why do job interviewers seem to lead me on?

A reader writes:

Over the past several months, I have been lucky enough to make it to second and third round interviews. At one recently, I was told unequivocally that I was one of two remaining candidates. Everyone was so nice that I was shocked when I wasn’t offered the position.

Currently, I am awaiting another decision. The final interview was out of town. I was the last to be interviewed and was told no more rounds. I had to prepare a very detailed presentation based on some research along with a writing sample. They seemed to be super super impressed, so much so I was a bit embarrassed. On that following afternoon, I received an unsolicited email from the hiring manager. He wrote: “Thank you for coming in and doing such a fine presentation on such short notice. You did very well.” He also wanted to say that I was “very much still being considered for the position” and they were reaching out to references. They did, as I know one for certain has responded. He also said I would have my final decision by “close of business on Friday,” which was very specific. He also apologized for the wait and hoped I would understand.

But Friday came and went with no reply as promised. Is this just a nice hiring manager who may be sending mixed messages to a candidate in an effort to be kind and keep a candidate informed?

How would you approach this? Would you be so complimentary and add superlatives when you might not intend to offer?

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

{ 117 comments… read them below }

  1. Lil Sebastian*

    I think that Alison’s response is spot on and reflects my experience as a hiring manager. Of course I’m going to be friendly to candidates who come in to interview. I recognize the mental load it takes to prep for and do an interview (let alone possibly having to take time off from your current job, transportation logistics, etc.). I want candidates to accept an offer is we make one, so being friendly helps with that. Also, our office culture is generally a friendly place so that should be reflected in the interview process. If OP was one of two finalists, that still means there was only a 50% chance of getting that job.
    As for the “Friday came and went with no reply”, I can think of a bunch of reasons why that may have happened. Maybe an urgent situation came up and they have to deal with that first. Maybe something is stuck in a process somewhere (e.g. confirming with HR what the offer amount is, playing phone tag with one of your references). Maybe somebody got sick and was out of a few days. Of course, maybe they’re going with another candidate. All of these have happened to me as a hiring manager.

    1. Public Sector Manager*

      When we’ve hired at my public agency, there are so many delays that crop up from time to time that self-imposed deadlines frequently get missed. And no one is trying to be rude to the applicants, but as many people posting have said in the past, the new job might be the first or second priority on the applicant’s list but it’s not that high on the employer’s list.

      Last time we had interviews, it was a longer period than anticipated. We had a window of 3 weeks for people to apply. It took HR about 8 business days to review the applications for completeness, do their civil service magic, and then allow us to schedule interviews. (This usually takes 1-2 days). The first period where all of us were in house at the same time for the interviews was just over 2 weeks away, and we had to spread the interview out over 2 weeks. to accommodate our own schedules.

      The window for interviews ended up being longer than anticipated because two candidates who were really high on our list after the application review were on vacation.

      After the interviews, we needed to meet internally but then my boss was out sick for roughly a week. When my boss was back, we had to address a big client project that came up out of the blue and it was due on a rush, so everything got pushed back. Then we agreed on a tentative offer list but the reference check lasted a week because quite a few references were either MIA or took 4-5 days to call back (the longest was 2 months after their former employee had already started!). Then because of other delays we had another 10 day delay because our agency head, who’s approval was needed, was on a pre-planned trip to Asia. We never intended everything to last that long, but it did.

      Just keep job hunting and they will either call or they won’t.

      1. old curmudgeon*

        Yuuuup, in the public sector, that kind of timeline is far more common than not.

        When I was last job-hunting, I put in application materials to two state agencies on the same day. I got my civil service exam score from one of them within a week, interviewed ten days later, learned that my references were being checked about a week after the interview, and was offered the job a bit under a month after I initially applied. I accepted immediately, and had the signed appointment letter in hand a few days later.

        The other agency, however, didn’t even get through scoring the exams for over a month. At the time, the exam score letters included the total number of applicants, so I knew they had fewer applicants for that position than the faster agency did. The slow agency actually contacted me to invite me to an interview on my second day in my new job with the other agency (where I still work today).

        My spouse’s experience landing a state job twenty years ago was even worse. We were trying to relocate here from out of state, and he was sending out resumes to all sorts of job postings (that was back when the process was still all paper-based). He was contacted by an agency for an interview FIVE MONTHS after he had applied. It had been so long, he didn’t even remember what the job was! They did a phone interview, and he wound up getting the job, but boy, howdy, it was sure an object lesson in the fine art of patience.

        To the OP, as frustrating as it is to wait, I can honestly think of all kinds of possible reasons for the delay, and most of them have absolutely nothing to you. Sit tight, keep telling yourself that you are Awesome, and wait patiently for the call. Good luck!

    2. People Person (not)*

      Also, as is going on in my company right now, top management/department management may change unexpectedly, and everything is put on hold until the new guy gets here.

    3. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      I appreciate your perspective, but if someone tells me to expect something by a certain date, is it really that difficult to at least let them know it will take longer? I think that’s all any job candidate wants.

      1. Me*

        Sometimes it is. Not because it;s difficult to send a message, but because things came up and it slipped your mind. Or you get sick. Or have an emergency.

        Hiring managers are humans too. For that reason we don’t provide hard dates but rather an expected time frame.

        From an applicant standpoint, I just automatically assume something came up and check in a few days if I haven’t hear.

        1. Fikly*

          It would be one thing if this happened sometimes. But it’s the standard practice to get nothing but silence as days pass unless you reach out, and even then it’s rare to get a reply.

          And thus it’s not “hiring managers are human” it’s “hiring managers prioritize what is important to them over keeping potential hires informed.”

