I had a great interview but didn’t get the job — what happened?

A reader writes:

A few weeks ago I had what seemed to be a terrific interview for a dream position. I had great chemistry with the team from the get-go, answered their questions well, and was invited back for a second interview with the hiring manager and another person I’d be working with closely. They offered up the salary which was exactly what I wanted, said they’re really excited about me, and outlined the next steps. They even made a snarky comment about how the place I’m currently working for really has no growth opportunities and how at their organization I’ll have a lot of chances to learn new things and move up. A few days later, they asked for references. It sounds like it was good to go, right?

Well, I heard nothing for two weeks. And then an assistant called and said the team decided to move on with someone else. I was actually pretty floored. She wouldn’t say anything else other than it was close. I found out they didn’t even call my references. Based on your experiences, what probably happened here? I’m so disappointed. I don’t know why they were so positive about hiring me if they knew this is where it was really headed.

Sometimes a stronger candidate just emerges. The interviewer’s enthusiasm about you was almost certainly genuine but if someone else seems like the better match, they’re going to go with that person.

I think the problem was with this: “A few days later, they asked for references. It sounds like it was good to go, right?” … because it wasn’t time to assume that. The time to assume that is once you have an offer. Simply being asked for references doesn’t signal the job is yours; a lot of places ask all their finalists for references, or even request them from everyone they interview so they have them on hand if they end up needing them.

I know they said they were excited about you, but that’s the kind of thing interviewers might say to more than one candidate. They shouldn’t say it to everyone, but if they have a couple of people they’re excited about, they don’t need to pretend they’re not. And that’s a good interview! It’s just not an indication of anything more. In a good hiring round, they might have good interviews with several people — and if they can only hire one, some of those people will end up disappointed.

There’s a whole question here about whether interviewers should be more careful about what impressions candidates might be getting — but in this case it doesn’t sound like they were misleading. It just sounds like you were a finalist who happened to really click with them. (And that kind of connection is a good thing. It wouldn’t be smart for them to play it so cool that you could come away thinking they were chilly or that you didn’t have rapport with them, because that’s something you’ll factor into whether you want to work there.)

With all interviews, even ones that go well, the best thing you can do is to remember that there’s no offer until there’s an actual offer — and things can change at any time before that. An interviewer could leave a meeting with you thinking “she’s the one” and something could change after that (a stronger candidate, a redefining of the role, a hiring freeze, a CEO’s nephew, etc.). It’s disappointing though and I’m sorry.

{ 158 comments… read them below }

  1. Stephen!*

    I feel for you! It is demoralizing to have a great interview and no offer, but it happens. And recently, I re-applied for a job that I had interviewed for last year. The interview had went well and while I didn’t get the job, they invited me to apply next time I saw an opening. And…. silence. Sigh. You don’t know until you know, ya know?

    1. Masquerade*

      I could have written this exact thing last year! So frustrating. They told me they would know in X days, and then strung me along for X days + 2 weeks and sounded pouty on the call to let me know they went with someone else.

      They even said they gave my application package to another department to see if a role could be found there, but I never heard back.

      I completely understand that a great interview doesn’t translate to a hiring every time! It was frustrating here though because it takes literally no effort not to gush about how great of a candidate you are or tell you they’re going to try to get you an interview with another team if that’s not a realistic option. I got turned down for another great role around the same time, but had no hard feelings because they didn’t string me along.

        1. Masquerade*

          They told me a few times they’d have a response on X date which would pass with silence, were absolutely effusive how excited the hiring manager was, mentioned a few times how my desired benefits lined up perfectly with the offer, and talked about the city (out of state) like it was a done deal I’d be moving there.

          It was one of my first interview experiences out of school so maybe my expectations were unrealistic? It was quite unlike the other 3-4 interviews I did during that time period though, all which I moved past at least the first round. It was a good learning experience, so I’m thankful for that.

          1. Colette*

            That’s all pretty normal stuff. It’s so, so common for companies to miss the date they expect to get back to you (because someone critical was out of the office, because a candidate needed to reschedule, because they’re re-evaluating their budget, because work got unexpectedly busy …).

            And, having been on the interviewer side, they were probably legitimately interested in hiring you. That doesn’t mean they were stringing you along – they probably would have happily hired you, but they found someone who was a better fit. Would you rather they had not seemed interested?

            1. Loosey Goosey*

              This scolding seems pretty unhelpful. It’s hard to be a job seeker, and it’s ok to be frustrated when the messaging builds your hopes up and then you get rejected/ghosted.

              1. Colette*

                Of course it’s hard, and of course it’s OK to be frustrated! But I’d argue that there’s a difference between being ghosted and being rejected – rejection is part of the job hunt. Very few people never get rejected.

                But it’s a legitimate quesiton. The potential employer has 2 choices – seem interested (and maybe hire someone else) or seem disinterested (and discourage people they will want to hire.) I don’t think many people would feel good about taking a job where they seemed disinterested in the interview – so the alternative is seeming interested (probably legitimately).

                1. Loosey Goosey*

                  That’s true, but there’s a difference between being friendly and enthusiastic, and making specific comments that lead someone to reasonably think they’re getting an offer (talking about benefits alignment, relocating to the new city, hiring manager is excited). It’s a fine line, to be sure, and some people will read into it no matter what, but I think the onus is on the employer to be careful about their language and demeanor.

              2. tangerineRose*

                I don’t think this was a scolding, just an explanation. Businesses have a lot of stuff going on, so sometimes dates slip.

                1. Loosey Goosey*

                  The “Would you rather they had not seemed interested?” seemed sarcastic to me. Just my impression.

                2. MCMonkeybean*

                  I agree, it seems like Masquerade is genuinely unsure if their expectations were out of sync and I think Colette’s response is correct. If you were one of the finalists it is normal to say they are excited about you as a candidate and to talk about the city you would be moving to IF they hired you. The doesn’t mean “pack your bags and get on the plane right now cause we are definitely going to pick you,” even though it can be really hard not to feel that way from the candidate’s side.

                  The important thing to remember is that interviews are a two-way street so while you are pitching yourself to them they are also pitching the job to you. They want to connect with you and to explain why the benefits are a good fit for you and talk up what a great city it is to live in, because if they do extend you an offer they want you to accept it! That’s all a pretty normal part of the process. It may not be how every interview goes, but it’s not out of line.

            2. Autumnheart*

              It might be normal, but I agree that it’s not a good experience at that stage of the interview process.

              I’ve had interviews where I was told an offer was in the mail, where they showed me where I’d be sitting and introduced me to the rest of the team, assured I should receive the packet by XYZ date…and I got ghosted.

              Like, don’t do that. Don’t introduce a candidate to the team (who weren’t part of the hiring process), don’t tell them you’re going to make an offer, and don’t show them “their desk,” if you are still interviewing candidates and not at the offer stage. There’s a way to convey enthusiasm without sending signals that they’re deciding to hire you. Just say, “Well, it was great to meet you! We’d love to have you as an employee of this company, so if this position doesn’t work out, feel free to keep applying!” or something that *doesn’t* imply that they got the job.

              Maybe some interviewers just really click with a candidate and get carried away, but really, it should not be all on the job-seeker to read the tea leaves and do a post-mortem on how they could have gotten such an impression. Don’t overpromise, and don’t make leading statements about their chances.

              1. BethDH*

                Most of that seems more extreme than what the OP mentions, though. And even your suggested language makes it sound like it’s their job to refuse.
                It’s hard to calibrate. I was on the other side of this recently and I was really excited about the idea of working with several candidates. I tried not to say anything that could be misconstrued, but a certain amount of a good interview tends to involve us talking about the options that would make it a good choice for them — and that might be things like benefits and relocation assistance!

                1. Joan Rivers*

                  I took a job, and at least a couple weeks later got a call one night from another one that had showed NO special interest — offering me the job cause the person they hired didn’t work out!
                  And the very next night, it happened AGAIN w/another job!
                  It blew my mind.
                  So you never know what goes on, there are variables. Just go for it each time.

            3. SG*

              I think it’s quite rude to tell someone you will respond by X date and to then never get back in contact. I understand it’s ‘common’ in job searches. That doesn’t change how I feel about it. Many things are ‘common’ and shouldn’t be.

          2. Mona*

            Often they string you along for extra time because they offered the job to someone else, but would like to keep you on hold in case that person doesn’t end up taking the job. You may have been their second choice and they didn’t want to reject you until they were absolutely certain they wouldn’t have a role for you.

            At the time they spoke to you there’s a good chance they did think you were their top candidate, and then something changed (nothing you did!), so they expected to be calling you on X date but called someone else instead.

            1. Can Can Cannot*

              +1000. We never tell the person that comes in second that they haven’t been picked until the first choice accepts.

