how long should you wait to move on when you haven’t heard back from an employer?

I’m on vacation this week, so here’s a reprint of a post from 2012 on a topic that comes up all the time.

A reader writes:

I’ve read your thoughts on candidate time versus employer time, and have found it to be 100% accurate (and understandable — the massive priority that my application is to me is just a tiny part of the picture that the employer on the other end deals with). That being said, given how many employers don’t even acknowledge the receipt of an application, much less reply with a firm rejection, is there any reasonable barometer to interpret when the “employer time” is stretching long?

Certainly there will be some outliers who get back to you in less than a week, and others who might conceivably take months, but if you had to make a ballpark estimate, when would conclude that silence equals time to move on? Two weeks? Two months?

If I could control your brain (and the brain of every other job seeker), I would make you move on the minute after you send your application. There’s nothing to be gained by the agonizing and waiting and wondering — send the application and move on immediately. If they call, great. If they don’t, you’ve already moved on anyway.

But I know that most people won’t find that realistic. You send an application and then you wait for that contact, no matter what I say. So let me give you a alternate answer.

There’s no universal estimate of how long it takes employers to get back to candidates about their initial applications. Some employers take months to contact people. We’ve had stories here of people getting calls six months or more after applying for a job. However, in general, if it’s been 4 weeks — maybe 4-6 weeks — you’re probably not getting a call.

But I can’t stress enough that this varies wildly by employer. Employers who are on the ball will contact candidates within a few weeks (some within a few days). Others are not on the ball.

However, I maintain that the more relevant question is when you should move on because it’s better for your mental health to do so. And if you won’t take my initial piece of advice and move on as soon as you apply, then I’d say to assume that silence means “no” after three weeks or so. It might turn out not to mean that, but there’s no point in letting it take up space in your mind at that point — so move on and let yourself be pleasantly surprised if you get a call.

But really, if you want to treat yourself well, move on right after sending it. You have nothing to gain from waiting and wondering for even an hour, until there’s been an expression of mutual interest.

And obviously, regardless of when you do move on, don’t let up on your job search even a bit meanwhile. You will kick yourself later if you didn’t apply for other jobs while waiting to hear from a company that ends up never contacting you.

{ 28 comments… read them below }

  1. Al

    I had a job offer sent to me. 3 months after applying. The only thing I can suggest is that the original candidate didn’t work out and the person in chare of hiring was working through the list of applicants.

  2. Artemesia

    Even if the deadline is say 2 or 3 months ahead (typical in academic jobs for example) if you don’t get some encouragement earlier, given the long odds on any job application, it makes no sense to wait. Assume long odds and that you won’t get it and keep applying. Yeah you may hear after 3 mos or 6 mos or whatever — but odds are low so keep on trucking.

  3. MLB

    I never dwell on the submission of an application. Employers get so many applications, it’s unrealistic to think they have time to contact everyone that applies. But the thing that gets to me is when you go in for an interview and they don’t contact you, even to tell you they’ve hired someone else. If you’re going to take the time to bring me in, the LEAST you can do is let me know what’s happening.

    1. Tuxedo Cat

      I’m going through this right now. Granted, my second interview was right before Thanksgiving but they haven’t responded to my follow-up.

    2. Elizabeth West

      That’s so annoying. I feel the same–I don’t expect any reply from an app but an interview, yeah. I took the time to meet with you and it doesn’t take much effort to send a form letter via email. :P

    1. Ten

      I was between jobs for a while earlier this year and I got so demoralized at the utter lack of communication that I actually started writing thank-you notes to companies that sent me rejection letters….because at least they contacted me!
      The job-hunting process as we know it is just inhumane.

      1. Elizabeth West

        I did that last year for a book rejection. It came after a manuscript request and although I was mega-disappointed, I really appreciated that they took the time to write a critique.

  4. C.

    Alison, would you be able to provide some insight for waiting to hear back after an interview? I don’t put much stock in waiting to hear back after sending in an application, but if I’ve made contact with the hiring manager and interviewed, maybe done an exercise or two, is there a general estimate for when it’s been too long without hearing back? I imagine the answer of moving on right away still applies, but after I’ve made some sort of connection, it’s hard to put it out of my head at that point.