        2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

          As Fikly stated, I’d be more inclined to accept the human factor if I hadn’t experienced this same behavior in the majority of cases when looking for a job (and as we’ve read, many others experience the same). If I’ve gotten to the step of an in person interview for a job, the VERY LEAST that company can do is keep in touch and follow up when they say they’ll follow up. Being ignored or ghosted happens ALL THE TIME. And unfortunately there’s not much the applicant can do because they don’t want to hurt their chances of getting the job if it’s still a remote possibility. Letting a candidate know that there’s no update IS an update and is good business practice. It’s crappy that very few businesses follow this practice.

          1. Amy Sly*

            Yeah. There are days when I wonder if people end up in HR because they’re so poor at empathizing with people and meeting deadlines. You can’t get away with that in any kind of client facing role, but when many of their “clients” are job seekers in the position of Oliver Twist going “Please, sir, I want some more gruel,” it doesn’t visibly affect the bottom line. Of course, I’d also love to see an analysis of the losses caused by poorly run hiring practices, between the loss of good candidates who go to companies that can go from application call to first day in a reasonable amount of time, the losses from not being fully staffed, the losses from low morale among overworked existing employees, etc.

    4. TardyTardis*

      Plus, not to be insulting, some hiring managers are liars and they say this to all the candidates. A wise candidate will believe none of this, till the actual offer shows up.

  2. WantonSeedStitch*

    Heck, if I had a really good candidate interview for a job, I’d be really nice to them too, even if I knew I was going to offer the position to another candidate: I’ve been in a position where I made an offer to my first-choice candidate before, and they chose not to accept after being offered a promotion at their current job. In that case, I went to my second-choice candidate, who was still an excellent candidate, and made the offer to them. If candidate #1 had accepted, I would not have gone back to candidate #2, but since they didn’t, I did have to turn to my second choice. Had I not been warm in conversation with them and honest about my positive reactions to their interviews, they might have turned me down as well! That person ended up being a great employee, so I have no regrets.

    1. Jen S. 2.0*

      This. There are so many reasons to be very nice to people interviewing with you, whether or not they ultimately end up in the job. What’s surprising about this? Frankly, once you’re down to 2-3 candidates, you really have no idea which one you might ultimately end up with; being less than welcoming to person 3 makes no sense.

      Plus … are candidates expecting people to be lukewarm or mean or unenthused or uneffusive if they weren’t the best interview? Basic manners say that you’re kind to everyone regardless of whether you’re going to hire them.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        Right? Even if I’m underwhelmed by a candidate and have no intention of hiring them, I’m still going to be nice to them and treat them with professional courtesy. We don’t allow people to interview if they treat candidates any other way. Even if it’s not a good fit, they’ve made time in their schedule to come in to speak with you about the position, and an interviewer owes them that much.

      2. Office Snacker*

        Right? This was my reaction. We live in a society. Basic human courtesy says you treat people with respect and decency, even kindness if that’s within your character. That’s not a come-on any more than the fact that I greet you warmly and hold the elevator door for you means I want to date you.

  3. Cordoba*

    I would compliment somebody who did particularly well in an interview because:
    1) That’s a nice thing to do
    2) It’s potentially practically useful for them to know that the thing they’re doing is impressive. If their presentation skills are great they should be aware of that so they can put their effort into improving other parts of their interview/application instead.

    This does not mean I intend to hire them, and does not obligate me to make them an offer. It’s just honest polite feedback about a thing they’re doing well.

    If I go on a date with somebody and honestly tell them that I like their funny jokes that does not mean that I have decided to marry that person, right?

    1. Cookie Captain*

      It can be both nice and useful, but if you’re truly giving tailored, complimentary feedback, it would be kinder to wait until you can give them a final decision one way or another. Because being told they’ve excelled does make a candidate more optimistic.

      If you sincerely flatter someone on a date, of course they’re not going to assume a marriage proposal is imminent–but they’re more likely to be surprised and disappointed if you turn down a second date.

      1. Washi*

        Hmm, I don’t think I agree that it’s so bad for a candidate to leave the interview feeling optimistic. I would stay away from things like “this was the best presentation of all we’ve seen” or “you’re the top candidate” that are specifically comparing the candidates, but I think it’s fine to give sincere praise when it is due.

        That said, if that person is then rejected, I think the rejection letter would ideally briefly state why another candidate was chosen, rather than a completely generic rejection after having been told they interviewed really well.

    2. Lana Kane*

      As a hiring manager, I stay away from saying anything that might be construed as feedback on the interview, because that could easily raise hopes. I had it happen to me when I was still fairly green at interviews with one particular candidate and I still feel badly, because due to other circumstances I chose to go with another candidate. Her response told me that she had really raised her hopes on the job because of my having complimented her interview. (It wasn’t even anything overly effusive, but I know how much hope people bring in to interviews.) The most I may say is, for example, “that’s a good question”)

      I have no problem with a candidate leaving the interview feeling optimistic because they feel it went well, but I don’t want it to be because I said something to directly influence that.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        Same – I’m there to tell them about the job, assess fit from our end, and answer any questions they have about the job or organization. I don’t do interview feedback to candidates, and it’s awkward when (thankfully, only a few) people ask at the end, “so, how did I do?”.

  4. Washi*

    Agree with Alison’s response, but also wanted to add that it goes both ways! Most job seekers try to show a lot of interest in the jobs they are applying for and give the impression that they would love to take the position if offered. That doesn’t mean if they end up turning the offer down that they were leading the interviewers on.

    1. fposte*

      Yes, excellent point! Both sides can be genuinely enthusiastic and interested without it meaning a commitment.

      1. MissDisplaced*

        This is true… but generally the Employer is standing in the place of power in interview situations.

