Don't you want me, baby?
June 14, 2016 2:57 PM   Subscribe

Found out I'm not a potential employer's first pick. Do I keep interviewing, or take myself out of the running?

I'm close to finishing my master's in a field that's new to me and have been interviewing for a position in said field over the past three months. I've had three interviews. I was supposed to complete a sample exercise and have a final interview a month ago, but was told that I was further along in the process than the other candidates and that the organization wanted to put things on hold until the other candidates caught up. I finally received notice last week that the organization was ready to move forward; however, on the day I was supposed to receive the sample exercise, the organization changed their mind and sent a vague email about putting on the brakes. After asking for clarification, I found out that another candidate was close to completing the entire process and that they wanted to wait and see how the candidate's last interview went before deciding whether I should proceed. They've now come back and want to schedule my exercise and last interview. I don't know what happened with the other candidate.

But I feel like I'm their backup at this point and they've been stringing me along for weeks. The whole thing has really soured me on the position, and I'm not sure I want to move forward. To be honest, I've never been terribly excited about the role for a number of reasons, even though it would be a good place to start my new career and a strong bridge between my past work and my new field.

I'm not interviewing anywhere else at the moment. It will likely be months before I'm close again to securing a full-time job. I'm freelancing in my old field, so I'm not financially desperate, but emotionally I'm toast and really ready to start something fresh.

Given the drawn-out interview process, the back-and-forth, and the fact that I'm not 100 percent sure about the job, should I move to the next phase or take myself out of the running?
posted by lunalaguna to Work & Money (23 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
go ahead and do the final interview and sample exercise. It can't really hurt you to try, and the experience will be valuable. I know it's frustrating to have this happen, but you just have to take the higher road. This way you also won't be burning any bridges. You never know who knows who and who talks to who.

"Yeah we were interviewing lunalaguna.. she made it through almost our entire interview process but got cold feet."
posted by INFJ at 3:01 PM on June 14, 2016 [18 favorites]

The way a company interviews may or may not be indicative of how they work. Some companies it's run by HR and it might be weird and strict and have all sorts of things going on that wouldn't effect your day-to-day life once you're in the job. Sometimes it's led by the hiring manager or the direct department hiring you and it IS indicative of how the job would be. Do you know which one is true here?

That said, if you're not interested in the job because you're not interested in the job, then go ahead and withdraw, but "other people are also qualified" is not a great reason to take yourself out. I'm of the mindset that unless I'm sure I'm not interested, or I'm too busy/have too many other interviews and have to choose between them, I'd rather move forward and practice the interview process and get more information about myself and what's going on, so I'd move to the next phase. It's totally fair game to ask them about the interview process in that interview, and if that's indicative of how the company works in other ways!
posted by brainmouse at 3:01 PM on June 14, 2016 [6 favorites]

You have nothing to lose by finishing the interview process and a potential job to gain. If nothing else, you'll have some solid interviewing experience.

Plus, just because they wanted someone else to compare you to doesn't mean they have a preference. Some search committees are required to consider a certain number of candidates or they have to re-do the search.

Finally, even if you're number two on their list, what if candidate number one doesn't accept the job?
posted by carrioncomfort at 3:02 PM on June 14, 2016 [19 favorites]

Is your field academic librarianship? Because if it is, the months long interview process is 100% normal and you'll really be shooting yourself in the foot if you drop out of every search that takes a long time.

And regardless of what field it is, it doesn't matter if you're their first choice, it matters if they like you enough to offer you a job at all.

If you don't like THEM and definitely don't want the job, then, sure, drop out. But don't do it based on whether you think they like you enough. If you're still in the running, they're still interested.
posted by MsMolly at 3:03 PM on June 14, 2016 [7 favorites]

It may betray internal organizational issues if they can't handle this process well. But if I were in your position I'd keep going. Maybe their HR department is a mess and they're otherwise great.
posted by showbiz_liz at 3:04 PM on June 14, 2016

I'll be reading replies with interest. I'm in a very similar position as of an email today and was mulling over being in the "second-best" position. I really feel like that's just my ego talking and I need to let that go. And after all, maybe they decided the first-place person isn't a good fit after all and so that makes me the new first-place person.

So take that out of the equation and try to consider the job by itself. Is it a good fit? Will I succeed? Do I like my potential coworkers? And so on.

