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How To Follow Up On Your Job Application Without Looking Desperate

Whenever someone asks me if I think they should follow up on the job application they made three weeks ago without getting any response, my first instinct is righteous indignation on their behalf: Screw them! If they don’t have the decency to respond, they don’t deserve you!

Which I realise is actually not entirely helpful.

Maybe there was a technological glitch that sent your carefully crafted CV and cover letter flying off into a recruitment black hole. Maybe the HR officer or recruiter responsible for screening applicants hit ‘delete’ instead of ‘shortlist’. Maybe you just really, really want this job, and you don’t care if you no-one returns any of your calls – you’re willing to debase yourself in pursuit of it.

Whatever the reason, I will concede that if an application’s worth making, then it’s worth following up on.

Only I beg you: please do it right.

First, what NOT to do:

  • Don’t leave 10 messages, 14 emails and a few Facebook friend requests.  This (really quickly) puts you in the ‘too keen’ category (think of it like a too desperate boyfriend – it just never works).
  • Don’t courier a brightly coloured pack with additional neon copies of your resume (no, seriously!!!). It’s good to stand out, but it needs to be in the right way!!
  • Please don’t call the hiring manager at 11pm.  You will potentially reach them, but I have never heard of anyone getting a role this way.
  • Don’t get lunch delivered to the hiring manager with your resume attached to the tasty package. Again – memorable but not for the right reasons.
  • Don’t, please don’t drop by the office and hang in reception until the person walks through. Awkward.

That out of the way, here’s the real dirt (not as zany perhaps, but infinitely less irritating and downright weird):

When, and how often, to follow up

  • If you don’t get an email or automated thank-you message acknowledging your application within the first 48 hours, follow up right away to check your application was actually received. After that, be guided by the recruiter.  If you are speaking with the recruiter or HR person, make sure you finish any interaction by asking what the next steps are and when you are likely to hear anything. Ask them when would be a suitable time to follow up!!
  • If they say they’ll be in touch within two weeks, or after a closing date, wait for a day or two after that to get in touch again. If they don’t indicate any timeframe, a reasonable time to wait is about two weeks. If the job ad specifically states you won’t be contacted unless you’re shortlisted (a sorry excuse for candidate care, IMHO, but anyway), then contacting them is just going to earn you a black mark against your name, so don’t bother.

How often should you make contact? Unless the recruiter or hiring manager is actively engaging with you, limit yourself to two calls or emails. Any more than that and you’re just flogging a dead horse.  

Phone or email?

Honestly – some prefer one over the other.  If you can – it’s best to ask their preferred way to get in touch with them.

In terms of an email follow up: It doesn’t need to be too formal, and certainly not a full replica of your cover letter. Just something along the lines of this:

“Hi Sarah,

I’m following up on my application for the Management Accountant vacancy, made on 13/06/17.

I just wanted to reiterate my interest in working with Super Dooper Company. I think my experience setting up financial reporting processes and developing a new team sounds like what you’re looking for and I’d love the opportunity to find out more about the job.

Please give me a call anytime on 021 234 567 if you need any more information from me.

Kind regards,

Joe Bloggs”

(re-attach your CV too).

There are, however, a few cases where a phone call is a good idea:

  • The job is entry level, and you’re likely to be up against a slew of people with similar backgrounds, many with sub-par communication skills (a phone call can help to differentiate you from the pack)
  • There’s a phone number on the job ad
  • You’ve sent an email and still haven’t heard back (in this case, if someone in the HR department is handling the applications, you should find out who the hiring manager is and contact them directly instead)

Your call should be quick, friendly and to the point. State the reason for your call right away, and be prepared for an on-the-spot phone screen.  (Remember, no one who spends the first few minutes of the conversation pointing out the flaws in their recruitment process has ever got the job, so just get in amongst it, take the positive view and give the hiring manager the benefit of the doubt!).

In an ideal world, you’d be kept up to date on the progress of every job application you made.

In reality, companies are often so swamped with applicants, that mistakes happen and people slip through. It’s up to you to follow up and get the recruiter or hiring manager’s attention. Worst case scenario: you figure out you need to focus your attention elsewhere. Best case scenario: you impress with your initiative, gumption and positive attitude, and land yourself an interview.

About the author

Angela Cameron - CA, CPA

Executive Director

A chartered accountant by qualification, she is a recruitment leader by nature.

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