        1. fposte*

          I don’t think anybody’s arguing that; it’s just that employers would be wise to remember that that doesn’t make the applicant obliged to them.

    1. Cookie Captain*

      Yup. I was once invited to interview, praised enthusiastically at said interview and then again over email in response to my thank-you…and then ghosted.

      The manager even made a point of saying that he would let me know their decision promptly either way because he knew from experience how anxiety-inducing it was to wait a long time for an answer. Then silence. That one stung.

      1. Employee of the Bearimy*

        My experience has been that the more noise an employer makes about the transparency of their process, the more likely they are to ghost you.

        1. Amy Sly*

          I really wish I knew some way to ask “So how long after not hearing from you should I assume you’ve ghosted me?” without suggesting that I expect to not get the job and to be ghosted. After all, even the people who plan on ghosting you don’t want to be called on it.

      2. Retired and Happy Now*

        I have “you never know what’s happened” story about silence after an interview.

        In early 2007, just as the troubles in the financial industry were heating up but not quite public, I interviewed with an organization central in the mortgage industry. The position description was very specific to my skills and experience, the salary offered exceed my expectations, and the interview went very well. They took extra steps to walk me around and meet the rest of the unit. They said I was a leading candidate and the decision would be made shortly as they were eager to fill the slot ASAP. When I did not hear from them after a decent interval, I called a couple of times and left short, positive voice messages that I hoped to hear from them. I even sent a nice e-mail. Crickets. I never heard another word from them.

        A couple of years into the financial crisis and after an unfortunate occurrence related to that company, information about the timeline of the organization’s dire troubles made the news. It was then that I put the pieces together. HR knew that there were grave problems brewing and wanted to get positions filled quickly before a probable hire freeze but it did not happen in time for the position I was after. Info in the news confirmed that the hire freeze started days after my interview. I have surmised that HR staff (if the recruiters still had their jobs) were probably restricted from contacting candidates, much less mentioning a job freeze, as this information would have roiled the stock market. I also realized that, had I been hired, I would likely have been laid off pretty quickly. I chalk it up as a bullet dodged.

        1. Artemesia*

          You did dodge a bullet. When we moved for my job when I graduated, my husband was doing very well in a partnership track in a good law firm and expected to be able to relocate relatively easily. Wrong. A lawyer who is not brand new, but not yet a big rainmaker with clients has a lot of trouble catching on in a big southern brother in law kind of town where he knows no one. He struggled to find something and finally after nearly a year had two offers. He ended up taking a State AG position rather than a local house counsel position even though the latter paid slightly more. Luckily — that private position ended up abolished 6 weeks later and the guy who did take it, was out of a job. There was a re-org that he didn’t know about it in the wind. I had a very promising grad student who had a very good corporate job, get a new high level position and the same thing happened to her. There was a huge national re-org just a couple of months after she started and the entire division she worked in was laid off and the work centralized to another city. so the worst thing is not not getting a job — it is probably leaving a good job for one that disappears underneath you.

        2. Smithy*

          Your story reminds of a particularly job hunt that I had right after Trump was elected. I work in nonprofit institutional fundraising, and had been interviewing for jobs that focused on both government and private grants.

          For the type of organizations where I was interviewing, this threw lots of organization’s plans into uncertainty. Interviews would go really well, and then I’d hear months later they opted to hire no one, assign duties to internal candidates, etc. I was absolutely miserable at my current job, and the process was really affecting me mentally and emotionally.

          While a new administration can certainly change available funds – all of the places where jobs got pulled erratically or I felt ghosted often were places that were not in great overall financial health and were not prepared to enter a challenging period. Expectations and plans would have been chaotic and stressful, and based on projections developed based on a forecast that no longer existed.

          There is nothing present-me could have said to past-me to have made that period of time easier. But as a lived experience it certainly was valuable.

    2. theelephantintheroom*

      Yep. One of the first jobs I interviewed for out of college, they gave me a tour of the facilities, introduced me to everyone and explained their job duties, etc. It was so bizarre to me, then, when they didn’t give me an offer. Some places are just a little TOO friendly sometimes.

      1. fposte*

        IME that’s pretty standard for a finalist, though; how else would you know whether you’d be comfortable at the place?

        1. Jen S. 2.0*

          Right! What else are they supposed to be doing during a final interview? You’re supposed to be making a decision as much as they are; you should see the office and meet the people.

          This reminds me of the poor lady who was allergic to dogs, but had no idea the office was full of dogs because she only saw the one conference room where she interviewed.

          1. Autumnheart*

            I think the tour, showing people where they’d sit, and introducing to the team should wait until the new employee’s first day. It really doesn’t make any sense to go through that whole routine with a person who doesn’t even have the job yet.

            1. fposte*

              I disagree pretty strongly with this. That would be like buying a house without looking inside it.

              More importantly, I’d say it’s good for candidates to understand that this is a common thing with finalists, and that it’s not limited only to people who will get an offer.

              1. Nancy Pelosi*

                The house analogy is perfect, fposte. Allison says all the time that you are interviewing them as much as they are interviewing you. The tours, introducing you to other employees, etc is the interviewer’s way or letting you get a feel for the organization so you have a clearer sense of if this is the right fit or not.

            2. Frank Doyle*

              Hard disagree. As a candidate, I always want a tour and to see where I’d be working before I make a decision. It makes a lot of sense for the candidate.

            3. Fikly*

              That would be fine, if the final interview was only for the benefit of the employer.

              But it’s also for the benefit of the potential employee, to help them make the decision about whether or not they want the job.

              Interviews are a two way street, and by the final stage, you should be down to a very few candidates.

