A few months ago I met a woman for coffee. She’d contacted me by email, saying that she was a fan of my online writing and that she had a potential freelance opportunity to discuss. I looked up her company—a promising startup here in Seattle that’s received a truly impressive amount of funding to date—and said sure. Why not, right?

In person, she was friendly and engaging and seemed sincerely excited about her new high-level marketing gig with Promising Startup. The company had all sorts of plans for expansion, and they needed lots and lots and lots of copy. She was looking for an accessible, fun voice that would span the entirety of their communications, from product descriptions to error messages and automated emails. I liked the idea of contributing to such a project, and we left on great terms. She was fine with my hourly rate, I knew what she was looking for, I followed up with a detailed email confirming my interest and putting some estimates together. She’d told me she was hoping to get started as soon as possible, so I fully expected to hear back from her that evening.

I waited a week, then sent another email. You know, one of those awkward “Oh hiiiiii, just making sure this didn’t disappear into the ether” messages. Another week or so went by, and lacking her phone number, I reached out to her on Twitter. She was super apologetic, said she’d been swamped and was traveling, but I’d hear back from her that night for sure.

Needless to say, I never heard from her again.

So, you tell me: what was that all about? I mean, really, if you have any ideas I’d love to hear them, because it was one of those things that just about drove me crazy for a solid month. I went from feeling like Queen Shit of Turd Mountain—that this marketing exec would be so into my writing she was practically ready to hire me for a lucrative contract on the spot!—to being convinced I was utterly talentless, a low-rent hack not even worthy of an explanation email.

Obviously, I shouldn’t have taken it so personally, but it was just so weird. Like a blind date that I thought was going fantastically … while all the while, the guy was plotting how to ditch me in the bathroom. Why the meeting in the first place? Why the total lack of communication afterwards? What happened, and how much of it was my fault?


48 Responses to “The mystery of the lost job that maybe never existed”

  1. parodie on November 29th, 2011 9:44 pm

    I would guess that for whatever reason, she decided not to hire you, and then didn’t know how to communicate it (lack of experience, lack of time, lack of professionalism..).

    Sorry. That sucks.

  2. Rachel on November 29th, 2011 9:49 pm

    Maybe she’s just a flake who has a hard time managing things like returning phone calls. Maybe her bosses had someone else in mind for the position for some reason of their own, or maybe she had to pick between two awesome writers and didn’t know how to tell you that she picked the other one. Maybe the other one could be talked into working cheaper because s/he wasn’t as good. It’s certainly not because of any lack of talent on your part.

  3. LizScott on November 29th, 2011 9:51 pm

    I bet you anything that she overestimated her ability to contract out, realized once she got settled she didn’t have budget and/or authority to do so, and was embarrassed and chose to just ignore the situation vs. tell you what was up.

    This happens to me once in awhile — I get the go ahead from bosses to explore a solution via vendor, and then something in the wind changes and for whatever reason the money goes away, and I have to go back and be all “Uhh, thanks for your time, my bad.” It sucks, I feel like a douche, but I had to learn to sack up and actually communicate that, in the hopes that should money come back around, I can start the process again. She obviously has not learned how to do this :( Amateur mistake on her part, and super shitty. Sorry lady :(

  4. Lindsay on November 29th, 2011 9:55 pm

    Similar thing happened to me earlier this year during my unemployment! I left the meeting feeling confident and ready to work. This company strung me along and in the end, didn’t have everything together. I’m guessing that’s what happened here – ideally, they’d love to bring you on board, but they have other stuff to do and aren’t ready for it all. But honestly, how hard is it to send a brief “I’ll get back to you next week” email? Sounds like you did everything you could do on your end – be thankful you didn’t invest any additional time!

  5. kali on November 29th, 2011 9:58 pm

    How much was your fault? in a word, NONE.

  6. Pete on November 29th, 2011 9:59 pm

    You never know, I got a gig after a month of not hearing from them. Then again I am more familiar with the ‘never hear from then again’

  7. Alli on November 29th, 2011 10:00 pm

    Maybe she really doesn’t know yet. In this economy, I know I’ve had to string my writers along a LOT longer than I’d like just because projects get frozen for budget reasons and I am waiting to hear what the plan is (for my job as well as theirs!). Though I do try to be as open as possible with them because I know it sucks.

