(MoneyWatch) Job interviews can be kind of like dating. You meet -- you think they liked you, but who knows? So you stare at your phone until, after a few days or weeks, you wonder if you'll ever hear back.
The best way to pre-empt this waiting game is to ask at the end of the interview what the timeline will be for a decision. "By asking about this during your own interview, you can better manage your expectations," says Amanda Haddaway, author of "Destination Real World: Success after Graduation."
If you didn't inquire along these lines or your prospective employer has blown its stated deadline for making a decision, you'll need to follow up to know where you stand. Here's how:
Immediately after the interview
Nobody is suggesting you shoot your interviewer an email asking if you're on the shortlist as you hop in your car or in a cab after your initial meeting. But do send a quick "thank you" note ASAP. "You can end this note by saying, 'I look forward to hearing back from you soon.' This type of follow-up may not solicit a response from the interviewers, but they at least know that you are still interested in the position," Haddaway says. It also gives you another chance to pin down a decision timeline.
After one week
Gather your brief bullet points and make a quick phone call, or send a short email to your point person at the company. "State which position you interviewed for and reaffirm your interest in the role, stating something specific and memorable," says Stephanie Daniel of career consulting group Keystone Associates. "For example, you might have learned in the interview that the company is embarking on a large-scale construction project that is similar to a project you completed in your last role. Use your message to further demonstrate your value." She adds that this is prime time to mention you're a finalist for a job at another company, while highlighting that they're your No. 1 choice.
After two weeks
Still no word? Follow up -- again, briefly -- and offer to clarify any questions they might have or come in for another meeting. "Keep the tone upbeat and deliver your message with confidence. Employers are looking for people who are passionate about the position and their company, so don't hesitate to convey your sincere enthusiasm," Daniel says.
After 3+ weeks
At the month mark, it doesn't look good. "If you haven't heard back in more than a month, it's likely that the position has been filled by someone else or that it wasn't a real opening. That is, the corporate requirements changed and the position no longer needs to be filled," Haddaway says. That said, it's possible the decision is being dragged out for any number of reasons (budget, illness, etc), so don't hesitate to follow up one last time. Eventually, though, let it go -- and hope that your efforts for this position put you in line for future ones that open up. "Too much checking in gives you a reputation for being a nuisance, and that's the last thing you want to be perceived as with a prospective employer," Haddaway says.
Whenever you follow up with a potential employer, remember that this is business, not personal, and to be positive in your wording, not accusatory, says Debra Bathurst, vice president of HR with Oasis Outsourcing. "How you say it is just as important as what you say, so professionalism and diplomacy are important in follow up emails," she adds. "Recruiters receive hundreds of emails and conduct numerous interviews, so it's best not to put an employer on the defensive if the candidate has not heard back."
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons user Adrian LLie