In the July 19, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job hunter interviews for a job and gets no call back, but really, really wants the job and is… uh… freaking out.


I interviewed for job A and job B at the same company. After two interviews for job B, I was told I would be contacted within a week either about a third round or to let me know what was going on. I got no call. I really hate that.

Looking through a jobs site, I freaked out when I saw job A posted again. (I was runner-up on that one.) So yesterday I made a courtesy call to the manager I interviewed with for job B to let him know I am still interested. Still no call.

Now I am truly freaking out. I don’t want to be screwed out of a job with this organization. Friends have advised me not to keep calling. But isn’t there some way to find out what’s going on? The key is I really want to work for this organization—period. Suggestions?

Nick’s Reply

Please, read this carefully: You cannot control what a company does after you have interviewed, if there’s no communication.

Now look at what you’re saying:

“The key is I really want to work for this organization—period.”

“I don’t want to be screwed out of a job with this organization.”

“Now I am truly freaking out.”

That attitude is good groundwork for failure. Desire is a good thing when it motivates you to succeed. But if your desire dominates your good sense, you’re hurting yourself.

An employer is not obligated to hire you, or even to respond to you. Now, I think it’s rude and irresponsible for a company not to follow up, especially if they promised to. But if that’s what’s happening, the appropriate response is not to doggedly pursue the company. It’s to move on. If they’re ignoring you, then you’re wasting your time. You have no control over the company’s inaction. Stop freaking out. And stop thinking someone is screwing you.

As companies kick up their hiring a bit, they’re going to kick up their interviewing even more. They are going to meet lots of candidates, and they’re going to reject most of them. It’s understandable that you strongly believe this job is perfect for you. But it’s not understandable to freak out because the company doesn’t see it the same way.

No matter what you want to believe, there might be, in fact, zero correlation between the level of your desire for a job and your suitability for it. I’m haranguing here because many people get completely stuck on their perception of a deal. Any deal requires two parties to have the same perception. Vladimir Nabokov punctured our wishful thinking when he wrote, “You are not I; therein lies the irreparable calamity” (Invitation to A Beheading, Vintage, 1989).

We all want to think we know what a company wants and needs. But we don’t, because often the company doesn’t know, either — not until it stops interviewing and makes a hiring decision. So, don’t let a rejection affect your self confidence. That rejection is not necessarily a judgment about you, as much as it is a choice about what the company needs.

It’s important to carefully choose the companies you want to work for, and to Pursue Companies, Not Jobs. But if you want control over your job search, never put all your energy and desire into just one objective. When you schedule an interview, you should also take care of another important chore: Line up your next target. Don’t go to an interview unless you have an alternative already in your sights. If you pursue just one opportunity at a time, you will have nowhere to go if it doesn’t pan out. That leads to desperation and depression. And even if you do get an offer, having no other options can result in misguided negotiations for the job you “really want.”

Sometimes a job interview seems like an invitation to a beheading. You show up, hoping you’re not the victim. The employer makes a decision and brings the blade down, and you never even realize it’s over. The calamity is when you continue your wishful thinking, at the expense of other options.

The key is not that you “really want to work for this organization.” The key is that you’ve lost control. Move on to the next opportunity. That’s the only way to stay sane and to control your job search.

Only one job candidate survives the interrogations. Only one gets the job. The rest get cut. Yah, it’s painful, and yah, you might really, really want that job…

What you can do? And when should your wishful thinking end?


  1. I had a very similar situation with a job I not only wanted, but needed. (I had been out of work for more than a year.)

    I thought the interviews went really well, so I patiently waited. When what I thought was a reasonable amount of time, I used snail mail.

    Then email, then phone calls, all spaced about a week apart.

    After the unanswered third phone call, I assertained that there was far too much rudeness involved at this company, which is way too unprofessional.

    While it is still an interesting company, I am no longer interested in them as an employer. There are hundreds of other companies in my 35 mile geographical radius to pursue.

    Contrast the good interview/rude response of this company with the rude interview/courteous response of another company I interviewed with.

    Even though there was a change in HR personnel during my process, and even though the response was pretty canned, it was professional and courteous.

    This company stays on my list (see Nick’s stuff on pursuing companies, not jobs.).

    Desperation and desire are strange partners. It took me nearly three years of searching before I became confident enough not to be bothered by rude companies and not to feel pre-rejected by companies that require certain information I don’t want to give.

