Five Steps to Immediately Improve Your Follow-Up Skills
Most people suck at follow up. Some are too pushy, some are too passive, some are too wordy, and some are too shy. Entry-levels and experienced professionals alike often blunder during this phase of the job application process and lose out to other applicants as a result.
Why do so many people suck at follow up? For one, it’s an often overlooked step when applying for jobs. People focus on the big moments – Apply, Land Interview, Interview, Get Offer, Accept Job – and forget that Follow Up is the glue that holds it all together. In fact, it’s the only step that’s repeated throughout the entire process:
You get the point. Follow up matters.
The second factor is practice. Effective follow up skills are not innate. They are learned. No matter how stellar your communication skills are, mastering the art of follow up requires consideration, discipline, and patience (a particularly challenging set of requirements when you’re waiting to hear if you landed a new job). Unless you’ve spent time studying this specific niche of communication before, your follow up skills probably need some work.
Here’s the good news: graceful follow up is a major differentiator during the job application process. Plus, it’s learnable, meaning that you don’t have to be a wordsmith to master the techniques. And most people suck at it, which creates an opportunity to dominate the competition if you invest the time to improve.
So with that in mind, here are some guidelines to immediately improve your follow up habits in five common scenarios (though you’ll need to continue practicing over time).
1. After applying online
There is always a certain amount of waiting involved with online job applications. If you were told not to contact the company, then honor those guidelines. However, if an email address or phone number was provided, you should make the most of it.
The best method is often via phone, and it helps to have a short script planned out. This will ensure you come across as professional without being pushy. Simply ask if your application was received, and state your interest in the position (and your availability for an interview).
- Medium: Phone or Email
- Tone: Polite, Professional, Direct
- Timing: 24-48 hours, unless you’ve received specific instructions regarding the expected response time.
- Pro Tip: If you don’t have any contact information, try searching on LinkedIn for a hiring manager or HR professional at the company. Use Google to search for an email address, or try adding them with a personalized note in the contact request referencing your recent application.
2. After a networking event
Keep it fresh! Timely follow up after a networking event is absolutely essential to building on the introductions made. Especially because many people won’t – they’re either too busy or too afraid of rejection or looking needy. If you had a great conversation during a networking event, then you should follow up the next day.
It’s very likely that the person you spoke to had conversations with dozens of people, so you need to be memorable. Begin the email by referencing the conversation you had and the commitment you made to reach out and make contact. Then add something useful, such as a link to an article you discussed, or attach your resume/portfolio. A humorous anecdote referencing the event (if applicable) can also help. But keep it short! Five sentences, including your objective, should suffice.
- Medium: Email or LinkedIn is most common
- Tone: Friendly, Professional, Direct
- Timing: Within 24 hours
- Pro Tip: Don’t be afraid to remind the recipient (politely) if they promised an action (such as meeting for coffee, or passing along your resume) following your introduction.
If you don’t get a response after 5 days, then send another email. As long as the tone is not demanding, you can email a third time. Most people are busy, so don’t take a lack of response personally (simply send an email reminder).
3. After an interview
If you’ve been interviewed, then a “thank you” follow up is the expected next step (if fact, 86% of hiring managers agree that not sending a thank you note post-interview shows a lack of follow-through). Always. Write. A. Thank. You. Note.
This is your opportunity to reinforce your key messages and show your keen interest in the company and position. Make sure to thank your interviewer(s) for their time and insights. Send personalized notes to everyone you interviewed with when possible, noting specific details they shared about the company culture and reiterating why you’re a good fit. If you forgot to mention something important, this is your chance to do that as well.
- Medium: Email
- Tone: Appreciative, personalized, and reflective of the ‘You’ they met in the interview. Don’t forget to say Thank You!
- Timing: Same day
- Pro tip: A handwritten note, while meaningful, is typically too slow for the pace of today’s business communication. If you’re going to go that route, make sure to send a thank you email first so you don’t fall behind the other applicants.
4. When a promised deadline has passed without a response
If you were told that you would have an answer in 7 days, and one week has passed, it’s time for a gentle reminder. It often helps to (politely) request a specific response, such as an updated timeline, or ask if any additional information is needed. This approach shows you’re proactive, interested in the company and have a professional demeanor (qualities that underscore your potential value to the team).
- Medium: Phone is best if you have a number.
- Tone: Polite, respectful, and direct. Ask for a response.
- Timing: 1-2 days after the deadline has passed.
- Pro tip: Do not call the recipient over and over again until you get a response. Nearly everyone has caller ID. If they don’t pick up after your second call of the day (AM and PM), simply leave a voicemail and give them the chance to respond. Then send a follow up email referencing the voicemail in case they don’t check it.
5. When you’ve followed up a number of times and still haven’t received a response
If a deadline has passed, and you still haven’t heard back after reaching out a few times, then it’s time to start exploring other options. Sure, the person you are contacting could have encountered some freak accident and hasn’t been able to call you back as a result, but that’s probably not the case. It’s time to move on.
In other words, stop refreshing your inbox and start sending out your resume. Follow up is a critical differentiator in the job application process, but it can’t guarantee a certain result. Your effort should be reciprocated.
And clearly, the company or person you are trying to contact sucks at follow up.
Use the tips listed above to follow up in a professional manner. Always follow the guidelines you’re given, but don’t be afraid to be a little creative. Make yourself stand out so you can land the job you really want.
Do you have any follow up tips or questions? Let us know in the comments below!!
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