Question

How long should I wait before checking in on a late-stage interview process that’s gone silent? I’m interviewing for a top software engineering management role after being asked to apply by the CTO. I really want this job.

The role would report to the CTO, with whom I interviewed twice, and then once with the engineering team. That last interview was three weeks ago, and I haven’t heard anything since. They didn’t tell me what kind of timeline to expect. I really want this job, and I’m going crazy waiting to know what happens next. Will checking in to soothe my anxiety damage the relationship? Do I have to wait some more weeks in limbo? Thank you so much for your help.

Nick’s Reply

I really want this jobThis may be hard to hear, but the worst thing you can do is “really want this job.” The truth is, most interview processes go south. The only way to plan around that is to focus your next opportunity.

If you sit and wait for that CTO to make a decision while you’re on pins and needles, it’s going to hurt you. Get out – go date some other companies pronto!

Then, if this goes south, you’ll feel a lot better for having “live” options.

Keep this in mind: You have NO control over that employer and you will never have any idea what transpired if they don’t hire you. The only thing you control is what I refer to as “On to the next!”

If you really want this job, ask now

Having said all that, I’d send a very casual, very informal note to the CTO. There is no need to wait longer.

How to Say It

“How are we doing on that position? I’m still interested. Are you?”

Don’t get all formal and wordy. (Avoid saying you really want this job!) If he says yes, then ask for a timetable.

How to Say It

“I’m talking with other companies. You’re my first choice. I want to work with you. But I certainly understand if you haven’t made a decision. I hope you understand I have a timetable of my own, and I don’t want you to think I’ve lost interest. Can you tell me when you expect to make a decision?”

By the way, never use the exact words I suggest. Bend “how to say it,” shape it so it fits your style and makes you comfortable, and always use your own best judgment.

It is possible they’ve got other fish to fry. Sometimes it can take a long time. But after this much time a CTO owes you some information.

On to the next!

If he says there will be no offer, there’s little you can do. If he says he’s got no info for you, then you to focus on “On to the next!” and let this guy simmer on low. If he comes back, great. If not, make sure you have alternatives.

Three weeks is a long time. Has his silence “damaged the relationship?” Ask him what’s up as offhandedly as you can, with a friendly come-hither tone. Expect a useful answer, then get on with it.

I hope you get the job. Like I said, this could just be a matter of the company being occupied with other tasks. But by letting a candidate stew, they risk not being able to fill a key job. Letting them know you may be gone by the time they get their act together will relieve your stress and also maybe help you find the job where they really do want you.

Waiting on one lottery ticket to pay off never paid anyone’s mortgage. Get back in the game now!

This may help: I’m still waiting for the job offer. If you feel you need one-on-one help, check Talk to Nick.

How long do you wait to ask for a hiring decision? Have you ever put your job search on pause while waiting on a job you “really want,” only to realize you’re left empty-handed? How would you advise this reader?

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20 Comments
  1. Three weeks is unacceptable unless it’s a seriously large company where there’s layers upon layers of bureaucracy.

    If you’ve already sent a follow-up and haven’t heard back yet, mark this up as ghosting. See the last Open Mic question and my comment on how to deal with ghosters. If you haven’t, send precisely one follow-up as Nick said above, then if you don’t hear anything concrete within a week (such as a yes/no, information about waiting for decisions to be made, etc.), consider it a ghost.

    • @David: I often refer to the “brainwashing” we’re subjected to by HR, job boards, ATSes and the like. This situation is a part of it. Finding, applying for and interviewing for jobs is a highly prescribed and scripted process. Everyone has to follow the rules, or we know what happend. “We cannot proceed! You broke the rules!”

      Then we crash into “What’s the rule for employers after the interviews?”

      I say crash because there are no rules for that. No one in HR raps the employer that ghosts a candidate who’s been led to believe they’re a contender.

      So people get confused, frustrated and don’t know what to do. There’s no rule or convention to look to.

      Like I said, it’s a kind of brainwashing. The job candidate is left with a tub full of dirty water and no way to drain it.

    • It is most unwise to ever feel “I just have to get this job.” It looks bad; employers will notice and low ball you; it is also most nieve and most foolish: NEVER get that involved in any job. You need freedom to negotiate and leave when the leaving is good, mosgt often imediately after a large bonus, raise, and / or promotion. Why? These arelevers into a better job, pay, bonuses, etc.

  2. As part of a copywriting course recently we learned how to use a Google Docs Contract Tracking sheet. This not only helps keep track of the many “touches” you need to make in freelance work, but it helps with the occasional full-time position one might apply for.

    Where it really helps is when someone contacts you about a position that you were ghosted on, but now there is renewed interest don’t he part of the hiring firm. It helps to jog the memory, pull up the relevant job description, correspondence, etc.

    • “… renewed interest on the part of the hiring firm …”

      Predictive spellcheck will precipitate WW IV.

  3. “…and you will never have any idea what transpired if they don’t hire you.”