    Maybe she misrepresented her own position and influence (pitching a job she’d LIKE to handle instead of one she’s actually responsible for) as part of her own professional growth scheme.

    Maybe she hired someone else.

    Regardless, it doesn’t sound like you did anything at all wrong. Even if she chose another writer, [I personally feel] she owes you a nice “thanks, but no thanks” email. I think that’s the minimum requirement that is professional, polite, and kind.

    I’m so sorry it hasn’t come together, but don’t let someone else’s bad manners undermine your confidence.

  8. Kate on November 29th, 2011 10:05 pm

    Totally agree with @LizScott. I bet she thought she had a lot more autonomy or budget to hire for the position than she actually did. And instead if doing the grown up thing and telling you – she just flaked out. I’ve also seen this situation happen before. It’s an awful, cowardly, borderline unethical way to handle a change in the business that impacts the hiring manager’s ability to fill the position.

  9. Faith on November 29th, 2011 10:06 pm

    All of the above, plus a high five, because those always make me feel better.

  10. sooboo on November 29th, 2011 10:08 pm

    As a freelancer for 6 years, I have had more meetings not go through than go through. People often fall off the face of the earth only to sometimes, spring back in a few months or longer. Then I get to decide if I want to risk working with them. It has made me value the good working relationships I have cultivated. I wonder if you’ll hear back now…

  11. Melissa on November 29th, 2011 10:26 pm

    She’s too embarrassed to contact you. For whatever reason she wasn’t able to offer you the position and because she’s such a big fan of yours and because you had such a great face to face, she’s too embarrassed to let you know things didn’t work out.

    Don’t take it personally. Some people are just passive aggressive like that. Shitty for you, but look at it it like this. She liked your writing so much she wanted to meet you in person. Then she wanted to offer you a job. And if she’d had the means, she would have done it on the spot.

  12. Cally on November 29th, 2011 10:34 pm

    I agree with the previous posters. I think it’s likely she overestimated her ability to hire you, or perhaps did end up hiring someone else for whatever reason, and just can’t figure out how to tell you. It sucks she can’t man up and lay it out for you- clearly knowing is better than what went down- but try not to blame yourself. It likely had very little to do with you or your talent. (I know, easier said than done.)

  13. Linda on November 29th, 2011 10:44 pm

    Oddly, it was this blog post that finally prompted an apologetic explanation from her. Wasn’t my intent, but I’ll take it, because knowing (she was asked to hire someone else) is certainly better than not knowing.

    Ah well. No hard feelings, I guess. Now I’ve learned something about myself: I’ll never avoid the uncomfortable conversation, if I’m in that position someday. It’s just part of the job, like anything else.

  14. Lisa Belt on November 29th, 2011 11:24 pm

    Hm. Well, even before the tardy apology, my mind was made up. NEVER think it’s *you* if the other person drops their end of the communication. It’s always *them* in that situation. Not getting back to someone is the worst sort of careless unprofessionalism, not to mention just plain rude. Even if your work was crap (which it isn’t, OF COURSE) you deserve a follow up in a case like this. She is a disservice to her Promising Startup.
    (Dammit, now I’m all riled up!)

  15. Becky on November 29th, 2011 11:31 pm

    I had a similar thing happen to me in 2009. I was unemployed and trying to find freelance work so I could stay home. I landed a contract on Elance to do photo editing for some guy – I don’t even really remember what it was for. Real estate maybe? Anyway, it was supposed to be the equivalent of about $400 a week worth of projects, and I waited a month before my first project came. And then I got a total of 3 projects ($10 a project), and he eventually “fired” me because I was being too pushy. All I was doing was inquiring when the hell I was actually going to get some work (though I did word my emails very professionally).
    I think, sometimes, that the people offering freelance jobs don’t actually have their shit together before they start trying to find a contractor to do the work.