              1. MsSolo*

                I’ve never had an interview that offered a tour, but I think that’s because a lot of the roles I’ve interviewed for have been in places where staff were working on client or confidential information in open offices, so you wouldn’t take the risk of exposing it to an outsider (even to get to the kitchen in my office it’d be a potential data breach to invite interviewees for a look around). I guess if you’re somewhere with much more separate offices, or working on different kinds of information, it’d be less of an issue.

            4. SimplyTheBest*

              I have absolutely turned down a job just based on what my potential working space looked like. I can’t think of a single job I’ve been offered where I hadn’t already been on a tour, and don’t think I would accept a job without seeing the working space.

        2. Nancy Pelosi*

          That’s my question with the entire letter. What else would you expect from an interview? Should they be rude to you until they’ve decide to give you an offer?

      2. AnotherAlison*

        I had a weird one like that in college, too. Me and another guy from my department were invited for interviews. I was looking for a full-time role, and he was looking for an internship. We carpooled there, had all-morning interviews (not together), went to lunch with them (together), did more stuff around the office and then neither of us heard anything. After a lot of time had passed, he called and they told him they weren’t looking to make offers yet (fall interviews for summer start dates, which is very common in my field.) I had a lot of other opportunities, so NBD, but it was still very weird that they spent all that time with us.

        Only rivaled by the people who recruited me, made me go through multiple interviews over 4 months, told me an offer was coming as soon as EVP returned from his overseas trip, then hired someone else. [Then passed my name on to someone else in the company, who I reluctantly interviewed with and did not get an offer or any follow-up from.]

  5. Aggretsuko*

    On a semi-related note: I once went to an audition in which I barely got to read for parts twice and almost everyone else (who clearly was in the “in crowd”) read about four times apiece. I knew darned well I wasn’t getting called back. But I got an email saying that “while you don’t have to come back for the callback, you are still being considered for a part.” Naturally I never heard anything about that again either :p

    I don’t know what the hell that guy’s logic was, but sometimes people will lead you on. Or in the case of job interviews, they may like you but some other thing came up.

    1. Lana Kane*

      I attribute that to interviewers who are fundamentally uncomfortable with delivering bad (or difficult) news.

    2. Salsa Your Face*

      I had a situation that started out similar. My initial audition for a show was blah. I went in, sang my 16 bars, did the dance call, didn’t get singled out or praised or commented on by the director in any way, and went home. Later that week, people started getting callbacks, but I wasn’t one of them. I heard nothing. Another week after that, I was offered an ensemble role, which I accepted! Later on, once the show was running, I asked the director what had happened after we’d all had a few drinks. He said “I’d seen you in other things before, so I knew you were great. I wanted you in the show, but you didn’t fit any of the named roles so I didn’t feel the need to waste your time at the callback.”

      There were also a time when a director personally invited me to an audition, hinting that he had a specific role in mind for me, only to end up not casting me at all. It just goes to show that you never have any idea what anyone is thinking.

    3. MCMonkeyBean*

      That doesn’t sound that unsual to me–if they didn’t need to hear you read more and they didn’t need you at callbacks it just means they felt like they had seen enough to form their opinion, and their opinion was that you might be right for the part… but then in the end they decided someone else was more right.

      I’ve gone to callbacks and not been cast, and I’ve also been cast after not going to callbacks.


  6. Enginear*

    This is why I tell my friends and family to not linger on why they haven’t received a response back and to move on. If they call, then cool. If they don’t then no hurt feelings. Keep job searching until you receive the offer letter. Don’t hold off job searching just because you had a good interview.

  7. Quill*

    “Close of business on Friday” for a hiring decision means “we hope we can get everything done by close of business on friday but if not… maybe next week?” (Or: we’ve decided but it won’t get approved until who knows when.)

    1. Ama*

      I am suddenly reminded of the time at a previous job when we were ready to extend an offer to someone and my boss called our HR rep to ask for the offer letter– catching her on the very last day before she was about to go out on maternity leave. HR rep had not told anyone in the departments she was rep for about her leave and had no idea who was covering for her (this was pretty much par for the course for that employer’s HR department and this rep in particular). I always wonder what would have happened if my boss had happened to wait until the following day to call.

  8. AnonPi*

    Until you get it in writing nothing is final. I was even told after a final interview with a director that he planned to hire me and I’d be getting a follow up email shortly. Well I got a follow up email 3 days later all right, but it was to tell me they decided to go with the other candidate after all.

    1. Autumnheart*

      Same, except I didn’t even get the email. I was verbally offered the job, and told that an offer letter would be sent out by Monday at the latest. Never heard from them again.

      Now I basically assume that I don’t have the job until I’m assigned a desk and an email address. It might be overkill, but then, it was overkill for them to go from 100 to 0 with no explanation.

    2. Fikly*

      That reminds me of the time I had an offer, had accepted, had my first day scheduled! and then got a call two days before that the departments had been re-org’d and the position disappeared.

      I was pretty upset about the whole thing.

      They encouraged me to apply for other positions, but frankly, I didn’t want to work for a company that would do that, as it seemed to precarious a position to be in.

      1. Professor Space Cadet*

        Yup. One of my close friends was offered a job several years ago with a nationally respected nonprofit organization, accepted it, given a start date, and then got a few days later saying “the senior executive team has decided to go in another direction.” Fortunately, my friend had sensed intuitively that something about the offer felt “off” and hadn’t yet put in their notice at their other job, but it was pretty demoralizing.

        I still think about the incident every time Respected Nonprofit is in the news (it’s an organization that probably 99% of AAM readers have heard of).

