When Erika Walker's good friend set her up on a blind date, she wasn't expecting much more than a nice dinner over a couple of glasses of wine.
The human resources manager for Best Essay Help, a small professional writing and research company in Florida, Walker hires qualified freelance writers. She had turned down one candidate because his writing didn't pass muster and never heard from him again.
Until the middle of the date, when the guy came clean. "He told me that he was the writer whose application had been denied, and he did all of this to get an opportunity to talk to me face-to-face and convince me to hire him," she says. "Is there a way for a date to go worse?"
Aside from an example of poor dating behavior, Walker's experience shows how desperate job applicants are to get hired these days. "Whether they're applying for a job or following up after an interview, most candidates just want a response," says Jayne Mattson, senior vice president of client services with Boston-based career consultancy Keystone Associates.
But how you follow up is as critical as following up in the first place.
An October survey from global staffing agency Robert Half International found that after simply sending a job application, 81% of 1,000 hiring managers want to receive a follow-up message within two weeks. Following up after an interview is even more critical. According to a 2011 survey from CareerBuilder, 22% of hiring managers would dismiss an applicant who didn't send a post-interview thank-you note, saying that it indicates poor follow-through and a lack of interest in the position.
Follow up should begin before you leave the interview, experts say, by asking when they expect to make a hiring decision. Starting your post-interview communication off with that knowledge can help you properly time your attempts.
Always appear gracious, positive, patient and interested, says Bill Driscoll, the New England district president for Robert Half International. Career experts say they've seen everything from scathing follow-up emails from job seekers who think they're out of the running to candidates who write one-liner, "Can you call me back?" messages. Neither falls into the "reasonable follow-up" category. Here's a guide.
What to Say
After an interview, you should send a note within 24-48 hours while it's still fresh in your mind -- and the company's.
"With technology like iPhones and BlackBerrys, you don't have an excuse to not be in touch immediately," says Roy Cohen, a New York City-based career coach and author of The Wall Street Professional's Survival Guide. Handwritten notes are okay to send in addition, says Frank Dadah, general manager of financial contracts with Boston-based staffing firm Winter, Wyman.
Address a note to each individual person you met with – sending a group note doesn't necessarily imply laziness, but sending individual, personalized notes definitely won't. That means no copy-and-pasting. Being personal will increase your likability factor. And spell everyone's name correctly, including the company's. Errors of that sort can be a game-changing embarrassment.
Start by thanking them for the opportunity to meet, and acknowledge that they took time out of their day to do so. Next, note why you think you'd be a good fit for the role. "You've had the opportunity to ask the hiring manager questions about the position," says Driscoll, so this is an opportunity to elaborate on why you are a great fit in writing, beyond your initial cover letter.
In your conclusion, Dadah suggests hitting three points: 1. State that you're still interested in the position; 2. You'll follow up with them again within a specified time frame; and 3. Thank them again. Anything that requires the reader to scroll down the page is too lengthy.
Subsequent Follow Up
After your initial follow up, you might be tempted to reach back out to a hiring manager. "Nudging isn't appreciated," says Cohen. But you can send something equivalent to a reminder note.
Begin with a pleasantry, followed by a sentence explaining where you left off during your last communication, says Mattson of Keystone. "You had indicated to me that you'd be making your final decision during the week of such and such, and I just wanted to follow up to see where you are in that decision,'" is one way to phrase it, she says.
Include something of value in your follow up, instead of simply sending nagging emails. If you completed a course you were taking or closed a big sale, anything that you think will impress them, pass it along.
Mattson also advises that you match the communication medium the interviewer has been using, i.e. returning emails with emails, phone calls with phone calls, etc. "If you've been communicating back and forth with emails and that has been effective, continue to use it," she says. "If you haven't heard back from a person, let an extra week go by and then leave them a voicemail."
Speak in a very respectful manner when you're leaving a message, Mattson says, by saying that you know they are very busy, but wanted to follow up on the email you sent them, and that you're still very interested in the position.
What to Never Say
One of the most common ways in which people flub their follow up is by showing impatience. "Maybe there's a recommendation delay, or something routine that's just slowing down the process, or maybe you're not in the running anymore," says Driscoll of Robert Half. Regardless of the reason, you don't want to blow your chances by being rude.
If the hiring manager gave you a specific date or time frame they'd be working within to make a decision, give them some wiggle room. "People always overestimate," says Mattson, "and you don't want to seem overly anxious."
Mattson says that applicants should choose their words wisely when reaching out, especially when it's subsequent follow up. Namely, she says, don't ask someone to "call you back." Instead, let them know that you'll follow up again within a few days, but, in case they need to reach you, here is the best contact number.
Other no-nos? "Don't reference someone senior in the company who might put in a good word for you," says Cohen. "Wait for them to put the good word in for you."
Cohen also advises candidates avoid gimmicks. "Gimmicks don't really work, except on an exception basis," he says. "We're conditioned to think that sort of behavior can be tolerated, but doing something totally bizarre and out of the box isn't necessarily going to be appreciated."
Save the dozen roses for your girlfriend.
Write to Kelly Eggers