Inc.com columnist Alison Green answers questions about workplace and management issues--everything from how to deal with a micromanaging boss to how to talk to someone on your team about body odor.

A reader asks:

Almost two months ago, I applied and interviewed for a position with a company I have a real interest in working with. I did not get that job, as they said they needed someone with more experience for that niche role, but they instead considered my application for another position that opened up that they thought I might be a better fit for, and I agreed too. So I interviewed for that position, only to find out that they ended up taking someone with "more experience." They are now asking me to interview this time for a third position that is available.

I appreciate the fact they think I might fit into their company culture, but I am starting to feel like I am getting the run-around. I don't want to be ungrateful or picky and I am still interested in the company, but this will be the fifth time in two months that I am going in for an interview and for the third role. It's also a role that I am not as excited about as the other two that I didn't get. I'm a little tired of being told I would be a "great fit" and then getting passed around from each department.

Given that it's a role that I am less thrilled about and that they keep bringing me in but not hiring me, do you think this is a reflection on the company? Or on me? It's a very niche industry that I have worked in a long time already, and yes, I know it's a competitive market overall out there, but twice now I've been declined and passed over. If the third time's a charm and I get this position, should I take it at this point and hope the position works out? And if I don't get it, should I just cut my losses and forget about them in case they come knocking a fourth time? They have been prompt in getting back to me all these times, which I have been impressed with, but is this unusual to be passed on like this over and over? I have been out of work for two months and don't know, by the way the company is running things, if I should keep looking when and if they do hire me, or take it since I need a job ASAP.

Green responds:

Employers don't do this for fun. If they're inviting you to interview, it's because they think you're a serious contender.

But serious contender doesn't mean you'll definitely get the position, and they're not at fault for that.

So no, there's nothing wrong with what they're doing here, and it doesn't indicate that they're flaky or disorganized. Take what they're saying at face value: They think you're a good candidate and they have several roles that you could be a good fit for, but for each, they're interviewing multiple candidates, and each time they're considering you as part of that broader pool, which means that you might not end up getting an offer. And they probably assume that if you're not interested in continuing to explore a possible fit with them, you'll decline to throw your hat in the ring for these positions. Since you're not, they assume you're willing to be a candidate, which is a reasonable assumption on their end.

None of this is anything to be offended or frustrated by--it's actually something promising, because they like you enough to keep thinking of you for more spots than the original one you approached them about.

I think you're taking this a little personally when it's not personal. You sound like you feel like they're stringing you along, which is unlikely, and that they should know by now if they want to hire you for something or not. But hiring isn't binary like that; it's not always just a yes/no verdict on you. It's a question of who in a given candidate pool is the best person for a particular job--so you can end up with "no" even when everyone agrees that you'd be good at the job, simply because someone else in the pool is better.

And all they're offering is to keep you in that pool. They haven't promised more than that.

If you're tired of it, then by all means move on and decline to be considered again--but since you say you need a job ASAP, I think you'd be letting your emotions have too much say...and that you shouldn't walk away in frustration from a company that clearly finds you promising.

Want to submit a question of your own? Send it to alison@askamanager.org.

Published on: Jan 14, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.