“HR will be in contact with you…”
What does it mean?
First off, we need to point out that the wording is ambiguous, and that’s no accident. This phrase can be interpreted as a positive or a negative, and that’s almost certainly why variations of it are so commonly used.
In some interviews, it’s quite obvious that the candidate was either the perfect fit or not right for the job, but for most interviews, the results are uncertain. The hiring team might have to conduct a more thorough review, re-examine resumes and cover letters, and interview more people before they start homing in on the right candidate. Perhaps the interviewer will have very little say in the final decision. Thus, when there is any lingering uncertainty, “HR will contact you,” becomes a catch-all phrase that punctuates the interview without hinting at a solid yes or no.
The way the interviewer acts while saying this can sometimes reveal their intent. For example, if the hiring manager spends time clarifying what the “next steps” actually are, that’s a good sign that you’re being considered for the role. If the interviewer says it with a shrug, or avoids eye contact while saying it, this can be a sign that you didn’t make the cut.
However, the best way to interpret this phrase is, “We don’t yet know who we’re going to hire, and we need some time to think about it.” It’s the Schrödinger’s cat of interview endings. Since most people who hear this phrase will spend the next few days replaying it in their heads and trying to unpack its layers of hidden meaning, it can be frustrating to hear this rather than a clear yes or no answer. Unfortunately, uncertainty is to be expected during the hiring process, so it’s something you’ll need to learn to accept.
What should you do next?
When a job interview ends with uncertainty, you should “Hope for the best and plan for the worst,” as the old expression goes.
If you feel confident that the interview went swimmingly well, only to be ended with, “Our HR department will contact you later,” you can respond by asking how long that process normally takes. This will at least give you some idea of what sort of time frame you’re looking at.
Additionally, you should send a thank you email to the people you talked to during the interview. If you interviewed with multiple people, make sure you send personalized emails to all of them. If you send a generic response to multiple people at once, it can seem like you don’t care enough about the company to personalize your email. Keep in mind that the people who receive this email will probably be in contact with each other. If they discover that you’ve sent them all the same email, they might be hesitant to move forward, even if they’d initially placed you high on their priority list.
We should point out, however, that if you interviewed through a staffing agency, you should skip the follow-up email. Your staffing agency is the key point of contact between you and the company looking to hire, and trying to circumvent the agency can be seen as a sign of unprofessionalism.
Of course, you should continue to operate as if you didn’t get the job. Don’t stop looking for open positions, don’t stop submitting resumes, and don’t cancel any other interviews you might have already scheduled. You don’t want to freeze your entire job-hunting process for a week or more, only to find out you didn’t land the gig that you thought was certain. If you have other offers that are awaiting a response, don’t rush to decline; see if you can get a little more time before giving a definitive answer.
Planning for uncertainty can be difficult, but it’s one of the realities of the job hunt. Accept that you won’t have all of the answers immediately and keep searching.
“Our HR department will be in contact with you about the next steps,” is a phrase that can cause a lot of confusion and anxiety for job seekers. The unfortunate truth is that it’s impossible to say whether it’s a positive or negative sign. If you’ve heard it and are awaiting those “next steps,” we encourage you to follow up while keeping your other options open.