  16. Amber on November 29th, 2011 11:45 pm

    I’ve had this sort of thing happen a few times and it’s the WORST. I’ve adopted all sorts of mantra-ish coping mechanisms, like “if it doesn’t work out, it’s not meant to be” and “SOMETHING BETTER IS COMING.” Oprah-style voodoo or not, it’s always worked out that way. (Even if “worked out that way” was a while in coming.)

    It sounds like you did absolutely everything right. And something better IS coming.

  17. Daisy on November 30th, 2011 4:29 am

    In my experience, anyone THAT flaky from the get-go is next to IMPOSSIBLE to get in touch with when it’s time to get paid. Probably a blessing in disguise that you didn’t do a ton of freelance work, only to have to hound them relentlessly just to get your money.

  18. Katharine on November 30th, 2011 4:58 am

    It’s a good thing everybody above had such good suggestions, and that you’ve already heard from this lady, because I didn’t have any advice, just a story to share.

    In August I applied to teach yoga at a personal training studio through an ad on craigslist. I e-mailed back and forth with someone and she said she was definitely interested in bringing me in for an interview. We were on the point of scheduling that interview, and I called the studio and left a voice mail – I know that scheduling something over e-mail is about ten times as time-consuming as having a phone conversation. Suddenly, boom, dropped like a rock. No responses to my e-mails, to that voice mail, nothing. Never heard from them since.

    The craigslist ad had said no phone calls, but I figured that was for people who were not already asked to interview, and that it was just more efficient for me to call at that point in the process. But maybe that phone call offended them so badly that that’s why I never heard back. What’s more likely, according to this great comment thread, is that it had nothing to do with me at all.

  19. Sarah on November 30th, 2011 5:39 am

    I got passed over for a job that was literally the identical twin to the job I have now, just with a different company. The woman who did the hiring phoned to set up an interview and we had a mildly weird conversation- and within 20 minutes of hanging out from that conversation she phoned to say she couldn’t make the interview that afternoon after all and could we reschedule? And I never heard from her again. I still wonder what happened, I was the perfect candidate for that job on paper- and she never gave it a chance to meet me and then make up her mind!

  20. Jessamyn on November 30th, 2011 5:47 am

    I’m so glad you heard from her. I was going to say, like the others, that NO part of it was you, so I’m glad she’s basically confirmed that. And I was also going to tell Geoff’s weird story, where he went to a conference, worked with another music director there – a man at a huge church near NYC who he’d met at previous year’s conferences; they got along famously, and at the end of the week, this man asked Geoff to apply for the job of associate music minister at that huge church. We weren’t even looking, but the opportunity sounded exciting – they were even going to buy a condo/home for us to live in (since otherwise on his salary we would never be able to afford to live anywhere near the church). They flew Geoff to NYC for an interview, paid for him to stay overnight, took him to dinner after his audition & interview, told him he’d hear from them soon. HE NEVER HEARD FROM THEM AGAIN. Not your same story, but I just…I was consumed with “Why?” He could have just emailed and said he was sorry but that they were going with someone else; or someone else at the church could have. People are so strange sometimes, and like you, I decided if I ever were in a position to have that uncomfortable conversation, then well – at the very least, I’d send an email. :)

  21. jonniker on November 30th, 2011 6:49 am

    Oh I’m GLAD you heard from her. I’d say this happens to me around 25% of the time, actually, and it’s almost always something like what you went through, or what Liz said. It’s almost NEVER your fault, particularly if they were so into you in the first place.

    A few times I’ve had stuff like this fall through and then much later — sometimes up to a YEAR — I suddenly hear from them for a new project. Making contacts like that is always good, even if sometimes it blows at the beginning.

  22. jen on November 30th, 2011 7:11 am

    I’m very happy you finally received an explanation. It’s truly a lack of professionalism and common courtesy on her part to not say the minimum “Hey, you are a really great, qualified candidate but we decided to go a different direction. So sorry, best of luck to you.” I mean how hard is that? I think you dodged a bullet. Truly. Who would want to work for someone who can’t even follow up with a simple phone call?

