The Simple Advice That Changed My Life
I am a stickler for follow up.
As Co-Founder of Proven Recruiting, I’ve made it my mission to ensure we respond to every email, phone call and website inquiry as immediately as possible. I also lend a hand to our Social Media team, personally taking part in acknowledging every Yelp, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn comment quickly and thoughtfully.
I guess you could say prompt follow up is my thing. So why is it so important to me, and where did it come from? The answer lies in the best piece of advice I’ve ever received: Always reply by return of mail.
To quickly address the potentially anachronistic ‘mail’ reference, this advice was shared with me during my high school graduation, now many years ago. The delivery was appropriately climactic for such a life-changing lesson: picture a group of seniors, gathered in expectation of hours-long prescriptions about how to conduct our lives. In walked our Headmaster, a Dumbledore-type character cloaked in wisdom, black gowns flapping in the breeze. He stepped up to the podium and began to speak.
30 seconds later, he was gone. His eloquent and assured, ‘Always reply by return of mail’ hung behind as he made a dignified and deliberate exit through stage left. Those six words were all he said. Our lives changed forever.
What we learned that day was an appreciation of what it means to respect others in life and, of course, in the workplace. The concept is so simple that it really comes down to just two words: always reply. And yet it is something that many, if not all of us, struggle to achieve on a consistent basis.
That’s because human beings are fallible. Organizationally, we are often flawed and let things ‘fall through the cracks’ as a result. Things like that pesky email we really meant to respond to, but didn’t. Or the awkward phone call we intended to return but decided to leave it ‘until tomorrow,’ which quickly became ‘the day after tomorrow.’ Some may not think it’s that big of a deal. I disagree.
Intentional or not, a lack of response signals a lack of respect for or interest in the person who reached out to you, whereas a prompt response signals the opposite. This makes it a significant professional differentiator.
The weight of my Principal’s comments dawned on me incrementally over a matter of years. What he imparted was really the importance of treating people with respect by returning a very simple courtesy, and impressing the recipient (and his or her network of friends and colleagues) with a level of professionalism that has become increasingly scarce in our technology-fueled world.
Back then of course, he meant that if somebody sent you a letter, make absolutely sure that you reply immediately. As soon as you received it. Draft a response, stick it in an envelope, put a stamp on it and stick it in the mailbox. It was easier then, I suppose, in that we weren’t inundated with communication from all forms of online and offline media. But look how much effort went into the reply!
Today, the ‘props’ have changed. ‘Replying by return of mail’ is quick, instant and portable – craft a few lines and hit send. Return a phone call while you’re stuck in traffic. Respond to people within one hour of receiving their message, and you’ve satisfied the basic principal. Which will provide you with a tangible advantage in the competitive career world as well as an effective mantra for life:
Always reply by return of mail. It’s about treating people with respect – and doing the right thing.