            2. tamarack and fireweed*

              This is a very good point. If a hiring committee has a first choice they perceive as a superstar they may very well be aware that they may not be getting their first choice. And radiate a very positive vibe with a genuinely excellent second-choice candidate.

              I’d still probably on the hiring side avoid any appearance that sounds as if it was a done deal – with either or any candidate. And also, you know, notify the not selected finalist(s) out of courtesy. But these are not as clear-cut issues.

              As others have said these things can be all over the place until you have an offer. My own current contract is grant-funded for two years, and I’m 18 months in, so it’s time to look out for what comes next. Since I’m not geographically mobile (unlike many of my peers) I am throwing my net widely, but locally. I’ve over the last 6 months:

              – Applied to a long-shot internal permanent faculty posting which I could have been efficient in, but the ad really stressed experience in sub-field A (not B, my own), and I knew there is a senior faculty member in field A whose workload is excessive. I didn’t get it, but I got a very nice note from the hiring committee chair (sub-field C, pretty far from A or B) who said they thought I had submitted a very strong application, but they were REALLY looking for someone in field A.
              – Applied to another 2-year grant-funded position that sounded both to me and my PI (manager) like a stellar fit, an ideal continuation from my current work. And I just learned I didn’t even get an interview because they prefer someone with a background in a completely different science (not just sub-field), and the ad didn’t say that clearly.

              And the finalist for a position in sub-field C that’s split between my PI and the PI supervising the second above ended up declining. This position is a peer to my own. So what they did then is to split off tasks that overlap closest with my work, and offer me a third year on my current contract, and do a new hiring for the rest of the tasks (which will take 9-12 months the project doesn’t have).

              After having put in effort myself in a call to persuade the finalist to come here, I’ll be benefitting from his not coming! Things work out in weird ways, and I’m happy to have another year for building my portfolio and networks.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        “We’re going to pass along your materials to another team” doesn’t mean “you will definitely hear something back.” It just means they’re bringing you to another team’s attention, and that team will get in touch if they want to talk. There’s no reason to think they didn’t do that!

        1. BRR*

          There are plenty of times where an employer is interested in a candidate but there just isn’t an opening to make it work.

          1. Rainy*

            I had a hiring manager call to reject me once, because she wanted me and fought hard for me but they went with someone whose experience was a little more specific than mine. She asked if it was okay for her to pass my resume to everyone in her org that she knew was hiring for roles I’d fit, and if they could call me if their first choice didn’t work out–of course I said yes to both. Nothing ever came of it but while it was disappointing it was also a sign I was on the right track and I chose to take it as a net win.

            The funny thing is that if that job had worked out I might not have married my husband, because it was enough of a commute I likely would have moved as soon as possible, and we broke up the first time because of distance–that was literal long distance (thousands of miles and a national border) but when it’s happened once I think me moving an hour away would likely have killed the relationship, as we’d only started dating again a month or two prior.

      2. RitaRelates*

        Ugh I relate to both Stephen!’s and Masquerade’s situation. I reapplied (without knowing) to a company that I had applied for right out of college but had declined me back then because “I didn’t have enough experience.” They said they were delighted to have me apply again and I went through all rounds of interviews and they checked my references (all of which contacted me and said they gave glowing references). 2 weeks after the reference check I got a rejection letter. The same one I got when I applied right after college. I was floored and saddened, I had it in my head that I had the job. Later I found out they hired someone fresh out of college so I was even more confused.

        Recently, I applied for a job that was way out of my league I felt like. It needed experience that I really didn’t have but they kept moving me forward in the process. I completed my final interview and was in the top 2 candidates. They decided to give it to the other person which didn’t surprise me, and said they would forward my resume to other departments. One of the other departments did actually reach out to me to schedule and interview for a position. Unfortunately, though I liked the company, I did not like the position from the job description so I declined to interview.

        I have learned to never take anything as a guarantee until you have an offer and to always be looking for better opportunities until you get the offer.

      3. Medusa*

        ” It was frustrating here though because it takes literally no effort not to gush about how great of a candidate you are or tell you they’re going to try to get you an interview with another team if that’s not a realistic option.”

        I completely agree with this. I am aware that interviewers are only human, but when I interview people, I try not to give them the impression that they’re a shoe-in, because no one is until they’re hired (unless it’s one of those situations where a vacancy was only posted to check boxes), and I personally find not getting a job after a great interview and implications that I will be hired to be devastating.

        (I think I’d feel differently if I were trying to go from a good job to a better job, but coming from a terrible job or unemployment? It just feels like a gut punch.)

    2. Anon Entity*

      It’s happened to me, too, and it really can feel like being ghosted in a relationship. You’re having these great interviews, you’re connecting with people, everyone is best friends (or seems like it), there’s lots of communication and updates and the language is friendly and encouraging—and then, silence. If you ask for an update, the previously friendly tone is replaced with carefully neutral and distant phrases like, “All we can say is that the process is ongoing.” That shift can be emotionally jarring, even before the shock of not getting the job.

      I applied to a job not long ago where they seemed really excited, ran me through all the rounds of interviews, called my references…and then, after no communication for a few weeks, reposted the job. It’s hard enough knowing someone else was a better candidate for a job, but knowing that they preferred “no one” (or more, fairly, a hiree-to-be-named-later) to you is a gut punch.

      1. Artemesia*

        SOMETHING to consider is your references when this happens — original OP. I know someone that was basically told to expect an offer and then didn’t get one. Someone at the company who really wanted him told him that one of his key references had tanked him as not ‘a good bet for the senior position’ they were hiring for although this reference had agreed to be a reference. So that did him in. Very shortly after that he was hired in an equally senior position elsewhere and has since been promoted several times and move on to new higher level jobs in other companies. So one dingaling can ruin it for you. It is worth reflecting on how confident you are that those you are providing as references will be glowing.

        1. Anon Entity*

          True, about the references. But that’s a whole other problem—how do you figure out which of your references is the dingaling, short of, I dunno, a rotating panel of refererences?

          1. LunaLena*

            I don’t think you can, really. All you can do is choose the people you think will reflect you in the best light and then hope for the best. I heard about a search committee where I work, where the finalist was at the offer stage, and all that was left was reviewing references. The references were overall very positive, but there was just one area where the candidate got less than glowing reviews – and that happened to be the one aspect of the job that was a dealbreaker for the hiring authority (and it was one that couldn’t really be evaluated without references). It may sound cruel, but the verbal offer was rescinded and I heard the candidate was very upset afterwards. Their response then made it clear that a bullet had been dodged and they probably wouldn’t have been successful in the role anyways.

            What your references say about you is ultimately just out of your control, as is the interviewer’s decision to listen to or disregard what they hear. Heck, maybe all your references are absolutely glowing, but another candidate’s reference happens to mention the one thing that the hiring authority was really really hoping to hear, so you don’t get the job. All you can really do is be the kind of employee your dream employers want to hire and hope that it’s enough.

            1. Oh No She Di'int*

              It’s also possible to be damned by faint praise.

              As a relatively young and inexperienced manager, a former employee–Debbie–asked me to serve as a reference. She was a smart, competent employee so I didn’t hesitate to say yes.

              When the prospective employer called, the conversation went fine at first. However, right at the end, she made it clear that this was the sort of place where employees were expected to work extra hours, late nights, etc. Could I confirm that Debbie would pull extra hours and so forth? Now, Debbie was perfectly good at her job, but she was definitely the type to be walking out the door by 4:59. Which was fine for our work culture.

              So the best I could offer was something like, “Well she definitely gets her job done in the amount of time she has…” The employer rephrased the question, to which I answered that our business was not the kind of place that ever asked employees to work beyond their agreed hours, so I really didn’t have a basis for judgment.

              I have no idea if I was a deciding factor in whether she got the job or not. I didn’t mean to torpedo her chances, but I just couldn’t bring myself to lie. In retrospect, I think lying wouldn’t have done anyone any favors. She just would have ended up at a place that was a bad fit.

  2. Momma Bear*

    Agreed. We had two very strong candidates and it ultimately came down to a little more experience in one area that upper management felt was Important. There was nothing “wrong” with the other candidate, just that they had a slightly different work history. Had there been a different pool, we might have gone with them. It wasn’t personal.

    1. Sparrow*

      I’ve been in that position, too. I was part of a hiring process where everyone who interviewed the finalists agreed all three would be very successful in the role, to the extent that we weren’t comfortable removing any of them from consideration. But they would’ve each filled the role differently because they were each strongest in a different aspect of the prospective job. At the end of the day, it was 100% the hiring manager’s call to decide whose particular area of expertise would be most useful on her team at that particular moment. That selection was in no way a reflection of the quality of the other candidates.

