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Career Advice

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Marc Cenedella

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Follow Up Without Being a Pest

What is the appropriate amount of time to wait to follow up on a job application? Guidelines on when and how to follow up without appearing to be a stalker.

By Lisa Vaas
FILED UNDER: Follow Up.
Interviewing

You’ve sent in your resume. You already know that a follow-up message is a critical step in your job search. Now is the time to ponder the medium of your message.

What’s preferred? E-mail? Or is snail mail more gracious? If so, is it wise to send pretty cards? What about FedExing the follow-up correspondence so you’ll know for sure that somebody in the company will open it? After all, people don’t ignore a FedEx parcel, right?

Beyond that, what does the applicant tracking system (ATS) software do with a follow-up? Are they attached to your record? Is snail mail ignored?

We asked recruiting and hiring professionals for their advice on the most efficient and acceptable ways to follow up and to get your follow-up noticed as well as which ways are the most inappropriate and creepy.

What’s Cool?

The pros agree that one e-mail or one phone call (not multiple, they said emphatically) is an acceptable way to follow up. Terri A. Deems, a career coach, trainer and the co-author of "Make Job Loss Work for You," said there are two goals for the follow-up:

  1. To get your name across to the decision maker again, so they'll be looking specifically at, or for, your resume/application
  2. To gather information for yourself about the status of your application

Deems’ top choice for follow-up is a phone call placed two to three days after the employer is likely to have received your application materials. She recommends calling early in the morning, between 6 and 8:15 a.m.

Prepare for the call so that you have two or three “meaty” questions, Deems said — questions that someone in HR won’t be able to answer but that a decision maker can. Her suggestions include:

  • "Can you tell me about what outcomes you most want to see before the end of the year ... ?" or, “What are their top priorities or goals?”
  • "What kind of experience would your ideal candidate have?"
  • "What would be happening by the end of the year to tell you that you definitely hired the right person?"
  • "What would be the biggest challenges I would face in this position?" (One benefit to this type of question, Deems said, is that it’s framed as if you’re already in the position and can thus help the decision maker visualize you in that position.)

To open the call, Deems suggests using a friendly, casual tone. Here’s an example:

"Hi, Jerry, my name is Terri Deems, and I recently submitted my resume for your xyz opening. I'm calling to make sure you received this, and if you've got just a minute or two I had a couple of questions for you ..."

E-Mail

E-mail works as well, but it runs the risk of winding up in a junk folder. If you do choose to e-mail, “make sure your subject line is specific enough to garner some attention,” Deems said.

She recommends job seekers used the same tone in an e-mail as they would in a phone call. “Don't sound stuffy and stiff, and make sure there are no errors in your writing,” she said. “Keep the e-mail brief and friendly, and include your questions (three, tops). You could even send them a link to (examples of your work available online) or to your Web site, if you have one. Or even send them a link to an article you think they might be interested in (e.g., something about their industry, or relevant to the position, or relevant to a particular goal or challenge they're facing).”

Whether you follow up via e-mail or phone call, Deems said to be sure to ask, “‛When would be a good time for us to meet to talk further?’ In other words, invite yourself in for an interview.”

Snail Mail

We know, we know: Many HR professionals have a positive view of receiving a nice, handwritten card. It certainly makes a job candidate stand out, they say.

But then there are the many hiring managers who curse the analog missive. Snail mail just “takes too long and ends up cluttering up someone's desk — annoying!” Deems said.

Megan Blacksher is a senior HR consultant at CareerSparx, a 12-week online course designed to teach recent college graduates how to jump-start their careers. She is not a fan of hard copies because they “just create more work for me and my team.” The primary problem is that they can’t be forwarded or easily converted to the electronic record, making it hard to track your correspondence with the company. That difficulty introduces a hurdle to passing your correspondence on if a hiring manager thinks you might be a good fit for another position. “If I have your information in an electronic format, I can easily forward it to the appropriate person with one click,” she said. “If it’s a combination of online and paper, it's more difficult to keep everything together and your file updated; if it's all paper, even more so. (Scanning your materials in order to turn them into PDFs isn’t fun for anyone.)”

Blacksher recommends that, instead of snail mail, you send an e-mail reiterating your interest and stating when, exactly, you sent your resume and for what position.

FedEx and Other Creepy Outreach

Yes, it’s sure to get noticed. But is that a good thing? A growing number of professionals we talk to view a FedEx package as over the top.

Other creepy means of following up, courtesy of Adam Kruse, a hiring manager at The Hermann London Group, a real estate brokerage in St. Louis, and Shawn Graham, a career expert blogger for Fast Company magazine:

  • Facebook friend request
  • Birthday card
  • Flowers or gifts
  • Multiple phone calls
  • More than one unsolicited e-mail
  • LinkedIn requests to hiring managers you don’t know
  • Hand-delivering materials

What the Tracking Software Thinks of Follow-Up Media

Whether or not the ATS tracks and records your follow-up contact can depend on whether a candidate has followed directions, said Jacob J. Gabrie, CEO of Town Center Realty Group, Inc., who uses a proprietary ATS to track candidates at Town Center and a subsidiary company. At Town Center, if the instructions are clear and the applicant contacts the company in an undirected manner, they’re eliminated from consideration, he said.

Have a Follow-Up Strategy

Elene Cafasso, an executive and personal coach at Enerpace, Inc., uses her marketing background to help her clients craft a contact strategy that encompasses all phases of job search communication.

Such a strategy includes frequency and methods of follow-up and what messaging should be used in each. For example, after submitting a resume, she counsels her clients to wait a week and then call. If they receive no reply to that call, they can follow up again by phone or e-mail three days later. And then that’s it; no more calls, she said.

Having a schedule like this “eliminates the angst over each application and every non-reply,” Cafasso said. “It normalizes the fact that multiple follow-ups are to be expected, so my clients don't take offense and start making up reasons why they haven't heard anything. I've had a client apply in September and not hear anything until January!”

A contact strategy also helps you gain control over the process. “They are doing what they CAN do, and, more importantly, they can decide when to stop the follow-up,” she said. “It's very powerful to send that final message that says something like, ‛I know how busy you are and do not want to pester you. Since I've not yet heard back from you with a status on my application, I will assume that you have filled the position. I would welcome an opportunity with xyz company should a similar position become available.’ ”

Correction: Megan Blacksher is a senior HR consultant at CareerSparx. An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified her as a career counselor. Blacksher made several statements that were incorrectly attributed to Connie Sung, a career counselor and instructor at CareerSparx, in an earlier version of this article.

Lisa Vaas covers resume writing techniques and the technology behind the job search for TheLadders.

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