is this HR person dragging out a hiring process just to keep herself employed?

A reader writes:

Two days after I finished my last position, I had a phone interview and was then asked for an in-person interview for a job 300 miles away. I was pumped! The first interview felt like magic — lightening in a bottle. Until I met the HR lady afterwards.

After my interview, she told me she was rotating off the project (I was interviewing to lead the project, paid for by a foreign government, with it ending in three years time). She told me her contract was over the following week, that filling this position was the only reason she was still employed and she had no job lined up after. I sympathized and listened.

After the interview, I sent my thank-you notes, then radio silence. On the day that she told me would be her last, I followed up to see if she had finished (at this point, my concern was with my travel reimbursement, as I figured I did not have the job). She emailed back asking to set up a second interview, which I then had to move up last-minute due to a death in the family. The second interview was incredibly difficult, but as I was dealing with the funeral I didn’t have time to dwell on it when I got home. A few days later, she emailed me asking if I’d had my second interview and if so, how did it go. (In my head, I was thinking, “Shouldn’t she be asking her colleagues and not me?”) I emailed back, recapping the interview, and told her the people I interviewed with had mentioned that she, HR, would let me know more about the timeline for filling the position, and could she let me know?

Radio silence. Strange, as they told me they needed for someone to start right away.

I emailed a week later, to no response, and then called letting her know I was considering another offer. She asked me to please hold off on taking it and said she would be in touch with me the beginning of the following week.

Flash forward a week later: radio silence. I email — again — saying I need to let the other position know. Again, radio silence.

What drives me bonkers is that I can’t help but feel this is self motivation for her as she is getting paid on a per diem now, and is trying to stretch this out so she can have a paycheck, yet she keeps me flailing.

I’m no spring chicken, and moving 300 miles with my family is quite the move, logistically. She has also given no indication on salary, or asked for references, just that the project needs to be completed by a certain date (that’s another issue — this project needs to be started and she is wasting time with her actions).

As of now, she is the only person on the project’s payroll, as the person who gets the job I was interviewing for would need to hire the team.

What do I do? I really want this job, I feel like everything I have done in my life is a culmination of making me incredibly well qualified for it. It would be the proudest thing I have ever been part of, professionally, if I got this job. But this HR woman is clearly out for her own interests.

Well, it’s possible that your interpretation of what’s going on is absolutely right — that she’s deliberately stretching this out so that she continues to get paid.

But it’s also possible that this is just normal hiring delays. Radio silence after you’ve been told an employer will be in touch is certainly rude — but it’s also so common that I don’t think it’s a certain sign of anything other than how many, many employers work.

That said, other parts to her behavior are legitimately weird, like talking to you about her own job woes and emailing you to find out if you’d had your second interview and how it went (things that, yes, she’d normally be checking with her own colleagues about). And generally when an employer is interested in hiring you and you tell them that you have another offer you need to respond to, they don’t leave you hanging like this. (That could be simple incompetence on her side though, rather than a deliberate strategy to stretch out her work on filling this position.)

On the other hand, the explanation could simply be that she no longer works there — after all, she told you that her contract was ending sometime soon. That would certainly explain the silence from her.

In any case, I’d do two things in your shoes:

1. Reach out to the hiring manager directly (assuming you interviewed with that person). Say this: “I’ve let Jane know 10 days ago that I have another offer I need to respond to, but I haven’t heard back from her. I know she was preparing to leave her position, so I wanted to reach out to you directly. I’m really interested in this role and it would be my first choice, but I also need to respond to the other offer. Can you let me know your timeline for making a decision?”

2. Remember that until you have an actual job offer, there is no job offer. Right now, you have one job offer in hand and may not get one from this other company. Do you want the one you have? Are you willing to risk it for an offer that may never materialize from this company? It’s reasonable to give them a few more days after you reach out to the hiring manager, but at some point you’re going to need to assume that the lack of an offer means no offer and move forward without them.

So if you don’t hear something very definitive back within a few days, assume that it’s not happening and move on. There’s some risk to doing that, of course — they could get their act together and make you an offer a week after you accept the other position, for instance. But there’s a risk to not doing that, as well — you could lose the other offer and never get this one.

Ultimately, you have to make decisions for yourself based on what has happened, not hopes of what could happen.

