How to Find the True Meaning Behind a Vague Job Interview Follow-Up Email

Chip’s interview was a full week ago, and he’s been anxiously waiting to hear back from CongaLine Industries. The recruiter told him they’d be in touch with a decision mid-week, and as of Thursday afternoon there’s no news. Chip is checking his phone almost non-stop. Anytime it vibrates, he lunges for his pocket to see if it’s the recruiter contacting him. As you can tell, Chip really wants this job.

And then it happens.

An email from Ronnie at CongaLine enters his inbox. Chip nearly drops his phone as his fingers are trembling so hard. But Chip is left with even more doubt after reading the short note.

Dear Chip,

Hope you are having a  nice week.

Let me know if you have a few minutes tomorrow to connect for interview follow-up.

Thanks,
Ronnie

Chip quickly replies and requests to talk first thing in the morning, but that’s still 20 hours of waiting. Chip re-reads the email and tries to decipher exactly what could be meant. He wants to know right now if he’s getting this job or not, not tomorrow morning!

  • The first thing Chip notices is the shortness of the note. To him, this is a red flag. Is Chip such an afterthought as a candidate that he only warrants two complete sentences? He’s not getting the job.
  • Chip can’t help but wonder, though, why the recruiter would go to the trouble of setting up an appointment the following day if it was bad news. Couldn’t he have just said “no” in the email, or scheduled something for later today? Why tomorrow?
  • The term “few minutes” is another huge red flag. A few minutes could mean three minutes, only long enough to say “no” and give a quick explanation as to why. If the recruiter was going to talk about next steps or the offer, he’d probably want to chisel out a larger time period.
  • Also of note is the dry tone. Previous correspondence had included exclamation points and smiley faces. They have since been replaced with periods.
  • Chip can’t help but notice the glaring double-space between the words “a” and “nice.” Only someone who was in a hurry would make this mistake. That could also explain the shortness of the email; the recruiter was simply in a hurry and very little thought was put into wording. Therefore, he shouldn’t read into anything very much.
  • Friday is known as the day to deliver bad news in the corporate world, and tomorrow is Friday. But that usually applies to firing someone. Still, the fact that this is on a Friday is a red flag in Chip’s mind.
  • The term “interview follow-up” is somewhat telling. This implies that there is more to discuss, and perhaps a decision—good or bad—has yet to be made.

After two full hours of dissecting a two-sentence email, Chip has really wound himself up. He knows he’s overanalyzing this email to death. He’s spent literally 120 times more time reading this email than the recruiter took to write it. He invites his friend Toby to read the email as well, and is getting no reassurances from his friend. “Nope, bud. This is definitely bad news. You can just tell by the tone.”

Then the time confirmation response comes in.

Hi Chip,

9am sounds great, will give you a call then.

Thanks.

Oh! Well, this changes things some. All of a sudden there is some mild positivity thrown in. By stating “sounds great”, the recruiter seems to be implying that he is looking forward to this conversation. It didn’t just sound okay or good. It sounded great. Or maybe it only sounded great because it fit nicely into his schedule. Hmm…

The biggest takeaways from the combined two messages are clear.

  1. They’re still talking to Chip. They didn’t just outright say it’s over in the body of the email like many companies do. That’s reason for optimism.
  2. The “few minutes” bit, however, is especially troubling. This really implies it’s going to be quick. And there’s very little chance that a formal offer and other logistics are going to take just a few minutes. That could take up to an hour.

Thursday night was the longest night of Chip’s life since the time he was stuck in his friend Lenny’s trunk for an entire night and feared for his life. He awoke at 5:45am and paced about his house. At 9:01, the call came in.

“Hi, Chip, how are you?”
“Great, yourself?”
“Can’t complain! It’s Friday, right? That’s always a good thing!”
“Ha ha ha, yes, yes it is!”
“Well, listen, Chip. I don’t want to take up much of your time. I spoke to Marge, Colossus, Denny, and the team, and you really blew us away.”
“Oh, wow, that’s great!”
“I mean, your background is a tremendous fit. You clearly have a passion for this line of work. Your salary request is right in line with what we were offering.”
“Right, great.”
“But, we felt there were other candidates that better met our needs at this time. You were terrific though. Like I said, everyone really loved you. We’d like to keep your resume on file in case something else comes up.”
“Oh. Oh sure, yeah, I’d appreciate that.”
“OK then, bye Chip. Best of luck to you.”

Chip hangs up the phone. He’s disappointed, but not very surprised. By dissecting every intricate detail of the initial email, he had already reached the conclusion that he would not be offered the job. Anything different would have been a total shocker.

The moral of the story is that it’s fairly easy to glean the meaning or intent of a brief job interview related email by looking into key words, punctuation, capitalization, grammar, length, and tone.


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My Hot Take:
I’ve rarely been wrong about reading such emails. Several times in my professional career, I stewed over an email for hours or days trying to interpret its meaning, going downright crazy in the process. However, it seems to be more frequently the case that if it’s a “no” from the company, they tell you right away in the email and not drag it out longer than necessary.

tl;dr
You can often interpret the meaning behind a brief interview related email by looking for clues in the writing tone.

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