How You Should Send an Interview Follow-Up Email

Mind the details and don’t get too cute.
Stephen Gossett
April 22, 2021
Updated: July 11, 2021
Stephen Gossett
April 22, 2021
Updated: July 11, 2021

One of Ravi Raman’s clients was certain he’d tanked his phone interview for a coveted position: a leadership role at Facebook. He was so dismayed that he nearly didn’t send a follow-up thank-you email, until Raman, a former director of marketing at Microsoft, convinced him otherwise.

It turned out to be a smart move. The job interview process kept progressing, and he ultimately received a job offer. The lesson was clear.

“Always follow up, always be prompt, and just assume the best — even if you feel like you bombed, because you just don’t know,” said Raman, who’s helped clients land positions at companies such as DropBox, Redfin and eBay.

7 Tips for Following Up After Job Interviews

  • Send a short thank-you note within 24 hours of each interview.
  • Consider sending another follow-up at the midpoint of the next-steps timeline — but keep it short.
  • In follow-ups, thank the hiring manager for their time, reiterate your interest and link your skills to the role.
  • Don’t go longer than two paragraphs. One is best.
  • Keep your tone professional, even if the hiring manager is more casual.
  • Always use email. There’s no need for “creative” outreach.
  • Following technical interviews, you can correct notable mistakes in the follow-up. But don’t get too carried away.

The follow-up email is hardly the most consequential step in the job-seeking process — far more of a check-the-box formality than, say, actual interviews, relevant work samples or professional experience. But it is a step in that process, so it inherently carries with it much of the anxiety that swirls around the rest of the interview gauntlet. Sure, don’t sweat the small stuff, but the small stuff is also part of the big stuff.

“A job search is high stakes. ... The pressure is real, and the follow-up is an extension of that interview process,” said Mollie Khine, who oversees some 100 career coaches as director of coaching at Flatiron School, a bootcamp with courses in software engineering, data science and cybersecurity. “So just as folks are nervous about the interview itself, it makes sense that you’d also be nervous about the correspondence.”

“It feels like some of the more important types of emails that you’ll ever write in your life are when you’re thinking about the opportunity that’s on the line,” she added.

Such weight can make every small detail feel fraught. How long should a follow-up be? Should it always be an email? When should you send it? What’s a good subject line? Should the email stand out with some dash of creativity? Is this all just overthinking? (Spoiler: kinda.)

To get a sense of best practices, we talked to veteran recruiters, hiring managers and career coaches about the dos and don’ts — and whens and hows — of following up.

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When to Send Follow-Ups

Be Prompt

Whether you’re following up a phone interview, the first round of in-person interviews or subsequent rounds, it’s always a good idea to send a thank-you email within 24 hours of the conversation, according to experts with whom Built In spoke.

“You can never go wrong being prompt,” Raman said. “Some people, speaking from my experience working with clients, will say, ‘I had a great conversation with the hiring manager. I’m gonna wait until the third day before checking in.’ Why? Just be prompt.”

Remember that your emails — including the follow-ups — are a reflection of what it’s like to work with you. Are you quick, responsive, thorough?

“For those reasons, I’m in the 24-hour camp,” Khine said. “You have to send it either right after you leave the meeting, or shortly thereafter.”

 

Consider Scheduling for the Morning

Is there a best time of day to send that follow-up? The more important detail is that it’s sent within 24 hours, but some argue that a morning send is ideal. That way it’s among the first emails to hit the hiring manager’s inbox as they’re greeting the day.

Khine mentioned email-scheduling tools like Boomerang and Gmail’s “schedule send” feature, which a candidate can use to pre-write a thank-you and slate for morning delivery, even if their schedule or habits don’t necessarily facilitate that timing.

“All of a sudden, it looks like you’re a morning person, even if you’re not,” Khine said.

 

Don’t Wait Too Long on Further Follow-Ups

Near the end of each interview, the hiring manager or recruiter will likely provide at least a ballpark timetable for when the candidate can expect to hear back.

So after sending that initial thank you follow-up within 24 hours, is it best to stand pat until that specified date arrives, and follow up again only then? Not necessarily.

As long as the next-steps timeline isn’t a matter of days, there’s no harm in sending a quick, short second follow-up at the middle point of the timeline. That way you’re not inundating the hiring manager or overstepping boundaries, but still reiterating interest and making sure your candidacy stays top of mind. Just be mindful to keep it short.

“I think it’s safe to drop a line or two, but it can be overkill and feel a little overwhelming if it’s more than that,” said Ryan Brown, a lead recruiter at Hirewell.

