Job seekers will often ping me at different points within their job search. Some of these are questions on how to handle a personal situation. Some queries will deal with how to respond to a particular type of interview question. However, one of the most common ones is how and when to follow up after some job search activity. While each scenario is unique, there are some general norms of job search etiquette which I attempt to convey. Below, I will try to summarize some recommended perspectives for communication. I also present some examples of verbiage which captures what I suggest to be appropriate and effective.
(1) After the Initial Contact: OK, so you have reached out with your interest towards a specific job opportunity. You may have seen posted it on Facebook, Careerbuilder, or received it via an email from a friend. You then emailed your resume or otherwise applied online. Now you are waiting to hear back. How long do you wait for a response?
As you might know, some companies will have an immediate automated acknowledgement email, to let you know that your application was received; but, many do not. Some companies are more responsible and get back to anyone who has expressed interest; others do not. It is also possible that the recruitment is being handled by someone who is one or two degrees of separation away from the person who will (initially or ultimately) decide on how the applicant pool will be pared down. So, don’t “over-infer” and conclude the worst if you have not heard back.
There are so many possibilities of what might be happening here, so it would be too numerous to cover all of them. But, I typically use two weeks* as a rule-of-thumb. If you have not heard back by that time, a tasteful follow-up email is not only acceptable, but advisable. It should be polite and concise as in the following:
Dear Mr. Ngata:
On ______________ I sent in my resume in consideration for the Chemical Engineer position (Job #FvD352) with your company. I just wanted to make sure that you received it for consideration and express my interest in the role. If there is anything else which you might need from me, or the status of the recruitment has changed since that time, please let me know.
(2) After the Interview: I recommend that job seekers who have interviewed for a job, whether by phone or in-person, send a ‘Thank You’ email to the employer or recruiter within 24 hours of the interview. This email might also include any additional materials (e.g., work samples, references) that might have been requested at the interview. Such an email should be brief, as in the following:
Dear Mr. Yanda:
I just wanted to thank you for the opportunity to discuss the Office Manager position in the Finance Department of your organization. I enjoyed meeting the staff and appreciated the mini-tour of the facility. I hope that I was able to convey the skills and experience in my background as relevant to the open position. If there are any other questions which you have or information that you would like from me, please let me know.
What if you have not heard back since that ‘Thank You’ email? Should you panic? Not necessarily. There are a whole host of reasons why this might be the case. Once again, I would once use the “two week rule*” before following up. Here is an example of what you might write:
Dear Mr. Harbaugh:
As you know, I met with you (and Mr. Pitta) on ________________ to discuss the position of Operations Manager with your company. Firstly, I wanted to reiterate my continued interest in the role. Secondly, if you could please provide me with what you envision as your time frame for any next steps in the process, I would appreciate that.
(3) After the Rejection: Getting a rejection email or letter is never pleasant. The level of emotional pain is usually a function of how much you have invested in the process. Reactions such as “sour grapes” might happen. Or, you might fault the interview process, interviewer, or some other factor which you feel was working against you. You may, in fact, be correct. But, that’s not the point and it’s time to move on. You need to keep an open mind and figure out how you might play things differently next time. Of course, it’s counterproductive to transform any negative emotions into an exercise of bridge burning, as cathartic as that venting might be. Social media outlets like Facebook or Twitter make it all too easy to express such sentiments to your network. But, that is a double-edge sword which might ultimately become your professional liability. After all, employers and recruiters might talk among each other about you. Plus, the Internet does not forget. Developing a reputation as someone who consistently reacts negatively to rejection will not be to your advantage. Being polite will only help you. It is entirely possible that there might be another position currently or one in the future with that same organization that might become open. So, if you have left things on good terms, you might be favorably referred internally for something else by someone who has already screened you.