    1. Where's the Le-Toose?

      C.,

      I’m a public sector managing attorney here in California, and while our general timelines won’t work for every employer, there is a lot going on behind the scenes that will back up the timelines Alison has mentioned.

      Once a job posting closes, here’s the ideal for our office. Week 1: HR reviews all applications to make sure each candidate meets the minimum qualifications. Week 2: depending on how many applications we get, two supervisors review the resume and application packets and select a list of candidates to interview. Week 3: all the candidates are called for an interview during week 4. Week 4: round one of interviews and the interview panel picks 3-5 finalists. Week 5: the top 3 or top 5 are called to have a final interview with our agency head. Week 6: reference check and an offer is made.

      And here’s some examples why that original 6 week deadline goes out the window: HR analyst is almost done reviewing all the packets but then gets sick; Supervisor A and B get swamped with work and it takes them 7 days to finally review the packets; 85% of candidates can interview during a particular week, but 2-3 good candidates can’t make until the next week; the interview panel can’t meet for 6 days because they cleared their schedules to do interviews during week 4 not week 8 or 9; major issue develops and the agency head doesn’t have time for another 5-8 days; there’s a dispute as to who the best candidate is; references ghost on a candidate; top candidate wants a couple of days to consider then accepts another offer; and so on.

      Alison’s advice of moving on the second you apply is the best advice.

  5. CoveredInBees

    I treat an application as declined if I don’t hear back within 2 weeks, which is pretty common in my area. This way I don’t have to carry around excitement or tension about an application for long. If I hear back beyond that, it is a nice surprise.

      1. Julie Farragher

        Thank you for this comment. Your application spreadsheet sounds like a fabulous way to keep track of applications. So far, I’ve been recording my applications old-school style (paper). I’m going to keep a record of the companies that are kind enough to send a rejection email (instead of silence). Best wishes in your search.

  6. Sal

    Lordy, I just had an interview last week for a job I applied to 15 (fifteen!) months ago. I had to fill them in on the job I got in the interim, which actually made me a stronger candidate.

    1. Anna

      I have a lot of questions about that. Did they explain why they waited over a year to contact you? Did they give you a heads-up earlier that you didn’t get the job, but then something else opened up that they thought you’d be good at? Now that it’s February, did you end up getting/taking the job?

  7. Someone else

    My general rule of thumb is this: ask them what their timeline is, and then in my head, double-it. This assumes there’s been some human interaction though, not just an electronic application.

  8. KW

    I have personally found county or federal jobs take many many months before getting a response either way. And, even if you don’t pass the initial interview round they tend to keep your application on file for a later round of interviews. I kept applying and interviewing in the meantime, which strengthens the interview experience.

  9. Bookworm

    I take what I see in most postings as standard: if they don’t get in touch, they aren’t interested. If they are, they (usually) make it known right away. I’ve gotten calls/emails the same day as submission, perhaps once or twice within a few hours.

    On the flip side I’ve applied to jobs and didn’t hear back for months–I had genuinely forgotten I had applied and had no idea why they were contacting me. I’ve also had callbacks where I applied, didn’t get it but someone kept me in mind. Those ones, though, have never gone anywhere and I suspect for at least two of them I simply ticked a few boxes based on the nature of the very perfunctory process and (what I felt was) a total lack of enthusiasm.

    There are tons of factors and I’ve heard a few apologies with some explanations of something happening that delayed a response. All you can do is keep on trucking.

  10. LazyHolidayMondays

    I think it how easy it is to move on depends on which job industry or type you’re applying to. I’m an administrative assistant and jobs are abundant. When I was actively looking, I applied and applied and applied and didn’t dwell on anything until I got the email/call for an interview.

    But if I were applying in a field or job where there’s not a lot of opportunities, I would likely invest more emotional capital hoping for a reply.