Tim Thomas, a Seattle-based tech career consultant, invoked the age-old rule of seven marketing concept, which says a sales prospect can be expected to require seven touchpoints before a deal is cemented.

The point isn’t that job-seekers need to measure the precise number of interactions with potential employers, but they should make sure they don’t fade from consideration. Job applications are, in a sense, selling, “and part of selling is relating to the people you’ve already met and reconnecting with them,” Thomas said.

Related4 Ways to Ace Your Virtual Interview

 

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What to Send in Follow-Ups

A Subject Line That Means Business

Keep it simple. Here are a few recommendations from the experts:

  • Thanks for the opportunity.
     
  • Thanks for the opportunity ([Title of job interviewing for])
     
  • Thanks for your time today/yesterday.
     
  • Follow-up ([Title of job interviewing for])

 

Keep It Short...

Remember: it’s an email, not a doorstop novel. Your follow-up should be concise and, according to Raman, hit three key points: thank the recruiter or hiring manager for their time and the opportunity, reiterate interest in the role, and express confidence that one’s skill set dovetails with the position and with the overall department and company goals.

The general consensus among experts with whom Built In spoke was to go no longer than two paragraphs. One paragraph is even better, unless the interviewer, say, left the candidate with a question to consider and follow up on.

 

...But Not Too Short

Nearly as bad as sending no follow-up at all is sending an email so short and canned that it screams “perfunctory.” Brown has seen candidates send rote, single-sentence follow-ups consisting of little beyond, “It was nice chatting with you, and thanks for your time.”

“It shows that you haven’t invested a lot of time and that maybe you don’t care to either,” she said.

A good way to avoid having one’s follow-up read as boilerplate is to reference something interesting that came up during the interview or some new, pertinent-to-the-job piece of information that you learned since the last conversation.

Khine also recommends studying up on the company’s own language nuances — on its website, in the job description, recalling phrases from the interview — and incorporating those into your communication.

“Do they call their customers users or guests? Do they refer to their employees as team members? The more you can adapt to the way that they speak — those are all things to bring into the interview process, including in your thank you notes,” Khine said.

 

Proofread, Proofread, Proofread

Are there any misspelled words in your email? Is the email recipient’s name spelled correctly? Is the company name? Does your email reference a completely different job opportunity you’re interviewing for? That might seem impossible, but it does happen, especially if a candidate has gone through a rash of recent interviews with various prospects.

There’s no program that can catch that blunder, but there are plenty of stopgaps against grammatical errors. Keep the spell-check function on in your email, or — as Brown recommends — try an application like Grammarly, which can help clear up grammar, syntax and clarity issues.

 

Tone Match ... and Then Be More Professional Still

Imagine you’re about to have your first interview with a company that you know has a casual dress culture — hardly unique in tech. Would you wear jeans and flip-flops to the interview, knowing such attire would likely be perfectly acceptable on the job? Nope. There’s still an expectation of some formality, and why risk communicating presumptuousness or unprofessionalism?

There’s an analog in the follow-up email. Even if a company’s culture — and communication style — seems laid back, keep the tone of your follow-ups proper.

“It’s OK to tone match, but you also want to level up a little bit with professionalism,” Khine said.

For example, use proper capitalization and punctuation even if the people you correspond with do not. Or, if the recruiter or hiring manager, say, signs off emails with just a hyphen and an initial, keep your signature more formal nonetheless, with a sign-off like:

“Thanks for your time,

[Your Name]”

 

So Watch the Exclamation Points!

That brings us to an eternal source of business email anxiety: the exclamation point. Do too many look manic or juvenile? Do too few look disinterested or anhedonic? Do you need to have at least two sentences end without an exclamation point, as the classic, viral Grace Segers joke goes, just to prove your “normalness?”

While no employer keeps a running spreadsheet of punctuation choices among candidates, and the number of exclamation marks is unlikely to make or break your candidacy, be conservative.

“It’s probably the same rule of thumb, I would say, for any professional email correspondence,” Khine said. “You don’t want to use more than a handful of exclamation points or anything to that effect.”

And keep them out of your subject line altogether. They make your email look spammy — and that much easier to overlook. “If you write, ‘Let’s change the world together!!!’ — with three exclamations, you might just get screened out,” Raman said.

 

Correct Yourself — Sometimes

We all know the feeling. You think of the wittiest response or most insightful answer long after the conversation has passed, kicking yourself for missing it in the moment. John Lees, a career strategist and author of Get Ahead in Your New Job, told the Harvard Business Review earlier this year that it’s generally best to resist the temptation to use interview follow-up correspondence as a means of correcting what’s known as l’esprit de l’escalier — literal translation: “the wit of the staircase.”

