The Art of Following Up

One of the keys to forming and maintaining effective relationships (in work and in personal life) is to follow up.  This is harped on throughout business prep courses, as well as at any networking events.  You often hear people saying “oh, I’ll follow up with you,” but what does this really mean?  And how do you do it effectively?  As a new employee, or someone searching for a job, mastering the art of the follow up will make a huge difference for you and set you apart from your peers or your competition.

What does it mean to follow up?

Following up simply means staying connected.  This can be a quick touchpoint via email, a letter, a phone call, an in-person meeting, or any other method of staying connected.  Following up is a point in time where you reach out to someone else with the intention of maintaining a connection.

Why is following up important?

Relationships require nurturing and maintenance – they are like plants.  When plants do not get the nurture and maintenance they need (sun and water), they perish.  The same is true regarding relationships.  If a relationship does not receive regular maintenance, it too will perish.  Keep in mind relationships are a two way street and it must be maintained by both parties.  That said, you cannot afford to wait for the other person to maintain a relationship – you need to take ownership of keeping the relationship healthy, and following up is the way to do so.

Following up to maintain relationships provides you with more options.  Options for future connections, job opportunities, or projects.  By keeping these relationships healthy you will be able to have more options available.  Options give you choices.  And choices give you freedom.

How do you follow up effectively?

Job Interview

You just interviewed at a company and received the contact information of the people you interviewed with.  Following up in this situation is important because it shows courtesy to the people who took the time to interview you.  Though you are both there for a purpose, it still shows a level of respect and appreciation for them, as they have the ability to give you an offer or not.  An effective follow up for this situation is typically an email that reads similar to this (note: a hand-written note is also nice, but with interviews time is often of the essence so email works best):

Dear [Name],

I had a great experience at the [Company Name] office yesterday and appreciated hearing your perspective on the team and [Role Name] position.  Thank you for taking the time to chat with me and answer my questions.  I really enjoyed our conversation on [topic].  Based on my experience and the culture at [Company Name] I feel I am a great fit for the [Role Name] position.  Looking forward to next steps.

Best,

[Your Name]

This follow up method hits on a few things:

  • It is clear about what you did and the position you interviewed for
  • It thanks the interviewer for their time
  • It reminds them of a topic you discussed
  • It makes it clear you are interested in the role

These are important aspects to following up for a job interview and are expected by the interviewers.  A follow up email after an interview will never get you a job, but it can prevent you from getting the job if you do not send one.

The recommended timing for this type of email is the following business day around 8 AM local time.  Do not send a follow up email immediately after the interview, as this shows over-anxiousness.  Waiting to the next day shows you have processed your thoughts and taken the time to send the email.  If you wait any longer than the day after the interview you risk being forgotten or a decision being made on the position.  If you’re too busy to send an email at 8 AM the following day use a tool like Boomerang to schedule the email to be sent at the right time.

Networking Session

You attended a networking session and collected 20 business cards from people in your field.  Of those 20 business cards, you want to stay in touch with 3 of them.  What’s the best way to do so?  In this situation, these people gave you their business card with a purpose – they want to stay in contact with you.  They are giving you permission to call, email, fax, or mail them.  The best way to follow up with one of these contacts is in one of two ways: a phone call or an email.

If you choose to contact them by phone, don’t be discouraged if they do not answer.  Simply leave a message and remind them where you met, what you talked about, and why you want to continue the conversation.  Be sure to have a plan prior to calling.  You want them to know and understand what your purpose is and why you want to talk to them.

If you email them, it is a good idea to remind them of the conversation you had and where you met.  If you want to continue the conversation with them, propose a few dates and times that work for you to talk over the phone.

Just like for a job interview, it makes sense to send these emails out the following business day at 8 AM.

Internal Employees

You met someone that works at your company and you had a great conversation.  You feel they have a lot to offer you and you can assist them as well.  Why stop after just one conversation?  Since you already met this person, and you work together, you have access to all of their contact info.  Shoot them an email and explain to them that you enjoyed the conversation and want to keep it going.  Since people are protective over their calendars, ask if they have interest in meeting every 2-3 months to catch up.  Once they agree, schedule the meeting.

The follow up in this situation is not just the email after the initial encounter.  It is the subsequent meeting every 2-3 months!  This allows you to remain current with one another, nurturing and maintaining the relationship.

How often should I follow up?

This is a tricky question to answer, especially for college students who go to career fairs and collect business cards from many, many professionals.  You want to remain in contact with specific people, but you do not want to be overbearing or annoying, ruining your reputation and the relationship.

The best cadence I’ve found for following up with people you met at a career fair or other networking event is every 2-3 months.  This allows enough time to lapse that it is not overbearing.  It keeps you in their mind every few months, especially regarding specific topics or timeframes.  

An event or holiday also represents a good time to follow up.  A large industry conference is a great time to reach out to someone and see if they are going to attend or ask what they learned.  And holidays are a great time to reach out and show that you are thinking about them and want to wish them a great holiday.

What do I follow up about?

Outside of the initial follow ups discussed above, you can follow up regarding one of the following:

  • An update in your life – this could be an update to your employment status, job search, or a milestone
  • Ask a question – this could be a question about the field, industry, job availability, or seeking advice
  • Share a project or idea – this could be a project you’re working on at school that you want to get outside perspective on, or an idea that you think may benefit their business
  • Share a relevant article – this could be an article you found that is regarding their company or their industry, or an article that reminded you of them

It is important that you do not follow up for the sake of following up.  You need to have a purpose.  That purpose can simply be to “see how things are going.”  But do not reach out to people and say “Hey, just want to follow up and make sure our relationship is in good standing.”  People understand the purpose of the follow up.

What if they do not respond?

If you really want to get in touch with someone and they never seem to respond, that is OK.  Just because someone does not respond does not mean they do not see your message and your effort to stay in touch.  Again, relationships are a two-way street.

You can continue to follow up with someone as long as you want to need.  Sometimes it takes multiple times of following up before someone will get back to you.  The reality is, you are likely not someone else’s top priority, so it is unrealistic to expect someone to respond to you immediately and every time you reach out to them.  

Continuing to follow up regardless of a response shows perseverance, which is a critical trait in life and business.  Plus, following up will keep the other person on your mind for the future should you have a question, need, or desire to work with them at a later point in time.  Of course, if they don’t respond, that makes it challenging to work with them, but it keep your options open.

Following up is essential

Following up is a critical skill.  It shows a level of appreciation and respect for those that did something on your behalf.  It keeps doors open and facilitates relationships.  Following up is a challenge and can be discouraging at times, but it is essential to do it and know how to do it effectively.  Practicing following up will allow you to master the skill so you can build and develop stronger relationship.