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Interview Follow-Up For PhDs: Exactly What to Say And When To Say It

I wish I could say that I didn’t know I should send a thank-you email after my industry interviews, but that’s not entirely true. 

Thank you notes weren’t a totally foreign concept to me. 

I’d read or overheard it said that I should “be sure to send a thank you message after you leave your interview.” 

But every article or blog post I read about this topic was roughly 10 years old. How trustworthy is job search advice from a bygone decade?

And some of the points these articles wanted me to include sounded desperate to me. Like reminding them that I’m excited about the position? Obviously – I just left the interview.

I could get behind the thank you itself, but using it as some kind of strategic leverage to land a job? That sounded pretty far-fetched.

It was a friend of mine that brought the topic up to me again, many job rejections and several employer ghostings later. Was I following up, he asked, after my first thank you letter?

First thank you letter?” I scoffed. “What’s the cutoff? How many thank you letters does one interview warrant, would you say?”

But he pressed me – what was I doing in the way of follow-up emails?

“I’m not sending any,” I confessed. “I thought it sounded kind of dated.” 

But he encouraged me to experiment and decide for myself. “If you don’t get any results at least you can say you tried,” he said.

So, following each interview, I sent one thank-you note to each interviewee…

…and was pleasantly surprised to hear back from all but one of them.

One even went so far as to say, “I appreciate your email, Isaiah. This was exactly what your candidacy was missing. You should hear back from someone at XYZ Company within the week.”

Your Interview Isn’t Really Over After The Final Handshake

It took a lot of research, strategy, and practice to begin seeing traction in my applications and interviews.

And, after months, I began landing interview after interview. 

But, no matter how many site visits or final interviews I was invited to, I never received a job offer. 

And I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong.

It was after that conversation with my friend that I set out to find out if maybe I was missing a step in the process. 

That’s when I discovered that there’s actually quite a bit of research supporting a few more steps that I initially thought were optional.

One is to send a thank-you note within 24 hours. I’ll dive into that next.

But there are two more things you need to do before you make your way out the door. Two questions you need to ask.

The first is, “Do you know what reservations you have about hiring me for this role?”

I know, it sounds bold and direct. But those are qualities that should impress your prospective employer.

If they have any reservations – maybe they’re concerned your lack of experience will hold you back – you want to have a rebuttal ready that you can back up with examples. 

You’re there, and you have the opportunity to address their concerns. Better to discuss it with you, right there, rather than with a hiring committee after you’ve left.

The second question you need to make sure you’re asking employers at the end of every interview is to find out when you’ll hear back. Most employers will say something along the lines of two weeks. You’ll want to follow up with:

“Thank you, I appreciate that. I’m trying to stay really organized in my job search. If I don’t hear from you in two weeks and two days, would it be all right for me to follow up with you?” 

And when they say yes, as most do, make sure you get contact details. Have a notepad you can write that info down on.

Get a phone number, not an email, so you don’t just hear radio silence.

Why You Should Be Following Up After An Interview

An overwhelming majority of HR managers say it’s appropriate to send a thank-you email or leave a handwritten note following an interview. 

Yet, despite 94% of HR managers responding favorably to thank-you letters, only 24% of candidates actually send one. 

There are a few reasons to send a thank-you. 

For one, it’s just plain courteous. A hiring manager gave you their time and the opportunity to compete for a job. They’re likely the person who decided to call you in for an interview. So let them know you appreciate everything they’ve done. 

For another, sending a thank-you keeps you fresh in the hiring manager’s mind and cements your professional brand. They could be interviewing anywhere from 5 to 20 candidates, and the odds are high that competition is fierce. 

But a thank-you instantly elevates your brand. You’re part of the 25% minority who care enough to follow up. It demonstrates that you’re the type of person who goes the extra mile. 

Hiring managers aren’t looking for the best resume full of the most impressive credentials. They need a person. Ideally, a person who will complement the personalities and strengths of other people who are already on their team. 

Sending a thank-you message is a chance to demonstrate you’re the type of person they wouldn’t mind working alongside. 

A third reason to send a thank-you message is that it’s a chance to make professional connections. Include a link to your professional networking profile in your email to schedulers, interviewers, and anyone you met while on site. This is a great way to gain something from your interview, even if you miss out on the job.

Finally, sending a thank-you message is your very last chance to follow up on your interview. You can include something you wish you would have said, or clarify something you said that may have come out wrong.