{ 25 comments… read them below }

  1. Random Lurker*

    It’s very possible that they aren’t interested in moving forward with you. That would be my first assumption here, rather than someone deliberately lengthening the process.

    1. MK*

      I confess it sounds a bit conspiracy-theory-ish to me too. I mean, it’s possible, but it’s much more likely to be a matter of incompetence/procrastrination/schedule changes.

  2. LadyCop*

    The OP didn’t make it clear they had another offer, just that they said they did.

    I wouldn’t assume they’re not interested if the pattern is silence then interview. However, I’d definitely reach out to the hiring manager because it’s perfectly reasonable to assume she doesn’t work there anymore, even if you have some information that that’s not the case. “Playing dumb” is a priceless tactic of mine.

    1. Joseph*

      You’re right that the silence doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not interested. Notably, if the HR rep actually did leave, it’s possible that the entire hiring process was thrown into chaos. So OP is definitely within his rights to reach out to the hiring manager.

      HOWEVER, if OP gets radio silence from the hiring manager as well, then that’s a pretty clear sign that it’s time to mentally move on and either accept the other offer or continue interviewing elsewhere.

    2. Koko*

      I noticed the same thing and wondered if the offer was real or just a bluff. It seems like a week+ and still hoping to make contact and get an offer from Company B (which could take a few days more) is a long time for Company A to have been waiting there really was a Company A. It came off more like a bluff to push the HR person to move faster.

  3. July*

    I just hope the OP does an update here on this one. I’m very curious to hear how it plays out.

  4. Ruffingit*

    At some point, it doesn’t matter what is going on with HR lady. Reach out to hiring manager, see what’s going on there and act accordingly. If you hear nothing back, move on.

  5. Update!*

    Firstly, thank you ASK A MANAGER for your response ☺
    Now, for the update:
    After sending this question to AAM, I checked the employer’s website and didn’t see her name. So at that point I, too, figured she had just finished with the job. Just as I was about to write to another HR rep (as the employer owed me almost 1K in travel expenses for my two trips) I get an email from her- saying she still needed to talk to everyone, she apologized for her late response, and would get back to me the next day.
    The next afternoon she called- asking was I able to hold off on giving the other project an answer, she almost had everything together, and would be in touch first thing the NEXT morning.
    Midday the next day, she sends an email saying I didn’t get the job. Okay, tough break but I at least had an answer. I respond with a thank you for letting me know, could she let me know the timeframe for my reimbursement?
    I sent that email within a couple of minutes of getting the rejection. A couple of hours later, she said shed get back to me on that timeframe.
    Fellow commenters- I reached my limit. That money might be chump change to some but I am not working- and from experience, communication is not her strength and I didn’t want this being delayed for weeks or months. I wanted to put this behind me.
    I phoned up the HR office management (not her) and let them know of my disappointment in her strange behaviors, and asked about the money. They have a STELLAR Glassdoor reputation, even with interviews, and I told them that I didn’t want to angrily write a review, I just wanted them to be aware and to know when to expect my money. They listened and were very sympathetic but seemed especially alarmed about the money. Apparently they cut checks quite quickly- especially for situations like this – and told me I should have had a reimbursement from my first trip before even travelling for my second. I certainly shouldn’t have waited a month. They promised to expedite – which they have, and have been in regular contact with me about this.
    After travelling approximately 1K miles and spending almost the same, in total, a bit of respect would have been kind. But now, as she worries about her unemployment, I wonder if she will also be treated in such a manner.
    On a separate note, one of the interviewers wrote me a kind note, which softened the blow of not getting the job. However, now when I hear the employers name on the TV, reading the paper, or listening to the radio- I have a bit of a Pavlovs dog reaction, and get queasy thinking of this HR rep.

    1. Random Lurker*

      Sorry you didn’t get the job. Regardless of the Glassdoor reviews, and what the other HR people told you, YOU didn’t get reimbursed timely, communicated with well, etc. Is it a one off mistake that impacted you, or indicative of the overall lack of oversight? I prefer to look at things like this as a bullet dodged rather than opportunity lost. Hopefully you find something else quickly.

      I can also relate to your Pavlovian reaction. I once was treated in an incredibly unprofessional manner by a large insurance company during an interview process. When I hear their name, which is quite often as it is a household name (not to mention that they run a prolific amount of commercials), I still think back to that awful experience.

