By Brenda L. Peterson, The Layoff Lady
Eye on the Prize: Getting the Interview
There are a lot of opinions on how to interact with employers early in the hiring process. They include everything from sending a basic “I applied” email to off-the-wall rom-com level gesture like sending the hiring manager a cake with your resume attached to the inside of the box. In this article, we’ll focus on using email to follow up after you have formally applied for the job.
Regardless of your approach (and my overall follow-up recommendations are closer to the email than the cake end of the spectrum), stay focused on what you’re trying to accomplish. Remember, your goal at this point in the process is to get your application into the “must interview” pile.
What Follow-Up Email Messages Will and Won't Do
Let’s first set a few expectations on the impact sending a follow-up email message will have:
Like with most of the hiring process, there is no guarantee that you will get an interview for any given role. However, doing the right things consistently gives you a better chance of having a positive outcome.
My Hiring Manager Horror Story: Follow-Up Gone Awry
Once upon a time, I was the hiring manager for an instructional designer position. A person who I had never met, but who knew a colleague of mine, had a background in instructional design and was interested in the job. Through our shared colleague, that person (who I will now refer to as “the candidate”) ended up with my name and work contact information.
What followed was an example of the worst-case scenario of a how a candidate reaching out to a hiring manager can actually be detrimental. From mid-December through the end of the calendar year, over the course of 10 business days, the candidate (who—reminder—I had never before interacted with in any way) contacted me 16 times via phone and email about the open position.
I do not remember what all the candidate asked during each request (because blocking out awful memories is a real thing). I do remember one early request was asking how to apply for the job. Given that this role was with a technology company, and I needed someone who could work independently and solve problems, a candidate who wasn’t sure how to apply for the job through a pretty typical Careers webpage was not going to be a top candidate.
In addition, after they managed to apply, they then called and also emailed the recruiter multiple times, again in the spirit of follow-up.
The good news—we definitely knew the candidate’s name. The bad news (for them)—we knew for sure we were NOT going to interview them.
Worst Practices: Job Application Follow-Up
As a hiring manager, here are the issues I’ve seen when people follow up on job applications:
Finding the Right People and Contact Information
Remember, typically the two people to follow up with regarding your job application are the recruiter and the hiring manager. The first challenge is figuring out who these people are, then getting their email addresses.
In some cases, the name of the recruiter may be included on the job posting. Through using LinkedIn or the company website, you may be able to find a professional email address to use for them. You can also potentially do some digging through LinkedIn and find out the name of the recruiter through their LinkedIn posts. It could be little to no effort to find their email address, or a genuine project, to find out that detail about the recruiter.
For hiring managers, some job listings will include the title of the hiring manager (who the position reports to), or even sometimes their name. Again, you may be able to use LinkedIn to find their contact information, or you may find the naming scheme a company uses (like email@example.com) to figure out their email address. You may also need to contact HR or a current employee to find out more, or there might be fee-based services you can use.
When it comes right down to it, it is important for you to determine how much time and money you want to dedicate to finding this information. You also need to decide if the time you spend on this quest is worth the value you will gain from sending a follow-up message. It's your call.
What To Include In Your Follow-Up Email
Once you’ve identified the person to contact, and have their email address, think about what you’ll say in your message. Here are my recommendations on details to include:
How a Follow-Up Message Might Look
Subject Line: Following Up on my Support Manager Application
Body of the Message:
Hi, Annette. I’m Esme Whitlock, and I'm sending you a quick message to introduce myself, and let you know I just applied for the Support Manager role with Super Cool Company. Because I have a background working in tech support specialist and help desk supervisor jobs in manufacturing companies, I think I am a great match for this position.
As indicated in the job description, I have experience setting up a knowledge base using Super Cool Software and training new staff on using internal resources. I also enjoy hiring and training new associates and helping them grow their skillsets to meet performance goals. These skills, and my desire to grow in my career, drive my excitement for this role with Super Cool Company.