How To Follow Up After An Interview

You may think you have plenty of time to shoot off your thank-you emails. After all, hiring managers’ window of time to make a decision after an interview is a murky two weeks.

Don’t make this mistake. 

Consider a thank-you note to be your first take-home assignment. The sooner you get it turned in, the better. 

You want to send or deliver your thank-you within 24 hours of your final handshake. You may have heard 24 to 48 hours, but that’s not going to cut it. Two days after your interview, who knows how many impressive candidates have come and gone? 

A thank you note is your anchor to any positive impressions you’ve made. It’s also your last chance to convince employers that you’re the candidate they’ve been searching for. Don’t drag your feet or waste this opportunity.

Your follow-up email sets the tone after your interview is over. It should echo the tone of your interview. That means it can be formal, conversational, lighthearted, or any combination therein. Just make sure the tone it sets mimics the one you created during your interview.

There are 8 parts to an effective thank-you email. I recommend including them all.

1. Address the recipient – or recipients – by their first name 

Create a separate email for every person you want to connect with. The subject line of your email should be conversational and informative:

  • Thanks for meeting with me today, First Name
  • I appreciate your time, Name
  • It was great meeting you this Thursday

The goal of your subject is to help them place you and to entice them to open. A warm, friendly greeting that uses their name is the best way to do this.

A subject line that capitalizes the first letter of every word traditionally denotes a marketing email. And by marketing email, I mean a sales pitch. Use sentence casing when you capitalize your subject line to avoid looking like spam.

Although your primary contact will be the person or people who interviewed you, you don’t have to stop there. You can reach out to other people you met during the interview process. Administrative staff such as schedulers or receptionists count as company connections too! 

2. Express thanks and gratitude for their time and effort 

Hiring managers spend hours and hours poring over candidates. They examine your qualifications, determine what questions to ask, and make a case for their top choices to a hiring board. 

There’s a strong chance that the hiring manager you’re speaking with is the same person who chose your resume as a final contender. 

Show your appreciation for their contribution to your job search by beginning your message with an expression of thanks.

3. Reiterate your interest in the job and company 

The body paragraphs of your follow-up email should be no more than three sentences long, and no more than four paragraphs long. 

In those four paragraphs, your primary goal is to thank your interviewer and reassure them that you are still interested in the role. 

4. Mention when you interviewed and the job title

Hiring managers are people too. And, believe it or don’t, they make mistakes. They forget things. They get busy.

Make sure employers know who you are, when you interviewed, and what position you interviewed for – especially if you happen to have a common name.

5. Ask directly about the status and next steps 

If you forgot this step after you shook hands and parted ways at your interview, now is your chance. 

Just as you would in person, ask for specific details. 

When do they plan on making a decision? When do they anticipate notifying candidates about their selection?

You can even use that same line that I mentioned earlier: 

“I’m trying to stay organized in my job search since I’m actively looking for work right now. If I don’t hear from you two days after the date you mentioned, would it be alright to follow up? If so, I’ll call you at the number you provided.”

What if they didn’t provide a number? Call the reception desk and ask. Look on LinkedIn under contact info. Google it. Be resourceful. 

Remember, it’s important that you call rather than email because an email takes absolutely no effort to ignore.

6. Offer to follow up with additional info

We’ve all been there: you get home from an interview that you think went well and you realize you forgot to mention something – something important.

Or, conversely, you know your interview answers would have made more of an impact if you’d had data or results handy to share. 

And you’re right to fret over it. Studies show that 34% of managers reject a candidate due to a lack of quantifiable results.

Never fear – your thank-you note is here to tie up those loose ends. 

Definitely invite your interviewer to ask any questions they might have about your experience. Offer to follow up with any additional info that might be needed. 

But if you think of something that you’d like to add, include that here as well.

“I was thinking about our conversation and remembered you had asked about the impact of my contribution on Project X. 

I had a chance to look through some past data and it looks as if that particular project led to X, Y and Z.” 

Don’t feel like you need to append any research reports or PDFs or proof, but if you have something you’d really like to share, mention that you’ve attached it for them to look over if they’re interested.

Notice I said “something” – as in one thing. Do not send your interviewer five PDFs or a ZIP drive. 

Less is more.

Trust that they’ll ask if they are looking for a different example, they’ll let you know.

7. Reiterate your thanks and gratitude

I know you opened by expressing your thanks, but close out your message with the same sentiment. 

This is about thanking the person for their time. It’s also about thanking them for their interest in you as a candidate. 

