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Advice / Job Search / Networking

Your Guide to When to Follow Up—and When to Sit Tight and Be Patient

We’ve all been there. You sent a super important email, and now you’re not-so-patiently waiting for a response. The networking connection you requested. The interviewer who promised to send you a reply by last Friday. The sales lead who could put a feather in your professional cap.

You don’t want to appear overeager or be perceived as one of those annoying stalker types. But you really want a response. So do you hold tight and hope that your contact will finally notice that email in his or her inbox? Or plunge ahead and send another follow-up message?

In general, studies show that emails that get responses have two things in common. The message is opened the day it’s received, and the response is sent within a day after that. So if you’re going to get a reply, it’s probably going to be within 24 to 48 hours of your original message.

If you don’t hear back, it pays to follow up—and keep following up. The same research shows that you if you didn’t get a reply the first time, you still have a 21% chance of getting a response from your second attempt. And if you continue making contact, you have a 25% chance of eventually hearing back.

The bottom line: Your commitment to checking in can be a huge competitive advantage—as long as your timing is right. So when should you continue pushing for a reply, and when should you lay low? Here’s my advice for a few common scenarios.

After the Job Application

You’ve applied for a job through an online form, and you want to ping the hiring manager to let him or her know you’re more than an anonymous name in the applicant tracking system.

Once you track down the hiring manager’s name and contact information (here’s how to do that), send one simple, well-composed email letting him or her know you’ve applied for the job, the specific qualities that make you a perfect fit, and that you’re excited about the opportunity.

Hello Hiring Manger,

I just submitted my application for the marketing associate position posted on your website, and I wanted to make sure you received my materials.

I’m excited to discuss how my skills and experience are a solid fit for this job as you begin scheduling interviews. I look forward to speaking with you!

Carmen Candidate

Then, let the system do its thing. It’s OK to follow up once after you send in an application. But any more than that might be perceived as disruptive to the employer.

After the Phone Screen

The phone screen is often the initial step in the hiring process for any job—the thing that separates you from an in-person interview. Understandably, as soon as you hang up the phone, you’re probably itching to know if you qualified for the next step in the process.

You should send a thank you email the day of your phone screen, but how soon can you follow up again to inquire about your status as a candidate?

If you haven’t heard back within a few days, it’s OK to check back in and ask about the timing and process for the selection process.

Hi Recruiter,

I just wanted to follow up on the phone interview I had Tuesday morning for the marketing associate position. What is your timeframe for deciding on candidates to move forward to the next round of interviews? I look forward to meeting with your team and further demonstrating my capabilities for this role.

Carmen Candidate

After that, let the process take its course.

After the Job Interview

As a diligent job seeker, you sent a professional, handwritten or email thank you note the day of your interview—but it’s been radio silence ever since.

If it’s been 10 business days since the interview, or if the date by which the interviewer said he or she would contact you has passed, it’s time to check in. Compose a concise, professional email emphasizing your interest in the position and asking if he or she has any updates on the timing of the final selection process.

Hi Hiring Manager,

You mentioned you’d be finishing up interviews and making a final decision about the marketing associate position this week. I wanted to check in and see if you have an update on your progress.

Is there any additional information I can provide to support your decision-making process? I look forward to an update when you have a moment.

Carmen Candidate

A lot can go on inside a company when the hiring process is underway—after all, the people there are trying to run a business. So, cut them some slack if they aren’t working on your timeline.

If you haven’t heard back in another 10 business days, send another email.

Getting Time With a Networking Contact

Let’s say you met an amazing contact on LinkedIn or at a networking event. You’d love to get some time on his or her calendar to connect one-on-one. So, you sent an initial “I met you last night at the fundraiser, can I buy you coffee?” message. Now, it’s crickets.

Give it a little time—I suggest waiting a week. Then follow up with a reminder of who you are, what you have in common, and what your expected topics of conversation will be if you do meet up for that coffee. It can also be beneficial to offer the contact something helpful, like a link to an article that you think would interest him or her.

Hi Future Contact,

We met at the Marketing Awards function two weeks ago in New York. At the time you mentioned your interest in the healthcare industry. Here’s a fabulous article that outlines a few interesting complexities and issues in healthcare marketing. I thought it would be a great resource for you as you pursue that industry!

My invitation for coffee still stands if you’re up for it. How does Friday morning look for you?

Hope to hear from you soon,
Diligent Networker

I suggest that you put networking contacts on a follow-up list and stay in touch on a regular basis. So, for example, every Friday, go through your connection list and reach out to the contacts you haven’t heard back from and want to check in with.

If you message the contact two or three times and hear nothing, don’t be afraid to be blunt. Ask your contact if he or she would prefer you stop following up or if he or she is too busy to pursue a conversation right now.

Some people will appreciate the persistence and ask you to keep checking in until his or her schedule frees up a bit.

Research shows that most email follow-up dies after a single exchange. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that someone else’s failure to respond is about you. Hiring managers, HR representatives, and other professionals are busy.

Often, the difference between a “yes” and a “no” can be your level of consistent, professional follow-up in every situation.

Photo of woman on phone courtesy of Shutterstock.