The hiring process can sometimes feel like flying into a black hole; you aren’t sure what to expect, you can’t see what’s going on and you don’t have a lot of control over the outcome. The waiting part of a high stakes job search can be agonizing for candidates.
Fortunately, companies are increasingly embracing transparency. Some utilize tracking systems where candidates can check on the status of their applications, while others outline their whole hiring process in detail, so you know exactly what to expect. However, if you do encounter an application process that isn’t crystal clear, there are still ways available to gather information.
While a lucky few employers can manage to complete the hiring process in a lightning fast two weeks, the timeline can stretch to two months or more in some industries. The time to hire — from when a position is posted to the extension of an offer — averages around 35 days (even with recent events). Still, this can feel never-ending to a job seeker. Understanding possible timeframes from the start will better enable you to manage expectations and reduce anxiety.
A typical job application process may include the following milestones, each requiring time to coordinate and complete:
The timeline for your particular application process may vary based on a variety of factors (including unexpected delays – like a pandemic!).
- Is there a closing date for the posting or is it open until filled? Postings with a set close date may take longer to process as recruiters must give equal consideration to anyone who applies prior to that deadline.
- Are you applying to a public entity or private corporation? Government hiring practices are highly standardized and the layers of bureaucracy add time to the process, whereas private employers have a lot more flexibility and can move more quickly.
- How many people are involved in the decision? Larger companies generally have dedicated recruiters who might process applications more quickly than a smaller staff. However, it may take longer in a larger company to work through approvals at each stage of the process or require additional interviews with various decision makers.
- Are all the relevant departments in sync with capacity? The hiring process and timeline can be interrupted and delayed if everyone involved isn’t ready to proceed at the same time. The hiring manager may be ready to hire, but Human Resources is unable to process the hire because there is a recruitment backlog or staffing emergency that takes priority, or vice versa. (Read more on what hiring managers wish you knew.)
- Has the company experienced any operational changes? The best laid hiring plans can be derailed if the company experiences a challenge such as loss of a major client, merger/acquisition or loss of revenue necessitating a hiring freeze. If you’re experiencing a delay in communication, check in with your network, social media and the company news channels to see if there is an obvious cause.
Keep in mind that while a job search may be a major priority in your life, many recruiters are managing multiple positions with hundreds of applicants simultaneously. The most difficult part of navigating communication about the hiring process is balancing your desire for information with your need for information.
Hiring is a two-way street. It is appropriate to ask questions to set expectations about the process and to follow up if those expectations are not met. However, patience and flexibility will go a long way in preserving a positive professional relationship.
Generally, as long as applicants are respectful and polite, recruiters (both those employed by a single company and those working for external hiring agencies) have no issue with answering questions and providing details (when available), but it’s important to ‘read the room’ based on their response, or lack thereof. (See what other insights leading executive recruiters have for candidates here.)
Recruiters often receive a large volume of candidate questions daily; they simply may not have capacity to respond to each applicant individually. If the posting or follow up message clearly states that only applicants moving forward will receive additional communication, do not follow up unless you are selected to move forward. When follow up is appropriate, sending an email, LinkedIn message or a voicemail with a detailed question allows the recruiter time to review your question, follow up with others, and then respond, reducing cumbersome back and forth.
Some general Do’s and Don’ts to consider:
- Reach out by email or LinkedIn message with clear questions.
- Try to answer your own question first.
- Respond in a timely manner to any communication from recruiters.
- Ask about the hiring timeline; only follow up if it’s taking longer than communicated.
- Keep your cool and always maintain professionalism.
- Expect an immediate response.
- Skim emails from recruiters; read carefully.
- Make the recruiter work to determine what your question is.
- Abuse the communication process. Follow up if needed, but also have patience.
- Take your frustration out on the recruiter.
While you may not have as much control over the hiring process as you’d like, here’s what you can do in the meantime:
- Stay motivated. Getting a job IS a job and it’s important to keep your goals clearly in mind to get you through the rough patches.
- Remain engaged. As you’re waiting to hear about the jobs you’ve applied for, continue to build and engage with connections on LinkedIn, participate in relevant developmental activities and keep your career materials current.
- Reach out. Leverage your existing network to engage in referrals on your behalf.
- Take a break. Sometimes you need a little distance from the job search grind. If you’re frustrated or feeling down, allow yourself space to focus on something enjoyable so you can refocus and come back refreshed.
At the end of the day, everyone is working towards the same goal of matching the best candidate with the needs of the employer. The hiring process may seem daunting and unnecessarily complex due to the nature of hiring and variation in processes across employers, but well reasoned communication and understanding on both sides can smooth the course and help everybody reach the other side intact.