    2. Sleeping Late Every Day*

      “It wasn’t personal.”
      I wish all job applicants could remember that. It very seldom is personal on the hiring side, but so many applicants seem to think it’s not just a job they didn’t get, but a rejection of their very existence. I guess I usually went into job searches figuring the interviews were practice sessions and not expecting to be hired – so if I got called back or offered a job, it was a pleasant surprise. It also made me more relaxed and personable in interviews, since I usually have RBF and the warmth of a dead cod. There are advantages to a certain level of pessimism!

  3. KHB*

    I think there’s another problem in OP’s last sentence: “I don’t know why they were so positive about hiring me if they knew this is where it was really headed.” Almost certainly, at the time they interviewed you, they didn’t know where it was really headed. They probably had more candidates to interview, so they couldn’t have known just from their interactions with you whether you were going to end up as their #1 pick or not.

    1. ThatGirl*

      Yep. This. They were very enthusiastic about you! But that doesn’t mean it was set in stone. And I know it sucks, but nothing is final until there’s an offer.

      1. DCompliance*

        Right- many times they don’t know where it is headed. As hiring manager, I try to be enthusiastic about good candidates, but have become more aware about this can be intentionally misleading as I have been on a receiving end of it. Unless I know that we are really, really trying to get a certain candidate, I try to avoid saying things like “we were so excited about your resume”. I try to phrase it more like, “I noticed this on your resume and that’s why I wanted to interview you”. I don’t start talkin about growth opportunities, I ask them what path the candidate sees for themselves and how we are structured. Keeping that mindset actually helps me better view candidates.

        1. Dan*

          It can be misleading, but…

          I once got an interview for my “dream job” that was all but a perfect match for my resume. I was genuinely excited to get that interview. And then… I showed up and everybody was super chilly. (Chilly-cold, not chilly-chill.) I really wondered about the cultural fit, because that was a job that I wanted to be at, whereas everybody I encountered just gave off the vibe that they would rather be elsewhere. When it came time to discuss pay, I also realized that they were at the very bottom of any kind of competitive pay range, and perhaps that’s why people seemed like they wanted to be elsewhere?

          They ended up not extending me an offer, but there’s a good chance I would have rejected it. Low pay + unhappy coworkers just didn’t seem like a great fit.

          1. College Career Counselor*

            I have had a similar experience. Was one of 4 finalists for a leadership position, and I’m not sure that had I been offered it, I would have taken it. The team I would have been leading was subdued at best, aloof/haughty at worst, and seemed to deliberately tamp down on any kind of verbal reactions to anything I said or did. I would describe the dominant vibe I picked up as “impress us–it’s a big deal to work here.” It may have been a big deal, but it sure didn’t seem like any of them enjoyed it.

    2. PollyQ*

      Exactly this. Also, I’m sure some of their positivity was meant to keep you enthusiastic about the opening. That’s not to say it was deliberately manipulative or dishonest — it’s just that as much as you want them to be picking you, they want you to be picking them.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yep — I think candidates sometimes forget this piece of it. If they think you’re a strong candidate, they want you to be interested in the job/working with them and to have a good feeling about them — just like you want that of them when you’re an applicant.

        The answer is not for employers to never show enthusiasm for a candidate. It’s for candidates to stay clear on the realities of the process and the fact that there’s no offer until there’s an offer.

        1. Dan*

          Yeah, I posted elsewhere about a job that I was really excited about but didn’t get the warm fuzzies in return. That plus low pay would have been enough to warrant a rejection had an offer been extended.

          You talk a lot about how interviewing is a two way street. When I’m on the hunt, I get interviews all over the country, which (pre covid anyway) require relocation.

          My willingness to relocate is in good faith, but the reality is, when I’m on an out-of-town interview, I have one question: “Given a choice of job offers, why should I uproot my life and move to come and work for you?” The corollary is, “what then happens if I move and it’s just not a fit?” I need compelling reasons to actually make that move, and unenthusiastic interviewers pretty much make that a no deal.

      2. goducks*

        Yes. It often happens that a candidate I’m extremely positive about and really, really hoping to hire chooses another opportunity. It works both ways!

      3. Smithy*

        Absolutely – I also think this can be in reference to salary.

        I work in an industry where there are a number of organizations that would be considered peers where salaries for the same/similar titles are not only not similar – but there won’t be any significant ability to negotiate the differences. If A plays $X, B pays $X+40k and C pays $X+90k – not only is A going to be unable to match C, they’re also likely not going to be able to come close to B. Therefore disclosing salary can be a very effective way to confirm positivity with candidates or have candidates select out for an A job if they’re already working or interviewing at a B or C places.

    3. Ms. Yvonne*

      Ya, it’s funny how when it’s going bad in an interview it’s usually obvious for everyone, or even meh, but when it’s gone well it’s easy to jump to the desirable outcome, which really, really hasn’t been identified for them yet.

    4. The New Wanderer*

      I had the same kind of final round interview a few years ago, the same feeling of “this is it, we had a great rapport.” But I also knew they had one, maybe two other top candidates still to go and I later heard that the person who interviewed the day after me had slightly different skills that just fit what they wanted better. A few weeks later I got the “they loved you but” call from the internal recruiter.

    5. Salsa Verde*

      That comment stood out to me also – it’s not really helpful to think of it this way. They probably did like you! You probably did have a great interview! I doubt they knew all along you wouldn’t be selected.

      It’s so difficult in interviewing because it’s very personal for the applicant, since it’s their livelihood, and it’s very not personal for the interviewer, because it’s just business, so it’s just a difficult situation all around. I’m sorry OP didn’t get this job.

      1. KHB*

        “it’s very not personal for the interviewer, because it’s just business”

        As someone in the middle of helping to interview job candidates right now, I don’t totally agree with this. Whoever we hire is going to be our coworker for probably years to come, and they’re going to have a major impact on how pleasantly and efficiently we can all do our jobs during that time. So there’s a personal element there.

        But I do take your point that the stakes for us (having a good coworker versus having a slightly less good coworker) are a lot lower than the stakes for the candidates (having a job versus not).

      2. Ama*

        Yes, I recently hired for a position where we had two extremely strong candidates and their strengths were basically two different areas of the job — so both would have come in with certain background understanding on one side and would have to learn the other side that they weren’t as familiar with. I really spent much of our final round of interviews thinking both were great and both would bring different, but equally desirable skills to the job. I had to really give it some serious thought to make a final decision.

        The email I wrote to the person we didn’t hire was probably the hardest “no” email I’ve ever sent and I run a grant program where I sometimes have to tell people I know personally they didn’t get funding.

    6. GammaGirl1908*

      +1. They DID love you. They just likely had three candidates that they loved equally, and when they compared them, someone else’s slight differences won out. Or they flipped a coin and you were tails. You weren’t terrible; you were the silver medalist.

      1. JM in England*

        I’ve too have used an Olympics analogy too that helped me keep my sanity whilst job hunting. You can do everything right and make no mistakes but still not get the gold!

          1. GammaGirl1908*

            Sometimes not even. Sometimes you can be tied and lose a pretty arbitrary tiebreaker. In college football both teams can have lost one game, but if one was in-conference and one was out of conference, the team that lost out of conference wins. In figure skating, the presentation score is the tiebreaker.

      2. NotAnotherManager!*

        This is exactly right. I have a couple of positions that are difficult to hire for, and I’ve also found that either we struggle to get ONE good candidate or we end up with 2-3 amazing candiates and a very hard decision between people who would likely be equally excellent in the role. (On a couple of occasions, I’ve been able to go back to the well and hire a second one of them to support growth of a business unit, too.) Often, the differences are minute – like one had a certification or language skill that is not technically required but certainly helpful – and in any other process the runner-up would have been the hire.

      3. RVA Cat*

        Another good sports analogy is it’s like making the Final Four in March Madness.

        The tournament may be a good metaphor where your work history just gets you seeded but upsets happen

      4. Sleeping Late Every Day*

        I got the bronze in two different job searches – and in each of them, gold and bronze either quickly didn’t work out or rejected them. Both turned out to be jobs that I loved and that lasted a long time.

    7. meyer lemon*

      I think part of the disconnect is that from a candidate’s perspective, it seems like a binary choice–either you’re a good match for the job or you aren’t. If you think about it in those terms, even unconsciously, it can be really frustrating when all signs suggest you’d be a good fit for the job and it doesn’t work out. But from the hiring manager’s perspective, you being a good match is only the first hurdle you have to clear. It’s a prerequisite to being hired, but it’s not a sign that you definitely will be.

    8. Butterfly Counter*


      We were interviewing for a position in my department and one candidate came in and was *chef’s kiss* perfect. We’d worked with him before, knew he was a great person and, even better, a great worker. He got along great with everyone already and I really felt bad for the other candidates because he was a shoo-in.

