Few things are more frustrating to job seekers than the vast amounts of time that can go by before they hear back from a company. And that’s if they ever hear back, since employers are increasingly not bothering to get back to candidates at all, even after an interview. That, of course, leaves candidates in a tough spot: Should they interpret the silence as a rejection, or will they eventually hear something if they’re patient?
Instead of going crazy waiting for the phone to ring, it helps to understand what might be going on behind the scenes. Here are six common reasons why you might not have heard back from an employer yet, despite having had a great interview:
1. They’re still interviewing other candidates. This doesn’t necessarily mean anything about the strength of your own candidacy. Job seekers often assume that it’s a bad sign if a company is continuing to interview other people, but often these interviews are set up well in advance, before they even met with you. Depending on all the players’ schedules, these interviews could go on for weeks after yours.
[See the 10 Most Common Interview Questions.]
2. Something came up that they didn’t anticipate. A decision-maker is out of town, higher-priority work came up unexpectedly, or a budget question needs to be ironed out before they can make the hire. Job seekers tend to assume that hiring can go smoothly and quickly on the employer’s side, when in reality there are often many moving pieces to juggle and other work clamoring for attention, too.
3. They’re resolving questions about the position itself. For instance, John just announced he’s retiring, which means that Jane will move into his role, so now they’ve got to figure out if they should reconfigure Jane’s position and what that will mean for the job you interviewed for. Or they’ve just realized that they could really use someone with a financial background in addition to all the other qualifications they advertised, and now they’re thinking about hiring accordingly.
4. They’ve offered the position to someone else, and they’re waiting for an answer from that person before they get back to you. Sometimes this can add several weeks to the process. But if that person turns down the offer, you might be next on their list.
5. The company or hiring manager has trouble making decisions, or the company bureaucracy takes weeks to finalize the offer paperwork. Neither is a great sign about the work environment, but that’s a different topic.
6. You are indeed out of the running, and they haven’t bothered to tell you that. This is inexcusably rude and inconsiderate, but also increasingly common.
Now, all this said, a good employer will keep you updated about the timeline, especially if it changes. Not only is this a courteous thing to do, but it’s in the employer’s best interest to make sure they don’t lose great candidates to other offers—and staying in touch about the timeline is one way to know if that’s coming.
At the same time, though, job seekers are often unrealistically quick to jump to the conclusion that they’re being ignored. When you’re job searching, time feels like it moves incredibly slowly. And it moves even more slowly when you’re waiting to hear back after an interview that felt like it went well. So it’s important to remember that the employer has other priorities besides just hiring. And they might be waiting until they have something definite to report before getting back to you.
However, it’s perfectly acceptable to contact an employer and ask for a sense of their timeline for moving forward. Ideally, you’d ask about their timeline at the end of the interview itself, because that way if you haven’t heard back by that date, you have a ready-made excuse for following up. But either way, if you’re going crazy wondering when you’ll hear something—and if it’s been at least 10 days since your interview—send them a quick e-mail, reiterate your interest, and ask when they expect to be back in touch.
Meanwhile, continue interviewing! And stay patient.
Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Leader's Guide to Getting Results and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development. She now teaches other managers how to manage for results.