An example might be: 

“Thank you again for your time today, and also for inviting me in to meet with you. I appreciate the opportunity, and am excited about the possibility of working with you.”

Your salutation should continue to reiterate your appreciation. Some examples include:

  • Respectfully
  • Best regards
  • Kind regards
  • Many thanks and much appreciation
  • With gratitude
  • Thank you

8. Make sure you proofread your email 

According to Zippia, 35% of hiring managers will toss a resume if they have an unprofessional email address. So if you’re using an email that says anything but some combination of your first and last name, you need to address this before you hit send on your thank-you email. 

On that same note, 75% of employers say that spelling errors on a resume are another easy disqualification. Spell-check software is free to use on the internet and is built into most word-processing programs. To an employer’s way of thinking, any errors that exist on your resume, cover letter, or email are due to laziness, a lack of motivation, and inattention to detail. 

6 Types Of Email Follow-Up

There are a handful of variations on the thank-you letter, and I wanted to cover them briefly below. 

1. The Thank-You

You send a thank-you 24 hours after your interview. 

We covered this kind of email in-depth during this post, but just to recap: you want to thank your interviewer, remind them that you’re still interested, add any information you might have forgotten to mention during your interview, and then thank them again. 

2. The Follow-Up

If the date you were given for a decide-by date has come and gone, wait a day or two.

Then reach out. 

Your message should reiterate what was in your thank-you message, placing emphasis on your enthusiasm about the role or reassuring the interviewer of your interest. 

3. The Exception 

There will be certain circumstances where you will need to reach out to an employer prior to the time frame they gave you.

These situations are exceptions to the rule. In such an instance, it’s acceptable to reach out to an interviewer before the time frame they gave you.

Has something changed in your job search? 

Did you just receive word that you won a prestigious award?

Were you offered a position?

Was a patent you applied for approved? 

If anything has happened between the date of your interview and the decide-by date you were given that seems relevant to your job search, share that information.

And if you were offered a position with another company, don’t be afraid to leverage this. Drop your target company a note as soon as possible, and let them know that you received an offer letter from XYZ company. 

Let them know the time frame you have to work with before you need to make a decision, and take this last opportunity to let them know that their company is your first choice for ABC reasons. 

4. The Feedback

If more than three weeks have gone by after your interview and you haven’t received a message, now is the time to salvage the time you’ve invested.

Send your contact a brief email thanking them for their time. Let them know you enjoyed meeting with them and would appreciate any feedback they can give you to help you improve your chances of getting a job in the future.

You may not receive a reply, but you have absolutely nothing to lose either. 

5. The Email After No Reply

Things change.

An employer may rescind a job offer to their first choice. 

Or the candidate they selected may decline the position after some careful thought. 

And, believe it or not, sometimes things slip through the cracks. 

That’s why experts recommend sending a variation of your update or feedback request after another five business days have gone by.

If you keep an upbeat attitude and emote positivity in your messages you’ll show a strength of character that may impress potential employers.

6. The Staying-In-Touch

Your final message to an employer you interviewed with who hasn’t responded to your emails should be an invitation to stay in touch.

Share your LinkedIn profile and invite them to connect with you.

Reiterate your appreciation and wish them much success. 

Concluding Remarks

The most important thing you can do during a job search is to always be applying for more jobs. You should absolutely not be sitting around emailing just one job over and over for two months. The more applications you have out, the greater your odds are of finding the perfect role for you as quickly as possible. But when you do land a job interview, make the absolute most of it by following up with professionalism and poise. There is nothing worse than having a great interview that goes nowhere. Next time you land one, follow these steps to stay top of mind and impress employers.

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Dr. Isaiah Hankel is the Founder and CEO of Cheeky Scientist. His articles, podcasts and trainings are consumed annually by 3 million PhDs in 152 different countries. He has helped PhDs transition into top companies like Amazon, Google, Apple, Intel, Dow Chemical, BASF, Merck, Genentech, Home Depot, Nestle, Hilton, SpaceX, Tesla, Syngenta, the CDC, UN and Ford Foundation.

Dr. Hankel has published three bestselling books and his latest book, The Power of a PhD, debuted on the Barnes & Noble bestseller list. His methods for getting PhDs hired have been featured in the Harvard Business Review, Nature, Forbes, The Guardian, Fast Company, Entrepreneur Magazine and Success Magazine.

Isaiah Hankel, PhD

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