If you’re interested in talking to me directly about the Support Manager role and my qualifications, please contact me via text/phone at 555-555-5555 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Follow-up Email Timing and Frequency
There are also various opinions on when to contact a potential employer and how many contacts to make.
I suggest emailing once sometime between the day you apply and a week after you apply to briefly introduce yourself and get your name in front of the hiring manager and/or recruiter. If you decide you want to do a second message, I suggest waiting until a week or two after the first message and modifying the message so it is not just a repeat of the first message you send.
Remember, you get to do whatever you want to do. Some hiring managers and recruiters may be very open to messages, and others might prefer to avoid being contacted. I believe reaching out one to two times with a few days in between contacts should show your interest without venturing into being way too much.
by Brenda L. Peterson, The Layoff Lady
Adding Value Through Communication
It’s amazing how much of the job search process involves waiting to hear back and trying to communicate with the hiring team in a way that adds value. One easy way to strengthen your relationship with the hiring team is by sending a thank you note. While you could send a paper thank you note, I usually opt for a thank you email message given the prevalence of virtual interactions.
During the interview process, your main goal is to position yourself as someone who would be an excellent direct report to the hiring manager and an awesome team member for your future coworkers. One easy way to be more likable is to be grateful and appreciative of people and their time. Sending a thank you email is a great way to do just that.
Thank You Message Basics
Sending a thank you message is another chance for your interviewers to see your name and have a positive experience with you. Who doesn’t like to be thanked for doing a thing?
Here are key details to include in your post-interview thank you message:
Here’s the core content to include in a thank you message:
Thanks so much for meeting with me earlier this week to discuss the Super Cool Support Manager position with Best Company Ever. It was great getting a chance to talk with you, Paul, and Mary about the support team and this opportunity. I am definitely interested in learning even more about the role.
If you have additional questions, feel free to contact me via email at email@example.com or via text/phone at 555-555-5555.
Next Level Thank You Message Magic
In addition to the basic message, without writing a full-on manifesto, take the time to add a little more relevant information. This is an excellent opportunity to add more details and value to the interaction. This will also help make you more memorable. Here are a few suggested points to cover:
Here's what the message to the hiring manager might look like:
Thanks so much for meeting with me earlier this week to discuss the Super Cool Support Manager position with Best Company Ever. It was great talking with you, Paul, and Mary about the support team and this opportunity. Learning about your new knowledge base and help desk ticket prioritization model was great. I’m excited to join an organization committed to documentation and continuous process improvement.
As we discussed, here are a few relevant skills I bring to the table:
In addition, here is the link to the article I mentioned entitled “18 Knowledge Base Examples That Get It Right." Chapter 9 in this article covers some of the metrics we were discussing:
If you have additional questions, please feel free to contact me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by text/phone at 555-555-5555.
It was great getting a chance to talk with you—and I hope you have a great time on your fly-fishing trip this weekend!
Here's what a message to one of your future coworkers, Mary, might look like:
It was great meeting you earlier this week to discuss the Super Cool Support Manager position with Best Company Ever. I enjoyed talking with you, Paul, and Peter about the support team and this opportunity. My experience working at Not Quite As Cool Company will help me add value to the team.
I also hope you have fun on your upcoming trip to Minneapolis. As a fellow coffee lover, I suggest you stop at Dogwood Coffee Company. It’s honestly the best cup of coffee I’ve ever had and well worth the trip. It sounds like you’ll be staying not too far from their Northeast location. Here is the address:
If you have additional questions for me (professional or coffee related), feel free to contact me via email at email@example.com or via text/phone at 555-555-5555.
Thank You Note Timing
I used to quickly send thank you messages right after I completed an interview. That way, the message would arrive in each person's inbox within a half hour after our conversation.
Now, I wait until the next day, or even two days, to send the thank you. This puts time between our initial conversation and when they get this "remember me--I exist, and I'm awesome" message. Much like commercials, ads, or billboards remind you of the existence of a product or service you might want, I used my thank you messages as a second touchpoint with that person.
by Brenda L. Peterson, The Layoff Lady
A Harsh Truth About Job Searching
Job searching is hard. One of the things that makes it particularly challenging is that you can't actually control when you will get a new job. The whole process takes as long as it takes. To make all of that waiting bearable, it's helpful to focus on the aspects of your job search you can control.