  9. Hello It's Me*

    This was in the 90s so maybe not relevant but I knew someone who was out of work for a long time and would be told that they were going to extend a job offer, and then didn’t. Someone eventually told him, “Hey you might want to check one of your references.” Turns out, one of them had been bad-mouthing him to employers to the point that he was losing job after job.

    I agree with Alison’s advice in general but something to think about.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      Yes, yes yes! If it happens all the time, you should definitely have a friend call your references.

      I knew someone in a similar straits. He was hired with an offer even, but then it was revoked.
      He suspected his former employer and had his attorney call for a reference, pretending to be a job. It turns out the former employer was lying and saying they were on drugs, tested positive for drugs and wrecked a truck while DUI (none of which was true). The guy figured he lost out on 3 or 4 jobs. What is really disturbing is that none of the potential employers even told him about the bad reference or checked his record to confirm/deny it was true. They just took the word of a bitter ex-employer.

      The attorney filed a defamation suit, but I’m not sure what came of it.

    2. Close Bracket*

      Someone eventually told him, “Hey you might want to check one of your references.”

      How does one actually go about this? Is using your attorney, MissDisplaced suggests, the best option? The places I have worked before and will probably always work are very large, the smallest one was over 1000 and largest is 10s of 1000s in multiple continents. I’m not sure how to coach a friend to fake a phone call coming from a place like that.

      1. Another commenter*

        I wonder the same thing. I don’t know how well “using a friend to do a fake reference call to get the truth about what references are saying about you” would work these days. With so much that is searchable online in seconds, it seems to me that a friend’s cover story could fall apart quickly.

        1. Hello It's Me*

          I think in this instance the person actually spoke to the references and asked them what they were saying and the guy confessed to it.

          I trust my references but I did want to see what my past employers would say if contacted, who aren’t listed as a reference. One of the places I worked didn’t have a phone number listed on the website so my friend sent them an email from his work address asking for my employment details. Another he called. (It worked because my friend happens to own his own company so he has a work email he can use.) I found out one of my past employers gave the completely wrong job title for me!

      2. Hello It's Me*

        I’m not MissDisplaced, but I would assume that using the attorney was because the person already suspected a defamation lawsuit was coming.

        1. MissDisplaced*

          Yes, he suspected because there was a bad relationship with the ex-job because he had a disability claim of some type (though not from a DUI, drugs, wreck or anything).

          Note: He didn’t give them as a “reference,” but companies were calling his former workplaces to confirm employment. And that’s when the ex-job was really laying it on.

  10. Leela*

    Are these links working okay for everyone? I’ve had a really hard time loading any links to inc from here so far this year

    1. Artemesia*

      I cannot do any links here on safari which is my browser; I have to load firefox just to read this site.

  11. Koala dreams*

    The employer is not going to hire every great candidate, only as many as they need. If there are two great candidates, and one position open, one candidate is going to be turned down. Similarly, if there are three or five great candidates, then two or four of them are going to be turned down. It would be pointless to say that you were one of two remaining candidates, if they already made the decision, wouldn’t it?

    As for giving an oddly specific time and then not contacting you, well, that’s weird. It would’ve been easy to say: “We will make a decision in the next few days, and let you know as soon as possible.”

    1. ThatGirl*

      I’ve had plenty of interviewers say things like “we’ll get back to you by Friday” or “we should be making a decision within 48 hours” and that almost never happens. It’s generally a very hopeful guess, and should always be taken with a grain of salt.

      1. Marthooh*

        Yeah, “I’ll call you by Friday” usually means “Don’t you call me before Monday at the earliest!”

    2. JB (not in Houston)*

      I’m with you on your first paragraph. I can understand being disappointed, but I wouldn’t be shocked to find out I didn’t a get a job when I was told I was one of two candidates–they are telling you right there they have someone else they are also considering and who also did well enough to make it to a final round.

    3. Tau*

      Yes to the first paragraph. At the end of the day, there’s only one position. “You’re one of two finalists” = you have a 50% chance of not getting the job, brace for disappointment.

  12. WindmillArms*

    I agree with Alison that the best way to cope is to assume you won’t hear back and won’t get the job, and move on. Once I went through three rounds of interviews, and then the hiring manager called to offer me the job. I accepted, and he was going to send me that paperwork the next day. He didn’t–and stopped replying to all communication. A week later I managed to reach one of the other people I’d interviewed with, and they told me that the company had decided one some major “restructuring” the week prior, and the hiring manager no longer worked there! I was so, so glad I’d held off giving notice at my current job to wait on signed paperwork. It’s not an offer unless it’s in writing, with a negotiated start date and compensation plan!

    1. MissDisplaced*

      Oh! How horrible! Jeez!
      But why couldn’t they still hire you if they needed to fill the job? Or was the role tied to him specifically?

      Yes, it pays to wait until you sign the offer and get your start date. That is a must for me, even though I’ve honestly never had anything like this happen.

      1. WindmillArms*

        I’m not sure exactly what went on. The “restructuring” seemed to be across the whole company, so they may have put a hiring freeze down or something. The timing was unbelievable to me–how did the hiring manager have approval to hire for the role in the first place? I still don’t have any real answers about what happened, and most of what I pieced together was from seeing people’s roles disappear or changed on LinkedIn.

    2. TimeTravelR*

      I once was hired, given a report date and everything. I reported to work and was there about an hour when the supervisor told me the owner had decided to go with someone else… Seriously?! Fortunately (sort of) I was between jobs, having just moved, so hadn’t quit a job to take this job!

    3. learnedthehardway*

      That’s what I tell the people I hire, when they get the verbal offer – DO NOT resign until you have a signed contract and your references and background checks have cleared. I’ve just seen too many surprises come up at the last minute that postpone or even derail offers.

