Time passes differently for job seekers.

The interminable wait to hear about an application must be pushed to the back of the mind, replaced by enthusiasm for the next opportunity. But then the waiting starts all over again.

But what is happening while you are waiting to get an answer?

Sometimes you don’t hear back at all, but still don’t know what has transpired.

Knowing more about what happens after you apply will help you when putting applications together. Thinking more about what recruiters are doing, and what they’re looking for, will help you bring an end to all that waiting.

It will also give you peace of mind when wondering why it is taking recruiters so long to get back to you

Here is our guide to the process behind your applications, from screening to interview to eventual offers (and rejections).

Step 1/ Screening and reading

What is screening?

The first step in the hiring process after the job has been posted is to screen incoming job applications. 

Some firms only start the screening process after the deadline, but many do it as soon as applications start coming in, especially if they use an automated system. 

Therefore, it doesn’t benefit you to wait until the deadline to apply. Getting a good application in early can help position you as a leading candidate.

We have put together some advice on how to write a great CV and cover letter.

How does this process work?

How this is done, the time it takes, and the number of applicants selected to go on to the next step varies. Some companies use computer programs that scan your CV and cover letter automatically looking for specific keywords. While others will have a human read everything quickly. 

Screeners usually spend less than 20 seconds looking at a resume and cover letter in this first phase, so it’s important to have a strong opening statement and demonstrate clearly what makes you the best fit for a position.

Some companies could also ask you to take an online assessment, which may have been part of the original application, or may be sent out after this first screening phase.

How long does it take?

This process alone could take weeks, so don’t stress if you haven’t heard anything back after just a couple of days. Indeed, the fact that this process is so long should give you even more reason to write clearly.

Your aim should be to satisfy the reader’s desire to find out if you are a) a good candidate or b) not a good candidate in the first 20 seconds of reading. They will not like it if it takes too long for them to find out!

Step 2/ Phone interviews (second screening)

What’s happening now?

After the initial screening process the HR department will narrow down the applicants who will be invited for a first stage interview. 

This second step is a more thorough version of the initial screening, and usually no more than 20 candidates are sent through to the next stage.

Why phone interviews?

Phone interviews may be used to get deeper information about a candidate's background, personality, skill set, and experience to help determine if the person is a strong fit.

For preparation, check out our guide to sailing through phone interviews

For that reason there is no limit to what you may be asked here. You should be prepared to answer any question about your application (and even things you didn’t mention in your CV and cover letter). 

Candidates will be evaluated on their communication skills, so be sure to give a good account of yourself.

Should I always expect a phone call?

Not every company does phone interviews. Some may call you in for a face-to-face interview without ever having spoken to you before. 

Some may simply read your application in more depth to create a shortlist, without you being aware you’ve made it through to a “second round”.

After this process, the HR team and the hiring manager will go through the (shorter) list of candidates to decide who will be invited to the face-to-face interviews.

Step 3/ Face-to-face interviews and assessments

Does this mean I am close to getting the job?

If you have already completed a phone interview or first stage face-to-face interview and are invited to a second one, then you are among the final candidates for the position.

This interview differs widely across companies, industries, and sectors. 

Some firms mainly care about how you will fit in the company and try to get an understanding of the type of person you are. Others will test your knowledge and skills once again during an interview that may last for over 2 hours, with different managers.

How do I ace it?

When you are invited to this interview stage go through what you felt could have gone better during your previous interview and try to address any concerns that the company might have. 

You are already one of their top choices, but your competition is as well.

Be sure to come prepared by researching common interview questions, less common interview questions, and the importance of body language during a job interview.

How many face-to-face interviews will there be?

Assessment centres are also a popular method for companies to gauge potential employees’ abilities, as they have been shown to have a strong correlation to future job performance. So you may be invited to take further tests.

With competitive industries and sought-after positions, expect to be invited to multiple face-to-face interviews.

Step 4/ Job offers and rejections

What happens once the interviews are over?

At most firms, once interviews are done, hiring managers will convene with colleagues who met the finalists to get their opinions on who should get an offer. 

The final call is usually with the hiring manager, and, with all other things being equal, the choice will come down to personal fit and level of enthusiasm.

After a decision has been made, the company immediately contacts the top choice to make a job offer. If it is accepted the paperwork will be prepared.

For you, this is the moment you accept the job. Unless the position is not right for you, or have a better alternative – then we recommend you inform the hiring manager in the right way.

When will I know if I don’t get the job?

Only after the final candidate has officially been hired will the other finalists be notified that they were not chosen.

So don’t give up until you hear back.

This is not always the case, but more often than not the final choice will be made in the immediate days following the final interviews. So when companies tell you that they will let you know in a couple of weeks, and you haven’t heard anything back in less than 5 weeks, then you should be realistic and assume that you were not chosen, and not informed.

Feel free to get in touch with the company after the deadline they gave you has passed.

And after I accept?

Once you’ve accepted the opportunity, or at least indicated that you are still interested, a formal offer in the form of a contract will be sent to you. This, again, can take some time. So be patient.

After receiving the formal offer, you might want to consider negotiating.