Following-Up: An Essential Key to Success
A few weeks ago, I posted a long blog titled “How to Network: A Step-by-Step Guide for Job Searching.” After making a target list of companies, identifying and reaching out to decision-makers in those companies, and actually talking and meeting with those people … the simple act of following-up with them was the final step described in that guide. Following-up (and continuing to do so on a regular basis) after a networking meeting, a phone call, an interview, an online application, emailing your résumé, after sales calls, and with so many other interpersonal interactions is a critical activity for success in the business world. Unfortunately, it’s a step that most people fail to do consistently. Failure to follow-up is a formula for non-results. I’m not sure why a lack of follow-up seems to be such a common failure point for so many people – perhaps it’s a combination of laziness, and a fear of picking up the phone and actually talking with a live person. However, I can say with a great deal of certainty that those people who actually do follow-up properly have a huge advantage over their competition.
A friend of mine was recently offered and then accepted a great job. That offer came purely through networking activities. The person who offered him the job was a decision-maker who my friend first met as a referral from another networking connection. He reached out to that decision-maker – not by asking for a job, but by using this classic networking approach: “Our mutual friend So-and-So spoke very highly of you, and suggested that I reach out to you. Since you are an expert in your field, I’d like to find out more about your background and experiences, and ask for your career advice and help.” [For more ideas on how to approach decision-makers, read “Targeted Networking: How to Effectively Reach Out.”] When they met for coffee, my friend was given several new referrals to other decision-makers in his industry niche. After that meeting, he emailed and called each and every new person he was given, and set up meetings with many of them. Now here’s the critical part: he then sent the original decision-maker regular emails with updates on everyone he had contacted, who responded, who he met with, and what the results were. He also called a few times and updated him verbally on his progress. The referring decision-maker told my friend that over the last year he had been approached by a TON of job-seekers asking to meet with him to “network.” The vast majority of those people never followed-up with him after those meetings. He never knew if any of his referrals were ever actually contacted, or if they were – what the results were. My friend’s diligence in following-up was so impressive (and so outside of the norm) that it made him a memorable and stand-out candidate. When that decision-maker’s own company began to experience growth, my friend was the first and only person that he contacted. He ended up offering my friend a newly created, non-posted job. Obviously, my friend’s overall talent and specific experience in his industry niche were the main factors that landed him that new job. But his new boss told him flat out that it was his excellent follow-up with his networking activities that cinched the deal!
Now, consider one of the least effective ways to find a job these days: applying to an online job posting. Despite the well-known low success rate for that method, I’m constantly amazed at how many job-seekers still spend a huge portion of their time doing just that! And what is the typical result of such a time-consuming activity? Nothing! Silence! No response at all from the recruiter or the company they’ve just applied to! (Sound familiar?) So, what do most job-seekers do when their résumé has gone into the “Black Hole of HR” after applying to an online job posting? Nothing! They sit back and wait for an email or a phone call that almost never comes. Inaction leads to more inaction!
I recently spoke with a job-seeker who makes it a point to follow-up after every online application with a phone call one week after applying. It’s not always easy to figure out who to call … it takes some investigative researching, and sometimes plain old cold-calling. However, this candidate was a sales professional, and was accustomed to such sleuthing. He would call the main switchboard of a company he’d applied to, and ask for the name of the person who oversaw the department he was applying to … or barring that, the name of the person who headed up the HR area. He would then call that person directly, and simply say he wanted to follow-up on his application and make sure that the person actually received his résumé. So what happened when he did that? Last week, an HR Director told him that she had received over 300 applications for the particular position he had applied for – but he was one of only two people who called to follow-up after applying. Because of that, she said, he was going to the top of the list for consideration! Now, does that mean he’ll get the job — or even get an interview? Who knows. But clearly, his follow-up put him a step closer than his competition.
The lesson to be learned here about following-up is not just for job-seekers. Following-up consistently is an essential key to success in almost every business activity. Sales people should certainly know this. And remember – job-seeking IS a sales activity! [See “Why Job-Hunting is a Consultative Sales Position.”] How many times have you heard someone say: “Let’s stay in touch” … and then you never hear from that person again? How about a sales call or a business meeting where someone promises to do something or get back to someone within a certain amount of time … and then simply doesn’t! This sort of “dropping the ball” stuff happens all too often in the world of sales and business in general. Earning someone’s trust and gaining credibility are basic goals that are deeply connected to a person’s ability to simply follow-up and follow-through! My favorite two business mantras are: “Don’t make a promise you can’t keep.” and “Under-promise, and over-deliver.” People who follow those guidelines, and truly make an effort to follow-up with every person of significance that they encounter are heading for success.