My "day job" is working in the field of learning and development. One of my goals is to make sure that the performance support initiatives I'm designing (a class, a handout, a video) actually help solve a problem in a way that can be quantified. There are two kinds of indicators to help measure success: leading indicators and lagging indicators.
Lagging indicators are what we all typically want to focus on. If I'm delivering a training session for salespeople on how they can sell a given product, the lagging indicator after training would be that they sold more of the product than they did before training and that more people spent more money on that given product--ideally being able to state who did what using dollar amount or percentage of improvement. One trick is that I can’t control how salespeople use the information presented in training or that individuals want or need to purchase the product. They are also lagging indicators because those results take a bit to show up. However, this is what success is supposed to look like.
Leading indicators are where it's more helpful to focus. These are the easily measurable, countable, check-off-able items that are predominantly within your control. For this example, my leading indicators of success would be that we held a training session, having a list of who attended the training session, how they performed on an assessment based on the content covered, and that they received a job aid that contained talking points on the content covered. I can control all of these things. Of course, these leading indicators don't necessarily guarantee I'll achieve my lagging indicators. Still, they show that I'm going in the right direction and help position those salespeople to achieve the sales numbers we hope to see.
Job Search: Lagging Indicators
Within the context of my job search, here are the tangible markers of success that I want to see:
All of these are lagging indicators. They are awesome because when they happen, they are definitive, and you know you have made legitimate progress toward getting a job. The trick is that many of these things happening at all--and what the timing might look like--is out of your control.
Ways to Achieve the Bigger Goal
While I can't directly make those lagging indicators happen, I can focus on strategies to position myself for more success in those areas, including the following:
Job Search: Leading Indicators.
Now, to turn those squishier ideas into leading indicators (which are specific, countable, check-off-able things I can put on a to-do list), here are items I can actually do in a given week:
Having this list of tangible actions to take keeps me on track to achieve my goal of starting a new job.
Keep On Doing The Right Things
Some weeks, you do a lot of waiting, which makes you feel like you are terrible at everything and will never work again. Other weeks, people seem to be falling all over themselves to talk with you about yet another amazing job opportunity. During those weeks, you feel like this is all easy and you can do no wrong.
During those slow weeks, it's helpful to remember to keep on doing those right things. Fine-tune as needed and know that your best strategy is to keep on keeping on. Put in the work, then trust the process.
by Brenda L. Peterson, The Layoff Lady
The Value of Professional Networking
When it comes to job searching, professional networking is a critical component of success. Ideally, you make initial connections with people through LinkedIn (maybe even after meeting them in person or at an online group event). While this is a great start, there is value in building relationships beyond that initial connection. A 1:1 meeting can significantly strengthen a networking relationship and help you learn how you and your new connection can help one another succeed.
About 1:1 Networking Meetings
So what exactly is a networking meeting? Back in the day, I remember hearing people talk about doing "informational interviews." In short, if you were interested in having a particular job or working with a specific company, you would contact an organization or individual and ask if they would meet you for an informational interview. In this 1:1 meeting, which could take place via phone or in person, you might learn about the company, what they are looking for, skills to acquire, and more. It also allowed you to start to build a relationship with a company--or a possible advocate in the person doling out said information.
Fast forward to now. Today, a networking meeting is typically between you and another person deciding to spend a half hour-ish together. This meeting, sometimes called a coffee chat, could happen virtually via Zoom or in person, often over coffee.
If you're job searching, the typical focus will be on how to progress in your job search. Someone may agree to a networking meeting because you have things in common (like a field of work, background, professional goals), because they are generally committed to helping people when they are job searching, or because you have a mutual acquaintance to ask that person to meet with you to help you out.
