Deciphering Cryptic Messages From The Hiring Manager In Your Job Search

Businesswoman On Crystal Ball


The job search is complicated and it’s often hard to decipher the mixed messages you receive during the hiring process. It’s easy to drive yourself crazy trying to figure out where you stand, and this can become even more confusing when the verbal messages conflict with the actions the hiring team displays.

While there’s no crystal ball that can accurately tell you with 100% certainty what’s happening behind the scenes, understanding the probabilities can help you remain sane when you’re playing the waiting game.

Here’s how to interpret what’s happening during your next job search when you’re receiving vague responses (or none at all!):

“We have a few more people to interview and will get back to you next week. This message is usually well-intentioned, however, hiring moves at a glacial pace and the likelihood of hearing back by the following Friday is a best case scenario. What you can do: Send a personalized thank you (electronic is fine) the next day, briefly reiterating details from the interview that reinforce your qualifications. Then, if you don’t hear back at the two-week mark, reach out and express your continued interest. In the meantime, continue interviewing, networking and applying to other roles so that you can divert any nervous energy into useful activities.

“We’ve gone with a candidate who was a better match for the position.” This is standard recruiter-speak for rejecting a candidate because it’s neutral and doesn’t open up the company to risk. It can be frustrating as a job seeker to not get a specific reason or constructive feedback that might help with future interviews, but most companies are wary of being sued and err on the side of caution. What you can do: While you can certainly ask for feedback politely, it’s unlikely you’ll receive anything that will be truly useful. If you’re concerned that the interview is a stumbling point, ask a trusted friend or an objective career coach to conduct a mock interview to help you uncover any blind spots.

“We’ll keep your resume on file for the next 6 months.” This may be true, but it’s rare for a company to scan prior applications when starting a new job search. What you can do: If you are interested in other roles at the company, engage your network and tailor a new application to the new position you’re seeking. Be careful about applying too broadly since many companies have a central ATS system and may smell desperation if you apply to multiple openings, especially if they’re very different roles.

“Can I get your references? Do you have a non-compete? How much notice do you need to give? Where else are you interviewing? These questions are all positive signs, especially if they’re asked together later in the interview process. The hiring manager is feeling out how quickly you might be able to start and if you might be entertaining other offers. Of course, it doesn’t mean you should give notice at your current job just yet, but if a company isn’t interested, they’d likely not need to ask these questions. What you can do: Continue with your job search activities, but also make sure your references are prepped (they should have been given notice already, but you can send them specifics at this point), and map out your compensation expectations. You should know enough about the role, performance requirements and culture to identify your “happy” number and your “walk away” number and want these anchors in your head before you get an offer.

You’re overqualified.” This phrase has become synonymous with age bias, and while that is often true, there can be other meanings as well. Another biggie is that the company fears you’ll get bored in the role and either leave or want a quick promotion to the next level. Or it can be code for “you’re too expensive” even if you’ve expressed realistic salary expectations. What you can do: Most employers don’t want to hire again for the same role six months down the road, so you must have a logical, detailed career story as to why this move makes sense for you. Perhaps you decided that you prefer to be an independent contributor versus a manager. There are legitimate reasons why a professional might wish to take a step back, but you need to be prepared to communicate this in a way that eases the Hiring Manager’s fear that you’ll bolt at the first chance for a higher paid role.

Interpreting non-verbals. Actions such as taking detailed notes during the interview, offering a tour with introductions to current employees, or extending the interview beyond the allotted time are all positive signs. Hiring Managers are busy and don’t have extra time to invest if they don’t see this potentially working out. Again, there are no guarantees, but if they’re drawing org charts on the white board and asking if you can stay longer to meet with their boss, those are huge green flags. What you can do: Get a little excited, and then continue your job search in full force. It’s not over until it’s over, and a hiring freeze, downward turn in the market, internal candidate stepping forward, or strategy shift can crush this role in a moment. Keep your options flowing in, and you may even find that you have a few offers to choose from.

Crickets (being ghosted).  Regardless of what stage you’re at in the hiring process, this reflects poorly on the company and even worse on your chances of getting the job. Unfortunately, this has become common practice for companies to leave applicants hanging, even after they’ve interviewed. What you can do: Follow up expressing your continued interest in the role. If you don’t hear back, try once more in two weeks. Occasionally the hiring priorities have changed, often the process takes longer than a company intends, and sometimes, they’re waiting to see if their first choice accepts before cutting the other applicants loose. No matter the case, a respectful employer will respond to your email with a revised timeline or a clear rejection. If they don’t, you need to ask yourself if this company is one you’d want to be a part of anyway.

While you may at times never know what happened in a particular job search, it’s helpful to understand your patterns so you don’t spin aimlessly when things are ambiguous. If you tend to blame yourself when things go astray, recognize that hiring is full of broken processes and you can only control so much. If you tend to blame the employer, reflect on what you could change about your approach next time to see if it has a different result.

Happy hunting!

Reposted from:

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.