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Interview Follow-up
By Susan Bowles, Special to Gannett
Job hunting has hurled a friend of mine into dating deja vu.

She had a great interview a couple of months ago with the public affairs department of a major university. But after an afternoon of coffee, compliments and the promising "we'll call you," she's sitting by the phone.

It's not ringing.

"I feel like I went on the first date, had a great time, and misread all the signals," she says. "Now I'm just staring at the phone and wondering why it doesn't ring."

Umm, why doesn't she call the university?

"Oh, I couldn't do that," she says. "It would be too forward."

Yikes! Is there help for this woman??

Yes, interview experts say, but it's going to take some rewiring of her basic assumptions.

First, jobs take a long time to fill, says Katherine Burik, president of The Interview Doctor in Canton, OH, and an experienced human resource executive. Figure 60 days on average, and "anything less is a party." So the fact that my friend has waited a couple of months isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Second, you can guard against waiting for a call. Before an interview ends, ask what your expectations should be, says Sharon Keys Seal, founder of Coaching Concepts Inc. in Baltimore, MD. What's the process for filling the position? Where is the company in that process? Is it all right to call in a couple of weeks?

"Don't let them get away with we'll call you," Seal says. "I would try to be fairly assertive."

Then, follow up along the way. Send a note or email right after that first interview, answering any questions that arose, emphasizing your strengths, thanking the person who interviewed you and reiterating that you'll be calling in a couple of weeks if you don't hear anything before then.

"That, I think, can set you up to segue into that call a couple of weeks later," Seal says.

Now that you have the roadmap, use it. If time passes, your deadline arrives, and you hear nothing, pick up the phone and ask what the status of the job is. But when you make that call, don't apologize, Burik says. If you call with a subservient attitude, you're paving the way for an awkward conversation.

"It's business person to business person," she says. "There should be no awkwardness."

And think positively. "I would like to assume it's an indication they're really busy," Burik says. If you find out the process is ongoing, find out when to check up again, then avoid the temptation to call every day.

"There's a fine line between following up and pestering," Burik says.

Of course, you might call and find that the position has been filled and the hiring manager simply hasn't gotten back to you yet -- which happens, says Lisa Gabriel, the corporate recruiter for ImageRight in Conyers, GA. "It's a task that I find very difficult because I'm not as tough skinned as I think I am, and I hate telling people no," she says. So it's easy to push those not-so-fun calls to the backburner.

If that happens and you find out via your follow-up call that a job has been filled, be professional. Don't cry. Don't get angry. Ask instead what qualities the company would have liked to see or what you might do to succeed the next time, Seal says.

"Obviously, they wouldn't have had you in if they weren't interested in you," she says. "It's always worth a shot."


Susan Bowles is a business journalist based in Washington, DC. She has 20 years journalism experience and has written for USA Today, USATODAY.com, the Washington Post, the St. Petersburg Times and The Palm Beach Post.