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Smart or Stalker-esque? The Art of Following Up

Kerry Sandberg ScottToday's post is written by Kerry Sandberg Scott, author of the blog Clue Wagon and a human resources professional with 14 years' experience. Kerry began her career in recruiting before serving as the head of HR for different companies. She has also advised several companies and recruiters on finding and hiring the best candidates.

I can't think of anything more controversial in job hunting than the question of when and how to follow up.

Career advisers tell job seekers to follow up with employers. HR people complain about the flood of phone calls they get every time they place an ad. Conflicting advice is everywhere. What’s a candidate to do?

Every situation is different, but I think there are five dos and don'ts that apply to most corporate job searches:

DON'T use the phone. Really, don't. Here’s why: Let's say I run an ad. Four hundred people apply, and 25% of them make follow-up calls. If each of those 100 people leaves a voice mail that's two minutes long, I'm going to spend 3.5 hours just listening to the voice mails. That's not counting time to return calls, play phone tag, or actually work on filling the job. I can only return the calls from work, because if I call you from home, you're going to see my home phone number, and I'm going to have to keep my kids quiet to boot. So what actually happens in this situation is that I delete all of the voice mails. I feel bad about it, but it's just not humanly possible for me to listen to and return all of those calls and still have time to read resumes, schedule interviews, etc. You've wasted your time, and now we're both frustrated and crabby.

DO use email. In contrast to all those phone calls, I can get through 100 emails in probably one-third the time it takes to clear the same number of voice mails. I can do them at home, after my kids are in bed. One follow-up email is probably the limit if you've only sent a resume; if they don't reply, they're probably not going to. If you've actually had an interview, email just once on the third business day after they said they'd make a decision, and then again one week later. If they don't respond to a second email after you've taken the time to interview with them, they're jerks. At that point, you can decide whether you want to make one final phone call to get a response. That might make them think you're a stalker, but you already think they're jerks, so it evens out.

DON'T contact HR. Everyone does that. That's why the HR person has 100 voice mails. Use Google and your network to find out who the hiring manager is, then contact that person instead. Pongo's Julie O'Malley has a great suggestion for how to do this. The HR person is just the gatekeeper; the hiring manager is the decision maker. You always want to be in touch with the decision maker.

DO be brief. The shorter your message, the more likely you are to get a response (and the less likely you are to be eaten by a spam filter). I really do want to respond to every candidate. Make it easy for me to do that, and I will.

DO manage your expectations. The fact is that some companies are never going to respond.  Sometimes it's because they're understaffed or incompetent. Other times it's because they're weenies. You can't take it personally, and you can't let it drag you down. Do your best, then have some ice cream and move on to the next opportunity. Job hunting is hard enough on your morale without dwelling on the negative longer than necessary.

RELATED LINKS

The Job Search Follow-Up Guide You Can't Live Without
Follow-Up Calls: Always? Or Never?

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