“I could use your advice on how best to follow up with employers when my resume seems to go into the black hole.  I’ve tried e-mailing companies to check in, at times, in addition to calling various hiring managers directly, but haven’t had any consistent success.  So I’m wondering if following up with employers is actually productive and if so, which approach is likely to work best?”

Great question – and I assure you that you’re FAR from alone in wondering how best to battle the “black hole” effect out there in the market.  One of the new realities of the modern marketplace is that hiring has become far less personal, in many respects, and tends to follow a more mechanical process that strips out a lot of the traditional employer-to-candidate interaction we’re all accustomed to from decades past.  And without question, this “don’t call us, we’ll call you” doctrine is one that definitely causes a lot of stress among anxious professionals in transition!

Unfortunately, there are no simple answers or magic bullets in terms of the employer follow-up question.  As far as I can tell, every situation is unique and companies (as well as individual hiring managers) have a wide spectrum of different outlooks in terms of what’s appropriate in these situations.  In some cases, I’ve heard hiring managers say that the sole reason they hired a particular candidate is because he or she engaged in aggressive follow-up and demonstrated their sincere interest in the opportunity.  In other cases, I’ve heard managers claim to have DE-selected candidates for the very same reason, worried that overzealous job hunters might turn out to be obnoxious employees.

So in terms of how I advise people on the follow-up issue, the strategy I usually recommend (barring any “insider knowledge” of how a company views such behavior) is to follow a multi-tiered approach that seeks to capitalize on the strong upside potential of successful follow-up activity, while hedging the risk a bit in terms of the timing.  Along these lines, here are the general guidelines I typically encourage people to follow:

1) Candidates CAN and SHOULD engage in aggressive follow-up during the search process unless they are specifically instructed not to do so by an employer.  Given the amount of competition out there, and the degree of flaky behavior now inherent in the hiring process, job hunters need to cultivate a killer instinct and make sure they don’t lose offers strictly due to a lack of trying – or a lack of courage in terms of assertively selling themselves.  In fact, I advise my clients to follow up regularly with every single lead in their pipeline until they get a firm “yes” or “no” answer from the company.  Even if it takes 7-10 inquiries or more, it’s important to get closure around each lead and know where you truly stand.

2) With regard to timing, I’d recommend that people conduct their follow-up efforts in a phased, logical way that demonstrates a strong degree of enthusiasm, but minimizes the risk of coming across as over-aggressive or a corporate stalker.  In most cases, such as when sending your resume along in response to a published advertisement, I’d suggest you give the process about a week to see if they call you in for an interview.  If you don’t hear back by that point, I’d then escalate things and send a short, polite follow-up e-mail to the HR department (or whomever you initially sent the resume to) to see if a) they’ll verify that they received your materials and b) they’re willing to share the status of the search process with you.  If at that point you still don’t hear anything after a few days, then the “what do you have to lose?” factor starts entering into play and you might consider a more aggressive move such as calling or e-mailing the hiring manager directly to get their attention. You might tick somebody off by doing this, every once in a while, but the risk is probably worth takng and if you DO connect with the right person, and hit it off with them, that can make all the difference in the world.

3) As for which method of follow-up works best, I’d suggest you mix it up between phone calls, e-mail, and personal visits to see which approach produces the best results for you.  Try to play to your strengths as much as possible (i.e. do you “show” well in person? Have a great phone demeanor? Write beautiful e-mail copy?) and use common sense in deciding what technique is appropriate in different situations.  For example, if you’re dealing with Microsoft, a personal visit isn’t going to get you very far since you won’t get past the lobby.  Or if you’re pursuing a sales position, a phone call might be most appropriate since it will demonstrate your verbal selling skills and persistence to a greater degree.

** And in terms of trying to identify the e-mail address of a busy hiring manager, there’s a great tool called E-Mail Address Validator you’ll find here and you should add to your arsenal, if you haven’t already…

4) Lastly, while this should be obvious, candidates should NEVER use negative emotions to try to compel the company to action.  In other words, don’t give employers a guilt trip for not calling back, even if they deserve one, and don’t try to shame them about their hiring practices or express your anger at their shoddy communication.  Such actions may be morally justified, but they’ll be the kiss of death for your candidacy.  Instead, stay really positive, radiate enthusiasm, and express that the motivation behind your dedicated follow up is nothing more sinister than your sincere interest in the company and opportunity in question.

Again, while I wish I could give you a single “right answer” in terms of the follow-up aspect of job hunting, there are no foolproof methods and far too many variables in play for a one-size-fits-all recommendation to be effective.  Hopefully, however, the checklist above gives you at least some guidance on how you might increase your batting average in this aspect of your search, and I still firmly believe that at the end of the day, aside from special situations, the candidate who fights for him/herself is going to come out well ahead of the passive job hunter who sits around, waiting for a phone call!