      And then the next candidate came in and just blew him out of the water. Those of us who knew the first guy were dumbfounded that it was even possible. There was just something extra in the second candidate’s experience and preparation for the interview that meshed for our department in ways we didn’t realize we needed until the candidate came along.

      It was like the first candidate was perfect for where we were at that time. The second was perfect for where we all wanted to go in the future, but couldn’t articulate until we met them.

      We still all adored the first guy, but with only one position open, we had to go with the second interview.

  4. Cat Tree*

    This is super disappointing, but it might help to frame it differently in your mind. You had a terrific interview. And so did somebody else.

    Unfortunately there are usually more candidates than positions, but the employer has to make a decision somehow. I’m sure it was a difficult decision for them. But you can feel good about the praise you got, which was genuine, and you surely left a good impression. If there’s a next time with this company you already have set this impression with them. I’ve been on the other side of the table a few times now, and I certainly remember some of the candidates that were great but didn’t get the offer. Networking is a long-term thing, but if more positions open up over the next few years I will definitely reach out to those people and encourage them to apply.

    Still, it’s disappointing and it’s OK to just feel bad about this for a while.

  5. SheLooksFamiliar*

    ‘I’m so disappointed. I don’t know why they were so positive about hiring me if they knew this is where it was really headed.’

    First, OP, I’m sorry you didn’t get the role. It sucks and I wish I didn’t know how you feel. Second, don’t assume the employer knew where things were ‘really headed.’

    I’ve been in corporate recruiting for almost 40 years (out of it now, mostly), and can’t tell you how many times we had a great finalist…and then got an even more impressive applicant or employee referral. Or an unexpected internal candidate came available. Or the hiring manager met someone at a symposium. Or the hiring manager decided they needed certain experience our finalist didn’t have, but someone else did. These are all legitimate situations but not always expected.

    It sounds like the employer had a sincere interest in you, but things changed for them. It’s not a reflection on you, and it doesn’t mean they deliberately yanked you around even though it feels like it.

    1. GammaGirl1908*

      Or, as in this case, nothing necessarily changed; LW was simply one of multiple — at least two — very strong candidates interviewed. “You are a massively strong candidate and this is a great fit” does not mean “you are the only strong candidate we have and the absolute best fit.”

      But agreed that they didn’t know all along who they were choosing. They did their interviews and afterward compared their leading candidates, and selected a different one.

  6. Eggplant Parmy*

    I so feel you on this one! A few years ago I had this amazing interview experience with a company. I went through multiple rounds of interviews, a panel, and even did a presentation to the group that seemed to capture nods and enthusiasm in all of the right areas. The recruiter let me know to expect an offer soon. I felt on top of the world!

    A few days later, however, the recruiter called to say that even though it was really close they had chosen to give the role to someone else. Given that I was told to expect an offer I asked if there was any feedback they could share about what skills or fit I was missing. The recruiter told me that the other candidate had written a book in my particular field and the company was just really wowed by that. At the end of the day, I’m not a published author so I can’t compete there. It stung but it also made me realize what Alison notes in her answer. Sometimes there are just candidates the company likes a bit more or there’s just that one thing that puts someone else over the edge.

    I felt sorry for myself for a day and then got back on the bandwagon. I bet you’ll have some opportunities headed your way soon.

    1. Cobol*

      I already have an example below, but a bad beats thread would be fun. Just had one happen last week

  7. Ms. Yvonne*

    Sometimes this happens b/c they’ve found a candidate who fits a need they didn’t explicitly know they have. I’ve been a close second in situations where e.g. the posting didn’t list fluency in French as a requirement, but then someone fluent came along who was a good fit otherwise, and French is a skill that’s relevant to the work (they just didn’t catch it at the time they wrote the job description)…. and there you have it: a better candidate.

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      Yes, language skills are often a differentiating factor for us, even though it’s not strictly required for any of my positions. With two equally good candidates, language fluency will sway towards a particular candidate. I started listing it as “preferred but not required” on the JD.

  8. Lucious*

    Perhaps my following experience will help with what this looks like from the other side.

    The first time I applied for my current role, I was a finalist with another member of the company. The hiring staff kept me abreast of developments and made it clear they’d make a decision. They did- by picking the other candidate.

    The hiring manager sat me down in person and made it clear that it was one of the hardest hiring decisions he’d ever made, and that I was a compelling candidate who did nothing wrong during the process. However, the other candidate was a better match. I was dejected, but respected the upfront notification.

    Two years later that team had another opening. I applied – again- during the midst of Covid-19, and got hired. So the guy who won out the first time I applied is now a teammate. That gave me a unique chance to know the job qualifications of the guy who “beat” me- and frankly, my now-boss made the right call two years ago. My coworkers skills and management experience were better than my credentials at the time.

    We’re now good coworkers , so there’s no animosity or hard feelings about how we got to our positions. Bottom line, sometimes it IS that tough to choose. When there’s one job and two excellent people, a decision has to be made.

    For what it’s worth also- my boss made it quite clear he’s happy that despite having to pass on my candidacy the first time , he could get me on his team later.

    1. fposte*

      I’ve had similar situations to this from the hiring side. I’m lucky in often getting several strong finalists, all of whom could do the job well. That means when there’s a short-notice opening later on I’ve gone back to a previously unchosen finalist and offered them the position, and it’s worked out great; it’s also meant that when the candidate we offered the job to goes elsewhere I’m delighted with the next-choice hire. So we can genuinely click, genuinely be enthusiastic, and still go with another candidate that we clicked with and were enthusiastic about.

      1. GammaGirl1908*

        This too. Especially when it’s really close, you need to remain enthusiastic with your second choice in case your first choice declines. #2 doesn’t need to know they are #2 until #1 is firmly on board.

    2. sacados*

      Same — this happened to me twice actually.
      First time, I was applying for a translator/interpreter position, got to the final round, but in the end they let me know they’d gone with someone who had more specific interpreting experience (which admittedly I really didn’t have).
      But then a few months later they had another opening on the team, reached out to me to see if I was still on the market, and ended up hiring me!

      Fast forward to end of 2019/early 2020. I’m interviewing with a company where the recruiter reached out to me. This is a large, well-known organization with frequent openings for a specific type of role on multiple different teams. Between October 2019 and Feb 2020 I interviewed for probably 5 or 6 of these openings. They liked me, but it was always a case of looking for the right fit in terms of both experience and timing. The recruiter was very transparent with me throughout, wanting to make sure that I didn’t feel like I was being strung along or anything, that they were serious about me but just looking for the “right” fit. And in early March I accepted an offer. Been there for a little over a month now!

    3. BRR*

      I’m in a similar situation but as the person who got the offer first. The person I beat out, my now coworker, was a good fit for my role but not great. However our VP saw their overall skill and reached out a few months later to see if they’d interview for a different role because this person was such a great candidate/employee. We all agree I’m a better match for this role but could never do what they do (my coworker also earns more on top of it).

  9. Cobol*

    This is long, but the takeaway is you never know until you get that offer.

    One time, after two in person interviews at the office, which were followed by positive responses to my thank you emails, I once had a company ask to meet for lunch because one person didn’t have the opportunity to meet me.
    Five of them traveled from their office about 5 miles away to a place within walking distance of my house. I connected with the person I hadn’t met, all good, except on my walk home I got a call saying I didn’t get the job.

    Looking back, I think the real reason was the highest ranking person wasn’t a fan, and the rest were, and it was one last chance to see if I could say him.

  10. CSI*

    I’ve been a close second a couple of times, and it sure does sting!

    Once, when very young, I even called the person who would have been my boss at 4:45 on the Friday of the week I was supposed to hear back… on her cell phone… when she was at her own wedding rehearsal dinner. Yikes.

  11. learnedthehardway*

    I’m sure that it isn’t something you did wrong, and I’m reasonably certain that the hiring team really WERE excited about your candidacy. There are just so many factors that go into hiring someone that you can really have more than one candidate you’re really excited about. I’ve seen that from the other side, many, many times, and I’ve been there myself, too.

    This is disappointing for you now, but be professional, use this as an opportunity to build your network with these people, thank them for the opportunity of interviewing and let them know you continue to be interested in the company and would appreciate being considered in future. Little things like this leave a good impression and someday may be the tipping point in another business decision – whether with this or another company.

  12. Observer*

    OP, I can see how this would be upsetting. And Alison’s advice and feedback were good.

    Just one other thing to keep in mind. I hope you didn’t badger the assistant for information. You say that “She wouldn’t say anything else other than it was close” but you need to realize that she may not even have had more information. And even if she did have more information, it would have been totally out of place for her to share it.

    You could politely ask your contact what was the deciding factor and if there was anything you could have done to make you stronger – NOT in a “can I have a do over” way, but in ” I’d like to learn for future reference” kind of way.