    Nick calls the interview process an invitation to a beheading. That’s a far better description than most career counselors give, that it’s like dating.

    If that were true, you’d have a far better chance to score.

    Keep looking, staying confident that you have what most companies need, if not (at the moment) what they want.

  2. I think Nic is on track by stating that it is time to move on. There are other places to work that will have similar qualities you found interesting at this company–search for those companies.

  3. Kudos for another excellent post.

    You wrote: “Don’t go to an interview unless you have an alternative already in your sights.” I’ve been telling my clients that for years!

    Some companies take months to make a hiring decision, and some applicants fall in love with the job and wait and wait and wait for an offer. When it never comes, they are farther behind in the job search than they were when they started.

    Thanks for once again telling it like it is.

    Anne Follis
    Certified Professional Resume Writer

  4. When I was interviewing for my last job, I mentioned to the hiring managers in both companies I was interested in that I was between jobs and would be making a decision within three days of an offer, that I had multiple prospects, and would favorably respond to decisiveness. All of these statements were true. The manager of the company I accepted the job offer came back with an offer in less than a week. The other hiring manager could not make a decision after two interviews over a six week period. When I called back after the second interview to inform him that I had another offer and needed a decision from him. He said he could still yet make a decsision to fit my timing so I thanked him for his consideration and accepted the offer with the first company who managed to get an offer out in less than three weeks of our initial contact. I’m still here after 9 years.
    The lesson I learned was to keep looking until an offer is made.

  5. @John Zabrenski

    That’s an important issue you raise.

    I think a lot of places drag their feet while you sit on the sidelines. Good to continue to cultivate contacts and leads.

  6. Hi,

    There are other issues not yet discussed here.

    First, companies provide a glowing picture of their opportunity and culture in their organization. It isn’t always accurate, to say the least. Not wise to develop a ‘crush’ on an organization based on appearances or rhetoric.

    Second, it took me a long time to catch on that many jobs are listed in circumstances that guarantee the applicant won’t be hired. The hiring manager might want to hire a friend, but HR policies require him to interview nn candidates before making the offer. He does, but none of these are really being considered, no matter what is said. The friend will be hired.

    Third, pay rates are really down now. Jobs listed for more than depressed rates are likely in the above category. Don’t pass on an opportunity because of rate – you might not see better, in fact, you might be chasing prices down (as in a deflationary economy) and end up with less if you wait.

    After years of success in a more buoyant economy, I learned the above the hard way, via experience. No one told me the truth about today’s economy, and I wish now someone had.


  7. @Patricia

    Good points. I’ve been on both sides of the internal candidate recruiting process. The first time, the manager called me up and offered me a job. HR required that he post it internally first. He wrote the job description so that I was the only one who fill all of the requirements. The requisite two weeks passed with no other candidates stepping forward, and I was given the new position.
    Later, I was on the other side of the table when I applied for an internal transfer. About halfway through the interview, the manager told me that he had his mind made up before he submitted the requisition and was just interviewing internal candidates to satifity HR. You win some and you lose some.
    In neither case were any external candidates involved.

  8. When I read the story about someone who really, really, really wanted to work for a certain company, I was reminded of the hordes of individual applicants who fall in love with the image of the place, only to detest it years later after getting to meet The Man (and nowadays, The Woman.) This happens a lot with companies that have household names.

    In fact, sometimes the company treats its very employees and managers poorly because of this. Higher up’s will say directly and/or indirectly that you should feel fortunate that you were chosen to work there when they get 100,000+ resumes yearly.

    To their advantage, these workers do have such a name brand in their employment history. A frequently asked question for them is, “I saw you worked at Fantastic Fantasies, Inc. How could you leave such a dynamite place?” They know they can’t badmouth a former employer, however, off the record with friends and families they will share.

    It doesn’t pay to fall in love with any employer this way, especially when even supposedly solid household names can in an instant and slaughter its most loyal. Such is the News of the World, so to speak, beyond Borders.

  9. “can in an instant” –> “can disappear in an instant”

  10. @John Zabrenski: Good for you for giving points to the employer that’s willing to put a stake in the ground and make you an offer first. I crack up when people ask me how to put such an employer’s offer “on hold” until the rest decide to pony up… I tell them that the reality is, they have only one decision. And it’s binary. Yes or No to the one that made the offer. The rest are on their own.

    I wrote this article a while back, trying to capture your final point:

    My advice, as you can see, is to keep looking for two weeks after you start the new gig.

