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Careers Café

The fine balance of following up


If you’ve read anything about job searching, you’ve heard the truisms about taking an assertive approach, selling yourself to employers, and treating the job search like a full-time job. The overall gist is that you need to be assertive.

And that’s true. You do need to be able and willing to express what you can do. And you’ll probably need to express it more than once. So, you’ll need to follow up with networking contacts, potential job leads and with employers to whom you’ve applied. But (at the risk of sounding like a Sex in the City segue) where is the line between assertive and creepy?

Of course, creepy is partly in the eye of the beholder. Job seekers often worry about being overbearing, but employers wonder why someone would call them once and expect all initiative for future contact to come from the employer.

Contacting people more than once if you want to network with or work for them is probably a good idea. It shows that you’re not expecting the other person to do the heavy lifting. So, go ahead and send an email asking for an informational interview and follow it up with a phone call (which the person will expect, if you noted in your email when you’d phone). And go ahead and call one more time if you haven’t heard back from them. If you’ve applied to an employer who’s not posting a vacancy, ask them if they’ve had a chance to review your application and if you can meet. And, of course, you can let them know in your letter when you’re going to follow up.

What’s too much? That’s tricky. It’s partly individual, and partly unique to the industry or even the organization. If you’re pursuing roles that require plenty of stick-to-itiveness when it comes to pursuing conversations with people, then you can expect to be more assertive when it comes to initiating meetings with potential employers. But a decent rule of thumb is that, once you’ve shown your enthusiasm, don’t say anything unless you have something new to say.

So, if you’ve interviewed for a role and discover something new about it afterwards, and that you’d like to address, by all means, follow up with the hiring manager. If you’ve already thanked them for the interview once and don’t have anything new to add, it might be better to concentrate on other parts of your job search while you wait to hear back. And if you’ve applied to a posting that specifically requests that you don’t follow up with the recruiter, then don’t follow up with the recruiter. Mind you, if you know someone else in the organization, they may be able to give you an idea of the pace of recruiting.

And know that it can take some time for employers to make hiring decisions, whether due to organizational recruiting processes, hiring committee workload, vacation time, or the slow process of budgetary approval. If an employer hasn’t contacted you, go about the rest of your job search, and know that you may hear from them long after you expected to.

Liz Koblyk
Liz Koblyk is the associate director of the Wilson Leadership Scholar Award at McMaster University.
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