How and when to send the dreaded follow-up email

It’s the job seeker’s motto, three words of casual desperation: “Just…following…up….!”

It’s the cheery email subject line that many of us have sent to many a recruiter after not hearing back about a role. Underneath the casual inquiry into how the job application process is going lies a crushing worry that we have said the wrong thing at the wrong time. We don’t want to be annoying, we don’t want to stand out in a bad way, the people pleaser in us thinks.

But in order to win the ultimate prize of a response, you need to understand how to be pleasantly persistent — to push past your hangups and master the art of the follow-up.

Here are the guidelines to follow to do it right:

1) Understand the motivations behind your follow-up and explain them

No one is ever just checking in, and it’s better for both you and your intended recipient to know explicitly what you want and what your email is intending to accomplish.

Marketing and sales platform HubSpot recommends that crafting a follow-up email begin with determining your objective. Do you want more information about an application? Are you requesting a meeting? Do you want to thank your hiring manager for the in-person interview?

Too often, follow-up email writers cloak their intentions in overly polite language, thinking that that’s the right approach. But, in fact, the best way to get your recipient’s attention is to state clearly and explicitly why you’re emailing them.

2) Being clear means asking for a timeframe

To ease unnecessary agony, Ask a Manager’s Alison Green recommends asking for a timeframe immediately after a job interview about when you should expect to be back in touch. And whatever timeframe the manager gives you, Green advises you to double it, because “hiring nearly always takes longer than anyone expects it will, including employers. Delays inevitably come up — a decision maker is out of town, or higher priorities get in the way.”

This is not comforting advice, but it is honest. For your peace of mind, it’s better to not depend on an email recipient’s timeliness, particularly if your objective is to find out about a job. But if a timeframe — even a very generous one — has come and gone without a response, you’re well within your rights to send a follow-up email asking for an updated timeline.

Here’s a script you can adapt from Green’s column: “I was hoping to check in with you about the llama wrangling job. I know you were hoping to be moving forward around now, and I wondered if you had an updated timeline you could share. I’m really interested in the role and would love to talk further with you about it at any time.”

3) Be persistent but not pushy

It can be demoralizing to write a follow-up email, but recognize that silence on the end of a hiring manager is rarely personal. Recruiters and hiring managers are inundated with emails every day. In fact, the average U.S. employee currently has 199 unread or unopened emails at any given time. Your initial email could be in that unread pile, which is why it’s better to err on the side of persistence and do a follow-up.

However, there’s a difference between persistence and pushiness. If you send an application on Friday, don’t follow-up on Monday with a hiring manager. You want to be respectful of a hiring manager’s schedule. A survey of hiring managers found that the majority think the best time for applicants to follow up is one to two weeks after submitting a resume.

Summing up

Ultimately, these follow-up tips are intended to make your communication as clear as your intentions. Following the follow-up tips can help you garner a response, but they may not get you the positive response that you want.

You can pad and primp your email all you want, but as with other social relationships: How a person will answer is not up to you. A dating advice column’s answer to how long you should wait to text back after a first date applies to follow-up emails as well: “They either like you, or they don’t.”