Because job searching can be frustrating and full of disappointments, and because employers can be so difficult to read, job seekers often try to find clues about their candidacy in things that employers say and do. But plenty of what job seekers take as "signals" from employers really don't reveal anything at all.
Here are six actions that job seekers often see meaning in, but in reality often don't mean anything at all.
1. The employer reposted the job. Job seekers often assume that if a job is re-advertised, it must mean that none of the candidates were satisfactory and the employer is starting from scratch. But to the contrary, many employers simply keep job listings active until the position has been filled, which often means refreshing ads that would otherwise expire. Don't assume that if you see a job you applied for reposted, it means you aren't still in the running.
2. The job suddenly disappears from the employer's website. At the opposite end from the employers in point No. 1 are employers who remove job listings as soon as the application period closes—even before they've begun conducting interviews. Don't assume that just because a listing has been removed, the job has been filled. Plenty of the time, the hiring process is still ongoing.
3. An employer is taking longer to get back to you than they said they would. Employers regularly underestimate the amount of time that different stages of the hiring process will take—and they don't generally take the time to proactively update candidates when timelines change. Candidates often don't realize this and interpret delays as a bad sign, when they're often just a normal part of the process.
4. After your interview, the hiring manager introduced you to others in the office or even showed you where your office would be. Job candidates often interpret these sorts of actions as a signal that they'll probably get the job, figuring that the interviewer wouldn't bother otherwise. And while this is sometimes true, it's also sometimes just an employer's standard practice for all job candidates. Don't read too much into it.
5. The interviewer tells you that your qualifications are exactly what they're looking for. When an interviewer seems enthusiastic, job candidates sometimes think that means that an offer can't be far off. But most employers have multiple strong candidates, so enthusiasm for one in no way guarantees that they won't be more enthusiastic about another. Job seekers can save themselves a lot of heartache and disappointment by remembering that even if the interview goes well, the employer is interviewing other candidates who may be just as strong a fit—or even stronger. Speaking of which…
6. The interviewer tells you that they're interviewing other people. Candidates often think that an interviewer who mentions this is trying to let them down easily or signal that they shouldn't get their hopes up. While that is indeed sometimes the case, it's also something that many interviewers say as a matter of course to all candidates—because they are interviewing other people. It's not a good or bad sign; it's just how hiring works.
Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog, where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the co-author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager'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.