The single hardest part of any job search is simply waiting to hear back from employers. The process with many companies can be long and drawn out, taking weeks to months between each individual step. While there’s little you can do as an applicant to speed the process up internally, there are things you can do to keep informed and potentially jumpstart the process.
Before sending anything
One of the biggest keys to a great application is attention to detail. Before you send anything, from cover letters and resumes to basic emails, make sure to proofread your message. Here are a few things I’m looking at when I proofread:
- Pay extra attention to names of people, company names, and titles. If you’re applying for more than one job, there’s a chance that you may get confused and address the wrong person at a company or talk about a slightly different position. Double check all of these to ensure that doesn’t happen.
- Mirror the language from previous correspondence. For your cover letter, be sure to discuss your skills and experience as they relate to the specific duties mentioned in the job description. Use similar terminology and phrasing so that potential hiring managers know that you are speaking directly to their job. For follow-up messages, adapt and respond in a similar voice to the message you received.
- Make sure you address any specific questions fully. If the job description asks you to answer questions as part of your application, that is priority number one for your cover letter. Likewise, in follow-up messages, make sure that you answer any questions in full.
- Maintain a professional and consistent tone. Always use punctuation and capitalization correctly. Address your recipient(s) properly and end your message politely. Do these even if the person responding to you didn’t.
Tracking your progress
One of the biggest reasons I like to use web-based resumes and cover letters is to track visitors with analytics and learn a little more about their behavior. By adding a small tracking code to each cover letter (hosted on a separate subdomain), I know when specific companies actually look at a cover letter.
From there, I can learn what pages they explored afterward and where they spent most of their time. By paying attention to these things, I learned several valuable lessons that helped me to improve my site and my approach:
- Many visitors went straight to my About page instead of my portfolio. (My cover letter includes a quick overview of my portfolio so my conjecture is that they wanted to learn more about me.) Since I hadn’t updated my About page in several years, this led me to spend some time refining my story there and getting it up to date.
- Parts of my portfolio got more attention than others. Knowing what was more interesting led me to focus more of my storytelling on those portions (both in my portfolio and in subsequent interviews with specific employers). It also encouraged me to consider other visual options for the less popular parts.
- Noting the technology visitors used allowed me to narrow my testing focus. Yes, you should test your work on as many browsers and operating systems as possible. But knowing what your potential audience is most likely to use can help you focus on providing the best experience for those platforms.
- People were definitely looking at my resume and cover letter on their phones and tablets. Everything I sent was responsive but again, this led me to spend more time refining the cover letter, resume, and portfolio experience for mobile devices.
What tracking won’t tell you
Tracking your visitors through analytics is great for understanding the what, when, and to some extent the who of your visitors. But it won’t answer the harder questions of why and how. Reading the tea leaves of analytics couldn’t tell me why so many visitors went to my about page. It couldn’t explain why visitors went to some portfolio pages and not others. And it couldn’t tell me how my site was perceived.
At some point during your job search, there will be a waiting period. You are either waiting for someone to look at your application, waiting to hear back from a recruiter, or waiting to schedule an interview. You may even be waiting for an offer. At these points, it can help to send a follow up message confirming that you are:
- still interested in the job,
- aware that these things take time,
- and willing to provide additional details or answer other questions.
The type of follow-up message you send depends on where you are in the process and how quickly after your last contact you should send it.
- Wait a couple weeks after sending an application before you send a follow-up message. Try to find out who the specific recruiter or hiring manager is for the position and email them directly.
- Send a thank you note within 24 hours of an interview. Send an individual note to every person you interviewed with. (During the interview, try to get business cards or make careful note of people’s names and positions so you can figure out their email address afterward. Often a recruiter will happily provide contact information for your interviewers.) Refering back to specific discussions or questions for each interviewer will help reinforce that you were engaged and interested in them individually.
- If you have had some contact from an employer that implies they are interested but without immediate action required, wait at least 3 days up to a week before sending any follow-up messages. (Unless they are asking you specific questions or attempting to schedule something - in which case, follow up immediately.)
- If your circumstances change (like if you are offered or accept another position), send a follow-up immediately.
Until you have an offer letter in hand, it can be hard to know whether a company considers you a serious candidate or not. There are a few things you can do to help learn more without being that obnoxious applicant.
The recruiter is your friend
I love companies with good internal recruiters. They are focused on creating the best recruiting experience and keeping good applicants in the pipeline. In these situations, it’s often easy to ask the recruiter where in the process you are (if they haven’t told you outright) and how you’re doing as a potential applicant. I’ve even had some internal recruiters give advice about what I could be doing better. If a company has internal recruiters, make sure you engage with them early in the process as they will often be your champion to the rest of the company.
External recruiters can be hit or miss. They typically make a commission by filling a position so they are looking first and foremost to find the most qualified applicants quickly. The best way to help an external recruiter is to let them know very specifically what you are looking for, and to be honest with them if a role either doesn’t match your interests or experience level.
The dreaded rejection
It happens to everyone at some point. For every open job, there are often many applicants and at least a handful of great ones. It’s easy to think of a rejection as the end of the opportunity, but with a little finesse, you can just as easily turn it into a later opportunity. How?
- Send a thank you. Thank the company for their time and consideration, especially if you actually went through a part of their hiring process.
- Ask what you could do to improve for next time. There’s always a good possibility the company will be hiring again later. If you find out where you were weak, you can focus on building skills that will make you a better candidate next time.
- Ask them to get in touch if the position opens up again. They may not necessarily remember, but letting them know that you are still interested gives them incentive to consider you. (Sometimes the initial hire may not be a right fit after all. In that case, they may get in touch sooner than you expect.)
Job hunting is a long and grueling process. With some care and attention, it can be a great opportunity to learn more about yourself, build a better experience for your potential employers, and measure your impact.