It’s a very simple notion. We wonder about about it when we wait for a customer service rep to pick up the phone when we call a credit card company or airline, for example ““ how long will we have to listen to recorded music or to a person’s voice telling us that our call is very important to him or her? We certainly wonder about it when we have need for emergency services ““ how long will it take the Fire Dept to come and put out the fire raging in our outdoor gas grill? And, we wonder about it all the time in a job search ““ when, oh when, will the hiring manager respond to our application, and how soon is it appropriate for us to follow up if we don’t hear anything back?
Before answering these questions, I want to take a brief digression into the importance of being responsive to others when they reach out to us. When I was a partner at a management consulting firm, one of the best ways we had to judge the potential of a young associate was how quickly that person would get back to us when we left him or her a voicemail or wrote an e-mail. And, clients or customers in any business will always judge us by how quickly we get back to them. If there’s one piece of advice I can impart to anyone, in any job, it’s that if you’re responsive to others ““ quickly, and you address the question or need they have ““ you are more likely to become a valuable and trusted partner in their business.
Conversely, there is almost no invective too harsh for people who do not respond when others reach out to them, especially if they’ve committed to doing so. At best inconsiderate and at worst arrogant, ignoring someone’s e-mail or voicemail or letter, no matter how busy the receiver, is bad for business, bad for interpersonal relationships, and is just plain bad karma. (Can you tell that I’ve been on the short end of this stick, taking the time and making the effort to reach out to someone and not hearing back… ever? I’m 100 percent sure you have as well.)
But, enough of that, and back to the main question at hand: How soon can we reach out again to someone we’ve contacted if they haven’t gotten back to us?
My best recommendation is to make it easy on yourself in the first place ““ always end a letter or an e-mail by stating that you will contact the receiver by such-and-such-a-date to follow up. That way, if the date arrives and you haven’t heard back, you’re well within your rights to e-mail or call. This is a very simple practice to adopt and one that will save you a fair degree on agita.
Next, if you are still unable to get in touch with the receiver, set yourself a schedule ““ in advance ““ of contacting him or her every four to five days. In truth, the number of days you wait isn’t as important, though you don’t want to call or e-mail daily, or even every other day. The important part of this piece of advice is that you set a regular timeframe for periodically reaching out. That way, you don’t make yourself crazy thinking about it, or calling one day because you “feel lucky,” or not calling another day because you’re “in a good mood and don’t want to ruin it.” (I know, we’ve all been there.)
And, know this above everything else ““ we don’t get jobs by magic, or by lucky timing (or, as I’ve written in the past, by some fortuitous keyword tucked into our resumes). We get jobs by our credentials, by our networking, by preparing good cover letters and resumes, and by outstanding interviews. The timing of our follow-up calls won’t usually make the difference (so long as we’re not harassing anyone). So, set yourself a call schedule, stick to it, and go on to other job applications. You’ll be just as successful in your job search, and you’ll stay saner along the way.