  11. The last lesson of the 3 week job search skills seminar I teach at a non-profit is ‘When you get your job, start looking for your next job’. As Nick says, there are no sure things.

    This job hunter needs to focus on the part of the process he can control. You will drive yourself nuts speculating about what is going on with the other side of the conversation. As for the reposting of the job, we don’t really know what that means. Where my wife works, there is a rule that they must have a certain number of qualified candidates before they can move on to the interview part of the process. It is not uncommon for a position to be posted 2 or 3 times before the requisite number is reached. So, once again, don’t speculate about things you have no way of knowing. Just keep up your search efforts with the understanding that you are participating in an elimination process that only occasionally becomes a hiring process.

  12. Back when HR was “wages and benefits”, management made darn sure there were hoards of fresh-faced stenographers and typists to crank out correspondence of all types, including but not limited to “We thank you for your interest in XYZ Company, and will have a decision by Friday next.”

    Fast forward: Now we have HR, no steno pool, and everyone is a typist. Apply for a position, get an interview and the next sound you hear is utter, complete rude, deafening silence.

    Were companies better citizens then? I don’t know. I do know that, at least form a potential employee’s perspective, their “corporate culture” is so blatantly demeaning that it is beyond comprehension why anyone would care to work there.

  13. Oh, I understand the feeling of waiting on pins and needles about a job that you really really really want, but the letter writer has already called and been blown off, so I agree with Nick–time to back off and move forward. I don’t know why the company didn’t notify him one way or the other. It could be that they’re still interviewing candidates, that the person who makes the final decision is on vacation, on jury duty (sequestered), out sick, or is dithering and can’t make a decision. Or maybe the CEO’s (or board member’s) son or daughter just graduated from college and needs a job, and the job the writer applied for went to someone with connections.

    It seems to me that a simple courtesy call thanking you for your interest and we’re sorry but the position has been filled–won’t take but two minutes at most–would do the trick. I know that if the shoe were on the other foot, and I had 2 job offers and decided to take one that I would notify both employers–one to accept the job and the other to thank them for meeting with me/interviewing me, but that I accepted a job at x company (and I’d probably tell them why–more money, better opportunities for advancement/promotion, better benefits, etc. I would also do it gracefully, because as Nick noted, you never know when you’re going to be looking for another job. Maybe the job you just accepted will turn out NOT to be the job you applied for, or maybe your radar was off or management lied, and then that other company starts looking good again. If you’re unmannerly or rude or just inconsiderate, then they have no reason to (re) consider you.

    At my last job (I worked for gov’t) it could take 6 months (if the gods smiled and everything lined up right) to fill a job vacancy. We had had a vacancy in the business office and it took more than 2 years to fill it because by the time they secured funding for it, wrote up the job description and got it approved, posted it (internally), interviewed the internal candidates, then decided they didn’t like any of them, posted it externally, reviewed the applicants, decided who to interview, interviewed them, made a decision, made an offer to the top candidate, only to have her turn it down and have to start the whole process all over again it was 2 years.

    And, sometimes it is just laziness on the part of the hiring committee. In several jobs (both public and private sector) I had, management notified the people they decided to hire but never bothered to notify all of the applicants, much less the other 2 candidates they interviewed. Their rationale–I don’t want to bother; it’s too much trouble; they’ll (meaning the ones who didn’t get the offer of employment) will figure it out without having to be told. And yet all of these managers would have thrown a fit if a candidate didn’t give them the courtesy of a call to let them know if s/he accepted the offer.

    This is kind of like RSVPs; basic courtesy and good manners to respond, but very few people do it, leaving the hostess the thankless task of calling the invitees to find out whether they’re coming or not. It sounds like no one is taught manners and basic etiquette these days and it shows both in personal lives and in work lives.

    To the writer–assume that you didn’t get the job and continue to search for another one.
    When I was a relatively new college graduate I had applied for and interviewed with two employers. One offered me the job the same day as my first interview, and I took it as the company I was working for was closing up and moving back to New York. The other employer, well, I heard nary a peep from, and I assumed that they had hired someone else. 8 months later I got a call from them, asking me to come in for a second interview! I thanked them and told them that I had another job, and that was it. For years I had assumed that their first or even second choice hadn’t worked out, but I later found out that the police dept. (it was a police dept. job) took about a year to fill positions.

  14. @Marybeth: You have nailed it on the head: Manners, courtesy … most companies treat job seekers with less consideration that the common honey badger treats it’s prey.