  13. goducks*

    There have been times where I’ve been hiring where it has essentially come down to a roll of a dice to break a tie between two VERY strong candidates. Where, if I had both the workload and the budget I’d have hired both, but could only choose one. It was a hard decision in those cases, and there was absolutely nothing at all wrong with the person I didn’t select, and if the person I did select hadn’t applied, the one I didn’t select would have been my hire, without question.
    It is what it is, and as hard as it is to overcome the human nature to try to read all the signs to predict an outcome, unfortunately, there’s no guarantees in interviewing.
    It’s so hard to be on the candidate side of that, but that’s why the best bet is to just let it all go mentally until you get an offer.

  14. Reed*

    I was once that manager. Two candidates, both alike in dignity… Seriously, they were both great – qualified, thoughtful, personable, gave superb interview. We sat and debated which to go with for hours. It was AWFUL to have to chose. We did check references in the vague and possible hope one set would be more ‘meh’ than the other and we’d have something to go on when it came to choosing. Both sets were great. In the end we went with the candidate that had had four months’ more experience with a particular somewhat niche set of tasks – it was THAT petty. And then I had to tell the other, fantastic, candidate, that they were indeed fantastic but…

    The rejected candidate took it very well, asked for feedback, which was a pleasure to give as they had been great, left a really nice impression on my entire team, and we hired them to a different role 18 months later. Not that alas I can guarantee a similar outcome to all super job-seekers out there. I’m just putting that there to show that it was THAT close and definitely we did want to work with them, and I don’t doubt we were enthusiastic during the interview and all. But. Two great candidates. FOUR PIDDLING MONTHS OF EXPERIENCE. That was all.

    1. Anononon*

      Yeah, my mom interviewed somewhere, came this close to getting the job but didn’t, and she was told that they would keep her in mind for future openings, which they did! And about three months later she started a different job at that company, and it actually wound up being a better fit.

      So, just adding to the idea that “we’ll keep you in mind in the future” is not always an empty promise. :)

    2. MissDisplaced*

      All you can do as a candidate is present yourself and your skills as best as possible, and move on if you didn’t get the job. It’s disappointing, but with job searching, this happens all the time.

  15. Bree*

    This happened to me once. It really did feel like an absolutely perfect fit, and I was 1000% expecting an offer. It was definitely a difficult surprise when I was told they’d gone in another direction but I tried to be a good sport about it, and the hiring manager even invited me for lunch a few months later just for casual networking.

    About a year after they rejected me another position was posted and I reached out to ask the same manager whether it was worth applying, given what she knew of me already. She said “of course!” and the hiring process was quick. Been here 2.5 years, have received nothing but glowing feedback, and the person they hired before me has actually since moved on.

    All that to say: They probably genuinely liked you as much as you thought, LW, and the time and energy you invested in their hiring process might still pay off down the road.

  16. spek*

    From personal experience, not only is there no offer until there’s an offer – the job isn’t even 90% until you have accepted an offer, signed an offer letter, and negotiated a start date. And it’s not 100% until you show up the first day.

    1. goducks*

      Whenever I hire someone I don’t consider the position filled until they show up for the first day, and I don’t relax until they keep showing up 3 weeks later. Not that any of the positions I’ve hired for have been bad positions or the orgs toxic, but sometimes new hires don’t stick, especially if a better offer comes in after they accepted mine.

      1. spek*

        I am guilty of that – I once called a new employer the Friday before my Monday start date to tell them I wasn’t coming, as my current job had countered with an offer I couldn’t refuse. They were less than happy. I ended up getting laid off seven months later, tho; so the joke was on me.

      2. Persephone*

        A few years ago, my spouse was interviewing with a company and they treated them like they were the backup. And then the person hired backed out at the last minute and the company made an offer to my spouse, whose response was “thanks but no thanks.” They didn’t think the hiring manager would be able to move past seeing them as Plan B.

        Which is to say, if a company thinks someone has a realistic shot of getting hired, it’s in their interest to treat people that way!

        1. goducks*

          Yes! I try to treat every candidate with the kind of dignity I’d want to receive. Which means that if I know a candidate isn’t going to be hired no matter what happens, I’ll graciously let them know as soon as possible. But that also means that I treat each candidate that has a shot like they have a shot, because who knows who I will actually be hiring. If my first (or second!) choice falls out (which is a thing that happens often when hiring, other offers come in all the time!), I would never want a candidate to feel like a consolation prize.

    2. ThatGirl*

      Yeah, I’ve never had a job not work out after the offer, but I have heard enough stories that there’s always a little lingering anxiety until the first day rolls around.

    3. Salad Daisy*

      Some years ago I went through an interviewing process. At the end, I was told I had the job, was shown around the office and shown where my desk would be, and was told HR would call me Friday about onboarding. Friday comes and goes with no phone call. I called on Monday and was told that after I left they interviewed someone they liked better. So no matter what they say, or do, you do not have a job offer until you actually get an offer IN WRITING.

      1. LifeBeforeCorona*

        Yes! I had a job offer like that. Two days before I was supposed to start they called me and said someone who used to work there wanted to return and they went with that. 3 months later they called me back because the same person had quit, again. I said, no thanks.

  17. BRR*

    There are often times when employers like more than one candidate. You might have been an outstanding candidate, but there is only one open position. It’s basically being graded on a curve. I also try to remember that since interviewing is a two-way street, you want the interviewers to be excited about hiring you if they’re genuinely interested. I’ve been skeptical when an employer has advanced me in the process and they don’t seem excited about me. But as I hope an employer would be excited about hiring me, that doesn’t mean I can expect an offer.

  18. Ann Furthermore*

    That really sucks, and I’m sorry.

    I would close the loop, so to speak, by taking the time to send a thank-you email to the hiring manager. I did that a few years ago. I had a great interview, and a great rapport with the hiring manager. A few days later, she sent me an email letting me know they were going with someone else. I replied thanking her for letting me know, thanking her for taking the time to interview me, and wished her well in her future endeavors. The candidate ended up backing out at the last minute, and I ended up getting the job.

    Responding graciously when things don’t work out never hurts anything, reflects well on you, and may give you an edge when things take an unexpected turn.

  19. Goldenrod*

    OP, I know firsthand how disappointing that is! This has happened to me MULTIPLE times.

    The good news is, it really does mean that it’s just a matter of time before you get an offer, because you are clearly a strong candidate. It really does get easier the more times this happens…I learned to let go a lot faster after a few times.

    It sucks, because you do have to feel a certain investment to express proper enthusiasm for the job. But it really helps to realize that it has nothing to do with you (since you made it so far in the process, you’re clearly being seriously considered) and everything to do with them finding someone else that they liked just a little better, or had a little more experience, or whatever.

  20. Sondheim Geek*

    OP, we just finished hiring for my supervisor’s position and I was part of the group that interviewed the final candidates. We had two REALLY STRONG finalists. Both of them had a good rapport with our team, and I would not have been against hiring either one. But there’s only one position. I know rejection stings, and it may feel like there’s something that went wrong, but the fact is that a lot of times it can come down to a coin toss (not literally, of course, but more in the “it could go either way” way of thinking).

    I think the best thing to do would be to learn from this experience and know that nothing is ever a done deal.

  21. AndersonDarling*

    Sometimes we have to step back and remember that we are being interviewed by humans. The HR Recruiter may have the skills to adjust their emotions so they don’t lead on a candidate, but the hiring manager and any peer interviews are being conducted by real people with real emotions.

  22. Frozen Banana*

    A similar situation happened to a friend of mine. The company courted them for nearly a whole year and a half before they started the 6 month interview process, each month leading to an hours long interview higher and higher up the chain. The feedback was extremely positive every step of the way. During the final call they were told they were not selected for the role with pretty lame feedback/reason. This is a huge company which prides itself on giving very detailed feedback when not selecting a candidate so this was very surprising.

    You really just never know until you have that offer letter in hand.

  23. whitecircle01*

    In the UK, they extend the offer ‘subject to references’. Then the prospective employer contacts your references. Perhaps a better system?

    1. goducks*

      A lot of US employers do that, too. They understand that references don’t want to be contacted constantly, so they’ll only contact them once they make an offer, and they’ll make the offer contingent on things like the references being fine or the background check coming back clean (background checks can’t be run unless there’s an offer).

    2. PollyQ*

      I’ve never understood that system, and I don’t see how it’s better for either company or applicant. If the offer is going to depend on what the referene says, why in the world wouldn’t you just check the reference first, and then make a non-contingent offer? What’s the benefit to offering something you might have to retract, or being offered something that might be taken away?

      I suppose it’s perhaps easier for the company, since it may mean that they’ll only need to contact one set of references, rather than, say, the references for the 3 finalists. But even there, given that the references may have meaningful things to tell you about the candidates, the company is ignoring information that might be helpful in making their decision.

