Job Search Tips That Matter
Human beings have a natural tendency to want to do things “right.” We want to do what is expected and normal. In our need to be liked, we actively seek the approval of our peers by behaving in ways that will elicit acceptance. We can all relate to how good it feels when we are received favorably and, conversely, the anxiety ignited at even the thought of being rejected in any situation. So when it comes to the ever important and potentially life altering event that looking for work is, it isn’t fun to be passed on for another candidate and many take it personally when they are given the thumbs down. To avoid rejection job seekers are consumed with making sure they are doing everything just right. They want to know: Do I have the right resume? Is this the right outfit for this interview? Did I handle those questions the right way? What’s the right way to follow up? Why was I not the right fit for that position?
Feedback is critical to get when you are involved in an interview process with a potential employer; getting it is another story. It’s important because you need to know where you stand or where you can improve on your presentation. Feedback is the only way to know if you clinched the interview, if there is something else you can do to boost your candidacy, or if it is time to move on to the next prospect. Sometimes it is difficult enough to get feedback when you’ve done well in an interview, never mind if you haven’t. But many companies are reluctant to discuss the real reasons why they are passing on you because they are afraid to be misconstrued and become a target for litigious action. Most often, though, lack of feedback is due to the hectic schedules of decision makers or human resources personnel having way too much on their plate.
Successful job seekers (just like top notch sales professionals) make it their business to follow up and maintain as much control over the interview (sales) process as possible. This goes for both working through a recruiter or directly with the employer. Of course, recruiters aren’t much help if they are untrained and don’t know how to extract proper feedback from their clients or if they simply don’t feel comfortable telling you what you need to know rather than what you want to hear. Proper follow up on your part is the key to understanding your candidacy’s strengths and weaknesses (notice I didn’t say your strengths and weaknesses), your candidacy’s positioning versus your competition’s, what your next actions should be, and when it’s time to let go of an opportunity. Follow up is absolutely a must, it is the professional thing to do, companies expect it, and it is what makes sense so you can get a handle on how you’re doing in the interview process.
In the 15+ years that I’ve experienced the field of recruiting, and having presented literally thousands of candidates, managed hundreds of interview processes and placements, I have seen and heard it all. From following up too soon (or following up too much), to having typos on a follow up note, even misspelling the name of the prospective employer, to threatening to sue an employer or placing a restraining order on a candidate, I have come to know how critical it is for you to get the skinny on the right way to follow up. It is a question that comes up consistently when I speak on job search panels or conduct career-coaching sessions. That’s why I decided to write this article…to help you clinch the interview process. This means finding out if you’ve got a chance at getting the position or not. Hanging out in limbo is not a good thing. It’s my guess that for some of you, this information may be coming just in the knick of time.
One of my favorite questions, which I hear quite often is, “At what point does following up become stalking?” My standard answer is, “If you think you’re stalking, you probably are.” Intuition is your best weapon when it comes to knowing how best to follow up. But since most of us aren’t as intuitive as we’d like to be, I have created a list of sort of Do’s and Don’ts as a guideline that will keep you relatively safe in this territory. Still, it is always the wisest thing to use common sense and do a gut check before you proceed. My recommendation is for you to ask yourself the question, “What makes sense right now, in this moment, given what I know about the situation? What’s the best way for me to proceed powerfully?”
Tips for following up in your job search:
- Follow up after an interview within 24 hours but not sooner than 8 hours. I heard a story once of a candidate that sent a thank you email from his handheld while in the elevator as he exited the office where he interviewed. The hiring manager was very turned off by this as the candidate came across anxious and desperate, perhaps a little anal too. He did not get the job.
- Use electronic mail and save snail mail for a future follow up. Everyone loves getting a special hand-written card in the mail but it can take 2-3 days for it to be delivered and you need to get that thank you message in their hands within a day, just as your competition is most likely doing.