It follows that too much pedantic self-reconsideration might just telegraph as desperate. But there are times when correcting yourself makes sense. Technical interviews are common in tech, and demonstrating applied knowledge after flubbing one or more questions might help overcome missed points, Khine said.

Research your error, write up the correct code snippets, post it to a blog and drop a quick link in the follow-up email. Rather than appear unconfident, it’ll show initiative, an eagerness to learn new material, a willingness to own mistakes and underscore that your interest in the role is serious.

“That’s the best thank-you note around,” Khine said.

 

Don’t Freak Out Over Radio Silence

Few things are more dispiriting than going through an interview, or multiple rounds of interviews, for a coveted role only to have your follow-up outreach met with ... crickets. But it does occasionally happen. If three follow-ups, reasonably spaced so as to not overwhelm, still fail to net a reply, cut your losses and assume the company has gone another direction, Brown said.

But even though the silence may be irritating, it’s important to not vent that irritation to the hiring manager or recruiter. Either take it as a blessing in disguise — a marker of unprofessionalism that may be symptomatic of larger organizational woes — or assume the other party might be overwhelmed.

“Recruiters are measured on the number of roles they fill. ... They may have every intention of getting back to you, to let you know you’re not the one, [but] often they just don’t. They assume you’ll figure it out, or they’re not incentivized to close the loop,” Thomas said.

Whatever the case, remain courteous, because the door may someday swing open again. Khine recommends sending one last email in which you thank them for their time, graciously let them know you assume the role was filled and let them know you’d still like to be considered for future openings.

“You never really know what’s going on on the other side,” she said. “And more often than not, that type of final follow-up will probably get some sort of response, even if it’s not the one you want,” she said.

RelatedWhat to Wear to a Job Interview: 10 Things You Need to Know

 

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How to Send Follow-Ups

Don’t Get Cute

Seemingly every few weeks, the years-old story of the guy who delivered his resume in a box of donuts gets reshared on LinkedIn. The posts always do numbers, engagement-wise, but there’s a thin line between creative and cloying, and hiring managers are known to be wary of such stunts. If that’s true for the application process, it goes doubly for the follow-up.

“Don’t worry about trying to get overly creative, because part of this is still just a formality,” Brown said. “It’s not something [employers] are putting a ton of emphasis on, in terms of who they got the most creative or innovative thank you from.”

In other words, the place to really stand out is in the interview, not in the follow-up. And the way to stand out in the interview is to make it clear that your strengths and skills match the role, not through strained whimsy.

 

Just Use Email

But what about a more traditional, less gimmicky way to make the follow-up stand out? Like, say, a handwritten thank you note? Still over-complicating.

Brown recently went into the office for the first time since March of 2020 and found several handwritten thank-yous waiting for her. “It was lovely, but they were sent last year,” she said. “If I didn’t go into the office, how long would it have been until I received those?”

It’s true that more staff is returning to the office as vaccinations continue to roll out, but many companies are now providing far more remote-work flexibility than they did pre-pandemic, and there’s simply no guarantee that a card — or any other physical deliverable — will actually arrive as intended.

“Don’t send a gift. Don’t send an Edible Arrangement. It’s just not going to help,” Raman said. “At the end of the day, they’re going to hire you or not based on merits, and the standout factor really doesn’t go all that far.”

The only exceptions raised were Loom and LinkedIn. Khine said she’s seen a handful of Flatiron students and graduates use Loom, the video-message recording application, to send video clips as follow-ups and have success. And she said extending a LinkedIn invitation to the hiring manager or recruiter is appropriate, if the candidate feels comfortable doing so — although that should always be done in addition to the email.

But in general, the rule of thumb is stick to email and don’t overcomplicate.

 

Be Authentic

All said, the follow-up will always be more of a humble obligation than the interviews themselves. So it’s best to take all the details seriously, but not overthink them or try to “hack” the process.

They will always be a space where unforced errors can occur, said Raman, drawing a tennis analogy. But they’re not really the arena for attempting hundred-mile-per-hour aces or dazzling between-the-legs shots, to extend the metaphor. If something in your follow-up outreach feels shoehorned or inorganic, it’ll probably read that way to the hiring manager as well.

“The reason an organization hires you is because you’re authentically you, and you have the right experience,” Brown said. “So don’t put too much thought or pressure into this component.”

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