Sarah Hisey has become fearless about getting on the phone and following up when a networking lead or interviewer fails to get back to her.
"I have trepidation about whether I can even get to the person and how they'll respond when I do. But I've learned that people are busy and if you don't keep yourself in the front part of their brain, they might not get back to you," said Ms. Hisey, who lost her job as a human resources vice-president in a company restructuring and has been in a job hunt in Toronto since April.
Her persistence paid off this week. She had sent her résumé to a manager who didn't get back to her for several days. "So I called him, and he said: 'There's a job that I just have coming open that you might be qualified for,' " she said.
"If I had been timid and told myself, 'He didn't respond to my résumé, so he must not be interested,' I would have missed out."
It's a reality that could be robbing more than 10 per cent of job seekers of opportunities they could have landed, according to a new study.
"It's incredible. Even with top executives who should know better, there seems to be a reluctance to follow up after an interview for a new role," said Warren Lundy, who compiled the analysis. He is a partner with OI Partners-Feldman Daxon Partners Inc., a Toronto-based executive search and career-transition coaching firm.
"I find the more senior people get, the higher the proportion of candidates who feel that follow-ups don't need to be done," Mr. Lundy said. Many just don't think they need to take the effort stay on the radar.
"For a lot of executives who have stayed employed in the previous recessions, it's a new experience. The jobs always came to them; they never had to go to somebody else and ask about themselves."
From experiences of executives in transition who have received coaching from the 35 North American affiliates of OI Partners Inc., Mr. Lundy calculated that at least 40 per cent of those searching for new roles don't follow up effectively in the three months it often takes between a job interview and a hiring decision. And more than 50 per cent failed to call after being given a networking lead that could have opened doors to a new opportunity.
"People who are most persistent in following up are demonstrating leadership, and that is one reason they finally get offers," he explained. "If you don't get back to say you're still interested, it's a signal that you might not be as keen on the job as someone who does [follow up]"
He said that when it comes time for a company to decide on a candidate, "if they see one person has been more enthusiastic and aggressive, the person will be top of their mind. Unless you are interested and they hear that, they may miss it." And in the process of following up, you get a chance to emphasize that you are keen on the company, how it fits your goals, and what you can do for them.
Differentiating yourself has become more important, Mr. Lundy added. "There are a lot more people out there looking than there were pre-recession, so companies may be looking at eight to 10 candidates rather than four or five. You don't want to aggravate them by continually asking, but you want to let them know every week or two that you want to still be in the running," he said.
Mr. Lundy said there are a number of reasons why hiring decisions are taking longer. "Many employers seem to be waiting for the ideal person to walk through the door … Others may be holding off because they are expecting new business that has not yet materialized. In most cases, companies do not share this information with candidates."
In a program Feldman Daxon does to prepare clients, job applicants are advised to set a time at the end of an interview to follow up. "It should be a pleasant sort [of]call to let them know you are still keen on the opportunity and ask about their timeline for making a decision," Mr. Lundy said. During the contact, he advises applicants to remind the hiring company of why they are right for the role.
Ideally, follow-up contacts should be by phone call, which has more impact than an e-mail. "And a piece of advice we give for reaching senior people in a world gone Internet and BlackBerry is that few people get paper mail," he noted. "If you are going for an executive position, sending a thank you letter sets you apart from those who just punch out an e-mail."
Follow-up tips from Warren Lundy:
Set a next step: Establish during the interview when and how it would be appropriate for you to follow up, ideally by phone.
Send a reminder: Get back with a note or e-mail to each person you met who may have a role in the hiring decision within 24 hours of an interview.
Keep on a schedule: Keep in touch with the company in a cycle, ideally every seven to 10 days.
Get personal: Each follow-up communication should refer to what was discussed with that particular person. Form letters or notes copied to multiple recipients are a turnoff.
Innovate approaches: Find reasons to connect, such as passing along a link to an interesting article on a topic you discussed. This reinforces your value to the team.
Work the phone: Voice is more direct than e-mail. If they say they are still interviewing, ask when it would be appropriate to call back.
Don't stop looking: The job is by no means in the bag. Keep talking to other prospects.
If you get another offer: If you land another offer but would prefer to work for the first company, call or e-mail those who interviewed you to tell them they are your first choice, and give them a short period (24 or 48 hours) within which to make their offer.
BY THE NUMBERS
Per cent of professionals who say they are uncomfortable with following up after a job interview.
Per cent who say they often don't follow up quickly on networking leads.
Per cent of executive job seekers who never follow up
Per cent who miss out on a job because they don't follow up.
Average number of months between management job posting and hiring decision.
Source: OI Partners-Feldman Daxon Partners survey.