Two truths about job searching
- The process can take a very long time
- The experience can be very stressful
How long does it take? While there are certainly stories out there of “Quit on a Friday, had a new job on Monday,” there are enough tales of “hurry up and wait” that I covered the topic fully in Wait For It… Why the Job Search Process Takes So Long.
How stressful can it be? The main concern here is a spiraling effect. The longer you go without work, the more likely you are to become depressed, unmotivated, and dejected, which in turn will have a negative on your future prospects.
Have you been in this typical interview scenario?
Let’s say you find a great company and have your first interview on Monday, April 1 at 2pm.
You meet with Human Resources and they like you, so you’re also passed along to two additional managers. The interview goes great. It seems like a perfect fit, you have excellent rapport with everyone, and by 4pm HR is shaking your hand and showing you out the door.
The primary thing you should do is to finish strong. Emphasize your enthusiasm about the position, bring up a topic that came up during your meetings, and conclude by commenting how one of your top skills is a perfect match for what they’re looking for.
The final thing most people usually say
As you’re heading out the door, what most people usually say is:
“What are the next steps in the process and when can I expect to hear back?”
A typical response from HR would be:
“We’re really trying to fast track this, so you’ll definitely hear back from us in the next few days.”
You’re thrilled with that response, shake hands excitedly, and head home.
The simple follow-up sentence you should say to save you stress
In this scenario, it is now 4pm on a Monday, and HR has indicated they will get back to you in a few days (assuming Wednesday or Thursday), so the simple sentence you should say is:
“That sounds great. If I don’t hear back from you by Friday afternoon, would it be ok if I followed up with you?”
The inevitable the answer is “Oh sure, no problem at all! But you should really hear from us well before then.”
They don’t know it yet, but they’re lying.
NOTE: Adjust your response as necessary. If it’s Thursday the 10th and they say you’ll hear something “early next week,” ask if you can follow up a week from now (Thursday the 17th).
What happens when you DON’T ask that question
Here’s the stressful timeline:
- Monday: You go home filled with excitement over the interview.
- Tuesday: You talk to some friends and tell them how well the interview went, saying there’s an outside chance you might hear something today.
- Wednesday: You start checking your email and phone more often. What did they mean “a few days?” Does that mean two or three?
- Thursday: OK, today is the day. Your significant other calls you in the afternoon to see if you’ve heard anything back yet. You haven’t. You start to get stressed and fear the worst. Maybe they found a better candidate. You don’t sleep well.
- Friday, 11am: Clearly today is the day that you will get that call. However, there’s still no word as the hours tick by. You think about emailing HR to find out the status. Or maybe calling. Would texting be weird?
- Friday, 2pm: You get back from lunch and no email. You ask your friends, “Should I call them? Is that annoying? Will I look desperate?” Their general response is mixed. Some say, “They said they’d get back to you, better not bother them.” Others say to call. Your stress builds.
- Friday, 4pm: Now you’re really starting to stew. “I can’t believe they haven’t gotten back to me yet.” Your thoughts start to get negative. “You know, I’m not sure if that’s such a great place to work anyway.”
- Friday, 5:30pm: It’s clear they’re not getting back to you today. As you head to happy hour, your optimism starts to border on anger. You meet up with friends, who all cheerily ask, “So what’s the deal with the new job? Do you have an offer yet?”
- Friday, 7:51pm: You’re drunk. You spill your drink. You realize you are going to miss the 8pm train, so you’ll have to wait for the 9:13pm.
- Saturday: It really starts to bother you. As you see other friends, they’re all excited to hear what happened with the big interview from Monday, but all you can say is that you thought it went well, but now you really have no idea.
- Sunday: Your mom calls. Did you hear anything? Are you eating your vegetables?
- Monday: You make it until 3pm without a response before finally breaking. In a worst-case scenario, you fire off an email that has an angry undertone that you are annoyed that they said they would get back to you, but didn’t.
- Tuesday: Things don’t end well.
What really happened
In reality, here is what probably happened on the HR side of things:
- After your interview Monday, your interviewer spent the rest of the day catching up on email, then went home.
- She met with another candidate on Tuesday, and the candidate for Wednesday asked if they could reschedule for Thursday.
- HR calls for a meeting on Friday to discuss everyone’s feedback, but forgets that one of the managers is taking a 3-day weekend, so they plan to meet after lunch Monday.
- That Monday afternoon meeting goes well, but when HR returns to her desk, there are a bunch of fires to put out and then she needs to head out early to see her son’s Little League game. She plans on contacting all the candidates Tuesday morning.
- Just before she leaves, she gets your email, which seems a little bitter and angry. Hmm, perhaps not the type of person we want to hire here.
So, did HR blatantly lie when they ASSURED you (twice) that they’d get back to you in a few days? No.
It’s just that things take time. Issues arise. Everything takes longer than you think.
What happens when you DO ask that question
Here’s what happens when you DO ask the question:
“If I don’t hear back from you by Friday afternoon, would it be ok if I followed up with you?”
- For the next few days you’re certainly hoping for a response, but you’re not anxious when you don’t get one.
- When Friday comes, you don’t need to agonize about what to do, or whether you’d be bothering them or looking desperate by checking in, because they’ve already given you permission to do so.
- In fact, it may even help your case because you put out a promise on Monday, and made good by following through on that communication.
- You send a courteous note asking if they have any progress to report, and wish them a good weekend.
- In most cases, HR will respond quickly and apologize, explain what happened, let you know the new schedule, and say that you should hear back on Tuesday.
- You’re free to enjoy your weekend.
So, does this mean that you’ll definitely get the job, or that there won’t be future delays down the line? No. In fact, you might need to repeat the process, inquiring about the next time frame when you should check in.
But when you can find a very easy solution to a very common problem, every little bit helps.
Note: A version of this article first appeared in a post for Salary.com.