How to Deal

A job opportunity is like a budding love affair; it has it's ups and downs

By Lily Garcia
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, March 4, 2010; 2:20 PM

How much time and energy should you spend pursuing a particular job opportunity? Several times recently I have invested a large amount of time (filling out applications, going in for multiple interviews) or money (printing portfolios, missing hours of work, travel expenses) in the process of interviewing for jobs, only to have a potential employer suddenly fall off the face of the earth because they hired someone else, or worse, decided not to hire anyone for the position at all.

It's one thing if I feel like the employer is/was actually interested in me and just decided to go with someone else, but it's totally different when I go through a lot of trouble to re-arrange my schedule and miss work (retail, but I still work hard to be professional and dependable) only to be interviewed for five minutes by someone who hasn't even bothered to look at my resume or portfolio (which is expensive to print) and has no intention of hiring anyone at my experience level anyway?

Is there a polite, professional way to ask a potential employer if I am being seriously considered for a position so I don't have to waste my time (and theirs?)

Let's face it: when it comes to recruitment, employers are fickle. You may feel as if you have "connected." The interviewer is nodding at all of your answers and taking voluminous notes. You are asked when you can start, whether you are able to travel to next month's conference in Minneapolis. They practically ask you for your preference in Aeron chairs. Then they promise to get back to you by the end of the week and... nothing. It can seem as if they really like you ¿ and maybe they really do. But only during the space of that thirty minute interview, before the snappier, more experienced, more engaging candidate comes along. Or it could be that they have re-evaluated their first quarter projections and no longer find themselves with the budget to hire someone like you. A lot of things can happen to sour the budding love affair.

So why don't they just call to tell you that you are no longer under consideration? In all likelihood, they just got busy and forgot their manners. The hiring manager found "the one" and requested an offer letter from human resources. The chosen candidate accepted and, in the stress and excitement of his or her on-boarding, the important step of notifying the runners up was missed. It happens all of the time. It shouldn't, but it often does.

There is little that you can do to avoid the frustration of gearing up for a legitimate job interview, only to be ushered into a five-minute screening. You could ask the person scheduling the meeting how long it is expected to last, but it would be inappropriate for you to ask at that point in the recruitment process whether they are truly interested in you. The fact of the matter is that they are interested enough to have a second look, but that is all. Whether you move ahead in the process, unfortunately, may ultimately be based upon the subjective assessment of a junior member of the human resources staff.

After you have been on an interview or two with an employer, however, you can diminish your chances of ultimately being stood up by asking appropriate probing questions. For example: "I am thrilled to have had the opportunity to meet so many of your decisionmakers. Would you be able to tell me how many of the applicants for this job have been as lucky?" Or, you could ask up-front for a commitment regarding prompt notification, such as: "I can confidently tell you that I am excited about this opportunity and that I would accept the offer. But, as you can imagine, I am also considering other options in case my first choice does not come through. So that I don't miss the chance to pursue another job, would it be possible for you to let me know as soon as possible if you have decided to go with someone else?" If you can extract such a promise from the hiring manager, they will be that much less likely to leave you wondering what happened.

The amount of time and energy that you invest in the pursuit of a particular employment opportunity should be proportional to your interest. As you have learned, however, it is also wise to temper your investment with intelligence regarding your realistic odds of being hired. Asking an employer early in the recruitment process whether they are seriously interested in hiring you is a bit like asking someone on a first date whether they are seriously interested in marrying you. It is the type of question that can make you seem pushy, odd, or, what's worse, desperate. Yet, I see nothing wrong with asking an employer who has been courting you for some time to answer polite questions that will allow you to better assess your chances.

Lily Garcia has offered employment law and human resources advice to companies of all sizes for more than 10 years. To submit a question, e-mail We reserve the right to edit submitted questions for length and clarity and cannot guarantee that all questions will be answered.

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