It doesn’t matter if someone is a senior leader or hunting for their first job, I hear from my clients how anxious they are through the hiring process. It's nearly impossible to “decode” emails and communications from hiring managers and recruiters because the process is long and arduous with a lot of twists and turns. Generally, it takes between 60 – 90 days from the time a job is posted to make a hire for that job.
Here is what a hiring process looks like when it runs 100% smoothly. The below does not account for an interviewer going on vacation, getting sick, traveling for work, imminent deadlines which distract from hiring, or specific processes like Amazon's hiring process where you have to write a white paper. It also doesn't account for the recruiter or hiring manager being laid off in the middle of your hiring process.
Here's what happens after the recruiter and the hiring manager have calibrated on what type of candidate they are looking for to fill a specific role:
Job is posted.
The recruiter or hiring manger will search for potential candidates on LinkedIn and through other sources to make sure they are aligned on the type of experience and profile the hiring manager expects from their calibration session.
The recruiter looks through the first 20-50 applications in the Applicant Tracking System or AI system which weeds out resumes that don’t have enough keywords to make that resume relevant to the role. If it is a high-level role, the recruiter may do additional sourcing on LinkedIn or through private databases.
The recruiter either screens a few candidates through 20-30 minute phone calls or presents first glance candidates to the hiring manager to determine who to pursue. This is your first contact with someone from the company.
The recruiter completes screening interviews.
The recruiter and hiring manager meet or exchange emails to discuss what was learned from the screening interviews.
The hiring manager decides if any of the candidates should move to the next round based on the recruiter screen. This is critical! The recruiter is your gatekeeper - they either like you and champion you or they close the door and won't even present you to the hiring manager. And it’s not just about being presented to the hiring manger – it’s how the recruiter presents you – their energy and excitement around you is IMPORTANT to your progress. They wield a lot more power than you think!
The recruiter schedules the hiring manager to meet with one or several candidates over the next few days or weeks.
The hiring manager does a phone screen or video screen with the candidate or, if possible, the candidate is brought on site.
The hiring manager and recruiter debrief over which, if any, of the candidates should move forward in the process. The recruiter schedules the next round of interviews. Hopefully you are one of them or you are told you are not. Worst case - ghosted.
The hiring manager interviews top candidates on site (if possible) for a second time. Additional interviewers are scheduled and if the candidate moves forward, they may be asked to give a presentation.
The recruiter, hiring manager, and anyone else who interviewed the candidate debrief on what they learned and whether the candidate has the right skills for the position and whether the candidate will fit within the company and team culture.
The hiring manager decides who will move to the next round, which could be giving a presentation or if the recruiter should search for new candidates, in which case the process starts over.
Candidates who move forward will come back for a final round of interviews usually with the hiring manager’s boss if it’s a higher-level position or the manager is newer in the company.
The hiring manager and interviewers debrief AGAIN…
If a candidate moves toward offer, the hiring manager or recruiter checks references and may seek backdoor references from colleagues – that means they are calling someone they know who has worked with you, but you didn’t put on your reference list.
The recruiter works with the hiring manager and compensation leaders to determine an appropriate offer and decide who will present it.
The offer is presented verbally to the candidate to make sure they will accept… followed by a written offer.
Negotiation ensues and I always recommend negotiating. The worst that can happen is they say no. An offer will only be pulled back if you are rude about it.
If you do negotiate - anything outside the standard compensation package for the level and title will need approval from senior leaders including the hiring manager’s boss, finance, and HR.
Once there’s agreement on the compensation package, the candidate is given a small window to sign the offer letter.
The candidate signs and a hire is made!
At any point in the above scenario, the recruiter may need to start the process over with new candidates. Does that mean that silence always means they are working through the process? Yes. Does it mean you are still a viable candidate? No.
Silence after you’ve done a recruiter screen or an interview with the hiring manager or with a panel of interviewers can mean many things. Every company and every recruiter works differently. Some are life long relationship builders and some just move through hiring as fast as possible, leaving unsuccessful candidates in the dust aka ghosted. Here’s a way to decode what silence may mean:
The recruiter is trying to catch up other candidates to the same place you are at in the process or you are one of those candidates being caught up.
The hiring manager, recruiter and/or interview panel have not had time to debrief on potential candidates to determine who moves forward.
You are not the #1 candidate for the role, but you aren’t “out” of the process yet. You may be #2 or the “back up” candidate because there is a chance #1 won’t accept an offer. Generally, you can figure out if you are #2 when you “check in” with a recruiter and the recruiter writes you back with generic statements like, “No decisions have been made yet” or, “Still waiting on the hiring manager.” This is meant to “keep you warm” but notice, these statements have no detail.
You aren’t in the running anymore, but the recruiter doesn’t want to reject any candidate until a hire is made and an offer is accepted. This is the most frustrating position to be in because you have no idea what is going on. The recruiter is no longer communicating with you or responding to your “check ins.” When recruiters go dark, it is commonly known as “ghosting.” In this scenario, you are no longer "important" to closing the role and sadly, some recruiters don't let you know you are out of the running for the job.
There is a confidential change in the company. Whether a hiring manager or recruiter is fired, the job is being changed based on business needs, the budget is being pulled, the company is going through a restructure – it doesn’t matter what the reason – the job is on hold. In this instance, you could be ghosted or you will see the job disappear. The recruiter should, out of courtesy, let you know what is going on but unfortunately, with a recruiter handling 10-18 jobs at a time, many simply move on.
Keep in mind how recruiters work and that hiring managers have a day job with lots of meetings and deadlines; therefore, hiring is like having a second job they don’t have time for. Hiring managers’ availability alone can create delays in the hiring process. You are NOT their top priority, as much as they wish they could have hired you yesterday and have you start immediately.
In today’s competitive environment, companies may lose out on you if you have other offers. Therefore, always let the recruiter know if you are interviewing at other places (and you should be!), as well as where you are in those hiring processes and whether a particular job is your number one choice. You may be able to influence speeding up the process if you already have an offer in hand. Just remember this three P equation:
Persistence + Patience = Perseverance