Tuesday, November 29, 2011

How to Find a Job: Waiting and Following Up

(This article is part of a book called How to Find a Job, which now is available as an ebook on Kindle, nook, and Smashwords. All of the chapters have been revised, many have been expanded, and the book contains three bonus chapters (including Negotiating) that are not available on this blog.)

After Sending a Resume
Back in the days of job hunting via the newspaper, the follow-up phone call was almost as important as sending someone your resume. At worst, you were able to verify that your resume had landed on the desk of the intended recipient. At best, maybe the hiring manager had a few spare moments to talk to you about the job in question.
Today, things are different.
Back in 1998, when I first started job hunting, I mailed or faxed all of my résumés, because that was what you did. It took time, and a stamp. And as I said in the introduction of this book, the economy was in a very different place.
Obviously, the internet has changed things.
With the economy in such a horrible state, lots of people are applying for jobs. Lots and lots and lots of jobs. And many of them are applying for things they don’t qualify for, simply to fulfill their job application quota for Unemployment Insurance.
In 1998, I might have been one of 50 résumés on the desk of my future employer. Today? I heard through the grapevine that I was one of 400 candidates for some of the jobs I applied for. And this was a common occurrence.
Even if an HR person spends a total of 2 minutes looking at 400 résumés, it will take them more than 13 hours to look at every single one, and stick them into a Yes, No, or Maybe pile. (Though with 400 possible candidates, the Maybe pile may as well be a No pile).
This, of course, presumes that all the HR person is doing all day is looking at résumés. But I’m quite sure they aren’t. They’re doing everything else an HR person does every day. And more than likely, they’ve lost one or two HR compatriots to the economy, which means they’re also doing the work of their former comrades.
If the HR person spends an additional 3 minutes after reading your resume, just pressing a reply button and replacing the “Dear Applicant” at the top of the email to “Dear Bob Smith,” that would pull another 20 hours out of the person’s work week. For one position.
What do all these numbers mean?
First, they serve as a reminder that your resume and cover letter need to be error free. Because if they aren’t, most HR people will rejoice that you saved them the trouble of reading the rest of your resume, and move right along to the next one.
Is that fair? Maybe. Maybe not. But if you blew the chance to put your best foot forward, that’s no one’s fault but your own.
Secondly, it means you need to give a lot more consideration not just when to call, but whether or not you should call in the first place.
Remember when I told you to write down (or otherwise store) all the contact information for every job you apply to? In a lot of cases, the original job ad will say that you are not supposed to call. That is not a deterrent for the easily cowed – it is the clearly-stated wish of the person posting the job.
So if they say don’t call, don’t call.
If a contact name and phone number was offered, feel free to use it after a week has passed. Tell the person you talk to that you wanted to make sure they received your resume. If they say yes, thank them, say goodbye, and hang up the phone. If they offer to talk to you (or let you speak to someone else about the position) go for it.
Much of the time, however, all you will be able to do is wait and see if your phone rings. After sending out something in the neighborhood of 250 résumés, I doubt I got more than 50 letters, emails, or calls telling me that I hadn’t gotten a job.
Once again, you can debate if this is right or fair, but it doesn’t matter either way – at this time, that’s how things are.
After a Phone Interview
So let’s be optimistic, and say that you got yourself a phone interview. Excellent. I’m sure you’ll do great.
But what do you do once it’s over?
In a word? Well, five: Send a thank you note.
Granted, this can be tricky. In one case, I was interviewed by a national company, and from what I could tell, the person doing the interview didn’t work at the location where I’d be working. In another case, the woman I spoke to worked out of her house.
But I sent notes to the companies anyway, addressed to the address that I had on file. Did the notes get to them? Honestly, I’ll never know. But I think it was worth the effort.
After an In-Person Interview
Following up after an in-person interview can take a lot of forms, but the one you need to start with is the thank you note.
And here’s the thing: It has to be a paper and pen, in the mail, using a stamp note. Email doesn’t count.
Why? Email is free, and that devalues it somewhat.
As I’ve said before, I don’t make the rules.
My personal hero on the thank you note front was a guy who kept his thank you notes in his portfolio bag. Quite literally in the parking lot of the place he was interviewing, he’d sit for ten minutes post-interview and write, address, and stamp a note to the person he just spoke to.
He would then drive to the nearest mailbox and send the note on its way.
I thought that was brilliant. Because all too often, it’s easy to put off writing a note. You figure you’ll send one when you get home. But you’re mentally exhausted from the interview. So you figure you’ll send it the next day. Only you have job searching to do, and networking meetings to attend, and then it’s a week later.
By then? Probably too late.
I speak from experience. I once had what I thought was a really great interview. It happened late on a Thursday. I was wiped out afterwards, so I took the afternoon off. Then I spent all day Friday job hunting, and forgot about the notes. I finally sent them on Monday.
On Tuesday, I got a letter that said I didn’t get the job.
Would the note have made a difference? It’s possible. Had I gotten it in the mail on Thursday, my interviewer might have gotten it Friday. That little touch of goodwill might have been enough to push me from not being a candidate to being a candidate.
At best, all I did by sending a late note was make the person who interviewed me feel vaguely guilty.
When I was doing a lot of networking, my fellow network-ees requested that I run a session talking about how to compose thank you notes, since I was the sole writer of the group.
I agreed to do it, then found work and had to drop out of the group before I got to run the session.
In the end, however, I can’t say that I have a ton of advice.
To start with, get a nice, appropriate thank you card. Nothing with cute designs, and nothing left over from a wedding or baby shower. You might be tempted, but don’t do it.
Also, hand write the note. Your handwriting might be terrible (mine is) but it will feel more personal.
Second, keep it short and simple, and address the person you talked to by name:
Dear John Smith,
(You can use a comma here, by the way.)
It truly enjoyed meeting with you about the Chicken Farming position. I was particularly excited to learn about the new feeding methods you’re experimenting with, as I have been following the research on chicken feeding and I feel these new techniques are the next big thing.
If you have any follow-up questions for me, please don’t hesitate to call me at 555-555-5555 or email me at myemailaddress@myemailaddress.com.
Frank Smith
To break that down, the note is:
It was (great, wonderful, a pleasure, etc.) speaking with you about the (name of position) position. Statement about portion of the interview that stood out to you in a positive light.
A line about mentions that the interviewer can contact you, and telling them how to do so.
Regards (Sincerely, Looking forward to hearing from you again),
Your Name
What does this note do for you? It reminds the person who performed the interview who you are. If they’re thinking about you, and they do have some kind of immediate question or comment, your contact information is in their hand, and there’s a (slim) chance they’ll contact you immediately to speak to you.
But mostly, it demonstrates that you’re really interested in the position, and everyone appreciates enthusiasm.
Other Uses for Thank You Notes
As I close off this chapter, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that you need to send notes to anyone who helps you along the way when you’re searching for work.
If you go on an informational interview? Send a note.
If a friend sends you a lead, and it turns into an informational interview, or a regular interview, send a note to your friend. They might not require one, but it will encourage them to think of you when they think of other possible opportunities.
And one more thing: Even if you don’t get the job? Send a thank you note. Why? Because it’s a nice thing to do. Because another position might open up in the company, and getting that second note might help the interviewer to remember you, and consider giving you a call.
There is also a possibility that the person who takes the job won’t work out, and you were the second choice. That thank you note might be the thing that gets you a call back.

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