You had a great job interview, seemed to connect with your interviewer, and left feeling good about your chances. The employer told you to expect to hear something in a week … but now two weeks have gone by and you’ve heard nothing. Should you reach back out? Is the silence a bad sign? And for the love of god, why are they putting you through this?
If there’s one experience nearly every job seeker has, it’s this one. Even employers who provide candidates with a very precise timeline for when they plan to be in touch (“we will reach out to all applicants no later than the 15th”) often miss their promised deadlines — sometimes by a lot — without bothering to update you. And some employers never get back to candidates at all, instead just full-on ghosting them even after multiple rounds of interviews. This, of course, leaves candidates frantically checking their missed calls and wondering if they’re still in consideration, or if no one bothered to tell them they’ve been rejected.
Why do employers leave candidates hanging?
An awful lot of employers simply don’t bother to contact candidates until they have something definite to say, even when they’re well past the timeline they told you to expect. That’s not a great practice, of course — ideally they’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 they need 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.
A job is never a sure thing.
For candidates, this means that no matter how well your interview went, you should always avoid the trap of thinking a job is a lock, 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. That’s just how this goes.
OK, but what’s up with ghosting?
It’s one thing to take a little longer than planned to get back to people, or to have to reject someone who thought they’d nearly clinched the job. But it’s another thing to just never get back to people at all — and it’s irritatingly common.
Employers who ghost candidates defend themselves by saying that they don’t have the time to get back to every applicant, 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.) 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 if you haven’t heard back for a long time after your interview, it’s always possible that’s happening.
So what are you supposed to do in the face of silence?
The frustrating thing is that you can’t know for sure what’s going on. 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.
It’s fine to check in once when you’re past the point when you would have expected to hear something. Wait about a week past their stated timeline and then send an email saying something like, “I’m still very interested and wondered if you had an update on your timeline for next steps that you could share with me.”
But beyond that, there’s not a lot of use in continually nudging them or finding ways to stay on their radar. If at some point they want to move forward, they’ll let you know.
Meanwhile, though, the 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 email@example.com. Her advice column appears here every Tuesday.