    Maybe that’s what it is: HR departments and hiring managers view themselves as raptors and job-seekers as the prey, and conduct themselves accordingly. I hope I live long enough to see a job-seekers market again. From my chair on the veranda of the old-IT-folks home, I’ll smile.

  15. @LT: I’m with you. Part of it is HR’s us vs. them mentality and their changed goal of doing everything to keep you OUT of a job. Par of it is lack of manners. And part of it is simply because the economy favors employers, so they can get away with bad behavior. I, too, hope to see it shift again so it isn’t stacked so much in favor of the employer. When I graduated from college in the mid-1980’s, it was like it is today–there was a recession and new job seekers/recent college grads and even those with experience were grateful for what they got. My entry level job paid less than $20,000 per year, and most grads understood that you started at the bottom and worked your way up (paying your dues). Then the economy improved and it wasn’t unheard of for new grads or soon-to-be grads to go into job interviews, put their feet up on the desk or table and demand what the employer would do for them rather than try to convince the employer what they could do for the employer. Now, with this depression, the job market once again favors the employer. The pendulum will swing back again, and while I don’t like the entitled attitude of many young job seekers (expecting to be rewarded for merely showing up, having mom and dad intercede on their behalf, expecting the corner office and a personal sec’y and high salary right off the bat, without any experience), I do think that employers who treat prospective employees poorly will be at a disadvantage when the job market does pick up again. People have long memories, and I know that I wouldn’t forget if an employer was rude, discourteous, and/or couldn’t be bothered to notify of his decision. If you’re adult enough to apply for a job, you’re adult enough to be able to handle rejection and disappointment.

    The other factor, LT, is that with the computerization of the application process, the employer has lost the sense that there are real human beings behind those electronic applications that come in. I understand that the point is to make less work for HR, but, there, too, they’re hurting themselves if the software package weeds out many good candidates simply because they couldn’t or didn’t fill in all of the “required” fields, or only got 4 out of the 5 qualifications or buzz words. And it applies on the other end, too, because an employer doesn’t know if the person they offer the job to will work out…that person could take the job and it might turn out not to be a good fit after all, and if the employer treats the candidates they didn’t hire like lepers, well, someday they might like to go back to the number 2 or 3 person, and that person will remember that HR or the hiring manager couldn’t even be bothered to make a 2 minute phone call or send an email.

    A friend of mine had applied for a school administrator job last year. She made it thru the initial screening and 3 interviews, then….nothing. She contacting the chair of the hiring committee (and these are people she knows because she is currently working in the same school system) and he blew her off. She called the sec’y, and 2 months later she got a snarky email informing her that she wasn’t chosen. She was livid because they knew her and because she had made it to the third round of interviews. Now she is glad–no communication between management and the person hired for the job, no respect or basic courtesy.

    It really does boil down to manners and etiquette. Maybe business schools should offer a course in etiquette along with courses in finance, statistics, etc., and even if you’re not in business all employers and employees would benefit from a workplace workshop on etiquette and manners. Parents don’t teach their kids manners, the schools don’t either, and as a result we get people who get to their jobs and who don’t have basic social skills. If you work in a lab or work by yourself, fine, but even then you may need to interact with other human beings at some time.

  16. @LT and @marybeth

    I’ve had “recruiting agencies” contact me years after I tried to get on their radar – Yeah, I know, I was naive at the time, but was trying to exhaust every avenue.

    It seems to me that companies could hire a couple of temps for $10/hr to filter resumes and do call backs/follow ups for a lot less money – and still produce the same results we have today, while leaving a slightly better reputation with applicants.

  17. Speaking of rude hiring practices, I once flew in for an in-person interview which ended with this statement: “Great, we’re going to make you an offer. Where will you be tomorrow (a Saturday) so we can FedEx the offer?”

    And then they didn’t send anything and the following week vaguely said something about changing their minds.

    I was initially very disappointed since the job had sounded so good and my expectations were raised so high, but I soon realized that it was better to find out they were unprofessional jerks than get stuck working for a company that employs people who do that.

  18. @G

    I also once – exactly once – got suckered into flying cross country for a face to face interview with a client that was “a sure thing” according to the fantasy-prone recruiter. Never heard back from them.

    Since that event, I have several times again flown for interviews – but at the RECRUITER’s expense – these fantasy-prone people are given to excessive optimism. They must be as frustrated as we are.

