I’ve written a lot about following up after an interview and about follow-up during networking. A recent letter from an Atlanta reader made me consider a somewhat tricky situation that also requires follow-up: The “almost-guaranteed” job offer that never seems to materialize.
If you haven’t been in this position, you can still imagine how awkward it is. Someone you know says, “You’d be perfect as my next (fill in the job title). Can you send me your resume?” Or perhaps the situation starts with a posting that you interview for with the understanding that you’re the top candidate. In both cases, the next stage is the same: Vague assurances followed by silence. If you know the employer, the silence can be excruciating as you try to imagine what led to the impasse.
Worse than these imaginings is the hamstrung feeling of not knowing what to do. Send a fourth email? Call again? It’s enough to shake your confidence, and it will certainly distract from your job search.
The solution is a type of enhanced follow-up. Since you can’t control what they’re doing, try this: Prepare yourself for the job as if you knew you were getting it. Then, if you don’t you will be well-positioned for similar opportunities in other companies. If the offer materializes, you will be ahead of the game when you come on board.
Here are some ideas to get you started.
1. Review your notes and understanding of the situation as it stands, to be sure that you haven’t misinterpreted anything or missed steps requested by the employer.
2. Break the job opportunity into three buckets: the industry, the company and the job itself. Now ask yourself, “Am I expert in any of these? Can I learn more?” Assuming your answers reveal gaps in your knowledge or skills, put yourself into boot camp to condition for the upcoming job.
3. Choose one or more of the buckets and start immersing yourself in that world. Some of that immersion might include: taking workshops or courses, subscribing to journals or newsletters, attending conferences, reading books on the topic, reading annual reports, getting familiar with the company’s market and competitors, etc.
4. Build your network by connecting with people inside the company as well as those in the general industry. Ask each person what trends they see and predictions for the future, as well as their advice for entry points to the field or company.
5. Pay attention to your skill set related to this work. Choose a skill to hone. If necessary, find a volunteer assignment or manage a small project of your own.
6. Keep in touch with your potential employer more as a peer than as a supplicant. That is, rather than sending pleading emails asking the status of the opening, switch over to informing him or her of your progress in getting ready for the position. A note every few weeks with a new update should be enough to telegraph that you’re not taking this possibility for granted, but neither are you standing around waiting for them to get their act together.
You may not be able to influence this situation to your benefit. But if you follow this plan, you will know you did what you could. Better, you will have enlarged your network. Best yet? You’ll feel more confident and less like you’re groveling.