss has been super busy traveling (which I knew) and that they’re in the final decision stage and are hoping to have a decision in the next 2 weeks. Just a waiting game at this point! With lots of email checking ;)

      1. the gold digger*

        One of the best things about my current (wonderful, think he is fabulous) boss is that during the eight-month hiring process, which was delayed by the hiring of a new VP, whose opinion they wanted, and having to re-post the position, he called me every few weeks to let me know what was going on and to tell me that they were still interested.

    2. Jadelyn*

      Sometimes the final step takes forever, especially if there’s a hiring committee, because they have to coordinate schedules to get together, which can take awhile if there’s travel involved – and *then* hash out their opinions to get to a final decision. Which might have to be reviewed and approved by a higher-up. And they might have to do a background check. Which can take anywhere from 1 day to 3 weeks.

      I know it’s hard to hear, but there can be a LOT of hold-ups in a hiring process depending on the organization and how they do things, so it can take a lot longer than you’d think.

  11. VideogamePrincess*

    This is really timely. For some reason, I just finished a second interview and all day yesterday I was convinced they would call me back with a job offer once they got through my references, even though I knew better. hello, reality!

    1. Crystal Vu*

      I know, right? You’d think with a second interview, they’ve really whittled the pool down and could decide in a day or two, easy-peasy.

      1. Kyrielle*

        When we were doing interviews, it could be 1-2 weeks between our first and last interviewee, if schedules didn’t line up. It wasn’t just “making the decision” but when did we talk to the last candidate seriously under consideration.

    2. Stranger than fiction*

      Oh there’s still a chance! I’ve had offers come weeks after a second interview.

      1. VideogamePrincess*

        I mean, it’s possible that two of my references could only talk today. They said they’d move pretty fast (that means they’ll move pretty fast, right??) and have a decision in a few days. I think I might call the agency tomorrow to get a timeline.

        1. Beezus*

          “Pretty fast” is relative. I wouldn’t call them if it hasn’t been at least a week.

  12. many bells down*

    I had: “We’ll call you in after the holidays so you can observe one of our classes.” (I was applying for a teaching position, second interview.)

    Never got a call, but 2 years later I got an email from the company asking me to rate their services. Services I hadn’t actually used.

  13. S.I. Newhouse*

    Thank you, Alison – this is terrific. Even though part of my job is counseling people on the job search process (!) I’ve myself fallen into each and every one of the traps you mentioned!

    1. JHS*

      I’ve been in the elevator with S.I. Newhouse before. I don’t believe he does much job search counseling. He is a very nice man though.

  14. greenbeans*

    Thanks for this. I think anxiety makes me puzzle it all out, but I’m learning to (try to) stop doing this. I had an interview last week that seemed to go well, and the interviewer showed me around the office a bit. I remembered this blog and didn’t read anything into that beyond it being a nice gesture. (But I have to admit, the 5-year-old in me got excited.)

    1. Windchime*

      It’s really funny about the office tour. We don’t take the candidate on an office tour if it’s clear that we’re not interested. So sometimes it *does* mean, “Hey, we are at least a little bit interested in you.”

  15. T3k*

    Heh, I was just talking about the last one the other day when I received a “…while your experience and skill are impressive” boilerplate rejection email. Considering they never even so much as did a phone interview, my brain went (in Raj’s voice from one parituclar episode) “Liar! I don’t believe you!” then proceed to delete it.

  16. Not So NewReader*

    Alison, I would love to read some tips on speaking more clearly in effort to keep the applicant informed and not create a lot of drama/rollercoastering. I understand if an applicant wants to get on a runaway train and convince themselves that they are the top choice, then probably they will do that. But for those applicants who would rather remain earthbound and continue on with their lives, how do you help that applicant to feel informed without instilling high hopes?
    I bet this is another whole post.

    1. Renegade Recruiter*

      I have found that it’s a huge win to set expectations early: spell out the required steps, and approximate timing of each, to every candidate during initial contact. I tell the candidate that s/he can follow up with me by [date] if they have not yet heard back from me, and that I will reach out if I have more information on the next step prior to [date]. I also add the caveat that these times can vary, and this variance can come from delays that we know about and delays that we don’t yet know about. I try to do all of this verbally, as a warm tone through the phone helps a candidate understand that I’m sharing this information for his/her benefit (as well as my own).