Networking Meeting = Informal Interview
Whenever you have an opportunity to meet one-on-one with someone, remember that you are taking part in a type of informal interview. Whenever I meet with someone in career transition, my goal is to help them figure out their next steps, offer advice (if they ask and are interested), and give them ideas on further steps they might take, including who they should speak with next
While I go in with this idea, the amount of help I'll provide also depends on how this networking meeting goes. Ideally, we have a good, productive conversation, and I think to myself, "I totally want to help this person more."
If the meeting goes well, I'll refer them to specific resources that might benefit them (like a networking group they might want to join, a company to check out, someone to follow on LinkedIn) and even put in a good word for them to have a networking meeting with someone else who might get them closer to their goals.
In addition, if it goes REALLY well, this is a person who I'll refer to others for openings, pass on job opportunities, and maybe even hire someday. If the meeting doesn't go well, I'll share a few resources, but I may not be willing to help them as actively moving forward.
Remember, any interaction you have with people will impact their desire to help you in the future.
Types of Networking Meetings
Here are a few common types of networking meetings:
Networking Meeting Best Practices
Here are a few best practices for networking meetings:
The True Power of Networking Meetings
When people talk about how they "networked" into a new job, typically, that means they leveraged their initial connections to help make inroads with new contacts, who helped them get closer to a new position.
The holy grail of networking meetings is when the person you meet with agrees to introduce you to someone else they know who could help you. That process repeats until you're talking to a hiring manager or influencer who can help you get an interview for a job. Having good networking meetings is a critical step in that process.
by Brenda L. Peterson, The Layoff Lady
Managing Job Anxiety
Recently, I was at a professional development event learning about the finer points of corporate training. During networking time, I talked with a woman who had been previously laid off, then called back to work for the same company (which is rare for my chosen field). What was her biggest concern? In short, she was trying to figure out how to be happy in her new/old position and not constantly worry about the possibility of getting laid off again.
To Worry, or Not To Worry?
Here in the land of having been laid off from various and sundry positions many, many times over the course of my career, I know from being worried about job loss. Granted, the first time I was laid off, an involuntary job loss was outside of my realm of possibility since it had never personally happened to me. After that, though, once I knew it was a thing, there were many times when I worried about being laid off. Maybe it was concerns about market performance, new management, rumors about reorganization, or other things that caused my anxiety to kick in.
An Alternative to Worry
Way back when, I had two operating modes when it came to work: “I’m happy with my job” mode and “I need to find a new job right this minute” mode. “I’m happy with my job” mode included excelling at my day-job with a side order of inactivity. “I need to find a new job right this minute” mode is when I started to network, look for career opportunities, dust off my resume, highlight my skills, and look to make a change in the very near future.
Now I realize that I needed to change from those two to an all new “working professional” mode—which is a both/and way of being. As a working professional, I still excel in my current role, but I also remember to keep my skill set up to date, continue to make ongoing professional connections, and have a career plan B (and up through about J, honestly) just in case I need it. Regardless of my employment status, this mindset serves me well and helps me live my life without focusing on fear.
Learning and Growing
Once upon a time, I planned to be a high school English teacher. While I didn’t end up teaching in a school setting, I use that skill set to help adults who work for businesses learn the knowledge, skills, and abilities that enable them to excel professionally and personally.
I’m a lifelong learner, and I literally learn for a living—and help others do the same. I’m always learning new technology, reading up on adult education theory, and gaining insights from those around me.
In addition to having a formal background in education, I also attend regular professional development meetings, and I constantly read in and outside of my field. I make sure I can speak intelligently about trends in business, education, and beyond. Staying current and continuing to learn and grow keeps me doing well in my current position and future ready. In an ever-changing world, continued professional growth is the best way to manage whatever happens next.
Building (and Tending) My Professional Network
People talk a lot about “networking.” Too often, I think networking is depicted as a superficial act that involves shaking a lot of hands at a nametag-laden event where people dread the next day’s “would you like to buy something from me” calls. As an introvert, I approach networking differently. My goal is to build mutually beneficial relationships with people. These relationships are an opportunity to share information, help one another out, and feel more connected.
