The common, inefficient hiring mistake that is the “maybe” pile

Just call him back already.
Just call him back already.
Image: Reuters/Akhtar Soomro
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I’ve been recruiting in the Bay Area since 1997. Yes, 1997. I have jeans older than some of you reading this. So listen up.

My parents taught me, at an early age, that manners are important. My mother always said to send handwritten thank you notes and close the loop with people. When invited somewhere, say “yes,” “no,” or “I’ll get back to you” promptly. You can turn a “no” into a “yes” but it is not OK to turn a “yes” into a “no” if something better comes along. That’s just plain rude, she said. We all know people who do this. A friend of mine calls them “better dealers.”

Now, the number one frustration I hear from candidates who are entrenched in a job search is a lack of response from a recruiter or contact in the company. You go in for an interview, spend half a day meeting with people, opening up, getting vulnerable, getting attached and emotionally invested. Your contact tells you someone will follow up with you in the next few days and then you hear nothing. Crickets. Silence. You send an email to the recruiter. No response. You call. Nothing. Then, you take matters into your own hands. You call the person who referred you. They promise to look into things for you. Still nothing. Now you start to second-guess your performance in the interviews. Did I say something wrong? Offensive? Was I too high energy? Too low energy? Your mind starts spinning.

The reality is that you probably did fine in your interviews. The act of not getting a call back with an action item may have nothing to do with you. Your resume could be in a stack of profiles on the hiring manager’s desk called the “maybe” pile. The hiring manager can’t seem to make a decision if you are a yes or a no. You sit untouched with the other “maybes.”

I spent six years at a large tech company leading hiring committee meetings where candidates were reviewed and the hiring decision made. These meetings lasted one hour and we reviewed anywhere from two to twenty candidates. I will never forget one meeting with a hiring manager and one very senior executive. The hiring manager had a difficult time making decisions and did not trust his instincts. We started to review candidates, and after he put a second candidate into the “maybe” pile, I spoke up.

“You can’t do that,” I said, nervous about the possibility I might get yelled at by the senior executive or the hiring manager. We were on a tight schedule. The room got quiet so I just went on. “If you were dating someone and you weren’t sure about them would you just put them on hold so you could find someone better? No. You would break up with them and have a clean slate to find the right person. Enough with the ‘maybe’ pile. Make a decision.”

The executive looked at me and smiled. “Where did you come from he asked? I love this! I can’t agree with you more. Enough with the “maybe” pile.”

From that meeting on, I had the confidence to tell hiring managers and executives that putting people in the “maybe” pile was likely to give the candidate a bad experience. “Maybe” really means “no for now.” Better to tell a candidate that you don’t have a role for them right now so they can put their energy into finding a job somewhere else. If something changes, you will be in touch but for now, the park is closed.

It is so much easier to turn a “no” into a “yes” than a “yes” into a “no.” Be straight with candidates and let them know where they stand. Companies spend so much money on employment branding and talk about candidate experience being important. In order for a candidate to have a good experience, trust and transparency must exist.

Beth Scheer is Head of Talent at, a seed stage venture fund.

This post originally appeared on Medium.