Good Resume, but No Job. Are You Following Up Correctly?

January 8, 2014

job interviewMost engineers recognize that crafting a strong resume, creating the perfect cover letter, and preparing for the interview are crucial, well-practiced elements of a successful job search. But following up on these communications may not be so intuitive.

The art of the follow-up – whether after submitting your resume, after interviewing, or even after an employer turns you down – slams home a great hiring conversation and seeds future opportunities. Here, we’ll walk through key moments in the hiring process where a well-honed follow up makes all the difference.

After Sending a Resume

The first critical moment when follow-up communication makes a difference is after submitting your resume to a recruiter for the first time. Hiring personnel receive literally hundreds of emails each day for as many open positions, so being one of the few candidates with great follow-up seriously improves your chances of being noticed.

Career adviser Dana Leavy-Detrick, host of the Brooklyn Resume Studio, offers examples of follow-up letters job seekers can use to leave a good impression on recruiters. “Good follow up is key,” she writes. “It reminds hiring managers that you’re not only interested in the position, but you consider the role a top priority among your prospects, and it helps you remain on their radar in a massive sea of candidates.”

Knowing whom to contact is part of the art. It’s ideal if you know the hiring staff member personally or someone else within the company who can put you in direct contact. Your chances of getting a call back improve dramatically if your resume is delivered by an internal employee – hence the importance of making connections along your career path.

Recruiter Lindsay Olson recommends having your personal contact tell you when they’ve delivered your resume, and to allow a day or two before following up with the hiring manager directly, either by phone or by email.

What if, like most job seekers, you’re just replying to a posted ad? Standard procedure in this case is to allow a week for the HR department to find and review your resume, then follow up with a phone call or email. HR consultant Bruce Powell even says to allow the job posting to close before following up so as not to appear impatient.

According to Career Management Coach Don Goodman, however, the follow-up should be more than a simple “just checking in” conversation to see if your resume was received. It’s an opportunity to make yourself stand out and to build rapport. “Impress them with your insights, knowledge, and intelligence,” Goodman writes. “They love it when you demonstrate you have researched the company and know a lot about them.”

(Note: The more direct the communication, the easier it is to build rapport through mimicry, presentation, or other bias hacks. Try to get someone on the phone, at least.)

Olson writes: “In both cases, your follow-up should be concise, polite, and reiterate your interest in the position. Highlight how your qualifications make you a good fit. Be specific and don’t assume that the company will recognize your name or for which position you applied.”

Finally, as is very often the case, what if the job ad you applied to has no contact information whatsoever, leaving you at the mercy of a shadowy HR department? We’ve found it is sometimes possible to find an HR executive’s email address using a few simple online tools. LinkedIn can often give you the names of HR managers or interns who staff the company you’re applying for, and an email format listing such as the one at can help figure out what that person’s email address might be. This method is hit-and-miss, but it may supply you with a working email address and make you look more industrious than most.

After an Interview

thank you letterProbably the most important follow-up communication is the one you send just after the interview in the form of a thank-you letter. Doing this puts you well ahead of the 40% of interviewees who don’t follow up at all. This email should be sent individually to everyone you interviewed with and be custom-written for each recipient – no mass mailing, no form letters.

Your main reasons for following up after the interview are:

  • To thank your interviewer
  • To leave a good impression after your conversation
  • To help move the process forward according to the next steps you (hopefully) outlined during your interview

How soon after the interview should you follow up with a thank-you message? The industry standard is within 48 hours, but many HR professionals say the sooner the better. Recruiting expert Jenny Foss even recommends sending it from your laptop in the parking lot for a lightning-sharp impression.

A good thank-you email is short, polite, and reminds the interviewer of the position you just interviewed for. Touching on an interesting point or two that came up during the interview also shows you were paying attention.

Checking In

So you’ve interviewed, sent a strong thank-you note… and you haven’t heard anything back. Now it’s time for a trickier type of follow-up: checking in on the status of your application. Essentially your main objective here is to stay on your recruiter’s radar amid other resumes and interviewees. But the tricky part: you don’t want to come across as desperate, nagging or annoying.

“Ideally, you planned ahead for this moment by asking in the interview itself what the employer’s timeline was for next steps,” writes Alison Green, HR Manager and blogger at Ask a Manager. “If you did that and the timeline you were given passes, then you have a ready-made reason for following up politely.”

To strike a balance between attentiveness and confidence, a strong follow-up email does more than ask if a decision has been made – it offers something of value to the interviewer. Forwarding a relevant article, congratulating them on a promotion, or mentioning additional thoughts on your conversation makes you appear proactive and engaged. Green recommends asking for an updated timeline, giving the employer something quick and definite to send back. If you ask something too ambiguous, such as “how’s the search going?”, or too direct, such as “do I have the job?”, your email is more likely to be ignored.

After Being Declined

after job interviewSurprisingly, being declined for a job presents an opportunity to leave a very gracious and professional impression on an employer. That opportunity is the post-rejection thank-you letter.

Career Strategist Julie Bauke has only received five such letters during her 16-year career, and she questioned her decision each time she received one. Being thankful and magnanimous in the face of rejection, rather than resentful, is a rare trait that says a lot about how you will interact with co-workers and management.

The main purpose of this letter is to thank the hiring manager for the chance to interview and to ask that they keep you in mind should another opportunity arise. It only needs to be a few sentences long, addressed to the hiring manager who made the decision (and your recruiter, if they delivered the bad news). If another opening pops up or the candidate they hired doesn’t work out, you’ve left a positive impression and open lines of communication in place.

Another purpose you might consider is requesting feedback on your candidacy and interview performance. According to Alison Green, this should be done carefully and with minimal expectations – you don’t want to come across as challenging the employer’s decision, and some companies have a policy against providing any feedback to candidates. Nonetheless, it shows professionalism and a willingness to improve, and may provide valuable feedback for your next application.

Has good follow-up strengthened your job seeking game? Tell us about it in the comment section.