You Applied for a Job and Didn’t Hear Back — Should You Follow Up?

Young girl in the city surfing the net on cell phone.
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Anyone who has ever applied for a job knows the agony between the time when you submit the application and the time when you finally hear back. But what you do — or don’t do — in those anxious minutes, hours and days could go on to be among the most consequential moments of your entire career. 

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“It can be aggravating to wait for a response to a job application,” said Robert Johnson, founder of Sawinery. “It can feel even more difficult when you’re under time constraints, the job market is competitive, or you’re applying for multiple positions in a row. One of the most difficult aspects of this situation is not feeling in control.”

One way to gain control, of course, is to pick up the phone, call the company and ask where your application stands. That could have the desired effect — or it could guarantee your resume a spot at the bottom of the trash can.

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Here’s what you need to know. 

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First, Do No Harm

Before you reach out to anyone, go back and scour the original job posting for instructions on following up or, more importantly, not following up. If the listing explicitly says not to contact the company once you’ve submitted your application and you do it anyway, it can only mean one of three things: either you didn’t read the instructions, you read them but didn’t comprehend them or you comprehended them but chose to ignore them. 

Would you hire someone who did any one of those three things with their first impression? 

“Many job descriptions are transparent in how they plan to contact the applicant,” said Dana Case, director of operations for MyCorporation. “For example, not all applicants may be contacted due to the high volume of applications. Making note of this transparency in a job description reassures applicants that HR has their application materials and will be in touch, so applicants do not need to call or visit their office location. Look for this bit of information in the job description and follow the rules accordingly as an applicant.”

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Wait Two Weeks — Or Maybe Just One

If the job posting doesn’t caution against following up, the first question is how long to wait before reaching out. Contact them too soon and you could come off as pushy. Wait too long and an early bird might beat you to the worm. 

“Guidance typically dictates that a candidate waits two weeks after applying,” said Karissa Parris, recruitment director and career coach at Writer’s Block NYC. “However, if you want to be top of mind for employers, you should aim to follow up within the first week.”

Sara Hutchison, CEO of Get Your Best Resume, agrees with that timeframe.

“If you have not heard more from the employer other than a standard ‘We got your application…’ email, you can begin to follow-up directly after a week,” she said. “In my opinion, a week is a good rule of thumb because things move fast in some companies. This should be enough time to have seen your application.”

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Target the Right Contacts Only

Once you pick the right moment, it’s time to laserbeam in on the right person to contact — and no one else. 

“Do not just call the customer service line,” said Liz Hogan, content outreach manager and CPRW at Find My Profession. “You don’t want to take up the time of other employees who are not part of your potential hiring process. Do your research first to make sure you are messaging the person scheduling the interview or the hiring manager. Don’t message employees at random and avoid sending a mass message.”

The email address where you first reached out about the position is usually a good place to start.

“Send an email to whomever your primary contact was,” said Niki J. Yarnot, career coach at Wanderlust Careers. “The recruiter who contacted you, or the person who interviewed you. If you interviewed with multiple people, send your email to the hiring manager or human resources. Keep the email brief, but pleasant in tone. Your goal is to convey your continued interest in the position and offer to provide further information if needed. Avoid demanding terms or placing deadlines.”

Yarnot offers the following template as an example:

Hi [First Name],

I hope you are well. I wanted to reach out and check on the status of my application for the [insert position here]. I greatly enjoyed meeting with [interviewer] and I am excited about the possibility of working with [employer name]. If I can provide any further information, please let me know. I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

[Your first and last name]

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How You Contact Is as Important as Who You Contact

Choosing the right time and the right person to contact gives you two ingredients out of three. Choosing the preferred method of communication completes the trifecta.

“Hiring managers have set up a process to find the right candidate, and many times a direct call to them might be seen as ‘trying to bypass the process,'” Hogan said.

If you’re not sure how your contact prefers to communicate, play it safe with the industry standard.

“An email to a potential employer is ideal,” Hutchinson said. “Phone calls are a mixed bag. Some hiring managers feel they are a pest while others say they show initiative. I would err on the side of nuisance, so a short email follow-up is great after about a week.”

Read: 6 Career Mistakes To Avoid During an Economic Downturn

Kevin Sullivan, CPO and co-founder of micro-employment talent marketplace Ambitionary, has a less nuanced perspective.

“Email is the only acceptable contact method,” he said. “Never should they call the company after a job application. If they have a contact within HR who has contacted them about the application, this is the only person they should contact.”

Despite the anxiety of waiting, not following up at all is often the safest bet. One wrong move, after all, could follow a job applicant through many different ARS systems.

“Don’t do something that will get you rejected for a job you are well-qualified for,” Sullivan said. “Getting ‘no’ for an answer isn’t the worst that can happen. The candidate could be completely blackballed, and given the transient nature of recruiting and HR, it might get the candidate blackballed at another two or three companies. The sheer volume of applications at companies means we cannot respond personally to everyone — even the over-zealous.”

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About the Author

Andrew Lisa has been writing professionally since 2001. An award-winning writer, Andrew was formerly one of the youngest nationally distributed columnists for the largest newspaper syndicate in the country, the Gannett News Service. He worked as the business section editor for amNewYork, the most widely distributed newspaper in Manhattan, and worked as a copy editor for TheStreet.com, a financial publication in the heart of Wall Street's investment community in New York City.

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