The Art of the Follow-Up After Job Interviews

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by Kathryn Lee Bazan

Great! You’ve had the interview and now you wait anxiously by the phone. A cat watching a gopher hole, waiting for the little beast to pop its hairy head out any moment now could not be as anticipatory as you are. So what do you do to forestall driving yourself and your loved ones nuts during this time? Well, let’s back up a second to you at your interview.

When I was a career counselor with Snelling & Snelling, I told my clients to make sure that they asked the person interviewing them a very key question toward the end of the interview — and to ask the question whether or not they thought they’d take the job if it were offered. The question can be phrased several different ways:

    “Well, Ms. Babcock, we’ve talked about [name of job] and that you needed someone who can do a, b, and c for you. (Make sure you list what the employer says is desired in the new hire.) As I pointed out, I did “a” with XYZ Corp, “b” with DCW, Inc., and excelled at “c” with ABC & Co. How soon will you make a decision on whom you plan to hire?”

    “Mr. Davis, you’ve said that you want a sales rep who has done a, b, and c. [List your former employers and cite what you did that meets or exceeds this interviewer’s expectations.] I think I’m a great fit for this opportunity. Is it all right if I call you Tuesday afternoon or is Wednesday morning better for you to find out how soon you’d like me to start?”

The interviewer should give you some faint outline of a schedule:

    Mr. Davis: “Well, Terry, we’re having a staff meeting this afternoon at which we will discuss your qualifications. I should have an answer for you by Thursday afternoon.”

    You: “Great! Could I call you Thursday afternoon?”

    Mr. Davis: “That will be fine. Keep in touch.”

Now, what’s the first thing you do when you get home? Sit down and write a thank-you note to each and every person with whom you interviewed. In these days of death by interview, that may be a whole pile of thank-you notes. When I interviewed with Fawcette Technical Publications, I interviewed with five people in several-hour segments all morning.

There are two standard thank you note formats with a few less favored ones:

  • A Crane’s informal note in the same color as your resume
  • An e-mailed thank you note
  • A faxed thank you note.

Crane’s is a stationery company long known for producing very elegant and classy papers. Crane’s sells note cards that fold in half, with the edge of the paper a darker tone than the body (e.g., medium-tan edge on ecru paper, pale-blue paper with medium-blue edge). I suggest either tan, gray or light blue paper. Veer away from anything bright (neon orange, lime green). Open the card and on the inside handwrite*:

    Dear _________________,

    Thank you very much for the interview today. In reviewing the opportunity with [name of company], I am most eager to start. In closing, let me say that no matter how many people you interview, what their education or experience is, you won’t find anyone who wants to work for you more than I do.

    Very truly yours,

    [your name]

[Editor’s note: For other suggested wording, see Quintessential Careers sample thank-you letters.]

For those of you who noticed the asterisk, here goes: *If your handwriting ranks slightly lower than a physician with chronic lack of sleep, then type or have someone with neat penmanship write the note out for you.

(Note: this same verbiage can be e-mailed or faxed to each of your interviewers. It is faster than snail mail and saves you digging around for stamps. Editor’s note: See more about faxing and e-mailing thank-you notes in our Quintessential Careers article, FAQs about Thank You Letters.)

Why is there a comma in the above suggested salutation? A colon indicates a formal letter and thus is very appropriate for the “Dear Ms. Babcock:” salutation. However, if she said during the interview, “Call me Barbara,” then your salutation should be the friendly “Dear Barbara,” for starters. Depending upon how formal the interview was, the salutation should follow that degree of formality. If the interviewer leaned back in the chair, put his feet up on the desk and got really comfortable, your thank you note should start, “Dear Tex,” and go on from there.

The closing is your choice. “Sincerely,” “Respectfully yours,” “Yours truly,” are all good. Which one sounds the most like you? “Y’all come back now,” is not one I suggest — although I did see it once. Oh brother.

OK, you sent the thank you notes. It’s Thursday, and the phone is not ringing. Now what? Wait until Friday. Call or e-mail the main interviewer. “Hi, this is Terry Jones. How are you doing, Ms. Babcock? I interviewed with you on Monday. Since I am very interested in this opportunity, I thought I should follow-up with you. You thought you might have an answer Thursday. How is your decision process going?”

Three things happen here:

  • You will either get an answer (you did/did not get the job) or
  • They don’t know yet, so call back Tuesday or
  • They don’t know and don’t have a call-back date to suggest.

If you did get the job, ee-hah!!! (That’s Texan for “yippee!”)

If you didn’t get the job, that’s OK because there is a better one waiting. I once offered this piece of wisdom to a friend who had not gotten a job with a big insurance company and was quite down in the dumps. He argued that this job was as good as it got, gosh darn it. I told him that there was a reason he was protected and not hired there. Two months later, the company that didn’t hire him had massive layoffs. We don’t know how much he was saved by not getting the job there. Pick yourself up. Dust yourself off and keep looking. There will be a company smart enough to hire you. The right job is looking for you right now.

If Ms. Babcock says to call on Tuesday, do it. Whatcha waiting for????

The last one is the tough one. If you are in one of the more aggressive professions such as sales, you are almost expected to prove your aggressiveness by calling back every two to three days (unless told to wait) to find out how the decision is progressing. Do you have to call each time? No. Send e-mail.

    Good Afternoon, Dave,

    That interview with you was great! Thanks again. Just wanted you to know that I am very interested in this opportunity with [name of company]. Please call or e-mail me with an update at your earliest convenience.


    Jerry Jones

If you are in a more relaxed profession (e.g., accounting), I would wait seven days after your last contact to call or e-mail again. Why? Accounting is not as pushy as sales, and therefore to apply sales pressure might frighten off your boss-to-be. Balance the aggressiveness of your follow-up with the field you are in; the more aggressive the job is, the more aggressive you should be in following up.

Some counselors suggest that you make something up to start the conversation but I feel this practice is a bit unsavory:

    “Hi, Dave. This is Terry Smith. I enjoyed our interview on Tuesday. The reason I’m calling is that my answering machine went out, and I thought I might have missed your call. Since I am very interested in this job, I thought I’d call you and see how it was going.”

Why do I disdain this method? While it is possible and even probable that answering machines fail, it seems a bit suspicious that it would fail right now during a critical job hunt. Right?

Always be professional. Always be courteous but with the enthusiasm of Golden Retriever puppy.

One fact to consider — many companies don’t tell you their hiring decision (unless you’re the one they’re hiring), rude though that practice may be. They hope you will just give up and go away after three weeks. If no one returns your e-mails or voice mails after several weeks, let it go and presume that there will be no offer. If the hiring company were interested, your contacts would be picking up the phone. In that case, do you really want to work for someone too dumb to hire you? I thought not! Keep hunting. The right job will come.

And when you get a great response, thank them, hang up the phone, and PARTY. (“Terry, we are drafting the offer letter and should have it to you by Monday.”) Follow-up if the letter is late or doesn’t spell out the salary and perks you wanted (budget for training, sign-on bonus, etc.). If they want you, they will redraft the letter.

Hang in there! A great offer letter is just around the corner!

Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker’s Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.

Kathryn Lee Bazan has been in recruiting and placement for the last 20 years. She joined Snelling & Snelling in 1980 as the first technical placement specialist and set records for the largest rookie placement in the Newport Beach office. In 1981, she was recruited to Control Data Cybersearch to recruit computer hardware engineers. She wrote a college textbook, Job Hunting Made Easy for Environmental Health and Safety Professionals, based on papers presented at two international conferences. Kathy currently consults on Internet job hunting for professionals.

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