Job searching can be an enigmatic process. For weeks leading up to your interview, you’re basically a private investigator. You research a company before you submit your application. You scope out your potential boss before the big day. You pay close attention to how the interviewer receives your answers—assessing whether or not you should change gears. Then you go home and reflect on the interview as you write a fabulous thank you note.
And then, you’re supposed to do absolutely nothing.
That’s right—the next step is patiently awaiting the hiring manager’s decision. And if you try to put your newly sharpened sleuthing skills to good use, well-meaning friends will advise you to “stop obsessing.” But that’s easier said than done.
Before you start (re)analyzing every potential omen, remember it’s easy to mistake even the most obvious signs. Here’s why:
1. It Could Be a Matter of Numbers
Have you ever worried that you’re no longer in contention because a job was reposted? It’s true that sometimes a hiring process is reopened because there aren’t any strong matches. However, that’s not the only reason.
Most hiring managers don’t want one awesome applicant per job opening: They want several. Why? Because not every candidate who receives an offer will accept it. So, companies want to know that if they invest the time in a hiring process, there will be more than one viable candidate for a given role. Not to mention how common it is for jobs to be reposted throughout a rolling deadline—you could be on the short list for a follow-up interview, but in the meantime the company also wants the posting to catch the attention of new applicants, so that there will be a few final round candidates.
How You Can Tell
Generally, if a hiring manager is reposting a position simply to cover his bases, he’ll continue to be in touch with the top candidate. So, if you are on the short list for a second interview, you’ll get an email regarding scheduling. And if you’re a top candidate after a final interview, you’ll likely get some other form of positive reinforcement in the interim, perhaps an effusive response to your thank you note. On the flipside, if the position is reposted and you haven’t heard anything after two weeks, it’s advisable to redouble your job searching efforts elsewhere.
2. It Could Be Company Culture
You know that there are many ways to deduce company culture in an interview. But some companies want to remove the guesswork—aiming to show every candidate how much he or she would enjoy the office environment.
Let’s say your formal day of interviewing ended with a meeting, but then, your prospective colleagues invited you to join them for a drink, a meal, or a round of ping-pong. This is it, you think, I’m in.
You are in—a brand new portion of the interview, that is. Yes, it’s really nice that you’re being made to feel like a part of the team, but this is a still a try-out. Odds are that all candidates enjoy (a.k.a. are tested via) the same social component so the interviewer can gain a new perspective on their people skills and how they’ll fit in with current employees.
How You Can Tell
Until you are formally extended an offer, consider all social invitations to be a part of the interview process. Yes, even if it includes throwing back beers, you’re being tested on how well you can bond—and stay professional—over alcohol. Wait until after you’re hired to read into what it means to hang out with your colleagues socially.
3. It Could Be Company Protocol
In the interest of fairness, many companies try to standardize the interview process as much as possible. So, it might be mandated that the hiring manager stick to a neutral script. Meaning, she won’t give a stellar candidate a broad smile or positive feedback, and she won’t ask an applicant giving half-answers if he’d like to expand.
Conversely, some companies encourage interviewers to individualize the process to get a clearer sense of a candidate’s potential. For example, I was once in a position in which I was interviewing candidates with varied experience for fellowship programs. I was always toughest on the very best applicants. They wanted to be referred to the renowned, super-competitive organizations, and if they were in the running, I wanted to be sure they could hack it. So I’d push on harder questions and look less impressed with major (even mind-blowing) accomplishments. It was part of our system for narrowing the 12 best applicants down to the three best applicants.
How You Can Tell
In my case, whenever I was hard on an applicant because she was one of the best, I’d switch gears before the interview ended. I’d tell her that I put her through an especially hard interview to see if she’d rise to the occasion, and that I thought she was amazing. But not all interviewers will do this, particularly if it’s protocol to test the best applicants—and not tell them it’s a tactic. A good rule of thumb here is to try to distinguish between whether your interviewer is being tough (e.g., not smiling or laughing at a humorous story, asking really hard questions) or is aggravated by something you did (think: faux pas like taking a phone call, rambling, or interrupting).
It’s totally understandable that you want to know if you’ll be hired, preferably as soon as possible. But trying to decipher the signs—which holds real benefits early in the job search process—will only serve to drive you crazy after you interview. So, listen to those well-meaning friends: Remember the advice above and stop obsessing.