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Five ways to follow up on a job interview without looking like an idiot

Once you’ve been through the interview process for a banking job, there’s usually a period of anxiety as you wait for HR and the business heads to deliberate on your application. Similarly, if you’re unsuccessful, the chances are that any real reasons for your rejection won’t be forthcoming.

One thing you should always do, according to career experts, is follow up. The problem is that there’s a fine line between enthusiasm and relationship building, or desperation and stalking. Here’s how to do it without appearing foolish.

1. The subtle suck up

Do: Send an email around 48 hours after the interview to thank the interviewer for their time. This usually involves procuring a business card, but can be an effective way to stay front of mind, believes Jeremy I’Anson, a careers coach who works with investment bankers: “Don’t just use it for sycophantic compliments, find something related to a discussion you had during the interview – an article or an interesting website – and send it across. It shows you’ve been thinking about the job and that you’re enthusiastic.”

Don’t: Hunt them down and phone them up if you haven’t heard back for a week or so, even if they said they’d be in touch within that period. “The idea of calling up for any decision-related news, even once, is not one that candidates should embrace. There’s an air of desperation to it,” said interview coach Margaret Buj.

2. Buttering up the messenger

Do: Be nice to recruitment consultants. Despite their reputation for disappearing at crucial moments of the job search, recruiters will generally give you feedback once they have it from the employer. It’s a good idea to ensure that you keep in touch, said Mike Leeman, senior consultant at banking recruiters Eden Scott: “An occasional phone call to touch base is always welcome – we might not have any direct feedback, but there could be other opportunities to alert candidates to, or we can at least reassure them that no one has heard anything.”

Don’t: Berate recruiters for not telling you why the employer has not made a decision or given any guidance on how the interview went. “We want to help, but abusive phone calls or emails are not going to ingratiate you to us,” said Leeman.

3. Keeping the toys in the pram

Do: Take the feedback like an adult. If you’re unsuccessful, listening to your pitfalls can be a dispiriting experience, but it may be helpful in the future: “To get honest feedback, show you can handle the truth,” said Peter Harrison, a former executive director at Goldman Sachs who now runs Harrison Careers. “Try something like: ‘I’m a grown-up who can handle negative feedback, and I don’t take it personally. Any chance you can tell me the main reason why you went for the other guy over me? It will really help me for next time!’”

Don’t: Try to convince them they’ve made a mistake. This is not open for debate; by the time the rejection letter reaches you, a decision will have been made involving all the stakeholders in the interview process. No one is going to believe that, actually, you are the master of the universe, and they should have hired you after all. “One candidate became abusive, questioning every reason for rejection and trying to convince the hiring manager that they were perfect and had all the attributes required for the job. It just makes you look like a weirdo,” said Buj.

 4. Avoiding cliché, embracing reality

Do: Try and bypass HR. While the recruitment teams will be happy to tell you generic reasons for your rejection, more constructive criticism will come from those in the business. “If you want to be told that there were stronger candidates, or that you were lacking in some areas of the job description, then go to HR. However, more often than not, the decision hiring decision was made by someone in the team you were applying to, so for more honest feedback, try to approach them directly,” said Leeman.

Don’t: Phone, phone again and leave increasingly desperate messages. A well-crafted email to the right person is more likely to elicit a response, said Buj. “I rarely give feedback over the phone, email gives time to reflect, and provide genuine areas where candidates can improve.”

“It’s a bug bear of mine that few companies provide candidates with useful feedback,” said I’Anson. “However, those that do are more likely to do so through a couple of paragraphs in an email than a ten minute phone conversation.”

5. Get your schmooze on

Do: Flatter a banker you interviewed with to try to put in a good word for your elsewhere. Stroking an ego is a good thing, but it’s best not to make it too personal: “Make it more about the firm than the individual,” said Leeman. “Say you enjoyed meeting them, but that you also enjoyed finding out more about the bank, and wondered how you could be a good fit in the future.”

“My advice is to target another area,” said Harrison. “During my time at Goldman Sachs, candidates rejected by one area (say equities) may get hired by another (say fixed income). This applied to experienced hires, new analysts and MBA associates.”

Don’t: Pretend you’ve created a deep bond. You may have got on, they may like a little ego massage, but keep it professional. Being over-friendly reeks of desperation. “If one interviewer particularly liked you and you were rejected, schmooze that person who may give you a second chance in future. But don’t get your hopes up,” said Harrison.

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