      I had this discussion in a comment thread on a different question here, and what the other person seemed to say was that “references” basically meant double-checking that the person had told the truth about the job they’d held and how long they’d held it, but not really digging into how well the person had done.

      1. ThatGirl*

        It assumes that your references are going to say good things about you – it’s a formality.

        1. PollyQ*

          Even if it’s just a formality and the company is only going to do it for the top candidate, I still don’t see the advantage of making a contingent offer, when with the exact same amount of effort, you could call the reference first and then make a non-contingent offer.

          1. Tom P*

            Because there’s an expectation that your current boss will be a reference – and we don’t want to jeopardise your employment with them so we only check once we know we want to hire you. It works well for us. It’s about protecting the employee as much as possible during the process.

            That doesn’t appear to be something people are concerned about in the US.

            1. PollyQ*

              In general, the current boss isn’t a required or even expected reference in the US, which protects the employee even more.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          That’s the issue — references when used well give you real info that should help in your decision, not just be a rubber stamp. Plus if you reject someone after this kind of set-up, it’s really clear the reference said something that caused it, which a lot of references will not be comfortable with.

          1. goducks*

            This is a bit of a tangent, but I’ve really come to hate the reference game, anyway. Besides the very real reasons why a candidate may not have many references or any at all (it’s not always possible to stay in touch with people as they move around), if I’m the person who is checking references, I am having to assume that the person whom I speak with is even credible or qualified to actually determine the capabilities of my candidate. I’m calling a stranger and taking on faith that what they tell me is objective or even seen through the same lens I’d see it through. I’ve had people give glowing answers to specific questions about capabilities of candidates only to later discover the candidate had misrepresented their experience/expertise, and the reference either didn’t understand what that expertise was supposed to look like, or had a really, really low bar for what excellence looked like. I know they’re just one data point in the hiring process, but I’ve relegated them to the place of just being a double check that the person isn’t going to kill us all, and move on.

          2. CoffeeIsMyFriend*

            This is how we use them – we check the references of the top two or three candidates selected by the committee but before they interview with the grand-boss. Usually the top candidates are great and deciding between them won’t be easy so having the references helps the grand-boss with the final decision. We also let candidates know that we’ll only check references if they’ve made it to the last round of interviews.

  24. pretzelgirl*

    This has happened to me a number of times. One time in particular really sticks out. I really got along well with the interviewer. Our personalities really meshed well, and I was really excited and qualified for the position. She made it sound like it was mine. I never heard back from them. I can’t tell you why, or how I am just as mystified. I was positive the job was mine.

    Its happened more than once to me. I tend to be very personable during interviews (I am not trying to brag, but I have been told on more than one occasion that I interview well) and get along with alot of people. So maybe that’s it. I really don’t know what else to say, other than I totally get it!

  25. hmbalison*

    I was in the exact same position you were in when I was job hunting. One place had me do multiple phone interviews, a project, and then had me come in for two rounds of interviews with 8 people in total and told me “You did great! People are really positive about you,” and they would get back to me in 2 days. Never heard from them ever again. No call. No e-mail.

    I was terribly disappointed. What I learned from reading this website is to just assume you didn’t get the job until you hear back with an offer. Count yourself lucky you had a good interview and keep on with the job hunt. It’s how I saved my sanity when my job hunt dragged on for 2 more months after I came so close that one time and was completely ghosted.

    All the best to you!

    1. PivotPivot*

      All of this. I absolutely understand going with another candidate. It happens. But to never hear from them again? What the heck! Treat your candidates with a little respect. At least email them as soon as you know.

  26. Bookworm*

    Been there and am sorry. There’s no one or right answer for this: any number of reasons could have led them to someone else. It sucks and it hurts.

    Hope something better comes along for you, soon. :)

  27. Bluestreak*

    I am totally feeling this right now. I have made it to the finalist stage for my dream job, a job that would be significantly life changing. I was told it’s down to me and one more person. I had my last interviews with 3 days ago and they have told me that they will let me know in a week because they still have to interview the other person. All very normal. But I am not normal right now. I apparently am a crazy person.

    I have now convinced myself and am getting down although I have no reason to do so. I think all the talk of rejections here have made me think that this other person must obviously be a much better candidate than me.

    This wait is having a significant effect on my mental health. LOL

  28. General von Klinkerhoffen*

    It occurs to me that whoever was able to pip LW to the post – apparently by a whisker – is now off the market.

    Best of luck for your search.

  29. Message in a Bottle*

    I’ve tried to think about it from the other side. When you have an offer and you’re considering turning it down. Or deciding between two offers. This is really rare for me, but when it happens I feel the hiring people are relentless. Sure, they want to get someone started, but they barely want to give me two days to decide when I know if I were being rejected, they could wait weeks to to tell me. Yes, post-interview.

    It’s such an odd process. I do give back answers fairly quickly because I like don’t anyone being in that limbo. And sometimes I have a lot to juggle as well. Partner, possible move, salary, oldjob, etc. I haven’t had like thirty jobs, you know? It’s a big deal. This is a hiring professional’s job that they do every day, several jobs a year. But they still will call and call until they get an answer in a way a candidate is advised not to do.

    1. Uneven playing field*

      I am in a strong position, interviewed with a company for a role that is a perfect fit in every outward way, and still felt like they had the upper hand in the process. Even in a strong position, employers still have more power somehow. It is odd!

  30. MassMatt*

    Job searching is full of difficult situations and disappointments, it’s hard but essential not to let it get to you. Focus on the positives! You interviewed well, got some practice, made some contacts, and for whatever reason this one did not work out. You can’t know all the circumstances behind their decisions, which makes it doubly hard.

    I’ve had this happen to me a few times, and when I’ve hired, it’s generally been a POSITIVE outcome to have multiple finalists that you have good rapport with.

    I’ll note though, that we didn’t always hire the person we had the best rapport with, in fact I can think of a few interviews where we hit it off well personally but the job offer went to someone else, usually with more experience or accomplishments on their resume. Having good rapport is usually a very good sign, but hiring should be about finding the best person for the job, not necessarily the person you want to hang out with.

  31. Babyfaced Crone*

    I’m so sorry, LW, I’ve been there, too. And while I understand that companies want to keep potential hires interested, the experiences mentioned in this thread make me also want to caution hiring managers to be more circumspect in their own comments and behavior so that they aren’t encouraging unreasonable expectations from job candidates. (And I say that as a hiring manager myself, and someone with 20+ years in the workforce.) Last summer I was one of two finalists for a dream job, and went through a dozen formal and informal 1:1 and group calls/interviews with a hiring director who made constant, ongoing references to our future working relationship and upcoming projects (all framed as “you,” not “this position,” and all in future, not conditional, tense), combined with a lot of personal asides about colleagues and org circumstances that seemed like very insider information to be sharing with someone not yet on board. After all of that, I don’t think it was unreasonable for me to be surprised to be told they selected the other candidate. Seeing poor hiring behavior modeled throughout this interaction has certainly made me more aware of and committed to correcting it in my current org and my own processes.

    1. BRR*

      I agree somewhat that the hiring side should be careful but candidates also tend to read into anything and everything. Like in this letter, the lw reads it as “this job is mine” but I cant pinpoint anything the hiring side could have changed.

      I’m sure it was different experiencing this first hand and with more details but to me it just reads as the common slip up of saying “you” vs “this candidate,” which I do think that hiring managers need to be careful of though, and giving full background on a role. But again I’m operating as a third party observer so it’s easy for me to say that.

  32. Dream Jobbed*

    I just had to tell a great candidate that someone else got the position – the other person just had a better combination of experience. This was made worse by the fact that my institution insisted on calling the references of all three finalists, instead of just the one who was the top consideration.

    But even though we didn’t hire this person for this job, I would be happy to hire them for another, and people on the search committee will remember that. So if the chemistry is good, keep trying!

  33. LifeBeforeCorona*

    Personally, when you’ve reached that level of rapport and depth with the interviewers, the least they can do is have someone other than the assistant call you with the bad news. The rejection will still sting but farming it out to an assistant seems rather impolite.

  34. MissDisplaced*

    Ugh! Yeah, this is so hard sometimes, yet so common.
    You feel like everything went great, gave your references, and then you don’t get the offer. :-(

    It’s hard to say why. Sometimes, there might be two finalists who are just so close, but for whatever reason, they go with the other one. There might be a genuine specific skill or experience they had, or it could also be something more subjective like their personality, confidence, way of speaking… or heck, even their looks or humor. You just can’t always know that kind of thing.

