As a job candidate, figuring out how a hiring manager actually feels about you is often a confusing head game. “They said they were excited to meet me,” you may think, “but did they really mean it?”
In the most disappointing cases, the reassurances that hiring managers give in an interview do not line up with their actions. No matter how well you think an interview went, weeks of radio silence can often say all you need to know about whether you should move on and keep job-hunting, for example.
But on the flip side, there are also common ways you can tell if a recruiter or hiring manager really is interested in you. Sometimes, the signs are obvious.
“When someone is a really strong candidate, I tell them,” said Bonnie Dilber, a recruiting manager with app-automation company Zapier. “While I’m careful never to promise them that the job is theirs, I want them to know that we’re excited about them, things are going well, and [we] want to know what it will take for them to be really excited about us.“
At other times, the signals are subtler but still very promising. Here are some of the secret signs that those on the hiring team see you as a top candidate, according to recruiters and career experts:
1. They are super responsive when following up with you
One strong indication that you are a top candidate is a fast-paced hiring process.
“If the recruiter is scheduling interviews quickly and following up with next steps within a day or two of each interview, you know things are going well and they don’t want to lose you,” Dilber said.
“A few months ago, I had a great candidate for a senior role who applied a bit late in the process. I knew the team would be excited about them so I scheduled all of their interviews within a few days of each other. We were able to get the offer out within a week.”
2. They introduce you to other team members and give you unplanned tours
Another sign of interest is when someone on the hiring team takes time out of their busy day to show you around the office and introduce you to their colleagues.
“If a tour was not in your planned interview, then that is a great sign,” said Gabrielle Woody, a university recruiter for the financial software company Intuit. “I have given many tours to candidates who I know are going to be considered for an offer. The purpose of the tour is so they can see the culture, amenities, and meet others they could possibly work with in the future.”
Dilber said offers to connect you with current team members or others involved in the business “are ways they may keep a top candidate engaged and try to continue to invest in them while going through the process.”
To illustrate, she shared a personal example. “A few years ago, I was interviewing for a leadership role with a school district,” Dilber recalled. “After several on-site interviews, they followed up and asked if there were other things that would be helpful for me, and ended up setting up a school tour and lunch for me. I had an offer within two days.”
3. They ask if you’re interviewing with anyone else
If you’re asked, “Are you interviewing with other companies right now?” the employer is likely signaling that you’re one of the top candidates.
“In my experience, this question is usually a positive sign because that means I’m already interested,” Rob Cancilla, a senior director at the recruiting firm Hunt Club, previously told HuffPost. “If I’m not interested in you, I don’t care if you’re interviewing with someone else.”
When a company is very interested, it will want to be up to date on its competition. “Recruiters will also be more ‘high touch’ with a candidate, which means to have many touch points and keep the candidate warm,” Woody said. “You will see more proactive updates, and the recruiter will consistently check in to see if your status with competing offers or interviews has changed from the last time you two spoke.”
4. They want to know your available start date
If a hiring team member is asking how soon can you start, they may already be picturing you in the role.
“Some signals hiring managers give when they are talking to top candidates is more evident in the questions they ask,” said Carmen Rosas, an estate planning attorney. “When I’m highly interested in a client, I’ll ask more detailed questions about their available start time and long-term professional and personal goals.“
Amy Feind Reeves, the founder of Boston-based consultancy JobCoachAmy and the author of “College to Career, Explained,” has decades of experience as a hiring manager. She said that an especially promising sign is when a hiring manager in particular inquires about a potential start date and salary details.
“When the recruiter or … [human resources] professional running point on your interview process asks, they may just be gathering facts in case the hiring manager wants to know,” Feind Reeves said. “If the hiring manager wants to know, they are clearly thinking about when to bring you in and how it may impact their budget.“
5. They talk like you’re already on the team
Jennifer Tardy, a diversity recruitment consultant, said in a 2018 YouTube video that if you hear verbal cues like “When you are in this position, here’s what you are going to do” or “When you show up on day one, this is typically how things go,” this can be a subconscious sign that the employer is already seeing you in the role.
It’s also promising when the hiring team asks you questions about specific projects at the company.
Feind Reeves said an indication that you are a top candidate is if you “are asked in great depth about how you would handle a particular scenario that sounds like it may be a project you could be plugged into or a team situation that you may be asked to manage.”
Keep in mind that you can get all these signals but still lose out on the job
One important caveat to this discussion: Even when people on the hiring team give off overt and subtle signs that they want to you to join, you are not guaranteed to receive an offer.
“The only time you can really be confident is if you know that the person giving you positive signals is the primary or only decision-maker, they have told you that they are planning to hire you, and they’ve made it clear that there is nothing standing in the way of their decision being implemented,” said Monique Valcour, an executive coach.
Otherwise, many factors can still affect the selection of a job candidate. “You might have the assurance of the person you believe is in charge of hiring that you will be getting an offer, but then someone else is able to exert influence and push for their favored candidate,” Valcour said. “Or maybe the position gets cut and no one is hired. Or the employer decides to put someone in the role on a temporary basis.”
Feind Reeves said there is no absolute signal in either direction.
“I have had a client submit a resume in May, hear nothing until September, and be moving across the country to take a job starting Oct. 1. I’ve also had a client lose sleep over which of two consulting offers he would take when he had basically been told he would be getting written offers from both, but only one arrived,” she said.
“My best advice is to be patient and trust your instincts.”