Career Advice| The Importance of Following Up

Tips to writing a note to contact a potential employer

The secret to differentiating yourself from the seemingly hundreds of other candidates in employers’ minds is incredibly simple, yet it is something most students neglect to do, simply because they have never done it before, and it seems unnecessary. However, if done correctly, following up with a potential employer can be the difference between receiving a job offer down the road or being forgotten in the sea of other soon-to-be graduates.

Not only does following up with a written email or note strengthen the potential relationship between you and your potential employer, it shows the employer that you are legitimately interested in their company and that you value the time they took to talk to you.

If you’ve never followed up with an employer or professional contact, have no fear — these are a few tips that will go over the main aspects of the thank you letter.

The most important part to following up (besides actually thanking them) is expressing why you feel they are/can be of value to you. Nothing is more confusing than reading something with an unclear focus, and if the person you’re writing doesn’t have much free time it’s likely to hurt your case rather than help.

Get to the point early on so they understand why you have written them specifically and what you think they can do for you. It’s a good idea to begin with some sort of brief thank you/acknowledgement of appreciation, however, ending your note with a sentence or two of gratitude is traditionally how these notes are structured, and you don’t want to go over the top in thanking them, but more on that later.

After acknowledging the purpose of the letter, it’s a good idea to provide some tidbit/memory of your interaction or at least reference a part of the job they’re offering that you feel you would excel at. What you actually talk about is less important than the fact that it is relatively personal to your interaction/the position they’re offering and something that will cause the employer to stop and think, “They really are interested in (said job).”

The fact doesn’t have to be anything crazy, but showing them that you know what you’re talking about and that your conversation earlier wasn’t something you just went through the motions in, but one that you actually learned from will almost always draw a potential employer in closer.

Doing so also provides an incredibly convenient segue for any interaction you have down the road.

Just because you say thank you doesn’t mean it’s only a thank you letter. It takes just 10 seconds to remark that you would love to talk to them further about XYZ if they would have time. They almost always do.

If it’s a job interview you’re after, touch on an experience you’ve had or a measurable accomplishment that shows you are a quality candidate for the position they are offering. Undoubtedly, this will stick with the reader. If they’re looking for interviewees, your name will ideally resonate with the job description more than applicants who did not follow up and further push their interests and skills.

If you simply wish to build on the relationship, a comment about your interests/skills and how they relate to your contact is all it takes. Something along the lines of, “I took a course on (something related to the job), but haven’t had the chance to talk to someone in the field with a position and the experience like yours. Would you be interested in sitting down for a cup of coffee and talking about what you were doing at my age to build skills and a network?” is perfect. It doesn’t take more than a sentence.

Just be genuine in stating why you want to sit down so they don’t think you’re grasping at straws and a potential waste of their time. Doing so also makes it easy for employers to envision just how and where you would fit into their company and leaves the potential for networking down the road.

At this point, you will have acknowledged why you are writing, touched on an aspect of a previous interaction or a part of the job that you are interested in and either hinted at or explicitly asked to talk to them down the road. From here, it’s as simple as wrapping up in a professional manner. Don’t go over the top with the thank you. A well-written sentence or two goes a long way and the longer it gets, the more disingenuous it will come off.

It doesn’t necessarily matter what you thank them for, whether it be their time, a bit of knowledge they shared or a contact they gave you. Just thank them for something. Let them know you valued whatever they did for you. Again, don’t get too sappy or start making it seem like they moved the world for you. Simply acknowledge what they did, how they specifically helped you and show your appreciation for it.

Following up is most effective when done within the first 48 hours of an interaction given that employers sometimes talk to hundreds of students in a day, which is why including an aspect of your conversation is invaluable.

If you take a bit longer to reach out, that’s OK. The letter still serves a purpose and will do so much more to differentiate you from other candidates than if you didn’t write. After all, you still took the effort to follow up, and it’s better late than never.

The best medium to follow up on is either email/LinkedIn. Email is the professional standard and is included on every business card. LinkedIn is convenient because when you connect the site asks if you would like to include a personal message, the perfect opportunity to touch on some things you may have talked about and why you see them as someone of value.

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