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Why Follow-up is Critical to Job Search Success

Why Follow-up is Critical to Job Search Success

June 27, 2019
Submitted By Celia Stangarone

Looking for a new job? Thinking about starting a new career? The amount of time and effort required to move from one job to another cannot be underestimated. Applying online, networking and interviewing take time and energy, if you are doing them right. While each stage of the job search has its own unique challenges, the most often forgotten and under-utilized tool for job candidates is a memorable and meaningful follow-up with the people involved.

Preparing for and performing during an interview is a waste of time, if you don’t make the effort to follow-up afterwards. Networking is the best way to find a new job, but only if you nurture your network. Following-up is not easy if you don’t have a starting place, or you aren’t sure what is appropriate for the situation—maybe that’s why people skip this essential step so often.

If you aren’t following up with contacts, hiring managers, recruiters, and other interviewers, you’re missing opportunities to set yourself apart from other job candidates and professionals. Following-up has the power to open many doors and it’s an effective way to make the most of every new introduction or meeting—if that follow-up is timely and relevant.

In The 20 Minute Networking Meeting, by Marcia Ballinger and Nathan Perez, one company president stated, "It is shocking to me that follow-up is often so slow. If I've set aside an amount of time to network with someone, I would hope they could set aside enough time to follow-up with me - and not after two weeks!"

The basics of following-up

You may not have control over the job search process, but you always have control over your actions. By following-up, you take the lead in your own journey. Reaching out after an interaction allows you to express your authenticity as well as your passion and excitement about the company or role for which you may be applying. Once you’ve established a pattern of communication, keep following-up to update and keep current the people you’ve connected with along the way.

A few messages you can express through follow-up communications include:

  • Appreciation
  • Sincere interest & enthusiasm
  • Opportunity
  • Willingness to give something back (and expecting nothing in return)

Not only does following-up showcase your positive attributes, it gives you the opportunity to ask more questions, show off true professionalism and build confidence by taking the lead in outreach while simultaneously working on bettering your interpersonal skills.

When thinking about follow-up communications, keep these general guidelines in mind:

  • Track and document all your conversations
  • Respond within an acceptable timeframe
  • Show gratitude to the person taking time out of their day to meet with you
  • Address any questions that may have come up in your initial meeting
  • Make references to key points to show you have been paying attention and are an active listener
  • Take on a “value-add/give-first” mentality; this is about giving and getting value (examples include: sharing an interesting article or a new resource, remembering birthdays and sending well wishes after a surgery or medical issue, or congratulating on a marriage or baby)
  • Ask permission to check back with them (suggesting next steps for future follow-ups can ease your mind and provide you a definitive timeline for follow-up correspondence)

5 Outreach situations and follow-up timelines

During a job search—or even as part of your career development—follow-up with everyone you meet and come into contact with. This includes people you meet at events, are introduced to, or interview with and includes anyone who you would consider a social or professional contact.

#1 Networking follow-up:

Whether you know the person or you’re reaching out as a cold contact, you’ll want to move the ball forward by developing and sustaining communication. Establishing communications by email, LinkedIn messaging, or phone is an essential first step.

Related content: 6 Wrong Ways to Network Online and How to Do it Right

If you’re in a networking situation, follow these guidelines for communication:

  • Follow-up 24 hours after meeting a new person, participating in an informational interview, or formal networking meeting.
  • Reach out 5-7 days for warm connection at a target company: When someone has referred you to another person, be sure to follow-up with the person who made the introduction and right away with the person you were introduced to.
  • Maintain relationships with outreach 3-4 months after your initial contact to check-in and build stronger relationships. Set a reminder to follow-up with people you meet at least once per quarter.

#2 Job applications follow-up:

You can follow-up at several points during the application process, but understanding the appropriate timeframe is important. While you want to be strategically persistent, it is also good to know that it is frowned upon to pester your contact. How to understand this balancing act?  

Universally accepted job search timelines include:

  • After applying online to an open position, it is best to follow-up within 24-48 hours.
  • When someone has shared your resume with a contact at the company, it is best to follow-up within one week.
  • Don't be afraid to send an additional follow-up message about 1-2 weeks later if your first message gets no response.
  • Follow-up twice after your initial message (with a couple weeks in between) and then focus your energies elsewhere.

#3 Interviewing follow-Up:

After an interview, you want to immediately thank the interviewer. They have taken the time to meet with you, and you want to express your appreciation. This type of follow-up reminds the interviewer that you are serious, engaged and a strong candidate.

Related content: Interview Etiquette

Job interview follow-up includes:

  • Follow-up within 24 hours of any type of interview (phone, video, in-person, panel, etc.).
  • You should follow-up with everyone you interviewed with as well as the recruiter or hiring manager who set up your interviews in addition to anyone who helped you get the interview in the first place.
  • Post-interview follow-up timeline is a week later (unless specifically given a timeline or told otherwise). Until you’re told that the position is filled or if your efforts garner no response after a few attempts, you can continue to follow-up bi-weekly and then once per month.
  • Following-up after an interview is your opportunity to further demonstrate the strength of your candidacy.  This type of note should be aligned to what was discussed during the interview so it’s obvious you were interested and paying attention.