    Hiring a better candidate or not being a good fit are only two of a myriad of reasons we do not get a role. Other reasons:
    Budget change
    Pissing contest
    Prejudice
    Look like their ex
    Hiring manager went to rehab
    CEO left in handcuffs
    Merger/Acquisition
    Executive’s boy toy needs a job
    …and so on

    • 100% break the thread!
      *Ran out of money, about to close doors.
      *Acquiring another company and are bringing over that person to fill the job
      *Divvied up the job

      The M&A and funding are most common.

      • … company got acquired, and the company you applied to are all trooping to the unemployment office together.

    • Uh… the ball took a bad bounce??

  4. Definitely, continue your search. My first reaction is it’s not going to happen and this is their SOP. Do u want to work for a company displaying that behavior?

  5. As a matter of routine, follow up. somewhere in the 2nd week if you don’t hear back from them. On one hand, to of course see if you can get a status, and on the other, to take the opportunity to gauge what kind of company you’re dealing with. If you’re ignored, you just learned something about the company you shouldn’t ignore. In this case, you have an excellent point of contact to follow up with. a CTO. Use it.

    I can sum up Nick’s comment in a sentence. “It ain’t over til it’s over”. And it applies to all interested parties. Job hunters should keep on trucking right up to wearing the badge, As a recruiter, like all the others I know, keep sending candidates out until they are officially on board. As a hiring manager, we keep interviewing until the butt is in the seat.

    A savvy hiring manager who’s serious about getting a good person aboard, knows this and doesn’t fritter away time. You get the offer out especially to position you to put a job hunter’s search in park, and get on my team & to maximize my chances of you sticking around. (And in some situations before your company freezes hiring leaving you short handed) 3 weeks of silence is BS.

    Because there’s a somewhat related issue always lurking. That is, before your start date or shortly after, the seeds you planted in your search, will pop something better than I can offer you. And I’m back where I started.

    • “It ain’t over til it’s over”

      So true, both ways. I have landed a couple good gigs that took so long, I just assumed they hired someone else (or maybe they did, and it did not work out).

      On the other hand, there have been times that when a company finally got a round to extending an offer, I was working elsewhere.

      In my personal experience, I have found little correlation between the hiring process and what it is like to work at the company. Most company do two, maybe three things extremely well. The rest is meh.

      • @Gregory: That happened to me as well, and with that particular employer, it was a whole YEAR. I guess I was supposed to sit on my hands, waiting.

        Decades later, at another job with another employer, I remember hearing chatter about needing to hire, so they posted the job, ran the ad, interviewed, then radio silence. The person doing the hiring and interviewing didn’t make a decision for 9 months, when the first choice candidate told the business office manager what to do with herself, she went to her second choice, and got the same response. In the meantime, the job was vacant, those working in business office where overwhelmed, one quit, another was applying for jobs elsewhere, and then the manager decides to go through the whole thing again, and nary a peep from her boss (the dean). No oversight, and no common sense or even basic courtesy to let people know instead of stringing them along.

        Advice to the poster of this week’s question: Send a friendly email to the hiring manager, or better still, telephone him. Tell him that you’re still interested in the job, and ask (casually) if there’s a timeline, or something to that effect. If you never hear back, then you’ve been ghosted or stood up, so move on. Keep looking elsewhere.

        A date who treats you like this during courtship will not treat you better once you’re married. So if you’re ghosted, you dodged a bullet.

  6. The CTO invited you to apply, met with you twice, and will be the executive you report to. That means you’ve established a relationship — even though it doesn’t feel that way at the moment. So I would not hesitate to drop him an email with Nick’s casual one-liner.

    In the meantime, this might be the perfect time to play the proactive reference card. (I don’t remember what Nick calls it, but it’s another of his excellent strategies.) Ask someone who loves your work to pick up the phone and call the CTO to vouch for you and your work. Out of the blue. You can’t do it more than once on a given opportunity, and you can’t ask for that kind of favor for every job that comes along. But if you’re three interviews in and this one feels right, that call could jump start a hiring decision that might have stalled for dozens of reasons unrelated to you.

    Good luck.

  7. A few years ago it took me 6 months to hire an assistant director. I, as the hiring manager kept in contact with him and assured that we were doing our best to bring him on, which we finally were able to do.
    If there is no communication from the company, put the gig on the back burner and try a new recipe.

  8. One thing that’s been implied but not stated is to always end your interview with a notion of when you will hear from the prospective employer. This is also the time you tell them you want this job you’re applying for. It’s not a magic bullet that will move the company along, but at least you’ll know when to get back in touch and can avoid some anxiety. It will also tell you something about the company you’ll find very valuable – especially if they don’t respond by their own commitment.

    • You must always find out their hiring time line and teps along the way. ALWAYS.

  9. I would give up on this for a while, and pursue other opportunities. After all, it’s just a job. Company could implode after you join. Or it could merge with another company shortly after you join (happened to me, now I’m waiting for full 401k vesting before I decide if I want to move on).

    Or you could get the job, and find they’ve been blowing smoke up your backside and nothing is as it was promoted.

    In other words, this could be the Universe giving you a gigantic hint, or sparing you from disaster.

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