Alternatively, there might be a skill or credential which you will need to add to your portfolio in order to better position you in the future for the type of role you are seeking. Therefore, if you can somehow gather intelligence information and act on it, that would be valuable. But, you have to do this carefully and tactfully, as in:
Dear Mr. Flacco:
Thank you for getting back to me as to the final decision in the selection process for Office Manager. While the final outcome is obviously not what I would have preferred, I always try to learn from experiences and look in a forward direction. Therefore, I am wondering if you would be willing to share (via email or phone) any feedback from the interview or otherwise which will help me in enhancing any skills or fill in any gaps. I can then use this information to enhance my career development efforts and to better position myself professionally in the future.
(4) After the Job Offer: In the spirit of ending off on a positive note, let’s say that you do get a job offer. First, you need to know that what you have received is indeed a genuine job offer. Most job offers, in order to be real, include some sort of formal statement that you have the job. Such a letter or email might include an explicit statement of the terms including the formal job title, full or part time, compensation offered, and start date. There might also be some contingencies that are stipulated. A background check or pre-employment physical exam might be pending. That is fairly typical. (It should be note that a standard offer letter is not a legally binding contract, even if it asks for your review and signature.) Many job seekers will erroneously interpret an informal statement of offer that mentions pending receiving of funding or getting a contract. That is not really a job offer.
Assuming that the job offer is genuine, there might be a deadline included by which you have to accept the offer. When the job offer is verbal or informal, there might not be a specific date. An informal or verbal job offer might also merely be preliminary, in the context of a more formal offer coming through shortly. One of the questions which comes up is how and when to respond to a job offer. The way to respond really depends. If the offer is formal and has a deadline to accept, that is a detail to take seriously and act upon accordingly. It is good form to at least immediately acknowledge receipt of the correspondence and that you are considering it.
I obviously cannot advise in this blog about whether or not to accept any given job offer. Factors such as compensation, commute time, and whether there are other prospects are all salient points among several others to consider. But, there might be a need to “buy time” and defer acceptance or rejection of the offer. In doing so, it is best to frame your response in a positive way, thanking the employer for the offer and committing to respond in short order or by the deadline. If no date is provided, you might want to respectfully ask when the employer would need to know by. Then, follow through at that time with a statement of acceptance of the job and its terms. (If the terms need to be adjusted or negotiated, that is beyond the scope here.). Such a communication might look something like this:
Dear Mr. Suggs:
Thank you very much for the job offer extended regarding the Accounts Payable position with your company. I am favorably considering the offer now and have noted the “accept by” date in the letter. There are a couple of personal and professional details which will be factoring into my final decision. So, you will hear back from me, no later than in a couple of days.
Thank you again for your favorable evaluation of me and I will be in touch soon.
If for whatever reason, you are going to be declining the offer (perhaps because you have a better one), you should not just ignore it. For professional reasons, you must close the loop. You need not give much detail as to your reasons, but you should respond in a timely manner and not hold up the organization’s timeline. Keep the email/letter positive as it is quite possible that your paths might cross again. You should express appreciation for being considered and perhaps give some reason for declining, as in:
Dear Mr. Rice:
Thank you very much for the offer of employment with your company as a Staff Accountant. I have given the opportunity some thought. Based on some personal responsibilities which would require a significant adjustment to commute to Rockville, I have decided to remain in my current role for now. I enjoyed meeting the staff of the firm and it seems like a wonderful place to work.
The above are just basic templates of communication which have the common denominators of being concise and timely, each with a tone of positivity and gratitude. What you actually send will of course vary, depending on the situation.
Keeping the above in mind will play wall and perhaps set you apart from those whom either do not follow up at all or others who communicate in an over-the-top manner. The objective is to get the last word in edgewise in a way that develops or retains your professional reputation.
*Note: How did I come up with “two weeks”? Nothing magical about that, really. If another time frame is stipulated by your contact person or otherwise inferred by a specific deadline, then go ahead and use that as a basis to follow-up. But, there is a myriad of reasons why you need to give some time for things to materialize (with two weeks being reasonable). These might include vacations, other candidates in the recruiting pipeline, an occasional Government Shutdown, business travel, other search projects, or some other unavailability of key decision makers. I think that approximately two weeks is therefore appropriate. So, be patient.