I regularly hear excuses for why someone didn’t follow up, and whether it’s students or professionals, it always disappoints me. It’s so easy, but so often forgotten.
According to Merriam-Webster, follow up is “a continuation of something that has already been started.” Someone hands you an apple. You thank them. That’s follow up. It’s that easy.
If you say you’re going to follow up with someone, and you don’t, you’re not demonstrating your reliability or your interest. This applies to any situation in your life, from personal relationships and school, to clubs and jobs. If the ball is in your court don’t drop it! I suggest following up as quickly as you can, ideally within two days, while the meeting, conversation, or commitment is still fresh.
When to follow up
There are many situations in which following up is necessary. As Merriam-Webster said, it’s always after something else has happened. So, always follow up after:
• An interview. You’ll stand out among other candidates.
• Meeting someone new. You want them to remember you and what you talked about, don’t you? This is important as you build your network of people who may be willing and able to help you out. Let them know you’re interested in staying in contact, and that you will touch base periodically. This leaves the door open for future contact.
• Someone did something for you. It common courtesy to thank someone, such as when someone made an introduction for you.
• Someone gave you something. Thank people for what they gave you, whether it’s information, a letter of recommendation, a suggestion or idea, or their time.
• A conversation or meeting. Avoid misunderstandings and make sure you’re both on the same page by summarizing what you talked about. It’s also a way to remind them what they agreed to do, and what you agreed to do.
• You took some action. If someone opened a door for you with an introduction, keep them in the loop. People appreciate knowing you made the connection, how you’re moving forward, and whether the introduction was a good one or not. If you keep them posted, they’re more likely to make more introductions, because you treated the first one seriously and professionally.
How to follow up
There are several ways to follow up. The most common are sending a letter, note card, or email, or calling. The best choice depends on the situation and the person.
• Send a letter. This is the most formal method of following up. It’s appropriate after more formal activities, like an interview or the person is of some importance, such as an elected official or a corporate executive.
• Note cards. These are a bit less formal and are appropriate when you want to thank someone. They can also be sent after an interview, when meeting someone new, or thanking someone for an informal meeting. Sending thank you notes is a lost art, so stand out by sending one.
• Send an email. Emails are informal and can be used when summarizing a meeting or when communicating with someone with whom you have already built a relationship. It may also be appropriate when you just met someone informally, like at a basketball game.
• Make a phone call. Use this method when you have several questions you’d like to ask or have information to give. Calling is good when you’re confirming an appointment. Calling is the best way to stand out, especially as a young adult.
I stress the importance of following up with the students with whom I work. It’s an important lesson. Start now, and following up will become a valuable habit the rest of your life.
Is there anyone you should follow up with today?
Joe Villmow is the founder of the EmpowerMe Foundation, which is dedicated to providing high school and undergraduate students with opportunities to learn and exercise soft skills.