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Acing the interview follow-up


After you nail a big job interview, your confidence can skyrocket. But that top-of-cloud-nine feeling can quickly turn to uncertainty when the phone doesn’t ring as expected in the aftermath.

“Think about who your audience is and gear your follow-up in terms of language and content to who is going to be reading it.” Roy Cohen, author of The Wall Street Professional’s Survival Guide: Success Secrets of a Career Coach

Then you’re faced with a dilemma: How do you follow up with your interviewer to appropriately express your enthusiasm about the job without looking desperate or becoming a nuisance?

Setting the stage

According to Mary Elizabeth Bradford, a resume writer and executive career coach, successful followup starts before the interview is even over. Bradford, whose The Career Artisan Series includes her Interview Follow Up Guide For The Perplexed, advises candidates to ask interviewers what the next steps are for the job in question.

“Everyone should always ask ‘Where do we go from here?’” she stresses. She also advises interviewees to ask for a timeline for the candidate selection process. If the interviewer says he or she will call next Wednesday, “When Wednesday rolls around and you don’t hear from them, on Thursday you can call and leave a positive message,” Bradford suggests.

Timing it right

Knowing when to follow up—and how often—is key to a successful job search. The first touchpoint post-interview should happen right away, according to Roy Cohen, career coach and author of The Wall Street Professional’s Survival Guide: Success Secrets of a Career Coach. “Whether you call it a thank-you note or a follow-up correspondence, [send it] as soon as possible,” he advises.

Cohen recommends using this correspondence to express your gratitude for the opportunity to interview for the position, to demonstrate that you understand the issues and challenges of the role and to articulate how you would tackle them if you are selected for the job. Bradford’s rule of thumb is to cap thank-you notes at 150 words to make sure they get read and to use the word “you” twice as much as the word “I” to show your focus is on the prospective employer.

The next point of contact with your interviewer is less clear-cut. If you established a date to reconnect at the end of the interview, then follow the agreed-upon timeline. “If it hasn’t been discussed and the candidate is just guessing, then a week is a good starting point,” notes Bradford of the best time to make that followup call. “Be brief, be positive and demonstrate your excitement about the position,” she urges.

And as you progress in the interview process, “Try to keep control over the timeline,” she adds. “Always ask [about] the next steps.” That way you’re prepared for your subsequent move.

Sending the right message

With that in mind, it’s important to note that every interview situation is different, and you should tailor the frequency and tone of your follow-up to best meet each one individually. “You have to rely on your intuition,” Bradford says.

Cohen agrees. “Some areas may appreciate a very brief follow-up while other areas within the same company may want a lot more,” he says. “It just depends. Say you’re an accountant. You might want to focus on being a little sparer in how much language you use, whereas if you’re in marketing,” he explains that you might use a more creative and longer sales pitch in your messaging.

“Think about who your audience is and gear your follow-up in terms of language and content to who is going to be reading it,” he adds.

Also gauge the frequency of your follow-up to the individual you’re targeting. While being too persistent can turn off some employers, others may see dogged determination as a desirable trait. Bradford had one client who called an interviewer a dozen times to follow up. Rather than being annoyed, the manager was impressed. “He said, ‘Thank you so much for being so aggressive. That’s how you have to be around here to get things done,’” she recalls. “To the best of your ability, try to determine the best thing to do—and then do it.”

Staying positive

Sometimes the interview process can become protracted, lingering on for weeks without contact from the prospective employer. While no news isn’t necessarily bad news—unexpected projects, unplanned emergencies and sudden illnesses can distract hiring managers—it can be frustrating to be kept in the dark about a job you’re eager to land.

“Companies have a lot of priorities. Sometimes they will tell you they will do something with good intentions but don’t follow through,” explains Cohen. “We don’t necessarily know what is
going on when we don’t hear back.”

The worst thing you can do is become desperate and reveal that stress to your interviewer. “In your follow-ups, convey your excitement and enthusiasm—not your neediness,” he says. “If you’re a needy candidate, you may be a needy employee.”

Instead, focus that energy on looking for new opportunities in case the job in question doesn’t pan out. “Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket,” cautions Bradford. “Try to create a consistency in your job search so you’re actively doing things that get you interviews. [That way] you don’t feel like your whole well-being and state of mind hinge on one phone call.”

In fact, this sense of calm determination seems to sum up Bradford’s philosophy on the job hunt. “Our mental state of mind is just so important,” she insists. “[Prospective employers] are always watching, so be positive and enthusiastic. Never let them see you sweat.”