I was more or less relieved when they said "thanks but no thanks" so I will probably decline with thanks. But I'm still considering doing the next interview, yes for experience, but also just to confirm my decision. Good luck!
posted by Beti at 3:07 PM on June 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Go ahead. The best hire I ever made was a second place finisher who we turned to after we couldn't reach an agreement with the first. At this point, it's hard to remember anything about that first candidate, and we'd do nearly anything to retain the employee we did wind up with. It's also possible that the person running your hiring process is getting jerked around by procedures or bureaucracies that have no reflection on how they might feel about you.
posted by chimpsonfilm at 3:08 PM on June 14, 2016 [31 favorites]

Lifelong second-bester here. I've landed the same gig or something else plenty of times by finishing the process strong and staying positive. You never know with whom you'll connect or what other needs the org may have. When it's time to find someone give them a reason to say, "Hey! What about lunalaguna?"
posted by notyou at 3:20 PM on June 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

It doesn't matter who their first choice is. It matters who their last choice is -- the person they actually give the job to. That could still be you.

It sucks to go through a drawn out interviewing process, and you feel jerked around, but it seems just as likely they were trying to keep from wasting your time with the sample exercise, before they knew how you stacked up against other candidates or if they weren't planning on hiring you at that point.

If you really don't want this job, make the decision to back out of the hiring process, but don't make it because of the hiring process.
posted by jacquilynne at 3:26 PM on June 14, 2016 [5 favorites]

So it sounds like they had a candidate they were very interested in, but it didn't work out for some reason and so now they're looking at more candidates. That's no reason to count yourself out! You'd be shooting yourself in the foot if you backed out just because they weren't glowingly positive about you at every step. If you want the job and the opportunity still exists, go for it! What have you got to lose?

"Second favorite within the pool of candidates" stops mattering within a week of starting the new job. As soon as you're hired, it's all about results and how well you fit in. Hiring processes have a ton of uncertainty, and everyone who does them knows that, so the people interviewing you know full well that their first pick might easily have been worse than their second choice—they were only ever making an informed guess at best. If you get the job, I guarantee you that all the other candidates will be totally forgotten within a few days.

And anyway, it doesn't sound like you're necessarily their second choice. Or at least, what I mean is that you are now their first choice (or part of the top tier) among the pool candidates who are actually available. They've already moved on from thinking about whoever it was that they ended up not hiring, and they'll be comparing you to the rest of their active candidates, not to someone who they already know won't be taking the job.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 3:27 PM on June 14, 2016

Why would you withdraw from consideration? They're (possibly) offering you a good job, paying well, I'm your field, at a time when it doesn't sound like many other people are hiring. And you're going to turn that down? Because your feelings were hurt?

I don't begrudge you the hurt feelings; that's understandable. Everyone wants to feel wanted. And this could be a sign of organizational dysfunction. But if I only interviewed at places that functioned perfectly healthily and always thought of other people's feelings, I'd have twenty years of unpaid bills from being unemployed.

Keep interviewing, take the job if offered, and then apply elsewhere as positions become open.
posted by kevinbelt at 3:43 PM on June 14, 2016 [3 favorites]

Hiring is so weird and ends up being essentially random once you're one of the top couple of candidates. Anything can happen. I've worked places (and I've done this myself when hiring) where a year later we called back a previous candidate because they were great but just not right for the time for any number of reasons.
posted by jeweled accumulation at 3:59 PM on June 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

It's not at all surprising that your emotional logic at this point would lead you to want to say no and to feel dejected about this. As a person looking to begin careers, myself - it's funny - I often am looking for any reason to remain in the status quo, and to decline anything that seems like it would be too much of an uphill battle or not a surety. No, I think you should do this for yourself, and to try your best to get the position, all-else aside. And even with the news that you're not the favored candidate.

Truly, I can only see "a waste of time" in the cons... if, that. If you get it, you may enjoy the position immensely! You don't know. Even if not, seeing things like this through to their culmination can be a victory and satisfaction, in itself. Challenge and reward your mind, if needed, to take advantage of this potentially super-positive situation. Get yourself in the mindset of 'fully ready,' even in the face of adverse conditions! Yes, go get it. Don't let that person have your place on the ladder without a fair game.
posted by a good beginning at 4:04 PM on June 14, 2016

I would continue interviewing with this employer and simultaneously start looking for other jobs as well. There's generally no really good reason to put all one's eggs in one basket.
posted by lazuli at 4:11 PM on June 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Do you only enter relationships with someone who saved themselves for you?

You are going to apply for any number of jobs in your life. You're not going to be the best for each one. Sometimes you might get picked anyway. Sometimes you might be best and not get offered the job. Sometimes someone who turns out to be rubbish will get the job you would have been ideal for. Sometimes someone amazing will get offered the job and also another job, and take the other job. In that case you might be nearly as amazing or not amazing at all and in either case still get an offer. Don't be a bloody idiot and not take on board your best offer just because someone was ahead of you at some point in the process. If you get the job offer and it helps your career then get in there and make the best of it and prove yourself to be highly capable, then go from there.
posted by biffa at 4:13 PM on June 14, 2016

It's okay to not be the top candidate. That's not a reflection on you.