  13. MissDisplaced*

    I know it can be frustrating, disheartening and depressing, but you simply cannot read too much into interviews!
    No matter how good, or positive they seem or even what they say.

    Once I accepted this mindset, I simply interview and move on.

    > Occasionally, if something did seem particularly promising, I might make a casual check-in with the interviewer by email if I haven’t heard anything within 1-2 weeks. I have had it happen that they were just delayed in making the offer, but usually you get a variation of “position filled” which at least gives you closure.

    It’s hard, but best not to dwell on it. There is a lot of weirdness out there.

  14. Brett*

    Even candidates you won’t hire have friends in the industry. If they have a depressing discouraging interview experience, they are likely to tell their friends and discourage them from even applying for future roles.

    And if you tick off a candidate by being reserved and hard to read, they might just go straight to glassdoor. (Our most scathing glassdoor review is almost certainly from a candidate who never worked here but had an interview/recruiting experience that ground to a cold standoff then collapsed.)

  15. Pretzelgirl*

    I have interviews go this way, and I have had interviews go the total opposite. To me the opposite is worse. The interviewer was stone faced, basically told me why I was wrong for the job etc. I am at the point in my career why I finally starting asking (In a professional tone) “why did you bring me in for the interview then?” I hate leaving an interview feeling defeated and wondering why I wasted a half day off, getting told I suck.

  16. #idatherbequilting*

    I applied online today for a HR manager position. After I got an email showing they received my application they asked me to take an assessment test. The test was for organizing file names and putting things in alpha and numerical order. Why do employers require clerical tests for management positions? Ugh.

    1. Jedi Squirrel*

      It’s possible the last HR manager had no sense of the alphabet (or any kind of order) and it created chaos, and they are very much in a let’s-nip-this-in-the-bud kind of mood.

      That said, it is annoying to have to test at something you’re good at it, but it’s amazing how some people in upper-level positions have absolutely no sense of structure or order at all. I would not want to work under one of those people.

      1. Amy Sly*

        I know a now district manager of a national shoe store chain who, back when she was my coworker, had to write out the alphabet before she could put away new styles of inventory, as the only way to make sure she did it right. These people exist.

    2. TimeTravelR*

      I was hiring for an accounting operations position once… probably something like accounts receivable. I always gave a short test on basic accounting things (such as, what does 2 / 10 Net 30 mean, and some basic math with addition and percentages mostly). Anyway, I had a lady come into interview. Before the interview I put her in a comfortable room and gave her the test and told her I’d be back in about 15 minutes. The receptionist told me as soon as I left, the lady got up and walked out. I would think that anyone applying for accounting operations would have those basic skills… but you never know!

      1. Retired and Happy Now*

        This reminds me about the small insurance company I worked for back in the ’70s before they had much in the way o of data processing; the accounting department still used big old calculating machines for the financial info. It was annual report time and the company went to a temp agency to hire a statistical typist to work on the reports. The person hired showed up, was seated at this old electric typewriter with an extra long carriage to handle the wide ledger paper used to compile the report, and given a file of handwritten ledger sheets to type up. I heard that she looked up at the person who gave her the work and asked why she had so many numbers to type. “Why? Aren’t you a statistical typist?” The reply “Why yes, but I don’t type numbers.” She was gone within minutes

    3. Me*

      It weeds out candidates who aren’t remotely qualified but are applying anyway.

      The HR Manager may have to do filing and certainly needs to know where to look for files.

      Often times it’s presumed people have those skills in higher level positions, but in reality I’ve worked with more than a few higher level people that could barely tie their shoes.

    4. learnedthehardway*

      It’s because recruiters can only get just so far with a phone interview, in terms of digging into your skills. I’ve had candidates presented who claimed they were advanced Excel users, mentioned all the right things to the recruiter, and then failed the test before the in-person interview. Someone can also know what the process is to do a job, but not have the skills to actually do it – eg. accountants might know very well about accruals and depreciation, might even be able to walk the recruiter through the process, but in a test turn out to not know the finer details.

  17. ampersand*

    I think part of what happens in this situation is that interviewees forget that interviewing is (or should be) a two-way street: the employer isn’t just interviewing you to see if you’re a good fit; you should be determining whether they’re someone you want to work for. If a person is in the mindset of “I just have to make a good impression and if they like me, they’ll hire me!” I can see how it can be easy to forget that a good employer is also trying to impress the candidate, and if the employer is kind to you, that doesn’t mean you’ve got the job–it means they’re likely interviewing/doing their job of interviewing well.

    Many of us have also had the experience of it being clear when 1. we aren’t getting a job offer, or 2. it’s clear during the course of the interview that we don’t want the job and would never accept it if it were offered. So there becomes this dichotomy of “good interview=I’m getting an offer!” vs. “bad interview=there will be no offer/I don’t want this job!” It’s easy to pit the two against each other as the two possible outcomes, when there really should be more nuance to it.

  18. Goldenrod*

    Alison is so right about this. It took me so long to learn it! I definitely had 3 or 4 “close calls” where I was 100% sure I got the job….But I didn’t.
    In each case, I thought I KNEW I was the best person for the job. And I know I have strong references.
    But each time, when I found out who did get it, I looked up their resume on LinkedIn…and wouldn’t you know, it would turn out they actually did have better qualifications/experience than I did.
    I learned the hard way that you REALLY don’t know until you actually get that explicit offer!

    1. Jen S. 2.0*

      Also, full disclosure, sometimes I’ve seen the person who wasn’t necessarily the best person / best resume get the job. In each case, though, we were down to a couple of people and either would have been very good, BUT the choice got it because although they weren’t necessarily better on paper, they were a better culture fit, or they checked some other intangible box.

