Q: Five months ago, I applied for a higher-level position in news media with another employer. The interview went well, and I was received with enthusiasm. In the weeks that followed, I contacted my interviewer to confirm the company had received my work samples and recommendations as requested. Again, I received much praise and interest.

I have initiated contact two more times. Apologies were made, with the delay attributed to the election, the holidays and the inauguration, but I was again strongly encouraged to continue to wait for corporate approval.

Waiting for this position has me in a holding pattern and has kept me from moving forward. Is there a general time one should reasonably wait to be hired? How can I better navigate this situation?

A: There isn’t really a one-size-fits-all length of time to wait for a job offer. The higher and better paying the position, and the more rarely it becomes available, the more deliberate employers tend to be about hiring, and the longer it may take for them to get approval.

That said, five months does seem like a long time, especially if you’re offering the kind of skills a media company could have used during an intense news-generating period.

And then there’s the coronavirus pandemic, which has had devastating effects on employers across industries. According to staffing firm Robert Half, about a third of senior managers say they’re taking longer to make hiring decisions than they did pre-pandemic. Many are stringing candidates along and drawing out the hiring process as long as possible before making a decision, a practice known as “breadcrumbing.”

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The concept of breadcrumbing is most commonly used in online dating, or in describing how narcissists keep targets in their thrall, but it applies in employment situations as well. The motive for breadcrumbing in an employment context is usually more business-driven than personal, of course, but that doesn’t leave job seekers any less confused or insecure.

Some of these delays are due to financial uncertainty, according to Josh Howarth, Robert Half’s Mid-Atlantic district president. Managers may not be able to count on having a budget for the positions they’re hoping to fill, so they pull in candidates while trying to line up funding to hire them.

And some employers may just be biding their time and waiting for the perfect candidate while they keep runners-up on standby. With unemployment numbers high in many sectors, employers “see there’s a lot of options out there,” says Howarth, so they “feel like they’re in the driver’s seat.”

That’s a risky gambit, though. Not all markets are tilted in the employer’s favor; employers in some cities, such as Washington, D.C., are hiring just as quickly now as they were before the pandemic. And Robert Half estimates 62% of job candidates will lose interest in a job if they don’t hear back from the employer within two weeks after the initial interview. In other words, rather than stick around for crumbs, that bird-in-hand may fly off to beat the bushes elsewhere.

As for you, Reader, it’s encouraging that your prospective employer is responding to your queries, although it would be a better sign if they were the ones taking the initiative to stay in touch with you. Is your would-be employer scrambling to secure funding and approvals behind the scenes, or just not that into you? Neither of those possibilities makes this sound like a stable or rewarding place to work. But what other choices do you have?

That’s not a rhetorical question. Are you investigating other openings and touching base with people in your network to let them know you’re open to something new? Or are you putting off other opportunities because you’re holding out hope that this one will come through, and you want to prove your dedication?

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A dream job may be worth keeping the flame of hope alive, but a few additional irons in the fire can provide some extra leverage. Having multiple offers in hand makes it clear you’re in demand, which could encourage a crumb-casting employer to pick up the pace — and maybe even cough up some real bread. More important, exploring multiple options will keep you from being blinded to new, potentially more fulfilling alternatives.

In any case, Murphy’s Law and my inbox suggest that the “dream job” will come knocking as soon as you’ve secured something else. So if you do receive another offer, be sure to let the original hiring manager know you’re considering it — partly as a courtesy, but mostly to help you forestall any regrets before you commit to the new path.

Karla L. Miller offers advice on surviving the ups and downs of the modern workplace. (Courtesy of The Washington Post)