#4 Job offer follow-up:

After HR reaches out, following-up is still a final step in the closing out process.

When the offer is extended follow these steps:

  1. Review the offer: If the offer is verbal, make sure you receive the same offer in writing, then take time to carefully review the offer.
  2. Negotiate the offer: Regardless of the outcome, you can show your gratitude and leave the conversation on a positive note. Remember that accepting or declining a job offer still falls under the “following-up” umbrella of action items.
  3. Notify other opportunities in progress: Letting other potential employers know you have accepted a position is a nice gesture and a way to keep the bridge undamaged. Should you ever reach out to them in the future, they will see that you are honest and respectful of other people’s time; desirable qualities in a candidate and professional contact.
  4. Thank your connections: Go back into your tracking data and send all a short and concise message to anyone and everyone that helped in your search. A simple “thank you” will make them feel appreciated and it will also let them know that you have landed so they aren’t caught off guard on your current status if providing your contact information in the future.  
  5. Continue your networking and follow-ups: Even after you’re happily employed, following-up never stops. You want to engage in internal networking and build on existing contacts. You never know who may hold the key to your next opportunity!

#5 If the position has been filled, follow-up:

  1. When you have been informed that the position is filled you should follow-up with the hiring manager and recruiter. Thank them for letting you know, for their time and reiterate that you remain interested in working for the company should something come up in the future.
  2. Keep in touch. Don't lose touch with the new contacts you have made throughout your search. You never know when a contact will come in handy.

Follow-up etiquette and typical mistakes

Following-up sends the message that you are informed—it also communication whether or not you understand follow-up etiquette. Weigh promptness against being an annoyance by being mindful of the quantity and persistence of your efforts.

Here are a few typical follow-up mistakes to avoid:

  • Too generic: Not every follow-up is the same. People have preferred methods of communication and you can inquire as to the method they like best. Some like email and others prefer a call, still others respond best through social networking sites. Find out their preferences and make them feel like you really care about their needs to become a preferred contact. Taking some time during initial contact to ask them their preferred method of communication can make a huge difference in your ability to contact them in the future.
  • Too much outreach: Being too eager or too aggressive can risk your chances as a candidate. Most people frown upon emails sent too close together and sigh at having to read lengthy emails. Keep your outreach succinct and only reach out every couple of weeks to avoid creating an annoyance.
  • Lack of persistence: It’s difficult to wait for a response from an interview or other outreach. Often, assume they are out of the running when they don’t hear back right away. On the contrary, there can be many reasons why you don’t get an immediate response. Giving up is not the right move. The key is to not put all your eggs in one basket. Having multiple follow-ups with multiple companies simultaneously can help with the frustration of feeling neglected and wanting to just give up. Keep your name fresh in their minds – it is your right as a job seeker to consistently follow-up until you are given an answer one way or the other.
  • Taking too long: “He who hesitates is lost”. Those who take too long don’t stand out and show initiative as much as those who follow-up appropriately. Additionally, if a contact does not receive a thank you or outreach note - the candidate can look disinterested, unorganized and be perceived as having poor communication skills. This is not always the case, but giving some attention to them in a simple follow-up can help you stand out against your competition.

Identifying who to follow-up with

Most job descriptions do not have the contact information of the hiring manager or recruiter on them. When this happens, research to find that key contact. Once you identify the correct contact, write a targeted message that demonstrates your fit with the position and outlines your understanding of the company's mission, vision and challenges.

Here are some steps to identifying the key contact through LinkedIn:

  1. On the LinkedIn landing page, type the name of the company.
  2. Directly underneath the search bar, select "People" and you will see a listing of results with individuals that have the company name you searched.
  3. Now it’s time to filter your results. Select the "Keywords" drop down first. Use the "Title" box to input key titles such as "Recruiter," "Talent Acquisition," or "Human Resources."
  4. You can also try to identify likely managers for this potential role by typing in the title of the position you are interested in and adding in "Manager" or "Director.”

Most corporate emails are structured identically. If you find just one person’s email address, you can be confident that the format will be the same for everyone. For example, my email address is cstangarone@risesmart.com so if you are looking for John Doe at RiseSmart, it’s a safe bet that the contact’s email will be jdoe@risesmart.com.

Once you receive your contact’s information, you can write an email that outlines how you are a great fit with the company's specific needs. The key to follow-up is to promote yourself from the hiring manager's perspective, focusing on what is important to them and their company for the future (not necessarily what you think is essential from your past).

Note: Giving and getting value and being polite and strategically communicative are the keys to a successful follow-up process.

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