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Don’t Just Say Thank You: Effective Interview Follow Up

Sending a cookie cutter thank you note such as the one above is like closing the door on your job candidacy.

By Carroll Welch

Carroll Welch is the Founder and Principal of Carroll Welch Consulting, LLC. A career, executive and leadership coach, Carroll supports professionals in all industries on issues involving career and leadership development, transition and reentry. Carroll has extensive experience and expertise supporting relaunchers in planning job searches and anticipating obstacles as they seek to return to the paid workforce after a career break. Carroll is a frequent contributor to the iRelaunch blog and "3, 2, 1, iRelaunch" podcast series.

Have you ever come home from a round of relaunch interviews and all you wanted to do was kick off your shoes, take off your suit and relax on the living room sofa? After all, interviews require extensive preparation and a tremendous output of energy. After some rest and recovery, you likely fired off that obligatory thank you note. You’d written it dozens of times before:

"Dear Mr. Jones: Thank you for taking the time to speak with me today about the [X] position at [Y Company]. I found your description of the position to be very exciting and would welcome the opportunity to contribute to the [Z] team. I look forward to hearing from you soon.”

Next time, don’t hit Send.

Sending a cookie cutter thank you note such as the one above is like closing the door on your job candidacy. It basically announces: ‘I’m done. It’s over.’ Actually, it’s not necessarily over. You can keep the door ajar and continue to influence and impress an employer by following up with a more detailed, substantive letter (and possibly including other items, as discussed below). To prepare to write this, you first have to lay some groundwork:

  1. Interview well. It’s hard to write a great follow up letter if you’ve badly flubbed the interview. Take the time to master interviewing and understand what employers are trying to accomplish through the process. Prepare interview strategies to put your best self forward. Understand what the employer’s specific needs and wants are and be able to talk compellingly about how you can help.
  2. Get the names and email addresses of all interview contacts. Either a recruiter, hiring manager or assistant should provide these but if they don’t, ask your individual interviewers for them.
  3. Record your insights. When you’re exhausted, it’s easy to forget, so write down your key recollections promptly after the interview. Go to a nearby coffee shop or write them shortly after getting home. (Some relaunchers like to use the recorded memo feature on their phones as they walk to the train or drive home.)
    • What questions did you answer well?
    • Which ones tripped you up?
    • Did you establish personal connections with any interviewers, like sharing the same hometown or alma mater?
    • Which accomplishment or anecdote from a past work or volunteer experience did you forget to talk about that would have helped your cause?
    • Did you discern that the employer has any reservations about you and what are they?
    • Are there any resources that would be helpful to provide, like a writing sample, an article that you wrote, or a reference from a colleague?
    • Do you have an idea or solution to a problem that the employer is facing that you didn’t mention in the interview?
  4. Execute. Prepare a strategy. What do you want to accomplish in your follow up? For example, Tracey knew after interviewing for a role in Planned Giving at a Johnson University that her experience before her career break at Clearwater, an environmental nonprofit, was relevant. But she sensed that the employer had reservations about her lack of experience in higher education and six year career break. She wasn’t sure whether she did a good job ‘connecting the dots’ about the transferability of her skills and other issues. Here are a few points that Tracey could include in a follow up letter:
    • As we discussed, I had a six year career break to care for my two children. While on break, I served as a class officer for a large fundraising campaign for my undergrad alma mater. I coordinated with Keith Richards, the head of development there, to strategize about the campaign and led my class in achieving a high rate of donations. I would be happy to ask Keith to speak with you about my work.
    • You emphasized Johnson University’s goal of cultivating relationships with corporate donors. At Clearwater, one of my responsibilities was developing a database of contacts with Corporate Social Responsibility directors at area companies, many of whom I still maintain contact with. I would be happy to make introductions.
    • I enjoyed our discussion about Johnson University’s philosophy of development. I neglected to mention that I took courses on the psychology of philanthropy while pursuing my masters degree, and my thesis “Positive Psychology and Philanthropy” was published in the Philanthropy Journal in 2008. Below is the link to that publication. I would love to bring my knowledge about how donors think to Johnson University’s Planned Giving efforts.
    • You had asked about my availability for heavy travel during the spring, and I may not have been as definitive as I had intended. I am well situated to travel throughout the year and would welcome the chance to do so.

Follow up letters should be brief (one to two paragraphs) and sent via email within 24 hours after your interview. They not only add substantively to your candidacy but they show that you are proactive, organized and enthusiastic. In addition, I’ve heard several stories recently of candidates being turned down for a position after an interview, only to hear from the employer several weeks or months later about another opening. So even if your interview doesn’t land you a position today, great follow up could earn you points for future opportunities. Given that most candidates simply write one dimensional thank you notes like the one above, adopting this strategy can enable you to truly stand out!

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