The last time I personally hired people, we had ~160 applications, I talked to ~50 people on the phone, we seriously interviewed ~20, and the whole team loved the top 5 or 6 people. We could only hire 2, and necessarily had to make cuts. I would have hired #3 or #4 or #5 or #6 in a second were there no other candidates, or infinite spots. That's just how it goes. Being #2 doesn't mean they don't think you kick fuckin' ass, it means they have finite resources.

Anyway, in the meantime, you should start interviewing elsewhere. You gotta have more than one iron in the fire.
posted by so fucking future at 5:09 PM on June 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

They might like the other person more (IF they do) because they have previous experience in the field, which means this isn't their first rodeo, which means once upon a time it was their first rodeo and at that time they may very well have been the second or third or fourth best. But they got the job, and now they're a top candidate at the next job.

What matters is if you get the job, and how you do once you have it. If you have better opportunities ahead, I'd go through with the interviews but keep looking around and make an educated guess about whether this is your best offer if they offer you the job.
posted by stoneandstar at 5:55 PM on June 14, 2016

I'm closely watching my boss do hiring for a few new roles right now, and one thing that never fails to amaze me is just now non-linear the process is. There are so, so, so many reasons that various pieces of the process get held up from time to time, and almost all of them have nothing to do with the qualifications or his own internal ranking of the people he's considering - and from where I'm sitting, it's not a sign of organizational weakness or disorganization either. It is in the nature of hiring to move painfully slowly. If they've reached out to schedule their last interview with you, you can rest assured that they are still highly interested in you. Organizations don't waste their time bringing in people they're not strongly considering.

In my current job, in fact, I was the #2 pick. Just to show that anything can happen, their first choice ended up bombing out of the job less than two weeks in. They were on the phone to me less than thirty minutes later, and it's the best job and the most functional workplace I've ever enjoyed. I'd see this one through, even if it ends up being only for practice in the end. You just never know.
posted by anderjen at 5:59 PM on June 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

In my current job, in fact, I was the #2 pick. Just to show that anything can happen, their first choice ended up bombing out of the job less than two weeks in.

Yes! I had completely forgotten, but at the company I worked for the longest, they originally hired someone else for the position. I got a call a month later with the job offer, and eventually found out their top choice had been fired for being inappropriate with our clients. Our high-school aged clients. Being the #1 vs. the #2 pick doesn't guarantee anything, good or bad! And while it wasn't my favorite job ever, I stayed there for close to a decade, they treated me very well, and the work was enjoyable.
posted by lazuli at 7:38 PM on June 14, 2016

Nothing wrong with being #2. I was originally passed over for my current job when a former colleague of my boss popped out of the woodwork. My boss's former colleague washed out of the interview process, they called me back, and I took the job.

To be honest I was souring on the opportunity after getting passed over and I was busily trying to come up with another opportunity at the time the offer came in. It's tough. The advice to have multiple irons on the fire is quite sound. I took the offer from my current company because it was very competitive, and I knew this because I had interviewed elsewhere. The information that I gained in other interviews helped me to be secure in my decision to join. I'm happy now.
posted by crazycanuck at 8:10 PM on June 14, 2016

It's also possible that the person running your hiring process is getting jerked around by procedures or bureaucracies that have no reflection on how they might feel about you.

I agree with this. Top candidate #1 could have been someone's cousin and there was pressure to see if they could make it - you could be lucky #2 who the hiring manager actually wanted. I know it's tempting to take it personally, but it's a job so be professional and go for the job.
posted by Toddles at 8:29 PM on June 14, 2016

The last two hiring processes I went through, I was the only candidate, and they wanted to hire me from the beginning. The fast one still took a couple of months, and in the other case almost four months from start to finish.

And when I've been hiring, there are always weird delays, like three weeks dead time because an HR person went on vacation, leaving the poor candidates in the lurch.

Roll with it, stay positive and cheerful ("Yes, I'd love to come in and restart the process!") and see if it turns into an offer. Always let them say no, don't say it for them.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:51 PM on June 14, 2016

Well, there definitely appears to be a consensus. Thank you all. I suppose my response to this situation is the result of a bruised ego, and a feeling that I wouldn't have the support of potential coworkers because I'm likely not the first choice. I see, though, that it's important to finish the process for the many reasons listed here. And just for the record, I'm definitely not putting all my eggs in one basket. I've been networking very hard and applying to appropriate jobs the past few months, but have secured only one other interview during this time period. Changing industries is difficult.
posted by lunalaguna at 3:17 AM on June 15, 2016

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