Job Seekers' Weakest Link: Interview Follow-Up

Follow-up is essential to the job searching process, yet most job seekers bungle it.

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You know how to research companies, how to tweak your résumé and even how to answer tough interview questions. But do you really know how to follow-up after the interview

If you've been invited to interview it means the company is already interested in you. You will either seal the deal or blow the show. What can you do to woo the employer and land the job?

According to Boyer Management, a talent optimization and performance management company, recent graduates and experienced professionals ranked lowest in post interview follow-up competency self-assessment. Approximately 30 percent correctly answered questions about how to follow up after the interview. To help bring you up to speed, here are suggestions on what you can do to rise to the top of the heap.

1. Ask about their time frame. Before you leave the interview, it's imperative that you know what the next steps are in the process and when the hiring manager plans to make a final decision. Without this you can only guess or become frustrated when you don’t hear back. Asking these questions ultimately helps you determine your timeline for following up. Sales professionals realize that making a follow-up call is much easier when granted permission. Ask whom you should contact specifically and be sure to get his or her information.

2. Send a real thank you. In 2011, CareerBuilder surveyed more than 2,800 U.S. employers and found that 86 percent felt not sending a thank you showed a lack of follow-through by the candidate. Choosing to send your thank you via snail mail versus electronically doesn't necessarily differentiate you, but it can. What’s most important is the quality of the information in your message. Anyone can send a “thank you for your time” message, even though few job seekers do. Candidates who put in the extra effort to explain why they're interested in the job are even more rare. To stand out, try crafting a thank you that includes your interest in the job as well as how you plan on being successful in the role. Another idea is to provide a suggestion about how you might address a challenge mentioned by the interviewer. If that sounds risky, include an article referencing how another company has solved that challenge.

If you feel these suggestions sound over-the-top or old-fashioned, remember, it isn’t about you. It's ultimately up to the person who receives your message to determine what he or she thinks. In today’s high-tech electronic age, the personal touch within your message may just be why an interviewer remembers you and takes note of your communication skills and interest.

3. Don't take rejection lying down. You only have one chance to make a great first impression. What if you sense things aren't going well during the interview? The interviewer may be looking at his watch or looking out the window. Don’t ignore his disengaged body language and don’t feel helpless. You could politely pause the interview and ask if there are questions about your last answer, or if you're brave, consider asking how he feels the interview is going so far. You may learn that the interviewer’s lack of interest may have nothing to do with you.

What’s the one question you're wondering near the end of the interview? You want to know how you did or whether you’ll be invited back for the next round. Ask those questions, but word them differently. Focus on a key aspect of the job and ask how the interviewer would assess your fit. For example: “Managing projects with team members in various locations and under tight deadlines is something I’ve been successful doing. Do you feel my background is a match for what you are looking for in this area?”

Another way to assess how well you match the job is to express your interest and why you feel you meet or exceed the qualifications, then ask the interviewer what he thinks.

If the interviewer says you aren't right for the job, ask for an explanation. If you're still interested in working for that company and would be willing to work in a different capacity, let the interviewer know specifically what other jobs interest you. You may even ask, “As I monitor your career page, if I notice other jobs, would you be willing to refer me?” Every interview offers an opportunity to build a relationship with the people you met. Stay in touch by email or through LinkedIn. It is up to you to continue to keep those relationships alive even after the interviews are over. Future hiring is inevitable and you want to be on the must-call list.

You Can't Win Them All

You will not be a fit for every job or company. But that doesn’t mean you can’t establish professional relationships with the people you interviewed with. Who knows what future opportunities might arise or whom your new contacts may know? This is a form of networking, which, if nurtured effectively, could help you hear about your next job sooner.

Hannah Morgan writes and speaks on career topics and job search trends on her blog Career Sherpa. She co-authored “Social Networking for Business Success,” and has developed and delivered programs to help job seekers understand how to look for work better.