(Note: this was written for Philly.com, to publish in the next few weeks.  Here’s a sneak peek! -Ed)

When you are job-searching, it can be a lonely road.  One of the biggest complaints of all job seekers is the frustration of sending in resumes to jobs you’re apparently qualified for, only to hear… nothing.  For many, this is more than annoying; it can cause real anxiety.  If you’ve experienced this pain, you’re not alone.  Here are some practical ways to improve your effectiveness and stay healthy in the process.
I recommend a three-step planning approach.   Start with clarifying what you’re trying to accomplish, and choosing exactly what you want to say.  Then decide on the medium you’ll use.  Finally, have a clear action plan which includes: timing your follow up, how many times you’ll keep trying, and when enough is enough.

Content of the Follow-Up Email/Phone Call

There are two useful objectives to a follow-up effort:

  • To separate you from the pack (if even a little).
  • To gain information by asking questions.  Specifically, we want info which will help you compete more effectively later, in the interview process.

TONE OF APPROACH

You can make yourself a more (or less) desirable candidate by your approach.  Whether you are emailing or phoning, keep your introduction friendly and pleasant… and confident.  Being nice and courteous counts.   Don’t cut and paste some long-winded formal follow up letter.  Keep it brief and friendly.

ASKING QUESTIONS

My least favorite follow-up question is “Did you get my resume?”.   The answer to that question doesn’t really help you compete.  I prefer asking a few direct, but more assertive questions.  For example:

“Hi.  I’m a candidate for the XXXX position.  I sent in my resume and other materials a week ago.  I am sincerely interested in the position, and would like to ask you about the status of the hiring process.  Can you please share with me what the next steps will be, and when I might expect to hear about interviews?

Good start.  But don’t stop just yet.  This is also an opportunity to ask a few richer questions.  For example:

“I also have two questions for you regarding the position.   First, what will be most important to you, in choosing a candidate to hire for this position?  And second, what are the most critical contributions you hope to realize from this position, a year from hiring?”

Finally, if you’re feeling brave, why not ask for an interview?

“I would be happy to set up a time to meet to discuss these questions with you in person, if you would be willing to do so.”

Choose Your Method

Most hiring pros prefer to be contacted by email.  Phone is also ok if you happen to have the name of the person doing the hiring.

Some career professionals still recommend snail mail follow ups (hand-written notes, thank you cards) as a way to separate you from the pack.  But snail mail is hard to forward to other people unless you scan it in (making work) and is not a great choice if you want to ask questions.  I recommend sticking with email and phone.

And those “creative” follow up tricks?  LinkedIn invitation to the HR Manager?  Sending a birthday card?  Food? Gifts? Pizza with your resume on top?  If you are looking to get into sales in an aggressively competitive industry, or find a creative job in advertising… maybe.  But for most job-seekers, these tricks will more likely be seen as creepy.  Don’t bother.

What about networking?  If you already know someone (or can be referred to someone) inside the company who has some clout, it’s fine to ask them to walk your resume over to the decision-maker and put in a good word for you.  But if you don’t have this connection already, it’s unlikely you will be able to develop such a contact in the short run.  Effective networking is “relationship-first/favors-later”.  Much as you would like to, you generally can’t rush this effect.

Timing

I recommend the following pace:

  • Email and/or phone your follow-up one week after you have submitted your resume
  • If you don’t get a reply, follow up again 3 days later.
  • And if you don’t get a reply, STOP.  That’s it; you have done all you can do without becoming annoying to the employer, and stressing yourself out.

Keep in mind, the fact that they are not communicating with you now doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t interested.  I know of candidates who got a phone call six months after applying!  It’s ok (and healthy) to let go of the anxiety about this one, and move on to other job-seeking activities.

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cEd Hunter is a Career and Executive Coach, and principal of Life in Progress Coaching.  Click here to schedule a free consultation. You may also contact him at ed@lifeinprogress.com, or at lifeinprogress.com.