  19. Granny K*

    I’ve actually been offered a job and at the last minute the offer was rescinded because a candidate who had had the job before wanted it. Now granted, this was a summer job and I was in college, but I had planned to move back home to do this job and was counting on the money to pay my next semester’s tuition. Needless to say I was pretty angry about them putting me in a precarious financial position because someone else ‘really needed the job more than (I) did’. But it did teach me early that there are no guarantees and no company owes you anything–even if they do. And even if it’s in writing.
    Always have a plan B (and a savings account).

    1. Professor Space Cadet*

      Over the last decade, I know three different people who’ve had job offers rescinded for no good reason other than “sorry, we changed our mind.” I don’t think it’s a super-common practice, but I suspect it happens more frequently than people might believe. Like you say, nothing in life is ever guaranteed.

      The silver lining: I’ve come to believe that any organization that considers it appropriate to rescind a hire after they’ve started the on-boarding process (absent a major problem like red flags in a background check) is probably not a place that treats its own employees terribly well.

  20. so many interviews*

    “I was told unequivocally that I was one of two remaining candidates”

    It’s hard in these situations, but being told you’re one of two candidates means you’re one of two candidates. They were very up front about it, and feeling bummed out about not getting the job is reasonable but shocked seems like a lot you know for sure that there’s one other person being considered.

    1. fposte*

      Yes, I think that’s a perfect example of how easy it is to take even something coldly factual about chances as a promise of an offer. From where we’re sitting, the math is clear–there’s a 50% chance of not getting that job (ignoring variation in candidates that can shift that number some). But for the OP her main takeaway was that she was impressive enough to have made it past several cuts and there was just this one more hurdle and the people clearly liked her; I think that felt enough like the light at the end of the tunnel that she just forgot the practical math of 50%.

      1. Tau*

        Ha, I made the (statistically invalid but let’s handwave) 50% argument upthread – should have known someone would beat me to it!

        I wonder if this is also a problem because people are used to it working differently in school: there, it’s all about clearing a certain bar, and if you’re good enough you’re definitely going to get your A. But interviews aren’t about being good, they’re about being the best candidate. To pick up the school analogy again: it’s as though it doesn’t matter if you get 98% correct on your test, if there was a genius who got full marks then you’ll fail anyway. And the good candidate criteria are a lot vaguer than grading.

    2. Jen S. 2.0*

      And that’s before you consider that positions get pulled, internal candidates come up, hiring freezes happen, and so on and so forth.

      Being one of two candidates is a good sign, but it’s not a job offer. Nothing is a job offer but a job offer.

    3. pally*

      My Mom ended up one of the two remaining candidates. I’ve often wondered if the way they handled the finalists was a nice touch or really insensitive.

      Here’s what they did:

      HR brought both candidates in for a separate face-to-face meeting solely to inform them who would get the job.

      The other candidate was scheduled first. She was told she did not get the job. She was complemented regarding her skills, interviewing, etc. And they expressed their disappointment that they could not hire both candidates. Then they thanked her for taking the time to talk with them. I don’t know if they explained why they did not select her.

      As the candidate left, she walked by my Mom who was waiting for her appointment. Then they brought in my Mom and informed her she was hired. And explained that the lady who just left was the other finalist. They had asked her down to the company to tell her the news personally.

      If I were the other finalist, I’d be pissed to have to go down in person to hear I was not hired. What a waste of my time. But the personal touch is nice -in a way.

      1. SimplyTheBest*

        I would be absolutely mortified. I hate it when I’m called over the phone to be rejected. Bringing me in in person? Wasting my time like that, potentially making me use vacation time in order to be out of the office? I would be furious.

      2. Nellie*

        Not only is it a waste of the other candidate’s time, but it’s also just inconsiderate because they’re making that person have to deal with “I didn’t get the job” disappointment in person, face-to-face. Ouch.

        But it also just seems like something that could blow up in your face. What if your chose candidate turns down the job? You’ve now burned that bridge with your other candidate. At the very least, you are going to have to go them and be like, “Hey, so we didn’t select you, but now we are.” Everything about this approach is just awkward.

      3. MsSolo*

        I can understand doing this for internal hires, so they don’t find out they didn’t get it from office gossip, but you definitely always want to offer the job to the top candidate first before rejecting the others, and it’s so much a waste of time if you’ve got to travel in for it.

      4. Pretzelgirl*

        I had someone do this. I was interviewing for a job, that I thought I was really qualified for. The first round, went very well. I was quickly called back for a 2nd round. Met with the VP of the dept. Then went back to meet with my would be manager. She basically told me, how unqualified I was. I just sat there and blinked. I was like, why on earth did you waste both our time? Just email me and say you wont be moving forward.

  21. TimeTravelR*

    If you’re making it that far, and they’ve spoken to your references, perhaps the references are the issue. I only provide references that I know will provide good information. The hiring manager may call a former supervisor, which you can’t control, but you can control who you provide.

  22. BasicWitch*

    It’s not “leading on” to be friendly or enthusiastic. Job seekers aren’t entitled to a particular job, just as recruiters aren’t entitled to a particular candidate – as others pointed out, candidates often express polite interest or even excitement for positions they ultimately turn down at the end of a costly recruitment process.

    Friendliness is just that, and not a promise of anything. Just as a friendly barista doesn’t owe you a date, a friendly interviewer doesn’t owe you an offer.

  23. DrTheLiz*

    As a person currently interviewing… it sucks, and I’m not sure I think employers are simply entitled to dangle people on a string because it’s convenient for them to do so. Speaking for myself, I’d much, much rather be told immediately afterwards whether I fall into “very strong, 50/50 chance we will hire you (somebody else might be better)”, “meets requirements, we’ll go for you if we can’t get anybody better than this, though we’d prefer to” or “no, not at all, no way”.

