Behind the Scenes in HR: What’s Taking So Long to Hear Back?

I spent almost a decade in recruiting. So naturally, one of the biggest questions I get from friends, family, colleagues and clients is often, “I haven’t heard back after my interview/resume. Do you think that’s a bad sign?” In the modern technology age, we’re trained to set this unrealistic expectation that the information we seek should be made available to us immediately. But when it comes to HR and hiring, it’s a whole other ballgame, and unfortunately the lack of response and feedback after submitting a resume or attending an interview often leaves candidates in the dark, wondering “What did I do wrong?” Potentially nothing!
I’ve had this secret “members-only” view into the fickle world of HR for some time now. What really catches their eye? Why do they take so damn long to hire someone when they know they’re in love with a certain candidate? Why did they essentially tell me I was their top choice… and then hire someone else?

To avoid some of the unnecessary stress that comes with job searching, it’s important to understand how HR works, and in doing so, as a candidate you’ll have a better scale of what the potential norm is when it comes to dealing with a lengthy hiring process. Hiring is a costly investment for a company, and they want to make sure they’re making the right decision so as to see plenty of return on that investment. After all, it costs 3 times as much to hire a new employee than it does to retain an existing one, and they don’t want the wrong candidate being fired or jumping ship after 1 month on the job.

Join me as I walk you through the glorious inner workings of the HR department, from their perspective, in a hypothetical hiring situation starting from day one – TODAY!

Wednesday, March 14: I have a stack of resumes. It’s my responsibility to phone interview these candidates who were referred or recommended to me internally before the job opening is even advertised or public knowledge. This includes internal referrals from other employees, internal employees who might be considered for a promotion, and candidates who may have come in previously to interview for another role, and even though there wasn’t a place for them at the time, somebody kept them on the radar for “future opportunities”. And here’s the future opportunity. I might really like someone from this group of “premier” candidates, but they won’t necessarily hire them right away.

[2 days pass…]

Friday, March 16: I set up in-person interviews for next week with the early bird candidates who seemed to have good potential based on my phone conversation with them. Of course, there’s always that one person pressing their luck and asking to be interviewed the following week because they’re “out of town until Monday”. Fine…

[5 days pass…]

Wednesday, March 21: I put the job description out to the general public via the company website, social media channels, and perhaps even a few job boards. I’m in the middle of interviewing my early bird candidates and still will be until early next week. My only concern is gathering a bunch of resumes from outside candidates. I start sorting through the 1000s of resumes that come in within the first 4 hours of posting. This is absolutely 100% a reality, so as the candidate, don’t wonder so much why your resume got lost in the shuffle. Eventually they will see it. Hang in there #438!

It’s important to note that at this stage, due to the volume of resumes that often come in after initially posting a job opening, recruiters are scanning through your resume at the speed of light, because I have 1000 other people to look at before week’s end, not to mention the other positions I’m currently trying to coordinate interviews for and fill. With this in mind, make sure your branding message is clear as water, and metaphorically smacks me right in the face so that I can’t miss it. In other words, don’t send a 4 page resume and expect me to read through the whole thing. Have a killer summary statement that opens up your resume, draws my interest, and compels me to keep scanning because you sound, at least initially, like a good fit. And repeat this information in the body of your email. Make sure your resume is optimized for readability, i.e. not too much information crammed on the page, sections are neatly defined, and each section speaks uniformly to your overall branding message.

[2 days pass…]

Friday, March 23: File away the resumes that have strong potential, and eventually once you get through the plethora of submissions, email the candidates with the most potential to see what their deal is, and when they’re available to do a phone interview. And as the candidate, you better clear your schedule. Chances are the director, manager, or whomever is responsible for making the hiring decision on you only gave me 2 or 3 time slots that they’re available to review candidates within the next two weeks.

[3 days pass…]

Monday, March 26: I start conducting initial phone interviews to pre-qualify candidates with strong potential, and who might be worthwhile putting in front of my boss, the hiring decision maker. Only the cream of the crop will be called in first, and if they’re not available, then I move on to the second-choice picks. This process usually takes several weeks. I’ve seen it take several months. As the candidate, don’t get discouraged if you’re still waiting on an invite to come in to interview; it could be on its way.

[1.5 weeks pass…]

Wednesday, April 4: I setup the first round of in-person interviews, which is typically with either myself, someone who works under the hiring decision maker, or both. The second, and hopefully final round, will be with the decision maker themselves. I interview anywhere between 3 to 10 people. Once again, this is likely to take several weeks. And no doubt, some key player is out on vacation, so feedback will have to wait another week and a half until Johnny Junior Manager gets back from his engagement trip to Aruba. After all, we can’t proceed without the feedback and opinions of everyone on the team who will interface with this new hire.