  23. Lauren on November 30th, 2011 7:18 am

    The same thing happened to me once. The gig was big and a sure enough sure thing that I actually turned down a lucrative ongoing job from one of my regular clients, and then of course I never heard from him again, in spite of several polite follow ups, including one final note saying I totally understood if things weren’t going to work out but I’d love to hear either way so I could schedule other work. And … nothing. Now I’m stuck wondering what happened AND kicking myself for turning down other work.

  24. annie on November 30th, 2011 7:32 am

    I was gonna guess that she’s a crazed super-fan and she wanted to meet you so that she could follow you home. She hasn’t emailed because she’s camped out in your bushes, waiting to make herself a mask out of your back-skin! But yeah, your explanation is probably more plausible.

  25. Maggie on November 30th, 2011 8:09 am

    This happened to my husband when he was looking for a new job. They had him come back for 3 interviews and then he never heard from them and it turned out to be the money. They seemed fine with the amount in the beginning, but HR was definitely not fine with it and they didn’t have the guts to tell him until he really pushed them on it. They were saying things like “You aren’t really a good fit”, but why would they have him in 3 times and meeting all kinds of big whigs if that truly were the case.

    Anyway, it sounds like you may have had some closure to the situation. I think your writing is awesome and many times I feel like you are pulling stuff right out of my head, but much more articulately. So, even if you weren’t a good fit for her, so many of us think you are amazing.

  26. cagey on November 30th, 2011 8:12 am

    Ugh. How unprofessional!

    I was going to chime in with a bit about how entrepreneurial/startup plans can and usually will, change on a dime (I’ve been living with an Entrepreneur for 11 years, I can barely get a commitment for Christmas! I was convinced that with both pregnancies, I’d be birthin’ alone. Since our honeymoon consisted of meandering through White Mountains of New Hampshire looking for cell service to solve a business crisis, foreshadowing smacked me upside the head. Therefore, I have no hard feelings.:-)

    However, per your response, that gal just flaked. Seriously, not cool.

  27. Margaret on November 30th, 2011 8:40 am

    I had a similar disorienting situation happen to me, but at least I wasn’t left on the hook so long. In the end, I got a phone call from the interviewer explaining that while she thought she had the authority to hire me, she actually didn’t. Ouch. Takes a lot of guts to say that without rancor, especially when you think your bosses are acting stupidly. Though she didn’t say it outright, it was clear to me that not hiring me had become a power struggle. Her boss (a male) was not going to hire me simply because she brought me to his attention. (I also had a little inside knowledge about the company, so I was able to piece this all together. The gender dynamics were poisonous in parts of that company.)

    Needless to say, I never got any work from them. And my interviewee left the company after 6 months for a better position at their competition. All in all, I feel I escaped a very bad job (much as I would have loved to work with my interviewer).

    It is a very difficult conversation to have, especially if the interviewer must handle a prickly boss in a political situation. I’m glad your situation was resolved (for both your sakes’).

    One of my main tasks when being interviewed for a gig is to try to determine if the interviewer actually has the power to hire me. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. The worst situation is when they think that they do, but they actually do not.

  28. Linda on November 30th, 2011 8:51 am

    Jonniker, I’m surprised to hear it happens so often to you, and I’m even more surprised you’re willing to work with them later. For me, working remotely means open communication is mission-critical — if someone disappeared on me once, I’d be forever leery. (Like when it’s time to get an invoice paid, for instance.)

    Interesting to hear all these stories! Man, let’s form am awesome company where we make awesome things and treat each other super-awesome all the time. Also, there will be freshly-baked cookies in the snack room.

  29. Karen on November 30th, 2011 9:04 am

    Aww, now I feel bad for this lady, knowing that she’s reading all these comments. For the record, I am a total discomfort-avoider and rejecting anyone in any way makes me want to die, so this is something I totally would have done as well.

  30. Dana on November 30th, 2011 9:13 am

    This is great. I have a story too!

