Behind the Scenes of the Hiring Process

You’ve submitted your resume, and now you’re waiting to hear back, or maybe you’ve interviewed and are still waiting. Many applicants get impatient with how long the hiring process can take, but that is usually because they don’t understand how the hiring process works. By understanding how this process works, you can learn to be a better applicant.

At the desk

Job Post

When a job is initially posted, most people think that the company will not have received many applications yet, and that by getting their application in early, they will stand out to recruiters. While there is some truth to that statement, it is important to realize that many recruiters, especially for big companies in large cities, get hundreds, if not thousands, of applications within the first day of a job being posted.

By getting your application in early, you may beat some applicants, and your resume may be reviewed slightly earlier, but it probably won’t matter in the long run. All that is going to set your application apart is an awesome resume.


When you have filled out the application or submitted your resume, and you are waiting to hear back from human resources, the wait can be agonizing, but it is important to realize that those recruiters are sifting through huge stacks of applications. You should expect to wait a while before you hear back. While you are waiting, here is what human resources is doing:

Most human resources staff will begin by reviewing applications in their computer system. They will review applicants by position, experience, availability, keywords, and many other factors that pertain to specific jobs they are trying to fill. Most of these application programs have filtering options, where recruiters can set certain parameters, such as desired salary, and only view applicants that meet the search criteria. Other applicants will be coded as turned down, and will receive an automated email or letter. Yes, this does mean that your application may be turned down before anyone from the company even sees it.

Recruiters who have been trained to quickly look at applications and tell how good a fit you would be for the company and position then review resumes that pass the filter. The recruiter will be skimming to key points in the application, reviewing your responses. Many applicants are rejected at this point because of some small element of the application that is not a good fit for the job. In retail or food services, for example, one of the largest limiting factors would be scheduling availability, since those jobs require work on nights and weekends.

Many people are eliminated at this point simply because they do not understand the requirements of the job. Other jobs may look at software knowledge, work experience, or any other limiting factor in order to narrow the pile of applications. Most applications get about 30 seconds to two minutes of attention at this point, so again, you may be rejected with very little thought to your application just based off of key information.

If the company does not use an online system, the application review mostly works the same way, but it may be slower, since someone has to read each of the resumes. The recruiter will review resumes to determine whether or not applicants match the job. Only great fits will be set aside to be contacted.

Out of hundreds or thousands of applicants, the recruiter has hopefully narrowed the choices down to a reasonable number, which could be a handful, or it could be up to a hundred more applicants. If you do pass the application part of the process, your resume is set aside, whether that means in a physical file on the recruiter’s desk or in a special folder in the hiring software. Those applicants are then usually contacted by phone by a recruiter or hiring manager.


Did you know that many companies use initial contact with an applicant, as a mini pre-interview? Most of the time, recruiters call and want to ask potential candidates a few questions before recommending them for an interview with the hiring manager. This saves the managers time, and further eliminates choices. Yes, that does mean that the two-minute phone call you had with the recruiter on clarifying your answers and setting up an interview was being judged. If you seem unprofessional or like you have a bad attitude, the recruiter will not set up an interview. Take this as a warning to be professional and pleasant in every conversation you have with employees of the company for which you want to work.

If you pass this initial test, you will be asked to set up a time for an interview. Usually these will be conducted as quickly as possible, but again, you may have to wait if your interviewer is on a business trip or has a full schedule.


When you finally go in for an interview, you can probably expect to wait there, too. Interviews are generally scheduled during the workday, and that means that work demands, such as important phone calls, sometimes push back your interview slot. Sometimes your interviewer forgets, too. Don’t take it personally. The secretary or recruiter will remind your interviewer.

Many companies have applicants interview with several people. These could include the manager the employee would report to, human resources staff, higher-ranking managers and executives, or even the person who is currently doing the job you want. You should expect to do multiple interviews in a day, because this is the most efficient way for the company to complete all interviews with an applicant at once. You will probably be moved from office to office, but sometimes interviewers will come to you.

Do note that the reason you may be waiting in between interviews is that your interviewers are probably talking to each other. They will be discussing how you did on certain questions, whether or not they still think you are a great candidate, or if there were any answers or aspects of your application that worry them. Sometimes, your interviewer will ask specific questions about what a previous interviewer wanted to know, but didn’t get to or didn’t think to ask. Some interviewers will even discuss specific answers, so if you give one example as an answer to a question, make sure it is consistent.

Many companies have interview training to make sure that interviewers are looking for the same qualities in applicants; however, this does not always happen in practice. Your interviews may be completely different, and your answers may be interpreted differently, too.


After your interviews, you may be dismissed, or you may be asked to wait again. Anyone who had contact with you in the hiring process may be looped into the conversation about whether or not to offer you a job. Usually this decision is up to the interviewers.

In the event that the interviewers have mixed opinions, they will deliberate further, and the decision usually goes to the higher-ranking interviewer. They may also choose to bring in a third interviewer to give an opinion. Sometimes, interviewers may ask the opinion of others who have had contact with you, such as the recruiter or secretary who scheduled the interview.

While this person’s opinion usually does not change a hiring decision, it can give interviewers insight into how you act when you feel you aren’t being judged. This means that someone you interacted with in the waiting room may give information on your behavior; so make sure to always give off a professional image. It can be surprising how often a “good feeling” or “bad feeling” about a person can sway an decision-maker who is on the fence for a more important reason, such as a strange answer to an interview question. This is why a great attitude and a smile go a long way in getting a job.


Often, you will have to wait to hear back on the decision of your interview, while interviewers talk to other candidates. Usually the decision on how you did is made very quickly, such as on the day of your interview, but many employers want to talk to multiple candidates before making a final decision.

If your interviewers decide to hire you, be excited, but don’t think that this means you were an outstanding choice. Sometimes it comes down to a narrow difference in applicants, or the employer was undecided on your fit with the company and decided to give you a chance anyway.

Once you are given an offer, keep in mind that it can be rescinded again in the event that you and the employer are unable to come to an agreement, or that you don’t pass a qualifying test, such as a background check. While an offer does indicate that an employer wants to hire you, you should still be on your best behavior and act as professionally as possible.

Your interviewers or human resources representatives may discuss your attitude during the job offer, and it may cause tension if your attitude doesn’t seem great.

Peggy Carouthers

Author: Peggy Carouthers

In a previous life Peggy worked as a human resources and hiring manager for a major national retail chain. Her expertise is in job hunting, hiring, and HR. These days Peggy works as a writer, crafting content for a range of publications.
Peggy Carouthers