    One thing though: Given that you did give your references to this company, I would make sure they were good ones that are reliable. Many a job offer has been tanked because a reference said something off or amiss (even if it wasn’t “bad”), and a some have outright not been good references at all. It may not have been that, but I’d reach out to my references and ask if they were contacted by this company recently.

  35. llamaswithouthats*

    You just had a lot of competition.

    I’ve been in this position before – finalist candidate, they called my references and everything, and they still went with someone else.

    Now I’ve been on the hiring team in my current role. I realize now how a lot of things I took personally during my past job searches were not about me at all. When there are multiple good candidates for any given role, all of those candidates will have good interviews but only one gets selected. We reject good candidates all the time. Usually it comes down to having a specific set of relevant skills, not so much being the *most* skilled.

    I understand it’s frustrating.

    1. llamaswithouthats*

      Basically, you did nothing wrong. Of course you can always improve and get better, but if you were a finalist, you don’t have to worry too much. From an actionable standpoint, give yourself time to lick your wounds and keep trying. Remember to practice self care! It’s okay to feel frustrated and disappointed. Eat some chocolate. Vent about it to your immediate friends and therapist if you need to. But then keep trying.

  36. Bastet*

    I have conducted interviews before and had 1 position, but multiple strong candidates. I would say many times it’s as simple as that– only 1 job for multiple good choices. I only have the budget for 1 and have to make a hard choice; it isn’t necessarily that one did anything “wrong.”

  37. Former Employee*

    “They even made a snarky comment about how the place I’m currently working for really has no growth opportunities and how at their organization I’ll have a lot of chances to learn new things and move up.”

    They had the OP working there! To me, that is different from being positive about the candidate and talking about how everyone seem to love working at the prospective company.

    And then, to add insult to injury, they had some assistant call with a rather vague reason for why the OP wasn’t hired.

    In so many of the comments, it’s clear that their company knows how to treat candidates who are finalists, but don’t get the job.

    Sometimes, I think that Alison wears the “Manager” hat a little too much.

    1. Threeve*

      Yeah–the message they sent was definitely not “you’re a strong candidate and we’re excited about you.” It was way, way closer to “we plan to see you working here.”

      You would have to be incredibly cynical to not let that get your hopes up. And that’s a shitty way to conduct an interview process.

    2. Sparkles McFadden*

      Well, yes…once you’ve seen things from the management side, you understand all of the different things that may happen along the way.

      I agree that the interviewers spoke a little too freely and were too positive. The most likely scenario is that they actually intended to hire the person but then someone else entered the running. Hiring is like that. You’re sure of how things are going to go, and then a top candidate drops out or someone you didn’t think would be available is ready to move to a new position. You never do know what is going to happen.

      I once applied for an internal supervisory position and was hired. Before I started, management let me know that they had promised the next opening to someone else…and then they had to walk it back after I applied. They created a terrible situation and then had to drop me into the middle of it. It was…an interesting learning experience.

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I want to be clear I’m not advocating for “if I could design the system from scratch, I’d create it this way.” My goal here is more “here’s how it works and here’s what will make you happiest/give you the most peace of mind within that reality.” Candidates can’t control what employers do but they can control their own side of things, and resolving to remember that there’s never an offer until there an offer is so very in their interests.

    4. meyer lemon*

      As a candidate, you can’t really take that kind of phrasing too literally, though. Pretty much every interview I’ve been to, the phrasing has been along the lines of “In this job you’ll have the opportunity to do X and Y.” It’s just because it is very awkward to say “If you are hired for this job, you can do this” every time. As a candidate, you’re primed to look for any indication things are going well, but this isn’t a reliable one.

    5. BRR*

      But a key thing in this letter and overall is to NOT try and read into things during an interview. If They ask about a start date, that doesn’t mean they want you to start. They show you around the office, that doesn’t mean they’re showing you your work space.

      It sounds like they might have been trying to sell their workplace, which you should do, although they should not be making snarky comments about an applicants current employer . Or maybe the lw’s employer is well known as a place with no growth.

      I also don’t agree with the comments about having an assistant call. (I disagree more about calling and not emailing). As long as they let applicants know they were rejected, that’s not that that bad. And most rejections are vague. This just feels very personal when there’s not really anything the company did wrong. And don’t get me wrong, companies do A LOT wrong during the hire process.

    6. Cj*

      People hear what they want to hear. The interviewers could have said “you’d have the opportunity to move up here”. As in, if hired, you would have the opportunity…

      You are not working there until you are working there. I agree they should not have been snarky about her current company.

  38. Neosmom*

    Sometimes first choice candidates fall through, OP. You still might get that job!

    I interviewed two excellent candidates years ago for an admin job and my admin team preferred one over my choice. We offered the job to the team-preferred candidate, and they lasted one day before they went back to their former employer. My preferred candidate was offered the job, accepted, and eventually moved from admin into one of our customer support roles.

  39. Elizabeth West*

    This really sucks, OP. I’m sorry. I hate when this happens.

    Since you made such a good impression on them, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that they might reach out to you if something else opens up. I wouldn’t count on that—obviously, you should keep trying elsewhere. But I got Exjob after being rejected for one position and applying for another that was similar (and better). If you really want to work there, I’d keep an eye on their job listings. It might be worth giving it another go later on if another job comes up.

  40. Shannon*

    Just wanted to offer some solidarity. I have heard “you were our second choice” for so many interviews I stopped counting. In the small number of situations that I’ve later received more information, I was really glad I didn’t get those jobs. Mind you, that was like … two places. But it helped me feel better about myself and keep going.

    Best of luck to everyone hunting!

  41. El l*

    Focus on “it was close”, and leave the rest behind. Because it was probably was. You could have had amazing chemistry, but that matters less than if the other person had something the company absolutely needed.

    I know, easy for me to say. And it’s fine that you feel this way – you put yourself out there, you gave it your best shot, and it didn’t work. Just wait to see if the other person doesn’t work out…that frequently happens.

  42. PT*

    I’ve been there and I get this.

    But then I started sitting in on hiring. And people will latch on to the stupidest things to explain why they like/dislike a candidate or find they are qualified/not qualified or a good fit/bad fit for the job. Like, completely irrational, out of left field, how-is-that-relevant, where-did-you-get-that-from sorts of things. Imagine the interviewer gave you a word association test for the word “school” and the correct answer they wanted you to give was purple/tin foil/octopus/the late Princess Margaret. There’s just no way you could pass that test.

    People are weird.

    1. KayZee*

      I’ve been involved in a hiring where the person’s would be grand boss didn’t like that he called her ma’am.

    2. Oh No She Di'int*

      True, people are weird. But it’s also the case that sometimes you have a few truly excellent candidates, as in any one of these people would be truly great in this position. And so you’ve got to come up with SOME way to make a distinction. Often it does then come down to something seemingly quite minor and small. I was once on a hiring committee where the difference was that the successful candidate kept cleaning tiny little specs of dirt off the desk during her interview. This was taken as a sign of her fastidiousness and detail orientation. And that turned out to be true.

      1. Cj*

        That’s bizarre. I’m extremely detail-oriented I would never do this. Perhaps because I’m too busy concentrating on the detail of what I’m actually working on than on specks of dirt on my desk.

  43. fishvickie*

    This happened to me about 18 months ago. I had an interview I was sure was fantastic—good rapport with interviewers including the hiring manager, nailed the questions, we all seemed really enthusiastic. Then I got the call—they selected another candidate. I was devastated.

    Six weeks later I got another call. The person they hired didn’t work out; was I still interested in the job? Uh, YES! I took it and have been here a little over a year. A coworker confided in me she knew within five minutes they had selected the wrong person and is happy I’m here. *SHRUGS* Things work out the way they’re supposed to, even if it’s not the way we think they should.

  44. KayZee*

    I was the interviewer in something like this a year ago. I felt terrible. We had this great candidate who we all felt would be great. I checked all her references – five of them. All were excellent. Then someone from HR said she talked to a friend at the candidate’s most recent employer and they only had lukewarm things to say and that one of our internal candidates, who was part of our division but not in our office, was in danger of being laid off. So, we went with the internal candidate. While we didn’t make promises, she must have known I checked her references and even called me to ask what happened. I guess alls well that ends well – I enjoy working with the person we hired. But I am really sorry for the other candidate and how it all went down.

    1. DiniGirl*

      Really hate the idea of asking around. I know it happens, is maybe even expected, but you could be HR and have no idea what an employee at your company does. Not saying that was the case here, but there’s a context references have that other coworkers might not for what the person actually does.

      1. KayZee*

        And, honestly, that was similar to what happened. When I checked that reference it was fine, really just fine. AND, I am in the beginning stages of hiring a replacement for my employee who I saved from being laid off. There was no layoff after all and the job is still fillable.

