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Cathy recently applied for her dream job. She had gotten a manager's name from an article she read in a trade publication. Thinking she was being really sly, she fine-tuned her resume and sent it to the person mentioned in the article. Then, she waited.

One long week went by. And another. Two weeks turned into three. The prospective employer, ABC DrugCo, still hadn't called.

Cathy began to wonder. Did the intended person ever receive her resume? Was the employer interested in her? Did the employer even have an open position?

It turned out that ABC was very interested in her. Cathy's credentials were perfect for the job. Furthermore, the company did have an open position that it was looking to fill.

However, the company hired someone else for the position. To make matters worse for Cathy, the person who was hired was less qualified than Cathy!

Cathy could have landed this position and locked up her dream job. Her mistake? Instead of suffering 3 weeks of anguished disappointment, Cathy should have followed up. She should have called the employer, expressed an interest in working for them, and arranged for an interview. Unfortunately for Cathy, her competition did just that.

Following up can make the difference between winning wonderful job offers and sitting home waiting for your phone to ring. Employers are busy people. They are looking for people who can make their lives easier. And one excellent way to demonstrate your initiative, persistence, and responsibility--traits most employers love to see--is to follow up during the job-hunting process. Moreover, by following up, you begin to manage your own hiring and take control over the process.

Tips for a Successful Follow-Up

Following up with a prospective employer intimidates virtually all of us. Here are some tips and guidelines to help you to follow up and win some great job offers.

  • Use the phone. For several reasons, following up by phone is nearly always the best way to go. When you talk with a prospective employer by phone, you can get responses in a timely manner. Furthermore, you can glean useful information from the tone and cadence of the employer's voice. The phone also has the advantage of feeling more personal than other means of communication, such as e-mail. The personal touch is generally a good thing; employers like to feel they're hiring someone they know.

    For these reasons, you should try to talk with a real person. But if several attempts to reach an individual are unsuccessful, you'll need to leave a voicemail message. Before you do, check out Dave Jensen's article The Telephone, Job Search Power Tool, which includes some excellent pointers on using the phone and leaving voicemails.

  • Identify the right person to talk with. Ideally, you will follow up directly with the manager you'd report to in your new position. This person will be the most familiar with the requirements of the job, and they will usually make the ultimate decision about whom to hire. If you don't know who the manager is, some clever detective work can usually help identify her. Use your network of contacts or other sources of information, such as directories of professionals in your field or profession of interest. For example, the membership directory of the Drug Information Association might be an excellent place to start looking for the name of a clinical trials manager in a pharmaceutical company.

  • Make your first call within 10 days of submitting your resume. After that, take your cues from the employer as to when to follow up again. Most employers will guide you through their process, if you ask them.

  • Establish a time to talk. Start by asking, "Is now a good time?" You'll demonstrate that you're polite and respectful, and you'll find out whether or not the prospective employer can give you their full attention. If the employer is busy, ask to schedule a phone appointment.

  • Focus on positive reasons for making contact. Draw attention away from your immediate problem of needing a job. For example, "I'm interested in your work in the area of cardiovascular medicine," is a better way to follow up than, "My postdoc funding ends in 6 weeks; can you help me find a job?" Focus on the goodness-of-fit between you and the employer, and how you might contribute to her organization. Be personable and easy to talk with.

  • Listen! Pay attention to the buzzwords, lingo, and manner in which the employer describes her needs. These details can provide you with valuable information about how best to present yourself to this employer which, in turn, can be more important than your specific qualifications. So, listen carefully to the hints the employer gives you.

  • Ask about the next steps in the hiring process. Establish a time when you'll make contact again. If the prospective employer says that she will know more within the next month, ask, "Can I call you in a couple of weeks to check on how things are going?" Ask for the employer's guidance, and listen to what she says.

  • Say, "Thank you." Always send a written thank-you note, either by regular mail or by e-mail, after every significant contact. Doing so again demonstrates that you're polite, respectful, and desirable to work with.

  • Be persistent. Persistence wins job offers. You're not being a pest; you simply call when the prospective employer agrees, and you keep following up until you get the job you're looking for.

  • When Not to Follow Up

    If an employer indicates that he or she wants "no calls, please," you may be wise to heed the request. However, keep in mind that most of these "no calls" requests come from the human resources (HR) department, which would be swamped if every applicant called to follow up. Just because HR doesn't want calls doesn't mean that the hiring manager is not interested in hearing from you. In fact, most hiring managers are delighted to hear from qualified applicants. You just need to figure out whom to call.

    In Conclusion--Following Up Makes the Difference

    Following up can make all the difference between landing great job offers and wondering why your phone doesn't ring. By following up, you can gain a considerable advantage over other applicants, some of whom may even be better qualified than you are. If Cathy had followed up, she would have greatly increased her chances of getting that dream job. And don't be intimidated: it's as easy as following the steps I've outlined here.