    I once had 4 phone interviews for a job. I am in NJ and the business was based out of FL so I had to have conference call interviews with, what seems like, every person in company. (“Ok, now your position there is…? Oh, you clean the office at night. Got it! Ok, what are your questions? Do I keep a tidy desk? Yes. Yes I do.”)

    Then, the owner, his son, and his daughter in law all flew in to NJ to meet with me. We met at a nice restaurant and everyone ordered apps, dinner and then dessert (not me, though, like I needed to have spinach caught in my teeth during a job interview; I stuck with diet coke) and we chatted the night away. I even started looking at some paperwork that I would be dealing with and making some decisions for them!

    It ended with me being told that I would be receiving the offer letter within a week or two and would begin the job in January.

    It’s December. I’m still waiting for that offer letter.

    I should have ordered the filet mignon.

  31. Mary on November 30th, 2011 9:24 am

    Sure, it can be uncomfortable, but contractors are used to landing some jobs and not others–so maybe it’s a bummer, but if it doesn’t work out for whatever reason, we can take it. What’s difficult (for me, anyway) is the limbo of not knowing what’s up–we plan our finances, childcare, and re-arrange other jobs depending on the yes or no answer, so having a “things changed; I’m sorry but it isn’t going to work out after all” is far preferable to not knowing. Even if someone says “I’ll get back to you by Tuesday” then they have to call on Tuesday and say “I’m so sorry to do this, but we just need more time” (which I totally understand happens) at least communicates that they’re considerate, do what they say they will and respect your position.

  32. Linda on November 30th, 2011 9:43 am

    Totally, Mary. I don’t mean to make this woman feel bad, but I agree 100%. I’m used to getting passed by for gigs, it happens all the time. But keeping someone in limbo to avoid your own discomfort is the worst possible choice — Karen, just look at some of the stories in here!

  33. MRW on November 30th, 2011 9:53 am

    Well your situation has been addressed, so there is no need for my story, but that’s never stopped me from gassing on before!

    A friend of mine was a fairly big cheese at a large company I wanted to work for. Even though I had a job, he strongly encouraged me to apply with his company so I did. It was all rave rave rave and then nothing. A year after I applied the company called, interviewed me, and offered me a job. Once I was there I asked what the hell happened and was told that around the time I applied they had a big change over in HR and basically my application was buried/stuck/lost. If my friend hadn’t brought me up to the new HR person almost a year later my application never would have resurfaced. I was surprised that a large multinational company could screw up HR so badly (I’m not anymore, but that’s a comment for another day…)

  34. NancyJ on November 30th, 2011 10:32 am

    It’s pretty much what we go through on a daily basis in our remodeling business!
    Meet the people; have them go on and on about their project; they love your work, etc; put all the numbers together; present them with the proposal and NOTHING. Not a call, not a note….even give them a call back or an email THEY IGNORE US. At that point, we don’t want to work for them even if they did say yes!

  35. Tammy on November 30th, 2011 10:59 am

    I’m not a freelancer but I am an unemployed person who has been actively seeking employment since I was laid off 2 years ago.

    I am personally grossed out by the complete lack of courtesy shown to job applicants. I’m not sure what’s going on that they can’t shoot a two second email to say ‘hey, were going in a different direction’ or whatever. It’s soul destroying.

    Just recently I received an email requesting a phone interview for a position that I was pretty excited about. I replied immediately telling them I would love to discuss further, fairly flexible, let me know etc etc. Haven’t heard a word since. It’s just plain rude.

  36. Sunny on November 30th, 2011 11:18 am

    Her CEO gave her a directive or free reign and then changed his/her mind or had a different resource in mind but didn’t let her know.

    Ask me how I know…. It’s happened to me about a dozen times in the past 6 months.

    Granted, she *should* have been up front about what happened and reached out to you to give you an update. Sometimes getting stuck in the middle is hard (and embarrassing for everyone involved).

  37. Karen on November 30th, 2011 11:43 am

    Oh, I totally get that it’s not a great habit, and leaving people in professional limbo sucks. I just…relate to the chicken-shittery of it all. Glad your mystery was solved!

