How to follow up during a pandemic without being a jerk

One of the most difficult parts of adjusting during a pandemic is how different day-to-day life is, yet some parts remain the same. Though the overall market is much slower, companies are still hiring. And while freelancing has shifted majorly in the span of a month, clients are still popping up in need of services. In any type of business transaction or interview process, following-up is often a necessary evil. However, to nudge someone effectively, you need a careful balance of patience and professionalism. In other words: you really don’t want to be a jerk—especially right now when pressure and stress are already stockpiling. Here, a guide on how to perfect the art of follow-ups: 

Access the situation

As with any email you send, knowing your audience is step one. How you correspond with someone you’ve worked within the past isn’t how you would approach a near-stranger you met once at a networking event. That’s why a certified career counselor for the University of Phoenix, Alice Rush, MA, CCC suggests exercising a few strategies, dependent on the medium. 

Say, last month you interviewed in-person at a company you were excited about—and it’s been crickets ever since. Though it’s understandable given the circumstance, there is no harm in touching base, Rush says. She suggests some sort of rubric like this:

Dear [insert interviewer’s name],

Hope you are staying healthy during this difficult time. I completely enjoyed meeting you for our interview on [insert date]. This is just a gentle check in to find out if I’m still in the running for [insert job title interviewed for]? I appreciate your candor.


[Insert name, phone and email]

If you haven’t had an interview—yet—but there is an executive you are interested in connecting with, it’s better to make your ‘follow-up’ personal. Rather than cold-emailing without any context, research them on LinkedIn, Facebook and other mediums. Rush says if they like cartoons—include one in your note. “Adding humor to their day and keeping in touch at the same time is a nice combination: just make sure it’s clean, not political, or any other touchy subject matter,” she explains. “Know that people love it when you pay attention to them and understand what they may need help with.”

Space out the follow-ups

When you’re unemployed or frantic about your income, 24 hours can feel like… forever. But in the business sense, it isn’t much time—even if we are quarantined. Before you shoot off one email after another to ‘check-in’, executive career coach Elizabeth Pearson suggests taking a pause and thinking of the receiver. Chances are high they are stuck at home caregiving for their children, while trying to balance their gigs. Or, their partner was recently furloughed from his or her work and they’re scrambling to figure out how to pay their mortgage. Times are tough—and patience is always appreciative. The golden rule, Perarson says is a full five-business-day stretch. “Following up every day or every other day can make you come off as desperate and disrespectful of the hiring manager’s time,” she explains. “ If they haven’t reconnected after a week, it’s safe to send an email or text—whichever they said their preferred form of communication.”

Don’t take it personally

Career coach and keynote speaker Carla Isabel Carstens reminds job-seekers that while you may think you are the best person for the job, and nailed your interview, they may not agree. And if they have ghosted you for a few weeks, it could mean they no longer are filling the position, they hired someone else or the process has been put on hold for a bit. Never, ever take it personally, she urges, and definitely don’t send an email you’ll regret. “You never know what an interview might lead to, or where the person who interviewed you will end up,” she adds. 

As an example, Carsten says she once interviewed for what she considered a dream job, and was disappointed when she never heard back following the interview. A year later, she received a call from the interviewer, asking me to come in to discuss a position at an amazing luxury jeweler she was now working with. She was offered the job… on the spot!

Keep it short and simple.

A digital nudge isn’t an elevator pitch. And it’s definitely not where you should write a novel about who you are, why you’re worthy and provide paragraphs detailing your experience. The goal is for the recipient to be able to respond to you easily, regardless if it’s a yes or a no. “Your odds of getting a response take a nosedive the longer your email is—no multiple paragraph email allowed. Try to keep your follow up to 5 to 8 sentences, phone calls to under 20 mins, and texts to one to two lines,” Pearson recommends.

Be helpful

Whatever it is you want out of the email, it’s likely in the form of work, right? Or, a business interaction that could ultimately lead to financial opportunities. Though it may seem like a time-waster to have small talk, being friendly and helpful is a solid way to set yourself apart from other folks, according to Nicholas Wyman, the CEO of the Institute for Workplace Skills & Innovation. How can you express these character traits via email? One way is to send a link to an article you think they’d like and is relevant to their industry. “Don’t just pop it in an email with a greeting and farewell. Briefly tell them why you thought it might interest them or something surprising you learned from it you thought was worth sharing,” he explains. “You’re aiming to offer them value.” 

Don’t act entitled

Sure, you are feeling frustrated. Hopeless. Exhausted. And a solid combo of all of the above. No matter how much anxiety you’re battling, a follow-up email is not the place to let it all out. This can make you appear entitled, immature or worse. “Keep in mind though that it doesn’t matter how many times you’ve reached out, or how ideal a candidate you are for a job—nobody ‘owes’ you a response—as disrespectful as that may feel,” Pearson says. “Make sure the tone of your emails or messages are always humble, positive and respectful.”