- Make sure your spelling and grammar are impeccable. If you’re not confident about your written language skills, get someone to proofread it for you. We once represented a candidate that sent a thank you note with 3 typos in it and one of those was the misspelled name of the prospective employer! She definitely did not get the job. Something like that is actually unforgivable.
- To minimize the chances that your email will end up in a junk folder, put your name on the subject line, the title of the position you interviewed for and the words “Thank You.” Don’t expect to hear back from anyone regarding your thank you note. Make sure you sent it to the right email address and assume it got there.
- Be original! Do not use cookie cutter or formatted language. 95% of the thank you notes I receive start with… “Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to meet with me…” Ugh!
- Be authentic and use your own language. Recently a candidate sent me a thank you note that had very impressive and elegant language. The problem was that she had plucked it off a website designed to help people create wonderful letters but accidentally included the links to the site on the thank you note! It’s always best to come through as yourself and not an imitation of someone else.
- Make sure to include at least 2-3 reasons why you are a fit for the position you just interviewed for and make it a point to allude to at least 1 thing that you learned about the company, or the interviewer, that you didn’t already know and which, by the way, fascinated you. Again, be authentic and genuine about this!
- If you interview with several individuals, send them each a different thank you notes. You must customize it. I’ve often seen candidates send the exact thank you note to up to 5 people at a company, changing only the name it was addressed to. Sorry, but this is lame. Do they think these folks aren’t talking to each other about the candidates? Again, be original!
- Before you leave an interview session, ask how you should follow up (this is a “closing” question) and then stick to those instructions. If you don’t ask, you’ll just have to wing it, which means you should follow up in 2-3 days (after you’ve sent a thank you note within 24 hours). If you’re basically told, “Don’t call us, we’ll call you,” you probably didn’t make the best impression. Still, in this case, you should follow up within a week if you haven’t heard back from them by then.
- Each time you follow up you should ask how you should follow up next and stick to those instructions. If they are vague or aren’t calling you back, it’s OK to get creative. Use faxing, or snail mail or an artistic email, or something that would capture their attention.
- The main purpose in following up (excluding the original thank you note) is to determine if there is a “yes” or a “no” on your candidacy. So it’s important to give people the permission to reject you. It’s better to be rejected than to be left in limbo. If you can get a definitive “no” on your candidacy, you can then move on to the next prospect. But sometimes a “no” is merely a “not right now” so you have to get back with them down the road if it is a company that you are deeply interested in.
- Follow up at least 7 times; this is a magical number. It has been demonstrated that the average buyer makes the decision to purchase a product or service once they’ve seen or heard the name of the product a minimum of 7 times. That’s why advertising is so useful and successful. Most sales people give up after the third or fourth rejection. They are missing out on the sale simply because they are not following up with the customer enough times. Let them hear your name and the position you are applying for several times and in several ways…voice mail, email, snail mail, fax, etc.
- Space out your follow-ups so that you are not coming across as if you have nothing else to do or as if you have all your eggs in one basket. Again, use common sense. Each time you follow up let them know one key thing about you that is critical for the job you are interested in. Allow your sense of humor to shine through in your communications.
- Give people the benefit of the doubt and don’t assume the worst scenario. If you are not hearing back from them, be patient, and maintain your professionalism. Once, we represented a candidate that fell apart at the seams because we weren’t hearing back from the client and she had already had 2 successful interviews so she thought she was going to get the job. She became unprofessional and even nasty. Turns out, the company had experienced the death of a key employee and there was a lot of scrambling going on. We took her out of the running because of her attitude; another candidate got the offer.
Like sales, finding a job is a number’s game. The more calls you make the closer you’ll be to finding the right fit. The more strategic you are in your approach, the less frustrating the process will be for you. A successful job search means you receive an offer you want (close the sale) and it requires focus, enthusiasm, passion and determination. You’ve worked hard to get in front of the prospective employer; don’t let the lack of proper follow up keep you from clinching the deal.