[3 weeks pass…]

Friday, April 27: Once I’ve completed the first-round interviews, and I have 2-3 candidates whom I feel are a sure shot, I setup a second or final interview with the hiring decision maker. Hopefully one of these candidates will end up being hired. Otherwise, I have to go back to the drawing board and see if there’s anyone else I liked whom I can pass through to the next round. Sometimes I have to start from scratch, since it’s typically been several weeks at this point, and many of my potential candidates have disappeared into the arms of another job opportunity.

[2 weeks pass…]

Friday, May 11: In an ideal world, one of my first choice picks who moved on to round 2 of interviews impressed the hiring decision maker enough that she wants to extend an offer. But we’ll finagle a bit about the salary first. Because even though the candidate was upfront that she wants $60,000, and everyone involved in the hiring process was already aware of this, the decision maker decides she doesn’t want to go over $55,000. But she’s willing to offer a tiered bonus plan structure in place of that last $5000. Now I have to go back to the candidate and convey that, Congratulations! We want to hire you. BUT…

Hopefully they’re cool with it. Especially if they’re leaving another job.

[1 week passes…]

Friday, May 18: After a week of going back and forth about the bonus structure, a deal is finally struck, and an offer letter goes out with all the details of the job offer.

[2 weeks pass…]

Friday, June 1: Welcome aboard, new hire!

So what can we deduct from this typical example (and of course, this is from my own experience and every company and situation will be different)? If you were in that initial early bird “premier” group of referred candidates, you just endured 2 months and 3 days between the time you submitted your resume, and the time they came back with an offer letter. And if you were like the other 99% of candidates and submitted your application in response to the initial job posting from day one, you endured just about 2 months from application to offer. The bad news? This is incredibly frustrating, and often the norm. The good news? This is the norm. So stop worrying that you haven’t heard back yet.

RELATED LINKS
Build Your Best Resume – Resume Writing & Personal Branding for the Modern Job Seeker
Branding Summary Statement Worksheet – Create a Killer Brand for Your Resume or Business
7 Steps to a Stellar Resume – Tips to Get Your Noticed, & Get You Hired

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121 Comments on "Behind the Scenes in HR: What’s Taking So Long to Hear Back?"


Guest
athalia
3 years 3 months ago

i had a very great interview in which I arrived 15 mins early, in a very professional suit, and although I was only suppose to meet with the HR Recruiter, she liked me so much she asked me to interview with the Marketing Director right away. The interview took between a total of 2 hours to 2 1/2 hours. Finally It went so well with great vibes and chemistry as if we all knew each other forever and I was given business cards and told the timeline would be two weeks. Immediately within 24 hours of the interview I sent the director of the department and the HR recruiter a thank you letter individually. I hadn’t heard anything, and yesterday I sent a followup email. Today I received an email response from the HR recruiter who interviewed me and she asked me how I was doing…she apologized and informed to me that they are still in the works of concluding the final pick and will contact me as soon as they are complete. Do I still have a chance as a final choice?

Guest
athaliad
3 years 3 months ago

NOTE: I sent the follow up yesterday (which has been two weeks since my interview and since then, it has been post interview silence). And I will mention that when I was asked my pay rate range, there didn’t seem to be an issue (but the HR recruiter did kind of hint that the pay rate was a topic that was internally being discussed and might be needed to be finalized by the internal associates amongst themselves). So I do assume, I hate to assume, but meaning I believe the pay is a reason that the final determination of moving forward with the completion of this job role is taking so long. Please give me some feedback. I greatly appreciate the time.

Guest
3 years 3 months ago

It certainly sounds like you’re still in the running, if nothing else than for the simple reason that the HR contact reached out to you to keep you in the loop. I take this to mean that you’re one of their top picks, though the deal isn’t sealed. There are a number of things that can contribute to the final selection being drawn out, budget being one of them. I would continue to keep in touch with the HR contact, as this sounds like a good potential prospect, but also consider other options – their timeline sounds a little blurry.

Guest
kishan
3 years 3 months ago

Thanks. Its very informative.

I was interviewed by a big insurance company (BCBS) of IL on Jan 15th. Right next day, the Talent acquisition person of BCBS, who actually shortlisted my resume, told me that one of the team is interested in hiring me and that he will get back to me in a day. Its 6 business days (11 days) after he said that. I did not hear again anything from him. I sent him two emails and no response. I emailed the HR as well who coordinated my interview schedule. But no response. I almost lost hopes. Is there still a slight chance? One thing I know for sure is, they are hiring multiple people in different levels, (jr, sr, mid-level) etc and for different locations in US. Any hopes?

Guest
3 years 3 months ago

It certainly wouldn’t surprise me if that person, working for a large entity like BCBS, is hiring for a multitude of positions. My own resume writing business this month has seen twice the amount of work coming in than even my best months, and that’s because a lot of people have opportunities coming their way, or are seeing opportunities out there which they want to apply to. That meaning, there is a ton of hiring going on right now with budgets starting over in the New Year, and people are busy. You’re doing what you need to do, as far as keeping the communication going. I wouldn’t give up all hope yet, but don’t let this be the only egg in the basket either. If you want to light a fire under their butts, metaphorically speaking, let them know you have some other potential opportunities on the table that you’re exploring, but they’re your first choice, and if there’s still an opportunity to make that happen, you’d like to do so. Instilling a little sense of urgency can sometimes help move things along. Good luck.

