A recruiter goes out of their way to message you and tell you what a great fit you’d be for an open role. It sounds promising, and you take the interview. After a few rounds, it seems like the hiring managers are eager to move forward — when suddenly, you’re told they need “a little more time.”
These things do take time, though. You can wait! After multiple weeks of this waiting, however — punctuated with responses from the hiring managers that sound just as encouraging as they do vague — you’re forced to accept that this role doesn’t seem to be going anywhere after all. You’ve been breadcrumbed.
Breadcrumbing is the practice of giving someone just enough of what they need in a given situation — including just enough reason to hope — to ensure that they’ll stick around. And increasingly, job seekers are on the receiving end of this.
Donna Macdonald, an FGB VIP, called the practice “one of the out-growths of companies looking for candidates and having there be too many available, like a buyer’s market in real estate.”
“It is reminiscent of waiting for the best offer for a date on Saturday night, so you keep the less desirable candidates interested ‘just in case,’” she wrote in a post on FGB. “It's not nice in dating or hiring.”
Kimberly Moon, also an FGB VIP, shared that she was breadcrumbed just recently.
“This also happened to me,” she wrote. “I interviewed for two months for a position and was told I was going to receive an offer and was given a very informal verbal offer. I waited. Suddenly, they needed to check references urgently, and that was the ‘final’ step. The references checked out and I was assured an offer was forthcoming. Then I just stopped getting responses.”
Eventually, the company got back to let her know they were “still interviewing other candidates” and that the former verbal offer was just a “technicality.” Then COVID happened, and after weeks of Moon attempting to get in touch, the company ultimately told her the job “was on an indefinite hold.”
So, why do hiring managers and recruiters do this?
Breadcrumbing candidates doesn’t exactly make for great PR for a company, and you’d think it would be heavily discouraged or even prohibited by any HR department. Why, then, is the practice of breadcrumbing so common? We asked hiring managers this very question — here’s how they explained it.
1. They’d love to hire you. They’re just not sure for what role yet.
“I think sometimes you find someone who’s just all round a good person for your company, but you aren’t sure where they would fit or a position is not open for them,” Ethan Taub, CEO of Loanry, said. “I try not to string people along. I use a more direct approach. I will tell them that I think they would fit really well into the company, I’m just not sure how yet… I think that it is important not to string people along, but I also think that if you have found the right person for your company, do not let go too quickly.'
2. The hiring manager thinks they may need to fill a role soon.
“I have kept a potential candidate invested for a longer period than normal, but it wasn't to string them along,” Anthony Mixides, CEO and Founder of The London Vape Company, said. “I had heard there was a staff member thinking of leaving their position but, as this hadn't been made official, I was unable to disclose this information to them. The candidate in question was highly skilled, though, and perfect for the job position, so I didn't want to lose them to another company if my hunch was correct.”
Mixides added that, thankfully, he ultimately was able to offer the candidate a position later that month. But he still didn’t feel great about having kept them waiting.
“I didn't feel comfortable leaving them waiting so long because I know how it feels personally to be kept waiting to hear something so important,” he said. “I do hope I am not in that situation ever again.”
3. The hiring manager isn’t convinced they’ve spoken to enough candidates.
“I've absolutely breadcrumbed candidates before,” Neal Taparia, CEO of Solitaired, said. “We always try to have a number of good candidates to compare. It's hard to assess someone if you don't have a good comparison point. Oftentimes though, it's not easy to get a strong pool of qualified candidates to choose from. In these cases, we'd often drag along the interview process. This happens especially with mid-level to senior roles, where we want to be patient and make the right decision.”
4. The hiring manager wants to hire you, but is worried that you’re too expensive.
“While I don’t like stringing candidates along, I have to remind myself that going over budget on hiring doesn’t only affect me as an owner, but has the potential to affect all of the stakeholders in my company,” Zach Reece, COO of Colony Roofers, LLC, said. “If I poorly manage our cash flow and expenses, I’m risking the well-being of all of these folks. In instances when I’ve ‘strung someone along’ to buy time, I’ve tried to be upfront with them about my excitement and the situation I am in as a business owner.”
5. The hiring manager is prioritizing referrals before bringing on an external hire.
“(There’s been) an explosion of referrals,” Dr. Vikram Tarugu, CEO of Detox of South Florida, said. “Recruiters are also advised to prioritize referrals, and even though you had a nice chat on the phone or in person, the recruiter may then offer preference to an internal referral.”
6. The company you’re interviewing with is extremely disorganized.
“You could also have the case of a company being really disorganized,” Eddie Bravo, a hiring manager at Best Lawsuit Loans LLC, said. “I used to work at another company and we would interview candidates multiple times because the company was really disorganized and they wouldn't keep track of who they had interviewed and who they had rejected. So this would lead to a candidate being interviewed multiple times.”
7. The industry you’re interviewing within subscribes to a longer hiring timeline in general.
“It's important for folks to understand the industry they're in may court a wildly different interview timeline,” Ty Stewart, CEO & President of Simple Life Insure, said. “For example, government and energy positions average one to three months just to clear the application and interview rounds, whereas something like a marketing or sales role could be as little as two weeks. My own field of insurance averages somewhere in the middle, around 20 days to clear the interview process, according to data from Glassdoor. Understanding the averages in your industry helps you feel a little less antsy, especially if you're changing fields.”
8. HR is forcing the hiring manager to complete or repeat certain steps.
“Within every large organization there are often established hiring processes, and they are frequently misunderstood or poorly communicated,” Adam Sanders, Founder and Director of Successful Release, said. “Hiring managers will often skip or overlook important parts of the process that HR will force them to circle back and complete. This can mean restarting the process completely, bringing in an expanded candidate pool, or cancelling the job requisitions completely. Any of these options creates a lot of uncertainty for the candidates and feels like ‘breadcrumbing.’”
9. Leaders at the company aren’t sure this is a role they actually want or need to fill.
“I've worked at places that are a lot more loosey-goosey where at the last minute they decided they didn't need the role, or they wanted a different role, or to promote someone internally, or to hold off until X happened before they pulled the trigger,” an anonymous FGB’er shared. “I've been the hiring manager in that situation, and it was news to me as much as it was to the candidates that I had to put the job on hold or pull it. “