by Rebecca Knight
You made it through the final-round job interview, and now you’re waiting to hear whether or not you’re hired. This stretch of time can feel like agony, so what should you do in the meantime? Is it appropriate and expected to send handwritten thank-you notes? Or is email better? If you thought of the perfect answer to one of the interview questions after the fact, should you reach out to the hiring manager? How long should you wait before following up to see if they’ve made a decision? And how do you avoid ruminating about the job while you wait?
What the Experts Say
This waiting period between your interview and the company’s decision is so stressful because often, “you and the organization do not share the same sense of urgency,” says John Lees, the UK-based career strategist and author of Get Ahead in Your New Job. While you’re singularly focused on whether or not you got the job, they have plenty of other things to deal with. Lees warns that during this time, you’re at risk of “counterproductive” behaviors, including doubting your own abilities, coming across to your prospective employer as desperate, and — perhaps worst of all — not pursuing other jobs. While the hiring decision is out of your hands at this point, you’re not powerless, according to John Sullivan, a professor of management at San Francisco State University and author of 1000 Ways to Recruit Top Talent. There are some “immediate actions after an interview that can provide a candidate with a competitive advantage,” he says.
Say thank you.
Your most pressing post-interview duty is to thank the people who took the time to talk to you. According to Sullivan, the message should communicate that you’re even more excited about the job and confident that you want it. He also recommends personalizing the message by “mentioning something positive that happened during the interview.” If your interview took place at the company’s office, you could send an old-fashioned, pen-and-paper thank-you note, which Lees says offers a classy personal touch. If your interview took place virtually, it’s best to stick with digital communication. If you don’t have your interviewers’ contact information but communicated with someone else at the company to arrange the meeting, you can send that person an email letting them know how much you appreciate theirs and the interviewers’ time. Make sure to mention the people you spoke with by name and write your message with the assumption that it could be forwarded to them. You could also connect with your interviewers on LinkedIn and send them messages of thanks there.
Send follow-up materials.
In addition to a thank-you note, Sullivan recommends sending supporting material, including samples of your work that might’ve come up in the interview. “Sending additional information could strengthen your case and help sway their decision,” he says. Along those lines, Lees recommends sending a news article that’s pertinent to the organization. It could be about a technology the company is considering adopting, how the pandemic is impacting their business, or some other relevant trend. By doing so, “you’re subtly saying, ‘I understand your needs.’”
Resist the urge for a do-over.
It’s natural to mull over mistakes and questions you didn’t answer well after the interview, says Sullivan. “Everyone comes out of a job interview thinking, ‘I wish I had said this instead of that.’” The French expression, esprit d’escalier, which means thinking of a witty remark in hindsight, is apt, says Lees. And while it’s tempting to ring up the hiring manager to re-answer the interview question you flubbed, it’s wise to exercise restraint. While Lee concedes that your polished response might provide helpful information for the hiring manager, “the danger is you sound too needy.” Because that perfect reply is unlikely to be the thing that makes or breaks their decision, it’s best to leave it be.
…But occasionally make an exception.
According to Lees, the only exception to this rule is when you have something particularly useful to add to the conversation. If, for instance, you can connect a piece of relevant evidence about yourself to an organizational need, then it might be worth speaking up. Your tone is critical here. “It mustn’t sound like criticism of the process,” says Lees. Don’t imply that the interviewer neglected to ask you about a particular thing. Instead, go with something like, “‘I really enjoyed our conversation, and here’s another piece of information that’s come up since the interview you might you like to know about me.’” Lees emphasizes the importance of being “warm, professional, and brief.”
Seek positive distractions.
Waiting to hear whether you got the job can be stressful, but try not to dwell on it. While you wait it out, seek positive distractions. Cultivate your hobbies. Get some exercise. Dig into that juicy novel that’s sitting on your nightstand. Lees also recommends spending time with friends and colleagues who “elevate your self-image.” Talk with people in your professional network about how to generate ideas for different job possibilities. Ask them about mistakes they’ve seen other candidates make during the interview process. You can learn a lot about how not to “sound needy or over-communicate,” says Lees.
Do due diligence.
Another way to pass the time productively is to figure out whether or not you actually want the job should it become yours for the taking. Even without an offer, Lees says there’s information-gathering you can do in the meantime. You can “work your industry contacts to learn more about the job and the organization” behind the scenes, he says. Of course, “if you’re offered the job, you will scale that up” by doing even more due diligence since you’ll need to decide whether to take it. According to Sullivan, this is also a good time to “finalize your job acceptance criteria.” Set your minimum salary requirements and develop a plan for how you’ll negotiate other important details. The goal, he adds, “is to be prepared for the call that says they want you,” but be careful not to get your hopes up.
Keep your options open.
You also need to prepare yourself for negative news, says Lees. “There are dozens of arbitrary reasons that the job will not be offered to you. The organization might change direction; it might have a hiring freeze, or some senior manager could decide they don’t want to fill the position.” That’s why you need to continue to explore other opportunities. “Anticipate the flattening effects of rejection,” he says. “If you’ve got other conversations going, the rejection will have less impact. If you’ve put your life on hold, though, it’s much more of an emptying experience.”
