ask a boss

‘I Had a Great Job Interview — Why Haven’t I Heard Back?’

Photo: The Cut

Dear Boss,

I recently went through a time-consuming but positive job interview process. The hiring manager has communicated with me from day one. We had a phone interview, followed by a video conference with one other member of the team. The hiring manager then requested some work samples and, after seeing them, scheduled a third and final (his words) video conference with two additional staff members.

The interviews could not have gone better, in my opinion. There was tons of back-and-forth questioning, and the conversation was natural and informational. The hiring manager even joked in the final interview, “She’s hired!” after I said something he really appreciated. He then asked me for three references. When I sent my references, he responded right away saying he really enjoyed meeting me, etc. etc., and would be in touch soon.

He told me I should expect to hear back two to three days after the interview. But a week and a half has passed now with absolute silence. I sent another email a week after the interview, reiterating my interest and asking if there were any updates on the position. In the past, he responded to my emails within a day or two, but now it’s been three days since I sent it and I haven’t heard a word. (I also want to mention, I sent all the appropriate “thank you” emails after all the interviews.)

It’s not a corporate organization and only has about 30 employees, so I doubt this is tangled up in HR. I confirmed with my references that he hasn’t contacted them. Both the hiring manager and the organization overall seemed warm and just didn’t give the vibe that they would ghost someone, especially after how many interviews there were, how long they lasted, etc. It seems like if I wasn’t going to be hired at this point, it would have been a huge waste of everyone’s time. (The whole process ended up being dragged out over 1.5 months because of traveling and initial scheduling issues. There were almost three weeks between the first and second interviews.)

What is your perspective on this? I want this job so badly and I’m just not sure when to give up hope.

Well, hiring almost always takes longer than anyone thinks it will, even longer than the people in charge of the process think it will, so the fact that it’s been a week and a half since your interview means absolutely nothing about your chances.

And even the fact that you’ve contacted them and haven’t heard anything back doesn’t really mean anything. An awful lot of employers simply don’t contact candidates until they have something definite to say, so it’s entirely possible that when the hiring manager got your email, he thought, “Yeah, I have to get back to her, which I’ll do once we finalize our decision.” That’s not great, of course — ideally he’d write back to say, for example, “Things are taking longer than we expected but I should be in touch in another week or two.” But realistically, hiring managers are busy and often pulled in a bunch of directions, and hiring can end up lower on their list than work projects with pressing deadlines now. (Since this is a common point of confusion: “hiring manager” means the person who will be managing you once you’re hired, not the person who’s in charge of all the organization’s hiring.
So they often have other, higher priorities.)

Plus, you never know what’s going on behind-the-scenes. Maybe the hiring manager is out sick, or unexpectedly had to go out of town. Maybe a last-minute candidate emerged and he needs time to interview them. Maybe the CEO announced at the last minute that she wants to sign off on the final hire, and they’re debating whether to bring people back in for final interviews. Maybe a key person on the team resigned and now they’re thinking about reconfiguring the role. Maybe they’ve had a project explode spectacularly and that’s all anyone over there is dealing with right now. Who knows. It’s really impossible to tell from the outside what might be going on that could massively mess with their hiring plans or hiring timeline.

And you definitely should avoid the trap of thinking this felt like a sure thing, because hiring is never a sure thing. You can be a stunningly perfect candidate for the job, and then another candidate can come along who’s even stronger. Or you can be perfect but they decide at the last minute that they really need to go with someone who speaks Flemish. Or an internal candidate expresses interest and they value a known quantity over an unknown quantity. Again, who knows! I’m mentioning this because you mentioned that if you don’t get hired now, the whole process over the last month and a half will have wasted everyone’s time. But it’s very normal for a hiring process to take a month and a half or even longer, and for all the candidates except one, it’s inevitably going to end with a “no.” That’s just how this goes.

It’s also true that employers frequently do ghost candidates. Employers who ghost defend themselves by saying that they don’t have the time to get back to every candidate, but that’s pretty ludicrous in the days of electronic applicant management systems, which will send rejections with the click of a few buttons. (It was also a pretty ludicrous claim before those systems.) In any case, it’s incredibly rude and inconsiderate not to get back to people after interviews, particularly after someone has taken time off work, maybe bought a new suit or traveled a long distance, and invested time and energy into preparing for the interview. But it’s really, really common, so it’s possible that you are indeed being ghosted.

The frustrating thing is that you can’t know. Maybe you’re being ghosted and will never hear from this employer again, or maybe you’re going to hear back this week, or maybe you’re going to hear back in two months, long after you’ve given up hope. The most important thing to remember is that if they want to offer you a job, they’ll be in touch. If you’re their top candidate, they’re not going to forget about you over the next few weeks, or even over the next few months, just because you don’t keep checking in. So you don’t need to worry that you need to keep nudging them or find ways to stay on their radar. If at some point they want to move forward, they’ll let you know.

Meanwhile, the very best thing you can do for your own peace of mind is to assume you didn’t get the job and move on. Otherwise you’ll be stuck in this angst-filled limbo, wondering if you’re going to hear from them today, or maybe tomorrow, or what all this silence means, and did you offend someone in the interview, or maybe your skills aren’t as impressive as you thought they were, and agggghhhh. It’s so much simpler to just decide that you didn’t get the job and put it out of your head. Then, if they do contact you at some point, it can be a pleasant surprise, rather than the thing that you have been pinning all your anxious energies on.

Order Alison Green’s book, Ask a Manager: Clueless Colleagues, Lunch-Stealing Bosses, and the Rest of Your Life at Work, here. Got a question for her? Email askaboss@nymag.com. Her advice column appears here every Tuesday.

‘I Had a Great Job Interview — Why Haven’t I Heard Back?’