Guest
Akron
3 years 5 months ago

So it has been a month since I submitted my resume to my potential employer. Since then, I have been interviewed by three professionals (HR, Department Director, and Assistant Director), all of whom have said they are highly interested in me. The HR office told me that they are working on an approval for the salary I have requested before they make a final offer; my salary request was simply my market value based on my education and experience. However, it has been a week since this conversation. Should I be worried? I rejected an offer with another company (which I was less interested in) because they simply could not wait for me to make a decision. If this works out, rejecting the other offer would be worth it. If not, I don’t know

Guest
hansmoleman
3 years 4 months ago

> I rejected an offer with another company (which I was less interested in) because they simply could not wait for me to make a decision.

HAhh ahah hahahahaha

You are toast buddy.

I did the same thing. I am screwed big time now. It’s been a month since they asked me to sign background check documents, and 2 months since I was officially the only candidate left in the process…..

you’re not getting the job, nor are you getting any explanation or a straight answer from this company’s HR. The HR is busy planning her friend’s wedding you see. She is too busy to give a fuck about stupid little you.

Guest
3 years 5 months ago

One week is not a long time, considering they do need to get financial and administrative approval to hire you at the rate you quoted them. I would give it another few business days and perhaps check back in toward middle of next week. Everything points to them wanting to bring you on – but they certainly have to work out the financial aspect before they can do so. Hang tight for now.

Guest
timmeh85
3 years 5 months ago

I would be interested in understanding why a HR department would move so slowly in giving feedback/a decision on a job to candidates, when the hiring managers have already given their feedback to HR. I applied for a job, and got a call for an interview within a week or so. A week later I had the interview; and by the end of that week I’d heard that the hiring manager had informed HR of the decision. It is now into the second week since this email and I have yet to hear anything back. I understand there may be some corporate hoops to jump through, but based on the speed of the process so far I simply can’t understand delays!!

Guest
3 years 5 months ago

Depending upon the size of the company, I would venture to say that this is not the only position HR is in charge of filling and hiring for right now. There could be 2 other positions, there could be 200, all of which require a very specific administrative process and extensive paperwork to process. If HR told you that they had made a decision to extend an offer, that’s pretty much a go – they certainly wouldn’t tell a candidate that unless they were certain they wanted to move forward. You would be fine to follow up with your contact early or mid next week and ask if they have an idea of a timeline, since you will probably need to give notice, prepare, etc. That’s a perfectly acceptable way to ask how the process is moving along. But similar to Akron above – all things are pointing positively in your direction, so hang tight for now.

Guest
hansmoleman
3 years 4 months ago

> There could be 2 other positions, there could be 200, all of which require a very specific administrative process and extensive paperwork to process.

god, shut the fuck up with your self important bullshit.

Guest
3 years 4 months ago

Well, part of that is correct…

Guest
Kathryn
3 years 5 months ago

Thanks for your article. Very enlightening.

I interviewed about a month ago for a position I’m very interested in (and think I’m a perfect fit for). I felt it went well. I was told by HR to call them within 2 weeks if I hadn’t heard anything. Since I didn’t hear anything, I called them. Didn’t hear back. Several days later (on a Monday), I sent an email saying that I was just following up on the position and wondered if they’d made any decisions yet.

A day later, I received an email and a phone call from someone in HR letting me know that they had sent me an email the previous business day (this was a Tuesday; they sent the email on a Friday afternoon) asking for my references. I still have no idea how/why the email didn’t pop up in my inbox until later. Mortified, I called and talked with the HR person, who seemed forgiving–and asked me to get her my references ASAP (this was the Tuesday before Thanksgiving). I got them to her within an hour. I know that HR talked with one of my references on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and an additional two on Monday, December 2nd (and these two at least gave me absolutely glowing recommendations; I expect the one on Wednesday also gave me a strong, positive one).

Tuesday and Wednesday came and went–and I’ve heard nothing. Once HR has checked references, does it usually take more than a day or two to receive an offer? And do HR departments frequently check references for more than one candidate? The HR person I spoke with last week told me that, once I got my references in, I should hear something by “next week” (i.e. this week). Please advise. I really want this job–so I’m perhaps especially impatient. Thanks!

Guest
3 years 5 months ago

It doesn’t sound like there’s much reason to worry – once the references are being checked, that’s usually a pretty good indicator that they’re interested in moving forward. And yes, I can certainly take a couple days to move through that process, particularly if they’re waiting on someone to get back to them, and also to get everything together and signed off on from an administrative perspective. On top of that, we’re talking about a major holiday week – I would give it a few more days, and perhaps check back in towards middle of this week if you still haven’t heard back.