Why can it take so long to hear back after a job interview?

You’ve narrowed down your job search. You’ve spent time composing a knock-their-socks off covering letter, and CV which pays off when you’re offered an interview.  You prepare and research the company, practice your success stories, rehearse your killer questions, and have a perfectly pitched presentation ready. You carefully consider your outfit and make your way to the interview – either face to face or online.

The interview is finally over, it’s the final interview and you know you are down to the last few candidates. You think you’ve done quite well, you got a good vibe, you built good rapport with the interviewers and got positive feedback, so you’re feeling optimistic that an offer will soon come through.

Then… nothing.

No news is good news – or is it?

It’s been a few days since your interview and you’ve not heard anything. You feel confused and you wonder is no news good news? As a candidate, what’s the best course of action – or inaction? Should you follow up, give it a bit longer, or presume you’ve not got the job and move on? Could you have been ghosted? Or is this all part of the recruitment process?

Why do recruitment delays happen?

Recruitment can take a lot longer than you might think. From applying to being appointed can be as long as 3-6 months, depending on a number of factors, including the seniority of the role and the sector.

Public sector jobs may have several rounds and processes, which can be somewhat inflexible to navigate – but often the dates are laid out in advance, so at least you have an idea when you might expect to hear back.  Private sector recruitment can be more flexible and less defined– but this can mean the process can be altered, depending on the situation – and often, communication with applicants can be a little less clear.

There are many reasons why hold-ups in getting back to candidates can occur at an organisational level. Sometimes, it’s simply due to a shortage of resources.  There may be insufficient staff to dedicate enough time to all aspects of the recruitment process, they may be still interviewing other candidates and this is taking time, or they may still be collating feedback, especially if there is more than one role vacant. People may be managing recruitment alongside a full schedule of other tasks: communicating with candidates may well be one job on someone’s long ‘to-do’ list. This can impact on the timing and quality of feedback offered to those in the interview process.

Sometimes, what happens during the interview stage might necessitate some flexibility of the format, elongating the process.  An extra layer may be added in – additional interview stages, for example, if the parameters of the role change, or if the interviewees offer something unexpected, requiring further reflection and consideration.

Delaying communicating the result of interview can be advantageous for a company – at the end of the recruitment process, for example. Keeping a shortlist of suitable candidates still in play until their first choice has accepted and agreed terms can be a useful safety net. If the preferred candidate turns the role down, the company potentially still has the option of other worthy applicants. It’s a risky game, of course, as it relies on the shortlisted people being patient enough to await the final outcome, or not having been snapped up by another company in the meantime.

While some delays are unavoidable or occasionally even desirable from an organisational perspective, they can also be the result of poor management, poor communication, or even because people find it uncomfortable to be the bearer of bad news.

What if you ultimately don’t hear anything back?

Not being successful following a job application can be demoralising enough, but being ghosted by an organisation can impact on a person’s confidence and self-belief – particularly if it happens more than once. You might feel frustrated and resentful about the amount of time and effort you’ve put into an application; you’ve shared your ideas and suggestions in interview and ultimately have nothing to show for it – not even a rejection, or any feedback.

Following up on a job interview if you applied through a recruiter

If you’ve been introduced to the role through a recruitment consultancy, you might decide it’s best to wait to hear back from them. After all, recruiters are usually responsible for doing the follow up with organisations post-interview; it’s in their interest to chase up feedback from the employer, because if their candidate is successful, they’ll secure their introducer’s fee. If you’re in with a good chance of the job, they’ll be chasing for a decision.

However, things can go quiet, even if you’ve got a recruiter handling things for you. If the organisation is keeping their cards close to their chest over a shortlist, the recruiter might still not have heard anything; or perhaps if you’ve been unsuccessful, they might not prioritise their communication to you, especially if they’re concentrating their efforts on another candidate still in the mix. Remember, the recruiter may have multiple roles and multiple candidates to handle, so it’s up to you to follow up with them and chase for the decision and feedback.

Tips to manage the recruitment process if you applied directly 

During the recruitment process ensure you have the contact details of the person who should be contacting you post-interview and an idea of the expected timetable. Don’t be afraid to use your final question to do this, if it hasn’t come up already. Agree if you can contact them after a certain date and how best to do that.

Here are some other things you can do if you applied for the role directly:

  • After the interview it can be good practice to send a quick email, or maybe a LinkedIn connection request thanking people for their time at the interview, expressing that it was great to learn more about the opportunity and sharing how you are looking forward to hearing back from them – this can help create a stronger connection and prompt them to provide you with a response. Cialdini’s Principle of Commitment from his book Influence, shows us that humans have a deep need to be seen as consistent, so if we publicly commit to something, we’re more likely to do it
  • Despite your good feelings about the interview, don’t stop your job search, there is no guarantee so continue to look for other roles while you are waiting to hear
  • If you receive another job offer but you’re still interested in the former job, let them know. Ask when they might be able to get back to you, so you can let the company who has offered you a job know one way or the other. This can be a great nudge for the company to realise your marketability and make you an offer or at least a prompt for them to finally confirm you have been unsuccessful
  • If you do get that rejection, make sure you ask for feedback. If the rejection is written/email ideally you’d respond within 48hrs to ask for feedback. If the rejection is by phone, ask there and then if they can provide feedback. Make sure you thank them for confirming their decision and express how although you are disappointed not to get the role you are keen to improve yourself in your job search and would appreciate some feedback to help you with this. Ask there was any particular skills/experience you were lacking or if there was any part of the interview process where you could have done better. And don’t forget to thank them for their time
  • Prepare yourself for the feedback. You need to be open to the information that they may share and be ready to take any learning on board without showing any defensiveness about their decision
  • If you do receive any feedback from the interview process, use it to help shape your future job search. Reflect on what they had to say and think about how you can use the feedback to help you improve your future performance. Maybe it could highlight some further learning you can do, maybe its about how you sold yourself at interview or how you did in a particular task. But sometimes, it is simply that someone else pipped you to the post. Whatever the reasons, use the feedback positively to boost your confidence for your next interview
  • Also consider using social media (e.g. Glassdoor, Indeed, Google Reviews or Linkedin) to name and praise organisations that have given you a good recruitment experience – even if ultimately you did not end up getting a job. It’s good to celebrate and acknowledge those companies who do manage the candidate experience really well as this will help other job searchers

Finally, regroup. Focus on the positives of the experience to help you gather your enthusiasm to try again. Dealing with rejection can be tough, but it’s about developing that resilience to pick yourself back up.  Take some time to consider what was good about the experience and what you learned from it. Choose your mindset – allow yourself to focus on any positives – if you got an interview, if you got shortlisted – you can take all of this with you and build on it in future job searches.   As you can see, there are lots of reasons why it can take so long to hear back after a job interview – to get professional support with your job search email me  to book a free introductory call.


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