Question #136: Job interview follow-ups

Dear Captain Awkward,

So I’ve been looking for a job for a few months. I had a few really great interviews but no job offers yet. I keep getting conflicting advice about follow up after a interview. It’s starting to feel a lot like dating; You want to appear confident and you don’t want to be pushy or appear over anxious. I have written personalized thank you messages via email to all of the people with whom I interviewed. 

I’m waiting on one answer from one company that told me that they would make a decision by the end of this week for a start date two weeks after that. In other cases, I would be given a date when I can expect them to have reached a decision. I follow up after that date to still express interest. It seems to always take longer for them to inform me when they have reached a decision and they always tell me they offered it to someone else. It’s like I’m trying to get to a second date. I don’t want to be pushy but I want to be confident and express some persistence and interest. This time it’s a job I’d actually really would like. The interview went well individually with both the HR person and my prospective boss. They seemed impressed with my background and both conversations were particularly engaging. Both told me to call if I had any questions.  My only question really is “Do I have the job or not?” I feel like any conversation would be awkward if I’m close to having the job. Can you give me some help with those awkward situations for follow up?

-Trying to get to the next level with prospective employers

Dear Next Level:

I’m applying for academic employment all over the country (Pssst, Internet, anyone need a film professor or writing teacher?  Or freelance writer?  CALL ME), so let me start by saying OH GOD, I FEEL YOU.

It sucks being in a vulnerable situation where your future depends completely on the whims of someone else.

My standard template for a post-interview thank you note goes like this:

Dear ____,
I really enjoyed meeting you and your colleagues yesterday to discuss the ____ position. I’ve been thinking more about our discussion of (something interesting you talked about) and wanted to share (a related article/a proposed solution to your problem/contact info for someone interesting you could talk to about that problem).
I remain very interested in the position, let me know if I can give you any more information or speak to any reservations you may have.
Many thanks,
Jennifer P.

I want to show that I’ve really been thinking about how to add value to them. Sometimes, if I’ve flubbed or glossed over something in the interview, or if I forgot to ask a question, the thank-you note is a chance to circle back to that issue, like “Since we talked, I’ve thought more about your question about how I would handle question x, and I think this is a good way to proceed.  Does that fit with what has worked for you in the past?” or “We were so caught up in our conversation about x that we never talked about the international travel you mentioned in the job description. When you get a moment, could you tell me more about that? It’s one of the things that most attracted me to the position.”

In other words, make your follow-ups short, sweet, constructive, and as substantive as possible. Since they said you should feel free to call them with questions, the best way in is to think of a question and ask it. If they have bad news for you, you’ll know. If your application is still alive, you’ll know. Keep in mind that the hiring process is very slow for reasons that have nothing to do with your future actual boss and colleagues – there’s a lot of paperwork that has to be signed off on behind the scenes. If they call your references, that’s a great sign.  At the early stages with resumes and cover letters, employers are looking for reasons to weed you out (it’s surprising how many people don’t know this and think that employers should scour their cover letter and resume for clues that they might be a great fit and interview everyone who applies in the interest of fairness. No.)  At the interview and reference-checking stage, they are looking for reasons to be in love.

I’m probably going to break this streak with this big serious academic job search*, as there are only a few positions open in the country and a lot of newly-minted MFAs and people fleeing Hollywood, but I have a 100% personal lifetime streak of “If I send you a cover letter and a resume, you call me.” Maybe you don’t hire me- maybe that phone call is us figuring out that we don’t really want to work together – but you call me.

I really hope you make it to the next level. Be really good to yourself while you wait to hear, ok?  Let us know how it goes.

*Or by bragging about it on the Internet. Jeez, hubris much?

9 thoughts on “Question #136: Job interview follow-ups

  1. I have a 100% personal lifetime streak of “If I send you a cover letter and a resume, you call me.”

    I had this streak too until I was laid off two+ years ago, and then it was over 50 resumes sent out before I got a phone interview! i also had a streak that 90% of interviews led to offers, and that went down the toilet too. this economy is no joke. but! after lots of months and months and months of persistence (in between wallowing), I am finally working gigs and loving it and sustaining myself, so no matter what, like Jesse Jackson says, keep hope alive.