      Then–and here’s the kicker–I keep my word and follow up by specified date.

      1. Charlotte Collins*

        I just had a job interview yesterday morning (fingers crossed!), and the hiring manager was very good about only using “you” when she was asking me a direct question. Otherwise, it was “the candidate” or “the person in this job” or “this position.”

        Of course, now I’m second guessing all my responses, but I do that for any type of interaction after I meet new people, even in social situations. But the interview went over the scheduled time, so I think that’s a good sign. (Unless they were wondering if I would ever shut up.)

        Alison – Your book really helped me prepare and feel a lot more confident, as well as allaying some of my interview nerves. So, thank you!

  17. VX34*

    Okay, sure. Job seekers do read too far into things employers say, in hopes of finding a silver lining that leads them to a job offer…or allow themselves to wallow in misery if the words were negative.

    But can we also be clear that employers are often terrible at managing expectations of the people who are applying or interviewing for a job?

    If employers would say what they mean, in clear – clinical if need be – language, then maybe there would be more transparency and expectations would be better managed all around.

    Employers should not tell candidates they “are a great fit for [the] job” if they really mean they are “a good candidate, along with the handful of others we are talking to”. Say the second thing! Or, don’t say anything at all. Just tell people what the process is, and don’t give people more hope than is warranted.

    Likewise, rejection letters should all say the exact same thing:

    “Thank you for your time and interest. We are not able to extend an offer to you for this position. Good luck in your search”. Don’t characterize why, because having to read about how everyone else was better than me is soul crushing.

    There are two sides to this coin, and it is unfair to address one without the other.

    1. MK*

      Unfortunately, you cannot speak for all candidates. For every one that would prefer the clinical approach you describe, there is another one who will find such bluntness rude and dehumanising and would choose the pleasantries, even if they are not totally sincere.

        1. MK*

          I would too, but I am not offended by the pleasantries; I figure they are part of the general “politeness” of our culture, like responding to “how are you” with “fine, thanks”, even if you are having a day from hell. From the employer’s perspective, having a softer approach is safer, since the majority of people will at the very least not mind them.

      1. VX34*

        To be clear, I am not suggesting that employers abandon all pleasantry when speaking to candidates. People are not automatons.

        But employers should be way more self aware when talking to people who may be desparate for work. No, it may not be “their job” to care about my personal life. But an employer who understands the humanity behind the candidate is a strong employer IMO.

    2. Honeybee*

      “You’re a great fit for the job” means exactly what it means. It means that the candidate is a good fit for the job. I suppose it’s natural for job candidates to fantasize about what that might mean, but if a candidate is trying to keep themselves truly grounded they’ll remind themselves that it means that and only that. I would much rather hear “You’re a great fit for this position” than “You’re a good candidate along with the other 5 candidates we’ve interviewed.”

      All of Alison’s examples were plain language that candidates happen to read too much into when they get excited about a position or are a bit anxious about the search process. Is it the employer’s fault if the statement “You’re a finalist for this job” (in which the very word ‘finalist’ implies that there are other people still being considered) is interpreted to mean “You’re about to get an offer”? And I just assume any time I am shown space that it’s sort of a boilerplate tour that is given to all candidates and means nothing about my candidacy. (The only time I guessed otherwise is when I interviewed for my current job; after the interviews for the day, the person who is now my manager reached out to me and asked me if I wanted to come back the following morning and tour our research labs. I – correctly, it turns out – guessed that they only offered the lab tour if you get all the way through the interview loop and they are considering you further. That said, this company has a really particular way of doing interviews, and I still took that to mean only ‘you’re still in the running.’)

  18. Brooke*

    I think prospective employees also vastly misinterpret passage of time. I remind people that VERY often, people involved in hiring have multiple duties totally unrelated to hiring, some of which are going to take priority on a day-to-day basis, and that lack of communication (within reason, though that varies) very often means nothing other than that person being busy with their non-hiring job duties!

    1. De Minimis*

      Especially at smaller companies/organizations that don’t have full-time HR staff.

  19. Annoyed*

    I disagree with this one – “I’m looking forward with talking with you more.”

    I don’t know how else you’re supposed to interpret it other than the manager wants to do another interview. It’s a very straightforward statement.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      They might mean it when they say it — and then they talk to three candidates who are stronger, and they decide to focus on those instead.