  38. Lisa on November 30th, 2011 12:48 pm

    I’m a freelance photographer and designer and spent the first few years freelancing sort of desperately chasing these types of opportunities. It is pretty frustrating when you meet up with someone about a gig and it seems golden and then it’s suddenly not. I’ve had the exact same thing happen to me several times.

    What someone said earlier about previously dead ends randomly resurfacing years later is a very good point. I talked with another local graphic designer about doing some work for him early in my freelancing career, but it never panned out- either there wasn’t enough work to spare to kick any my way, or the project ended, or any number of things. I’d pretty much written off working with him entirely- I mean, he’s a good guy, but he just didn’t have any work for me- when I got an e-mail from him telling me about an in-house gig one of his clients was looking for a freelancer to fill. They wanted him for the job, but he didn’t want to work in house. I didn’t mind doing that, so I contacted them. They pretty much hired me with just the most cursory of interviews, because they trusted this guy’s judgment.

    Three years later, I’m still working for that company. They’ve given me more and more hours as the years have passed and might offer me a full time position next year. It’s one of our city’s largest employers and I’m making more money than I ever dreamed I could make doing something I really enjoy. So ya just never know!

  39. Anne on November 30th, 2011 1:38 pm

    I love that your post prompted a response from her!! I kind of wondered, as I was reading, if that was your ulterior motive in the first place and I was going to give you a B+ for BALLSY. Love it!

  40. Livi on November 30th, 2011 2:41 pm

    She probably wasn’t given the budget she expected & rudely didn’t reply because she’s an ass.

  41. marna - jwoap-oregongurl on November 30th, 2011 5:44 pm

    If she were professional about it she would have communicated with you and said “I am sorry I need more time.” or “You know I’m just not that into you.” Leaving you hanging blows and it’s not cool.

  42. kimbo on November 30th, 2011 6:10 pm

    It’s great to hear these stories. It’s helpful to learn that these things happen to many people, and we should remember not to take it personally. It’s also nice to learn about some of the positive outcomes that might eventually follow even what appeared to be a negative situation.

    And Tammy, I completely agree about the disrespect shown to the job-seeking unemployed: what’s so hard about having some kind of form letter just to ACKKNOWLEDGE receipt of an application & update about its status, even if it’s a “thanks but no thanks” kind of thing? It IS disgusting.

  43. Amy on November 30th, 2011 6:56 pm

    wow, this has happened to me so many times it wouldn’t even occur to me to ask why. count yourself lucky that it’s not part of your near-daily life. but yeah, there are hordes of people who “hate confrontation”, even when “confrontation” just means basic professionalism.

  44. Her Ladyship on November 30th, 2011 9:53 pm

    Just to add in here: the minute I read that she was genuinely excited about her new gig, I thought, ding, that’s it. She came into a job, thought she’d have a lot of flexibility/autonomy/what have you, and it didn’t work out. She should have sent an email backing out gracefully but it sounds like it was 500% on her end. For what it’s worth.

  45. Marci on December 1st, 2011 10:20 am

    In my position, I supervise & hire 2 PT people, most often Library grad students. Each time I hire someone new, I always let all candidates know that I’ve made my decision, thanks for applying. I always get a bunch of people responding to say: “Wow! I can’t believe you emailed me to tell me that! Thank you!!”
    I always keep that in mind & I’m really always floored that it isn’t the norm.

  46. Mary on December 1st, 2011 8:17 pm

    I do interviewing for my company on occasion, and it always made me mad that we never sent any kind of no thank you to the people we weren’t hiring. Last year I wrote them and sent them out myself, and I was kind of surprised at the response. Some people appreciated knowing, but a number were angry, and demanded to know WHY NOT? I understand asking politely, to help you do better in future, but these were not polite.

    I still think it’s better to know, though, even though that’s a hard conversation to have.

  47. Becky on December 1st, 2011 8:38 pm

    I interviewed with a large company, and even flew out to interview with them. I got home and… Absolutely nothing. Not from the HR person nor the hiring manager even after multiple follow ups. So frustrating. I still don’t know what happened, except that the position was cancelled. But a quick call about it would have been nice.

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