  45. AnotherSarah*

    In general I agree with the advice–but I also think the company in this case really did go too far. Telling the OP that they couldn’t advance at their current company? I think that’s a huge misstep. I’m also curious about those “next steps”–if one was “receive an offer letter,” then that’s also an issue. But even if not–snarky comments about a prospective employee’s current employer are not okay.

  46. Crazyoboe*

    I have had an interviewer refer to the music classroom as “your room” to me in an interview, which I took to be a very positive sign. He could have just called it the music room, but he made it sound like it was already mine…and then I didn’t even advance to the second round of interviews. I do wish interviewers would be more realistic with their comments. It does make the rejection harder when they are overly enthusiastic.

    1. Caraway Seed*

      I’m a hiring manager for the first time in my career (as in I have an open position on my team I’m trying to fill right now). I completely agree with your point, and during some recent interviews I conducted, I made a really strong effort to say things like, “The person I hire will…” and “The (position title) needs to be able to…” and “Here’s the (position title) office…” etc., as opposed to “you.” But I can’t guarantee that I didn’t slip and say something that made one of the candidates think they were getting hired! So although I think you are right, and I agree interviewers should try to not give false hope, I think candidates also have to remember that it’s not an offer until it’s an offer. And it goes both ways – my best and most enthusiastic candidate, who told me several times that my organization was her top choice, turned down the job I offered to take a counter from her current employer.

  47. Chicago reader*

    Some additional perspective from the hiring perspective: I just went through this situation from the other side and I feel for OP on this. I recently interviewed via video conferencing 6 candidates for a director position on our team and three really stood out as great finalists. Of those 3, I had a great rapport with two of them — in both instances our interview conversation was energetic, friendly, and exciting. Of course no promises were made (not even that they would make it to the next stage in our interview process), but I can see how the candidates who I had a great rapport with would assume that is the case. I brought all three finalists to the final step in our interview process — a panel interview with other leaders in the organization. All three did well, but in the end we had to choose one. The panel helped point out strengths/weaknesses of each candidates, and we made a final decision and ended up with an awesome candidate who has proven to be a great team player and leader within our organization. But I feel bad for the other person I had great connection with who didn’t get the job. I feel guilty worrying that she probably felt like OP feels — wondering what the heck happened after a very strong interview and nothing but positive vibes. This thread has helped me feel a little less guilty about it because I hope that candidate, like OP, realizes that the interview was awesome because she was an awesome candidate! And although she didn’t end up getting the job we were hiring for, I’m sure she’ll find something else because of her strong abilities and her interpersonal skills. Keep your head up OP and focus on the fact that you had a great interview!

  48. mreasy*

    Just last week we had to reject an amazing candidate (who I, the hiring manager, WAS very excited to meet) because we unexpectedly had another amazing candidate who edged her out on the tiniest of margins. The problem with asking hiring managers not to express their enthusiasm to avoid “leading on” candidates is that we don’t want to lose good candidates who are in the market to someone else who seems more positive – this is part of hiring being a two way street.

    1. Cj*

      A two-way street is exactly it. If you are the interviewee, interviewing at more than one company, are you only going to seem enthusiastic about the company you would most like to work with?

      I’m sure you would be, and therefore seem, enthusiastic about more than one of them. Because if you didn’t get hired at your first choice, you’d be happy to work at some of the other places that interviewed you.

  49. C.*

    I know how this feels, and I’m sorry. It sucks, there’s no other way to spin it. The more experience I gather during these situations, though, the more I force myself to remember exactly what Alison says: there’s no offer until there’s an offer. It’s tough love, but it helps to keep me from getting emotionally invested. Get excited about a position, sure, but don’t let yourself get emotionally invested in a company/role/team until you have the offer in writing. Best of luck!

  50. Pearls and Tech*

    I was just hiring for a position about a month ago, and we had one very strong candidate. She interviewed amazingly well, and I only had one interview left, so I was pretty sure she would end up with the offer. At the end, I confirmed that I had her references, and she asked about potentially scheduling a tour of our building, so she clearly knew it went well too.
    Well, the last interviewee turned out to be just as great, and she also had a little more niche knowledge that would be very beneficial for this particular role. It wasn’t that the first interviewee was lacking at all; it was that the second one happened to have a bit more of what we needed for THIS specific role. I’m sure that it was demoralizing, but truly, sometimes it is just that there are multiple fantastic candidates, and the choice is made on very slim margins.

  51. DiniGirl*

    Ugh I just went through this and could have written this. They checked my references before the last interview, which I found a bit odd, and even my references (plural) called me to say they loved me and I would probably get an offer.
    Not only did I not get one, they ghosted me a month before I finally checked in.
    I did end up with a much better offer a month later, though! I hope the same for you, OP!

  52. BAP*

    I have gotten to the final stage of an interview process 5 times in the last 6 months, with excellent feedback but ultimately without a job offer. It sucks and is disappointing, especially because I was laid off last Fall and have been unemployed since. A couple of weeks ago I was rejected from 2 jobs on the same day–one after a final interview and COMPREHENSIVE reference check, the other after a second panel interview that I spent 2 full days preparing for.

    What has made it easier for me is to remember that hiring processes are run by people, and people are fallible. There’s no algorithmic formula where you input the job description, each candidate’s resume, and the computer spits out the perfect match (though I’m sure Google is working on that!) Maybe the other candidate did have more, or better experience. Maybe the other candidate inflated their experience and promised unachievable results (sadly pretty common in my field). Maybe they hired their biggest client’s nephew. Maybe they thought they needed to hire someone with X when what they really needed was Y. There are a lot of stories you can tell yourself that don’t end with “I just wasn’t good enough.” I know I would have done a great job in any of those 5 roles. Chin up–you’ll find the right fit. This one wasn’t it.

    1. Jane*

      Been there. As much as it hurts, the poster should send a note to the decision makers indicating that they were flattered to be considered and that they are still interested in opportunities at that company. Another position may open up or the person they chose may not work out. It’s happened before.

  53. iliketoknit*

    I think I probably learned this by reading here, so apologies for repackaging AAM wisdom if that’s what I’m doing, but my approach is to take any of those “we’re definitely hiring you” statements (like here’s where you’ll sit, your benefits will be…, you’ll work on this project, etc.) and mentally add “if we end up hiring you.” Because that is almost universally what the prospective employer actually means.

    (Of course some comments are more misleading than others. Being told HR will be in contact about onboarding is pretty bad – you can still add “if we end up hiring you” but it’s not quite as helpful – so I get that employers should be more careful in how they speak. But overall, this trick helps me keep perspective.)

  54. WorkerB*

    Original poster here. Thank you for everyone’s honest feedback, words of support and good wishes. Yeah, not receiving an offer stung a bit. I’ve never had someone ask for references and not have landed the job. This was just a very different experience for me, especially because I’ve mostly had job interviews that either go extremely well like this one did, or, were meh and I knew immediately it wasn’t a good fit. With this job, the interviewer was just so overly positive and convincing; they even allowed the interview to run half an hour over to address questions and chat more. At one point, they picked up a call and said, I’ll call you back, I’m talking without our great candidate.

    Onward and upward.

  55. DataSci*

    Over the years, I’ve learned is that past a certain “wow, I’m really not a good fit for this position after all” based on a misleading job description level, there’s basically no relationship between how well I think I did in an interview and whether or not I get an offer. Interviewers will so often latch onto one thing that may seem insignificant to you – whether it’s positive or negative – and weight their decision accordingly. (My last job was like this – there was something I mentioned almost as an aside that the interviewer said clinched his decision to make an offer then and there.)

    There’s also the fact that they aren’t judging you. They’re picking the best candidate from their pool, not deciding whether you’re qualified. It could be that an absolutely perfect candidate interviewed the next day, and that they decided they’d make an offer to them first, and to you if their top choice declined the offer, which is why they kept the process moving – two great candidates, one a slightly better fit than the other.

  56. Fezziwig Knots*

    Can I just say something emotional? I realize requesting references is a professional thing to do, that it’s totally normal and done all the time.

    But there is a certain…personal aspect to reaching out to references that is different than the rest of the application process. Whether you’re in regular contact with your references or not, you’re asking a big favor of someone else. I never feel put out when someone asks for a reference, so I figure no one I ask for one does either. But I would prefer not to go through the rigmarole of asking for references if they’re not really going to be needed.

    I’ve been searching for a FT role for the duration of the pandemic and while I have a lot of supportive family and potential references, the process is demoralizing and (sometimes) embarrassing. When I have to ask for references people want a lot of details (obviously) that I hate to share when I’m not sure that they’ll ever hear from the employer. I had to offer references in an application yesterday, what a drag! I want to be able to tailor the references I use for the position, which I can’t do unless I’ve met with/talked to someone.

    I know it’s an emotional request and perhaps not a rational one, but I wish employers would only ask for references that they truly intended to contact.

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