  20. stevenz*

    I have never interpreted one of those “your credentials are impressive” lines to mean they think my credentials are impressive. It’s a brush-off, nothing more.

    (A friend and I came to call these “Thank you / #@$* you letters.” The ones that say “Even though you are the smartest, most experienced, most impressive candidate we could ever imagine, and would be without a doubt the best person this company *ever* had, we found someone even *more* fabulous, super-intelligent, god-like, stunningly wise, and awesomely cool than you. We couldn’t believe our luck.”)

    1. Charlotte Collins*

      The thing is, I already *know* my credentials are impressive, but that doesn’t mean that they’re what the company wants or needs. Also, I know that there could be a lot of other things going on at the company or in the mind of the hiring manager that have nothing to do with whether I would do a good/great job or not. It reminds me of the post earlier this week about rejecting a candidate because they’d be bored and leave. I’m sure that some places look at my resume and decide I’d be too expensive or might not fit into their company culture or other things that I’m not even seeing. Or they might have an idea who they want to hire but be required by their company policy to post the job opening even if they have no intention of interviewing most people who apply.

  21. ThisGuy*

    I had a phone interview today. The employer asked me three questions and closed with, “If you don’t hear from Amy (the recruiter) by early next week, it means you’re not going any further in the process.”

    He was kind of an ass, but at least he was straightforward.

    *Amy was not actually the recruiter’s name. I don’t want to impugn her, so I gave her a fake name.

    1. Charlotte Collins*

      I had a phone interview about a month ago where the recruiter (who called late and didn’t seem very friendly) asked what was most important to me aside from compensation. I said, “Good management,” and was met with dead silence. I think I’m glad I didn’t move forward in the interview process.

  22. Hornswoggler*

    I was once down to the last two for a job in an organisation which was building a relationship with the company I was already working for. I was told it was down to the last two and they would make a decision and let me know. They never did – in fact the first clue I had that they’d picked the other person was when she emailed me a few weeks later introducing herself and wanting to fix up a meeting with me at my current job.

    To do the organisation credit, they were horrified when I told them, and sent me an apologetic letter. Their new hire was so embarrassed that she never contacted me again.

  23. Nerfherder*

    I have applied for many jobs in my life, and Only 2 or 3 of them replied at all. I got my first job after a friend introduced me to someone. Job 2 was for someone I met while working at Job 1. I got current job after being contacted by an agency out of the blue. These jobs were not advertised.

    1. JM in England*

      It’s an alleged urban legend that as much as 75% of job openings are unadvertised………………

  24. Micaela*

    I recently had an interview and was told they’d reach out for a second interview soon. About a week later, they emailed to tell me I was a finalist, again iterating they would schedule a follow-up interview shortly. A month of radio silence followed. I wrote to HR and asked if the timeline for a second interview had changed. A week later the man I interviewed with wrote back and told me they’d they’d hired someone to manage the position I’d interviewed for, but that this hire was currently doing “most of the work” for the position I wanted, and that they needed to “wait to hear back about a final funding source, hopefully as soon as late May.” I was a bit annoyed and upset. But then the interviewer asked if we could speak again by phone next week, and I’m unclear on why, when it sounds as though they’re not going to be hiring me.

  25. SH*

    “What the employer says: We’re talking with other candidates but should have a decision in a couple of weeks.
    What you hear: I’m trying to let you down easy here.”

    Alison have you been stalking me in interviews? This is so me!

  26. ChrysantheMumsTheWord*

    I spent the last year trying to get out of a toxic work environment and led myself down many roads that my potential employers probably did not intend me to travel on. Often job searching can be occurring during a very emotional time and it can be very easy when you feel desperate to read both good and bad into all communications.

    That said, I had one potential job that called me in for a seriously insane amount of interviews and through their actions led me down a winding road that I did not invent in my mind – 1 phone, 1 web, 1 online assessment, 2 in person, the 3rd in person interview had to be rescheduled several times before I finally got the form generic email from the generic email address. I was convinced I was on the verge of the job offer since they kept giving me really positive feedback, telling me they had multiple openings that met my qualifications which is why they wanted me to come back for this and that.

    When my time finally came, which it did, it ended up being so simple, perfect and quick. One phone interview, one in-person interview and a job offer less than a week after.

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