March 29, 2023

A reader writes:

As a hopeful job hunter, I’ve recently twice encountered the dreaded and oft-lamented phenomenon of being ghosted or strung along after multiple rounds of interviews. In one instance, my follow-ups get no response whatsoever, but I see that the job is re-posted on LinkedIn (albeit with very few applicants). In the other, I was told by the (internal) recruiter that I am still in the running, but that the hiring manager has not made a decision.

My suspicion in both instances is that I am a second or third choice candidate, and that the hiring manager is negotiating with their top pick(s) and/or pushing the recruiter to go back to the well for more applicants (both of these are scenarios where the company is hiring for multiple, similar positions) while keeping me “on the hook” as a back-up candidate.

I was recently told by one of my mentors that emailing the recruiter and gracefully thanking them and the manager while also withdrawing my candidacy with no explanation or a simple “focusing on other opportunities” is a good way to either (a) mentally close out the opportunity from a position of strength by walking away or (b) trigger a psychological reaction to loss in the hiring manager to get an offer (i.e., we all want what we can’t have).

What are your thoughts on using the above teqhnique? Admittedly it’s not as powerful as coming back with another offer (and it takes the ability to do so away in the future) but could this be an effective technique to speed things along one way or the other? My fear would be that the hiring manager or recruiter might see through it, or at worst, it might hurt my ability to apply for other roles with the company in the future.

Do not do this!

If you announce that you’re withdrawing your candidacy, the most likely outcome is that they will assume you are withdrawing your candidacy — because you’ve accepted another job or you’ve decided this one isn’t a good fit for you — and that will be the end of that. Some recruiters or hiring managers will ask you about why, but it’s pretty rare for them to try to change your mind! It does occasionally happen, but it’s far, far more likely that they’ll simply accept your decision and move on to other candidates.

“Triggering a psychological reaction to loss in the hiring manager to get an offer” is not really a thing … except in hiring managers and candidates who play games, and you don’t want to be one of those or work with one of those. If you’re right that you’re the first or second choice and they’re negotiating with their first choice, withdrawing from the process won’t make you leapfrog over the top choice. And if they’re going back to the well for more applicants, in most cases it’s because they’re not convinced you’re a really strong match with the role — and withdrawing isn’t going to make them suddenly change that assessment. They might think, “Damn, waited too long to decide,” but they’re not likely to chase you. It’s possible — but it’s a really low probability, so if the move is intended to get you the offer, it’s incredibly risky and isn’t going to work 19 times out of 20. Instead, you’ll just end up losing any chance at getting the job — even if otherwise you might have gotten it if you waited.

About “mentally closing out the opportunity from a position of strength” — is it really a position of strength to say, essentially, “I’m rejecting you before you can reject me”? If anything, I’d argue it’s a position of weakness! It’s of course fine to withdraw from any hiring process you don’t want to stay in. But if you’re doing it because you’re frustrated at how long it’s taking or because you think you’re not their top choice and you’d rather be the one to issue the final verdict … well, you’d be prioritizing a very fleeting form of psychological comfort over a job you might happily accept if you waited.

I get that waiting to hear back about a job is frustrating and nerve-wracking. Truly, I do! But employers move on their own timelines, timelines that usually have little to do with you — they’re about other priorities (which can legitimately be more important) and their internal processes and sometimes things you might have no awareness of at all, like that someone else on the team is leaving and they need to figure out how that’ll affect both roles before they hire, or that a major project is changing in ways that have ramifications for who they should hire, or all sorts of other things that you can’t know from the outside. Usually the only time you can speed up a hiring timeline is if you genuinely have another offer that you need to make a decision on, and even then a lot of employers won’t move any faster for you (especially if they haven’t decided you’re their top candidate, and sometimes not even then).

If you let yourself believe there are things you can do to speed up a decision on the employer’s side, it’s only going to add to your aggravation — because it will keep you dwelling in a place where you’re feeling like maybe there’s something else that you could or should be doing, when in fact it’s likely out of your hands. It’s why I’m always advising that the best thing you can do after interviewing for a job is to assume you didn’t get it, put it out of your mind, and let it be a pleasant surprise if they do contact you.

Ideally you’d find a way to just mentally move on and see what happens. But even if you can’t, please don’t withdraw from a hiring process in the hopes that they’ll chase you, because they probably won’t — and you’ll just be guaranteeing that the answer at the end of the whole process is “no” when what you were hoping for was “yes.”

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