    Twice lately I’ve been left hanging for more than a month after an interview only to be told ‘no’. In the first case I’m pretty sure I was their second choice so sure, them’s the breaks but in the second I was basically told when I asked for feedback on the rejection that the job had always been destined for an internal candidate. Them’s also the breaks, but they could have damned well told me that the day after the interview rather than leaving me hanging for weeks on end.

    There’s a lot of discussion on this blog/forum of the “rights” of the employer which turn out not to be rights at all, just convenience plus a position of power. While Alison certainly isn’t in a position to snap her fingers and change that (and complaining about it isn’t always productive) … times like these an acknowledgement that it’s not just okay to do to people, and a flag that a considerate boss shouldn’t, would be nice.

    1. Amy Sly*

      Yeah. Honestly, it seems like the only way to avoid disappointment is to spend as little time or energy on cover letters and interviews as possible and then assume that you’ll never hear from anyone ever. An application is a lottery ticket, nothing more, and even a “no thanks” is a prize you won’t often see.

      And yeah, I know, I’m sure I’ve lost jobs that I could have had if only I’d invested a little more energy in jumping through HR hoops. But frankly, job searching really starts to feel like playing the lottery — spending money for multiple tickets doesn’t increase my chances of winning so much as it makes the almost inevitable losing even more painful.

      1. Amy Sly*

        And I’d add that it comes down to what I call the primary rule of jobs: you are important to exactly one person at any workplace. You. For everyone else, you’re just part of the work load.

    2. BasicWitch*

      It’s definitely not an equal relationship, I agree. Having been on both sides, I can tell you that there is certainly a power imbalance between hiring managers and applicants. The ratio favors the employer pretty much every time. Add to that the stress of having healthcare/money for rent/basic dignity tied to being employed, and it’s easy to take it personally when you aren’t the one that gets picked. It sucks.

      Judging from other letters answered on this blog, there’s really no one way to handle rejecting a candidate that won’t upset somebody. Specifically sending rejection notices isn’t a great practice because it wouldn’t be definitive: employers may still contact you if there first or second choices fall through, after deliberation and reference checks, etc., which is a lengthy. They absolutely wouldn’t have all that settled the day after the interview. (The response to Marcie’s comment here is relevant: https://www.askamanager.org/2012/08/what-your-interviewer-says-vs-what-you-hear-vs-what-they-mean.html). For every letter that comes in about people feeling upset about not getting an offer, there are people complaining about coworkers who were bad hires. Employers owe it to those already working for them to make the best possible hiring choices.

      As job seekers, doing our best to let go of outcomes is much less stressful than agonizing about when we’ll hear back. I always try to get an estimate from the interviewer as to the time-frame of their process, so I’ll know when I should assume they’ve moved on. I do not stop applying elsewhere while I wait, and I only follow up if I have a competing offer and need to make a decision between them by a certain deadline. Employers DO have it easier… so why should we make it more hellish for ourselves? It’s better to maintain as much emotional distance as possible, maintain a state of cautious optimism and find healthy outlets for our anxiety.

  24. Automated*

    Im surprised Alison didnt mention doing a refernce check up. I know the op focused on the warm and friendly aspects, but it struck me that they repeatedly made it to round 2 and 3 before failing to land the job.

    Could be nothing, could be something. Its time to have a professional sounding friend call your refernces though.

  25. 1234*

    On the opposite end of the spectrum, I thought the Hiring Managers at my current job hated me. I left the interview feeling dejected and thinking that there’s no chance in hell I would be moving onto the next round. Imagine my surprise when one of them email me and said “we would like you to interview with Nancy, who makes the final decision.”

    I later learned that I was 1 of 2 strong candidates they liked. Thankfully, Nancy felt more “welcoming” than the other 2 people I had met with so I accepted the role.

    We hired someone else in a separate role a few years ago, Beth. Apparently, Beth also thought the first two hiring managers were great at putting off the “we don’t like you” vibe so it wasn’t just me.

    1. Pretzelgirl*

      I often wonder if this is some kind of weird interview tatic. I can’t tell you the number of times I went on interviews like this. I always try and stay friendly and upbeat. So who knows. Maybe they are “testing” you.

    1. these damn Nepalese coins*

      Absolutely, when you flip the coin on Wednesday just after lunch and then just before landing the coin says “oh I’ll definitely tell you heads or tails by Friday 5 P.M.!” and then Friday 5:01 P.M. the coin fmlks off to the pub and literally never contacts you again. CHOCKED I tell you.

  26. Senor Montoya*

    I’m running a search right now. We have several superior candidates and you can be sure we were enthusiastic about them without making any promises. I may be able to hire a second person from the same pool in the fairly near future. I want one of the really excellent also rans to feel good about accepting an offer Later.

  27. Belle8bete*

    I want to validate the LW. I think folks forget how terrible it can be on the applicant side of things. It sucks so hard. There’s nothing to be done except try to keep your head up and try not to make assumptions, but it’s normal to be frustrated by this process.

    It’s easy to say “just assume you won’t get it” theoretically, but in my experience humans don’t have an on/off switch for things like this. It can be really hard to deal with this, especially if you are being given certain impressions. Again, you have to try and move past it, but it sucks. And it’s normal for it to feel sucky because in an ideal world there would be less garbage for applicants to deal with on the whole.

  28. Louisa*

    This happened to me more times than I count, including one in which I was one of two finalists and asked how soon I could move and whether was I considering other offers. There is a not so fine line between being polite and leading a candidate on, which hiring managers sometimes step do step over. I can only tell you after many incidents like this and years of searching, I did land a job I totally love.

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