Standing Out After the Interview

Sometimes, not communicating effectively post-interview could even cost you a job, warns Natalie Lundsteen.

August 6, 2018
 
 
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Almost everyone takes steps to prepare and practice for an interview, but crucial communication should occur after an interview that can help you stand out as a candidate. In fact, sometimes, not communicating effectively post-interview could even cost you a job.

True story: Just a few weeks ago, one of my favorite postdoctoral researchers was catching me up on her latest interview experiences. She talked about different companies where she had interviewed in early summer, and was most excited about one company where her research expertise was a perfect fit and she had really clicked with the hiring manager and entire team. But she said it had been more than six weeks since that great interview and she had heard nothing from the company.

She chalked some of that delay up to staff absence for summer vacations and a holiday week, but she was starting to feel she had lost the position because of the long time that had passed without any communication. I asked if she had written a thank-you message of any kind after the interview (she had) and also if she had called or emailed during the past month to let the company know she was still very interested in them (she had not). Turns out, her PI had advised her not to follow up with the company in any way, especially after a long delay, because he thought it would "make her look weak" to that company. He said that, ideally, she should have other job offers in hand as "leverage" before communicating in any way.

I was shocked at that view, but understood that this postdoc took the advice of her PI because he knew some people within the company. I also recognized, however, that six weeks is a long time to have no communication, and it would not be pestering or look weak to send a positive message of interest. I diplomatically suggested the postdoc send an email right away to let the hiring manager know that she had truly enjoyed her visit and would welcome the opportunity to be part of their team. She agreed and seemed relieved to have heard a differing opinion from that of her mentor. (Remember: graduate career development professionals are here to give objective advice.)

Within 15 minutes of the postdoc sending her friendly message, the hiring manager wrote her back to say the company was very glad to hear from her because a key reference had been lost and they needed her help getting that final piece of information to make her an offer. It turns out that the reference letter went to the hiring manager’s junk mailbox. That was a small administrative detail that the postdoc candidate would never have known about if she had not reached out after the interview, but it literally made the difference in her getting an offer. A larger organization might have closed her candidate file and moved on to someone else, so she was lucky.

Not every post-interview communication will have such a dramatic impact, but it is important to close the loop with interviews. After any interview, whether you feel you would be a perfect fit for the role or not, the polite thing to do is send a thank you to at least the key people with whom you interacted.

Lack of a post-interview thank you makes a difference in how candidates are judged. Recruiters and hiring managers noted in a 2017 survey that thank-you notes definitely affect their hiring decisions:

  • When asked, "After interviewing a candidate, does receiving a thank-you email/note impact your decision-making process?", a large majority (68 percent) of those who have conducted interviews responded, "Yes, it matters."
  • Nearly one in five interviewers (16 percent) have completely dismissed a candidate because they didn’t receive a thank-you email or note after an interview.
  • Nearly one-third of all professionals surveyed (31 percent) do not send a thank-you email or note after every interview.
  • About 7 percent of job seekers never send thank-you notes after an interview.

Writing many thank-you notes can seem overwhelming if you have interviewed on multiple days, met with lots of individuals or participated in a panel interview. But if you have had meetings with 10 people, you should ideally write 10 thank-you notes. It comes down to how much you want the job and how much effort you want to put in! However, you can be the judge of who the key decision-makers are for your candidacy and whether it would be crucial to thank them all or not. I advise always putting in the work on thank-you notes, because you should take any advantage you can in a competitive process.

The thank you can be an email or letter. Personally, I like to send an email immediately after an interview and follow that with a written note or card as soon as possible -- that way, the message to my potential future colleagues about how much I enjoyed meeting them is seen two different times and will have more impact. Ideally, you will have received business cards from people during the interview, or at least have the names of those with whom you met, so you should have email addresses. But you can use LinkedIn if you need to look people up to get the details right. If all else fails, call the company’s main reception desk and ask for clarification on the exact spelling of names and titles.

What can you say in these notes? Keep them short and sweet. Be positive (whether you really want the job or not), highlight something you talked about or enjoyed during your interview, or add a comment you forgot to say during the interview. You can reference your suitability for the role or comment upon something more personal.

Two examples: "I appreciated the opportunity to discuss nanoparticle drug development, and mentioned the work I am doing with Dr. X’s lab at Institution Y. Here is a link to our paper, and I hope we have the opportunity for me to tell you more soon." Or, "I hope you had a great vacation in Yosemite; it’s one of my favorite places, too."

I recently hired an amazing person to join my team, and one of the things that cinched my offering her the position was that she sent me a list of her Gallup Strengths in her thank you email -- something we had discussed in our interview conversation that she learned I’m passionate about. The simple goal of the thank-you note is for the reader to feel you liked your interview visit, so even writing, "I really enjoyed meeting you and your team yesterday and would welcome the opportunity to join you in your work" can be the perfect note.

Another important post-interview communication consideration is updating anyone who has helped you prepare for or land the interview, although this could also wait until after you have accepted an offer. For example, if you had an informational interview with a current employee that led to your knowing about the position you just interviewed for, you could send that person a brief note to say how much you enjoyed your interview with department X or hiring manager Y. You never know what kind of internal communication occurs within an organization, so that person might be able to put in a good word about you to the hiring manager: "I know Natalie really liked you and your team. She emailed me to say what a great experience she had visiting us yesterday."

Depending on when references are checked, after an interview is also the time to give a heads-up to anyone whom the organization might contact. As someone who is often approached to give references, I can give a much more powerful recommendation if I’m alerted that I’ll be getting a phone call asking me for one, especially if I know details. I am better able to tell the querying company how much a student or postdoc enjoyed the interview and is motivated to work there. (It also helps for me to know in advance that my name has been given as a reference, but that is a topic for another essay.)

Other things to think about after an interview: Do write down anything and everything you can remember about the experience. Pay special attention to the things that made you most excited, because they could be great to highlight in your thank-you communication, but also note anything that set off red flags or alarm bells. You can follow up on those things later if needed when you have an offer.

If there was something you forgot to say, or an interview question you could have answered better, write it down as soon as possible. Finally, don’t hesitate to send courteous and respectful follow-up messages or voicemails if it has been over a month with no communication from the hiring organization. Generally, it is best to follow up about once every two weeks after an interview.

Bio

Natalie Lundsteen is assistant dean for career and professional development at the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. She is a member, and currently serves as president-elect, of the Graduate Career Consortium -- an organization providing a national voice for graduate-level career and professional development leaders.

 

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