How Many Thank-You E-mails Land the Job?

I once had two excellent and equally qualified candidates competing in the final round for a public relations writer position. The job took longer to fill than anticipated. Candidate A was virtually silent after the interview and thank-you e-mail. I did all the reaching out thereafter to ensure that this applicant was still available. Candidate B sent the thank-you and also checked in about every 10 days with interesting links and industry information.

When I called to thank Candidate B, he was enthusiastic, professional, and upbeat, which underscored my impression from the first two interviews. We spoke again after another of his e-mails. He managed to stay top of mind during the search period. Finally, I had the time and resources to act on making the hire. I had to go with my gut: Since Candidate B went out of his way to demonstrate his interest for the job, I selected him. He remained part of my team for years until he had to relocate for personal reasons.

So Candidate A lost out in large part because he failed to follow up with enthusiasm. But over the course of my career, I've also had to exclude candidates from the running because they made pests of themselves after the interview.

Pressure Tactics That Don't Work

I once interviewed a prospective candidate who was in good stead for a writer/researcher position. I told him I needed a few weeks and would get back to him. But within a couple days he launched a barrage of e-mails and calls and continued for a few weeks, sometimes hinting he had other job opportunities. While he truly may have had these other offers, his mention of them struck me as a pressure tactic. It rubbed me the wrong way, as it would any hiring manager. The typical reaction is: "If you have another great offer, don't let us stop you."

(On a side note, if you really do have another offer pending and feel that the hiring manager would want to know because you're a finalist, then a separate, more urgent voice mail or e-mail makes sense. Don't name the other employer—simply explain that "I'm more interested in the job with your organization, but I do have to make a decision." Make sure that you have an offer letter in hand and would really take the job before you let on to the other prospective employer.)

In my case, I hinted to the candidate that his level of follow-up wasn't necessary, but he kept on deluging me with e-mails. We excluded himself from consideration. The candidate we ultimately hired had followed up with a "thank you" e-mail, a second e-mail, and a couple of phone calls all within about six weeks after the interview. She made just the right amount of contact.

So how do you know what the right amount of follow-up is? Every other week is a good general rule, especially if you're getting a positive response from the interviewer. But every situation differs, so keep the following tips in mind.

Consider the pace of hiring. If hiring is at a fast clip, say in three weeks, and you're in the running, make your frequency weekly instead of every other week.

Think about the hiring manager's reaction to you. Did the interviewer start the session with a great deal of interest—and then shift into dullness? Are you hearing questions that focus on your weaknesses? If your gut tells you that this is not a fit, then don't go beyond a standard thank-you e-mail. And in general, a brief interview along with a courteous "thank you," and no follow-up from the company means, "Don't call us, we'll call you." A situation in which you've been given specific dates for their next steps in the interviewing process minimizes the need for follow-up beyond a thank-you e-mail. If you hound the hiring manager regardless, you may hurt your chances for other positions that develop in or outside the company—and may have been more suitable.

Consider the reaction to your first follow-up attempt. A response such as "We'll get back to you" usually means you can skip the any additional follow-up. The ball is in their court.

Remember that "thank you" takes thought. You want to act fast by sending the thank-you e-mail the day of the interview or the next day—but think before composing it. If multiple people have interviewed you, vary your language in the thank-you messages, highlighting what resonated with each. Your note should serve as a subtle sales tool that, depending on the situation, does one or more of the following: a) reinforces why you're a good match for the position; b) demonstrates your enthusiasm; and c) clears up any possible misconceptions in an upbeat way. It should always indicate something positive about the future, even if it's as simple as: "I look forward to hearing from you."

Ask yourself, "What's the job 'personality?'" Align your response with the nature of the position. For example, sales and marketing jobs call for tenacity, so applicants for such jobs can be more aggressive in their follow-up efforts.

Keep it Short. Remember, you're not trying to befriend this prospective employer; you're trying to stay visible. Keep your follow-ups concise and professional, not chatty.

Offer Value. Assuming you're on the A list, you may send informational e-mails with links to pertinent industry articles, relevant LinkedIn discussions, or upcoming industry seminars. Use introductions such as "I thought you might find this interesting …" or "In case you missed it …." You might also provide an update on a new course completed, newly acquired software training, an award received, or an article published.

Remember that frequency matters. Space your follow-ups accordingly. If the employer is taking two or more months in its search, stagger your follow-up to at least a couple weeks apart, depending on the reaction you're getting.

Exercise your right to follow up. If the company says you're among the final contenders and communications then cease, inquire directly about your standing at the company. After all, in order to advance your career continually—and your life—you need to know whether you have a chance at this job or you should look elsewhere.