    Flying in never helps; if you’re too far to drive then there are adequate PC conferencing tools that work fine for F2F. (If a company likes what you say they don’t need to see your face, a photo will do if it comes to that.)


  19. @G

    I must have had “SUCKER” written all over my forehead in the early 00’s.

    I flew in once for a municipal civil service exam that they just absolutely, positively could not figure out how to administer any other way than have me fly cross country to take in their office. Got there, it is a pencil-and-paper exam. Glad I didn’t get hooked up with THAT IT department.

    Next, flew out at my expense because this highly recommended on-site account rep had an interview for me. She had already gotten two of my friends gigs at the same company (one is still there on contract 7 years later).

    I get there, and the account rep is out on a pontoon boat with the CEO, a prize she won at an off-site team building thing. But I should be OK with the #2.

    Number Two alright. He comes to the site of the interview looking like he had spent the last week in a dumpster out back of a homeless shelter. Jeans with holes, tee shirt, etc. Introduces himself, then sits down and plays with his Crackberry while I’m being escorted to the interview. Of course I didn’t get the job.

    Now I never fly, except at recruiter expense. If they aren’t that confident, I’m not either.

  20. @G, @Patricia, @LT

    With all the stories you shared, and from my own experience, one question comes to mind:

    How do these places stay in business?

  21. @Dave

    If you mean the recruiters, they are playing a crap shoot; once in a while – ka-chinnggg – there’s a big win. They haven’t a clue, I firmly believe, which candidate-job combination will work, so they try anything and everything – always with excessive optimism – an essential ingredient, or they’d do some other kind of work.

    If you mean the company, well, we’re already discussing their deficiencies in this interchange.


  22. @Patricia,

    I think my remark was more sarcastic/rhetorical than anything. ;-)

    It just makes one (me) wonder how places actually make money if they treat potential employees in a negative way. What else goes on behind closed doors?

  23. @Dave

    Maybe they don’t care if they make money. They can rely on a bailout from the government.

    BTW, I’m voting for Ron Paul. This economic/business madness has to stop, maybe Dr Paul can fix it.


  24. The whole application process for my PhD position at the university took nearly a year. First, several roundswithin the university bureaucracy to define the position criteria, then several rounds with the applications, and recommendations between the department administration, department board, faculty administration and faculty board. And we were only three applicants!

    Since I knew the professor and had been working towards the position for a while, I was quite confident to get the position. So when I was recommended by the faculty board as number one, I started working there three weeks before I was formally hired!

    This happened because of bureaucratic rules regarding government grant funded positions (they are paid here in Norway). The next PhD student was financed by an oil company, and was hired within a few couple of weeks.

    Later, the administration head of the municipal administration was fired because he had taken some shortcuts rearding these bureaucratic rules, that apply to basically everything “governmentish” in Norway. The comment from the head of our department was “I can really understand him, because the process wastes a lot of time”.

    So, keep in mind that if HR is bureaucratic, it is not necessarily their own fault.

  25. Another story: I once applied to an oil company, and the response took a while. Called HR, and was told that they had got very many applications they needed to sort through. I was tempted to as: Why did you invite so manye applications in the first place?

    Manty companies seem to think that the more applicants, the better, because of more talented people to choose from. They do not seem to realise that what they rally get is just a bigger haystack to look through to find the needles.

  26. @Karsten: You hit the nail on the head. Employers today are largely inept at recruiting the people they want. They recruit blindly. HR is built on “the pipeline” of “incoming resumes.” Some actually recruit, but most just sit on their backsides, waiting to interview “who comes along.” Imagine running a business like that. Well, they do.

  27. Here’s a related issue I wish Nick would address. You have urged us to convince the hiring manager we can bring value to a job. Believe it or not, this doesn’t seem to be appropriate in some circumstances, unfortunately.

    I have had experiences with accounting and IT hiring managers. Each had a detailed requirement of the role to be filled. When I focused on what I could bring to the table, the post-mortem in each ease was “she is overqualified”. They just wanted someone to tick off the boxes on the requirement and show proof of competence in those areas. Going beyond was automatic rejection.

    Maybe certain roles demand a pedantic mind to succeed, and it’s not possible to present a good business case to such people when they are the hiring managers. What do you think?

    Nick, do you have a work-around for this circumstance?

    Thank you.

  28. @Patricia: Thanks for an excellent question. Check next week’s newsletter — I’ll try to address it there.