    I once got a call back three months after I had already accepted a different job…and the person on the other end wasn’t even sure what job it was for. I wasn’t impressed.

    Another job called me a year after I had applied: they had actually kept my c.v. on file and liked it enough to call me for another interview for another job (didn’t get it, though). I was impressed!

  11. Elizabeth West

    I read this post this morning, and before I left Mum’s to drive home, I sent a follow-up email to the interviewer from a couple of weeks ago (the one where they’d called me). I’d previously sent a thank you afterward too. Haven’t heard back yet. However, though they did say they were trying to fill the position quickly, it’s the holidays, and people may be out for the whole week.

    Tomorrow I’ll just keep looking, I guess. :|

    1. Anna

      I find it interesting that interviewers don’t feel the need to thank us, too. It’s not like they’re doing us a favor by interviewing us. We’re offering to fill their business need, and we also gave up our time to meet with them. They should feel just as much responsibility for respectful communication. Instead, after two weeks you’re still left in the dark. That’s frustrating. But I hoped it worked out well for you!

  12. 'callaKid

    I had one job call me 9 months after I applied. I had totally forgotten about that job, and actually had to ask which one it was. I had been unemployed for a while, so was delighted to get the call, but really – 9 months? for a 9-month temporary project. I was kinda glad when that was over, kind of a crazy place to work

    1. sometimeswhy

      We keep applications on file for 18 months and have multiple positions performing the same or very similar duties. When we have multiple candidates with similar skill sets and a close first/second/third ranking, that’s both frustrating and potentially really useful. I’ve hired “off the list” instead of doing a whole new recruitment more than once, one time right as the clock was running out.

  13. Close Bracket

    > I would make you move on the minute after you send your application

    Yup. I treat job applications as a “fire and forget” operation (with the caveat that I keep detailed records just in case someone gets back to me).

    I try to treat interviews that way, too, but that’s a little more difficult not to get invested in.

  14. MEagain.

    We knew we were moving in august for my job in march. My husband started applying once we got back from the House hunt beginning June. Immediately had phone interview. Loved him. Wanted him to start in a week. He said in my cover letter I couldn’t start until august but with arrangements/early closing date it would be possible to stay beginning July. No problem we’ll get back to you in two days.

    Nothing.

    Nothing.

    We move. He gets offered a job he doesn’t really want, but it’s a job. Terrible hours. Repetitive factory Work. He goes in for physical at this new job right at end of august. September rolls around and phone interview place calls back. They were in a massive hiring spree and just waited until the next round to call him. We thought they ghosted.

  15. Jessica

    I’d add in a caveat for the 4-6 weeks to be after a posting closes!

    For example (non-profit hiring manager here): typically we open an entry-level position for a four week period and post it on Idealist the first day. If someone jumps at that posting and submits an application that night, I can guarantee I won’t be looking at it until at least the week before the posting closes, if not after the close. (Why? Because at that point I’ve already worked hard internally at getting the position approved, and the job description written and posted. The position being open is a brief window in which I get to catch up on my other work before interviewing. I do try to check-in the week before close to be sure we have a good pool, if I can, but I generally still wouldn’t start phone screening.)

    Following on from Where’s the Le-Toose? above; my general guideline is 1 week after close for reviewing resumes, phone screenings, and scheduling in person interviews, one week for in person interviews and scheduling final candidates, 1 week for final interviews and making an offer. But we’ve only ever stuck to that timeline once that I can recall. Because I can’t reach candidates by phone, interviewers get sick, candidates have a planned vacation to Thailand, the rest of my job intrudes and I have to put phone screenings on hold…

    I will say that we have an informal internal rule against a hiring manager taking vacation after a posting closes (for lower level hires). But we can still go on vacation while the position is posted (hence my caveat).

  16. Playing The Long Game...

    At the moment, I’m waiting to hear back from my twenty ninth job interview, which took place on Monday there. It is now Friday, and I haven’t heard a thing. My general rule is three days maximum for an offer, and if I’m kept waiting any longer than that, I just wait for the rejection email to pop into my inbox. Speaking from experience…

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