  2. I have a streak where every time I’ve sent a snail mail follow-up note, I got the job. I think maybe it’s something about that extra personal touch that makes employers remember you. I’d usually fire it off into the mail pretty much first thing after the interview, so they get it the next day.

  3. So what’s the proper follow-up when you’re told “you’re overqualified”?

    (I’m assuming it means I’m underqualified, but they don’t want to argue with me about it; it’s been suggested that I qualify just fine and they think they can’t afford me.)

    1. “Overqualified” means some combination of “We can’t afford you” or “This is an entry-level job and we don’t think you’ll be happy putting in your 2 years in it before you advance” or “We just don’t want to hire you and ‘overqualified’ is kind of a compliment.”

      Thank them, reiterate your interest in the job, ask if there is anything you can do to speak to their concerns that you might be overqualified – perhaps if you had a better sense of the kind of salary they were offering or what the path for advancement is you could lay their mind at rest?

      That’s always a good question for an interview: “For someone who starts in a position like this and does very well, what does the future look like 3-5 years out??

    2. My mom got that a lot for a while – for her, it was because she had previously been the general manager for a couple of different bookstores, and she wasn’t looking for a managerial position. Unfortunately, managers tend to not want to hire former managers for positions that aren’t intended to advance to management – for the good ones, it’s because they believe the employee would end up unhappy in a lesser position, and for the bad ones its because they don’t want one of their subordinates to look like a better manager than they are to their higher-ups.

  4. Speaking as an employer (the other side of this fence we are discussing), ‘overqualified’ means you are overqualified and overexperienced and we are wondering why exactly you want to work in a job which will bore you rigid and which you will probably leave in less than 12 months.

    If that truly is the concern you can mitigate it by openly talking about it at interview or in your application (unless the reason is that the economy sucks and you are desparate for any job anywhere because no-one likes a desperado). Employers (good ones anyway) actually are interested in what’s motivating you to take the job. That doesn’t mean you have to love us or love the job but it does mean we want a rational reason for why someone would take less than their current salary.

    I’m not in the US and my country’s economy is ok but even so there are jobs in my organisation that get 60 odd applications. You can bet that I am weeding out anyone who looks even slightly iffy, starting with spelling mistakes and grammatical errors.

    I’ll also agree with the Captain that there are a lot of administrative processes going on behind the scenes which can add (sometimes unexpectedly) to the time taken to make a decision. There is nothing wrong with you calling or emailing to ask where things are at in the process. This is not the same as calling and asking whether or not you’ve got the job. Employers (the good ones) accept that candidates have lives and need to plan for things as much as anyone else.

  5. Re: It always seems to take longer

    I work in a small office so I haven’t been through a TON of hiring decisions, but I can tell you that nearly every time we’ve hired, SOMETHING has happened to delay the timeline. The decision that was supposed to be final Friday? It turns out someone has to be out of town. Or a higher-up demands to review resumes before allowing the decision to be made. Or the person who is checking references can’t reach one of the critical people. Or something. Always something.

    It must be absolutely torturous for job candidates, but at the hiring end it always seems these deadlines are changed with little more than a shrug. And I have yet to see anyone be all concerned about notifying the interviewees who were told during the interview about this timeline (that just got shot to hell).

  6. My advice is to read industry rags with close attention. Generic “interviewing without embarrassing yourself” advice can only get you so far; it sounds to me like you’re looking for a professional career and the best way to do that is to understand the specific profession you want. I was an academic for some years, and got accustomed to that job market’s particular quirks, shibboleths, and bugaboos. When I left the academe, I learned the hard way that the things that worked for me in that world were perceived very differently in new contexts.

    As for your actual question, which is to say how to follow up, one thing that has worked for me is to mention an issue or idea that turned up in the interview that you’ve been thinking about. This might be easier for academics (“Dr. So-And-So on the committee mentioned this great book, and I thought she might be interested in this review of it”) but I’m sure there are ways to pitch it in other industries too, as long as you don’t do it in a pushy or passive-aggressive way. A quick e-mail can make it clear that you’re interested in an ongoing conversation with the people you met, without crassly asking whether or not they have a job for you. Even if you don’t get that specific job, people will come away thinking warmly of you, which can serve you well later in a lot of little ways. To elaborate on your dating metaphor, it is possible to “just be friends”, which might be disappointing in the short term but which leads to good karma later on. Good luck!

Comments are closed.