Be judicious about when you follow up.
Deciding how long to wait before following up to see if the hiring manager has made a decision is tricky. “You don’t want to be in job-beggar mode,” says Lees, and checking in frequently could put you in a worse bargaining position. At your final interview, Sullivan recommends asking the hiring managers how long they anticipate it will be before an offer is made. “And if they say a week, double it, because things always take longer than planned,” he says. Still, it’s worth following up within the time frame they gave you to show that you’re still interested in the job, but “be respectful and don’t push.” An email that says something along the lines of, “No response necessary, I just want to let you know that I’m still interested,” could help you stand out from other candidates.
Principles to Remember
Offer gratitude to the hiring manager, with either a handwritten note or an email.
Provide backup support material, such as samples of your work, to strengthen your case.
Spend your time productively by doing due diligence on the company and finalizing your personal job acceptance criteria.
Ask for a do-over on a question you flubbed — unless you can offer highly relevant information that speaks to an organizational need.
Let the stress get to you. Distract yourself during the waiting period by spending time with positive-minded friends.
Stop looking for other jobs. Keep your options open by exploring other opportunities.
Advice in Practice
Case Study #1: Avoid ruminating by continuing to look for other jobs
Per Ohstrom says that he usually feels “a little bit nervous after that final round of interviews,” but that he does his best to remain calm and stay focused on other things.
He tells himself that he did his best. “I remind myself that I showed the interviewers how my background and experience are a good fit for the job,” he says. “Once it is out of my hands, there is nothing more I can do about it.”
Last year, Per interviewed to be the vice president of marketing at a Midwest-based B2B manufacturing company. After several rounds of interviews, Per was told that the job was between him and one other candidate. Per was excited about the opportunity, and he liked the people he interviewed with.
“The job was in my wheelhouse, and the company was well poised for growth,” he says. “I had a good feeling about getting an offer,” he says.
After his last interview, he wrote a thank-you email to the hiring manager reiterating his interest in the position.
Per says he avoided thinking about the job while he waited because he was in “active job-search mode” and too busy to ruminate. “I kept exploring other opportunities as if nothing had happened,” he says. “I kept sending CVs to recruiters, and I also went out for other interviews. It was an excellent way to keep myself occupied.”
A week later, Per found out that, unfortunately, the job offer went to the other candidate. “I felt a pang of disappointment,” he says. “But I reminded myself not to take it personally.”
Per kept networking for the right job, and earlier this year he joined Chief Outsiders as a fractional CMO, sharing his time between several industrial and B2B companies. “It is a great situation,” he says. “I get to use my deep marketing experience every day with customers that really need help.”
Case Study #2: Try to stay positive and keep your options open
Jack Garnier,* a financial industry veteran, has been looking for a new position during the pandemic, and he’s had his fair share of final-round interviews. He hasn’t been the chosen candidate yet, but he understands that the job search is a numbers game.
“It’s a recruiter’s market right now, and I accept that,” he says. “Most of the time, I may not be a fit, or there’s a [better] candidate, or the organization decides to go in a different direction. But it comes down to the pipeline: The more people I speak with, the more jobs I apply for, the more interviews I go on, the more likely I am to get a job. And all it takes is one.”
Two recent experiences with final-round interviews stand out in his mind. A few months ago, he was in the running to join a Bay Area hedge fund as COO. As a candidate, he was asked to take a series of online automated tests, create videos of himself to present to other employees, and interview with four members of the executive team.
“I invested quite a bit of time in the process,” he says.
He received positive feedback about his performance throughout, and he felt confident. At his last interview, the hiring manager told him that he was a finalist and intimated that Jack would hear from the company within a matter of days.
After those days passed, Jack sent a follow-up email expressing his interest in the job and asking whether a final decision was indeed imminent. In the meantime, he kept networking and looking for other jobs. “I wasn’t sitting by the phone all day long, though it was certainly on my mind.”
He never heard back from the hiring manager. “Clearly I had my answer,” he says. “Their silence was saying it all.”
Now, a month later, Jack is once again a finalist for a CFO job at a nonprofit. He sent thank-you emails to the executives he interviewed with and politely inquired about the organization’s timeline for making a decision. He was told that the decision would be made in a week.
“It’s not my MO to keep following up. I try to sway the recruiter during the interview stage and then accept [that it’s out of my hands],” he says. “It’s a balancing act: I don’t want to seem insecure, but I do want them to know that I want the job.”
For now, Jack is doing due diligence on the organization in case he’s offered the role, and he’s also applying for other positions. He wants to keep his options open.
He admits that the process can be frustrating at times. “Everything seems to be going in the right direction, and I build up my hopes,” he says. “Then the bubble bursts — it’s like getting your heart broken.”
But even when he feels dispirited, he remembers the odds: All it takes is one.
*not his real name
Rebecca Knight is a freelance journalist in Boston and a lecturer at Wesleyan University. Her work has been published in The New York Times, USA Today, and The Financial Times.