Follow up or die

By Ray DePaul

When RIM/BlackBerry was going through its first growth spurt, we were hiring hundreds of new employees and I was tasked with bringing in talented product managers. One candidate named David went through the gauntlet of being interviewed by 4 or 5 of us and got a thumbs up from everyone he met. He was exactly what we were looking for in a product manager. It was now my job to make David an offer and bring him on to the team. But I simply forgot. It was such a crazy time that I didn't take the next steps with David. About 3 months later, I received an email from David that basically said, "I know it didn't work out last time, but was it worth reapplying?"

Now, I'm not saying I wasn't partially to blame for this mistake, but if David had the discipline of following up after his interviews, he would have been hired within days. Fortunately we still had room for David on the team and he went on to have a successful career at RIM.

Later, when I was the CEO of a technology company, our VP of Sales had a simple rule when recruiting new salespeople. After interviewing the candidate, if they didn't send him a thoughtful email that outlined what was covered, reiterated their value to the company, and proposed a future time to reconnect, they were eliminated for the position. His theory was that if they didn't have the discipline to do this for a job interview, what were the chances they would do it after every sales call. The discipline of following up was a showstopper for him.

This rule seems obvious for a sales position, but as many of you embark on job interviews, curiosity conversations, and informational interviews, I would encourage you to build the discipline of following up. I get to do my fair share of these types of conversations. Whether it's a someone wanting to talk about their future, an entrepreneur wanting feedback on an idea, or a job seeker looking for introductions, I am always impressed when the other person follows up with a thank you and, if appropriate, a gentle reminder about the introduction I promised to make. I haven't tracked it statistically, but I would guess that far less than half follow up.

The follow-up is also an opportunity to show what kind of employee/professional that you are. The sheer fact that you're following up will speak volumes, but if you can couple that with a new insight or synthesis of the conversation, it will also demonstrate the highly valued skill of critical thinking. But following up cuts both ways. I once received a follow-up email in all lower case and with spelling and grammatical errors throughout. Either this person was totally unprofessional or I wasn't worth the effort. Either way, that was the last conversation we had.

I like to remind people who come back from an exciting job interview that this is likely one of the most exciting things going on in their life. They are getting close to a new job and every hour that passes is excruciating. Unfortunately, the interviewer does not share that same level of urgency or excitement. They have a lot of things on their plate - the fact that they are hiring means they are likely swamped! So it is up to you to drive the conversation forward. No one cares as much about you getting the position than you do. Don't "play it cool". Don't leave it in their court. If you want to take the next steps with an opportunity, follow up.