      1. periwinkle*

        Seconded on the reaction. In grad school I completed a real-world project with the US division of a huge multinational that makes consumer food products. It was a fantastic learning experience because they were such a royal pain in the hindquarters, which forced us to think on our feet and use diplomacy even though a quick blow to the head would have been more satisfying. It also indirectly inspired my thesis research.

        Six years later, I still refuse to purchase their products.

    2. MommaCat*

      And I think you’ve discovered why this HR rep is losing her job. I’m not in HR, but I believe attention to detail and promptness is very important for those folks to succeed in their jobs. Either that or she’s falling apart because of losing her job.

      1. DoDah*

        I very much wish this were the case. The contract-HR rep who recruited in (I use this term loosely as I essentially recruited myself) was just offered a full time contract.

    3. Green*

      I would probably not have contacted them until she ghosted me again on reimbursement issues, and then I would have done so in more of “Can you help me with this?” rather than complaining about her strange behaviors or vaguely threatening to leave a bad review on glassdoor. I know it’s really frustrating not to hear back and for there to be delays in a hiring process, and I agree she was not professional, but I have yet to encounter conduct so egregious in the hiring process that I would complain to the company about their HR staff.

    4. July*

      I think that you shouldn’t have a negative reaction to the company as a whole, because I think all of this oversight and these issues were a result of the exiting employee that was handling your situation. I think it played out poorly, as you suspected, because of her. Not to say that it was malicious on her part, or that she was intentionally dragging things along, but I can imagine she was frazzled and disorganized as this was coming up on the end up her security in employment which was obviously hard on her (noted by her even speaking on it to you in the first place)

      I think that she was a gatekeeper and others may have just been completely unaware of the process that you went through and what was delayed or neglected. I imagine perhaps it may have played out differently if she hadn’t been in charge of handling important things such as this.

      Seeing as how, as soon as you got in touch with someone who could, they handled things promptly, I would blame the situation on the exiting employee and maybe keep this company in mind for the future. You never know, you might be the perfect fit for another project.


    5. Yvonne McQuarrie*

      Very stressful situation to handle for a candidate because it’s not always obvious who you are supposed to communicate with regarding stuff like interview results, travel expenses, etc. If the HR do their job conscientiously, there is no confusion over such issues; regrettably, it’s quite rare for big companies. I feel for you – it’s a shame that after all this radio silence and weirdness from the HR you didn’t get the job. Hope that you find another worthy position like this.

    1. Jeanne*

      Oh dear. Acting out revenge fantasies doesn’t usually end well. Sounds like that’s what it was.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      This things happen when you threaten to cut employee’s heads off, so I recommend to stop saying that.

    3. Purple Dragon*

      I love the bit where he said he accidentally buried his boss – doncha hate it when that happens ?

    4. The Bimmer Guy*

      Wow. How on *earth* do you get off only with a $5,000 bond for that kind of assault?

  6. Tweety*

    Actually gold digger it should be:
    “Dear Alison,

    My employee used a front end loader to try to bury me in sand.

    Can I fire him?”

  7. ScaredyCat*

    emailing you to find out if you’d had your second interview and how it went (things that, yes, she’d normally be checking with her own colleagues about)

    Oh I had this happen once, and I actually didn’t really mind.
    I should of course mention that this was an employee of a recruiting agency who facilitated the interview. I hand’t actually met the recruiter personally, only talked via e-mail and phone. It actually felt like a really nice touch, when she later got in contact with me and asked how the interview went.
    Granted, it later occurred to me that perhaps she was checking in, to see if I was hired or not, in case the company didn’t let her know. Still, at the time, I really appreciated her kindness.

    1. Meg*

      With a third-party recruiter, I don’t find it strange at all that they ask the candidate how the interview went. Usually the recruiter talks to the candidate before the hiring manager has a chance to talk to the recruiter about it. I know every interview I went on, I was instructed to call my recruiter afterwards to let them know it went and for a verbal acceptance if offered.

  8. HRish Dude*

    I see your update, OP, but I kind of wonder if this was a contract/third-party recruiter at the end of a contract who only came into the office on certain days and didn’t have much buy-in as to whether or not someone who didn’t get the job was satisfied.

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