I keep track of my network using LinkedIn. In the beforetimes (aka pre-pandemic), I would typically meet people in person first, then connect with them via LinkedIn. Now, after I interact with someone via webinar (at a professional development meeting or after we work together for the first time), I invite them to connect on LinkedIn.
I've also taken a more proactive stance on online networking out of sheer necessity. Regardless of how that connection comes into my life, from there, I’m happy to help a friend of theirs look for a new job, or talk with one of my connections about how they might want to design their technical certification program, or answer a question about a job applicant who is a former coworker of mine. I expect to help people in my professional network out, and know that they will be willing to do the same
Regardless of the role I’m in, and even if it seems to be going well, I always have a backup plan, and a backup-backup plan, and then a couple more backup plans after those. After many layoffs and the unique challenges of each, I have a broad sense of the types of situations (like figuring out the healthcare exchange and determining when it made sense to do short-term contract work) I may need to mitigate. This means being ready to manage possible adversity or taking advantage of opportunities as they become available.
In addition to being proactive with my network, some things I’ve thought through have made me better equipped for issues as they arise. Here are a few of the things I’ve contemplated:
by Brenda L. Peterson, The Layoff Lady
Using LinkedIn To Build Your Brand
Sharing content on LinkedIn is a great way to engage with your connections, add value to your professional relationships, and promote who you are and what you know. However, only about 1% of LinkedIn users ever post anything at all--which I think is a huge missed opportunity to stand out.
Why People Don't Post on LinkedIn
When I've asked people what is stopping them from posting on LinkedIn, the overwhelming answer is, "I don't know what to post." Like with most everything in life, it comes down to your overall goals.
Whether I'm promoting myself in general or actively searching for a new "day job" in L&D, my goals remain consistent: to share knowledge and strengthen relationships. There are many ways posting on LinkedIn can help. I suggest using LinkedIn to share posts that support who you are as a professional.
Types of Posts
You don't have to write a long, original manifesto to post on LinkedIn and make an impact. Here are examples of what you can post on LinkedIn that will help you "build your brand" and share what you're all about, both professionally and as a person:
Let's look at a few examples of my posts.
Showcasing Your Expertise
Who are you professionally? What are your skills? What do you bring to the table as a possible employee of a given company? For me, my skills include training leadership, needs assessment, relationship building, instructional design, project management, technical writing, facilitating classes, and more.
You as a Person
Who are you? What is it like to work with you? What are your interests? What do you care about? For me, I love helping people to succeed. I love removing obstacles so people can be successful. I enjoy board games, inline skating, my cats, my family, and a good cup of coffee. I am also kind of a nerd. I also own a velvet Elvis--because of course I do.
What picks you up when you are down? What insights struck you? What motivates you? For me, I love quotes about the value of lifelong learning, self care, and shifting your mindset.
Who inspires you? Who do you learn from? Who shared a useful resource that benefitted you? For me, I enjoy finding awesome people to learn from and sharing useful articles with others who might also find them helpful.
You Doing Things
What do you do? What did you write? How do you volunteer? For me, I lead classes, go to professional development meetings, deliver webinars, inline skate, and, on rare occasion, beat my daughter in a rousing game of Ticket to Ride.
Your Work Samples
What projects do you work on? What do you write? What content to you create? What experiences have you learned from? For me, I teach custom webinars, write blog articles, assist other instructors, and design learning.
What have you learned about your chosen profession? What's a tip you like to share? What's your go-to strategy for solving a problem? What's something unique you have noticed? For me, I make observations, see unique solutions to common problems, or see how training and learning are out there in the world. And also coffee.
Sharing Opportunities and Resources
What problems can you help people solve? Who do you know who is a go to person for a given topic? What is a solution you learned about from a common problem? For me, I share information for people who want to get into corporate training, share job search resources, point people towards others who share topic-specific content.
7-time layoff survivor Brenda L. Peterson, The Layoff Lady, waxes poetic on layoffs, job transitions, & career resilience.