How and Why to Follow Up, Personally and Professionally
Why following up improves your chances of success—and how to follow up well.
You’ve heard it from bosses, family, friends, teachers, and advisors: follow up after an opportunity! We all intuitively know that we should send a follow-up email after a job interview, sales pitch, or meeting with a mentor. Sending a follow-up email after a job interview is best practice, as is sending a thank you note after a dinner party. But why, exactly?
This article will explain why following up matters and how to do it well. We’ll explain why following up after an interview or networking matters in building relationships, but we’ll also explore the benefits of following up beyond professional circumstances. Sending a card or gift after a dinner party, or even sending a text after meeting someone for the first time can have an outsized benefit in improving the chances of deepening that relationship. Let’s examine why following up matters, then discuss some of the best ways to do it.
Why Following Up Matters in Building Relationships
Fundamentally, following up demonstrates to the person you interacted with that your interaction with them was meaningful to you and that you’d like to continue interacting with them. That’s an extremely powerful thing and one that can jumpstart (or deepen) your relationship. A thoughtful follow-up can be the difference between a connection fizzling out and that person becoming a close friend, mentor, or partner. Here’s why following up matters:
1. Following up demonstrates effort
It takes time, effort, and thought to follow up with someone—it’s not a default behavior, it’s a chosen one. And many people choose not to do it. By remembering to follow up after a job interview or date, you are communicating to the recipient you are following up with that they matter more than whatever else you could be doing at the moment. This is one of the reasons a business pays for its salespeople to hop on planes in the age of Zoom: showing up in person shows a person they are deserving of time and effort.
2. Following up builds familiarity
Even if you are extremely charismatic, people tend to naturally forget their conversations with you over time. Building relationships takes repeated effort. Think about someone you met for the first time a couple of months ago—how much of your conversation with them do you remember? Moving people that you haven’t spoken with recently to the back of your mind is something you subconsciously do, and it’s exactly what’s happening to your memory in someone else’s mind. Following up reignites your memory in someone else’s mind, helping them remember details of your conversation and communications, and even setting you up to meet again. Following up extends the relationship beyond the time you spent together. It gives you more time to build familiarity, driving a deeper relationship.
3. Following up allows you to give or receive feedback
Sometimes you don’t hear back after an interview, and you’re not sure about whether to send a follow-up email. Perhaps the interviewer wants to move forward but forgot to reach out to you. Or, maybe they don’t want to move forward with you, and they are letting you down gently by not reaching out. Or perhaps you just thought of some questions about the role. A short follow-up email allows you to explicitly invite the interviewer to give you clarity or answer questions. In personal relationships, a follow-up email, text, or call allows you to tell a friend what you particularly enjoyed about a party or an event and that you are looking forward to seeing them again – making them feel appreciated.
How to follow up
So, following up can help deepen relationships by demonstrating care, extending the relationship, and allowing for feedback. But how (and when) should you follow up? Instead of providing an explicit template for a follow-up email after an interview or text after a party, this article will introduce a few principles that you can employ to write meaningful follow-up emails and texts for clients, friends, interviewers, and more.
1. Consider the context when choosing the timing and type of message for follow-ups
Two of the most important elements of following up are choosing when you follow up and how you follow up, especially in sensitive cases like job interviews. You wouldn’t text a recruiter as soon as you get off the phone with them, for example. Instead, you may send a follow-up email to them several hours after the interview. Similarly, you wouldn’t email a close friend to thank them for a party. You’d send a quick text the next morning.
Timing is very situational (and you’ll get a feel for it over time), but there are a couple of general rules that can help. First, you should send a brief note of thanks within 24 hours of your interaction. This can be something as simple as thanking them for the event and letting them know you appreciated it. Second, if there was an explicit next step discussed at the meeting (like a decision on an interview), you should set a reminder to follow up at the most generous estimate of how long the next step would take to complete. For example, you might follow up 7 business days after an interview since it usually takes 5-7 days for an interviewer to make a decision.
If there was not an explicit next step for the meeting, you should mentally note the next time you would like to see someone right after each interaction and then set a reminder to follow up with them 1-2 weeks before that date. This gives you enough time to plan a phone call, meeting, party, etc!
The medium is also very situational, but the general rule of thumb is to use the medium that you used to set up the interaction. If you used email to schedule an interview, use email to follow up. If you were introduced to someone over text, you should follow up over text.
The medium you use should also correlate to how well you know someone.
2. Begin with a reminder or reference to the last time you met
Once you’ve decided on the timing and medium, it’s time to write your follow-up. If you don’t know the person you are following up with very well, you should begin with either a reminder of who you are or when you met, or both. This allows them to immediately place you in their mind, reducing awkwardness and increasing familiarity. If you know them well (a friend or someone you had a great conversation with), reference something about your interaction that challenged or was interesting to you. This immediately channels the goodwill you built in the conversation and strengthens your bond.
3. Demonstrate your interest in continuing the relationships, and bring up any next steps
After you’ve reconnected with someone, revisit any next steps from your last conversation or correspondence, or create new next steps together. Did they recommend a book or article? Let them know what you thought of it. Did they interview you? Ask them if they’ve made a decision. Did they throw a party you really enjoyed? Propose a few times to hang out in the coming weeks to catch up.
Closing out on a previous interaction’s next steps gives you finality, and creating new next steps allows you to continue building momentum, deepening and strengthening your relationship.
Follow-Up Message Sample
Let's put all the tips above together into a short follow-up message sample. This sample is intentionally short so as to be useful for writing any kind of follow-up message, including an email, LinkedIn message, text, or physical note. Make sure to personalize your note so it is as genuine as it can be.
Thank you so much for meeting up yesterday to share your writing with me – I really enjoyed learning more about your project and your creative process. It was also so fun to discover we are both Cubs fans!
As we discussed, I'd love to share some of my writing with you for feedback once I'm finished polishing it. Thank you for that generous offer. I'll be sure to send over some samples in the next two weeks.
Final Thoughts on How to Follow Up
Building deep relationships—personally and professionally—is key to success and fulfillment. Following up well is one of the best ways to solidify new relationships and strengthen existing ones. Put simply, if you follow up well, you will have better relationships with more people.
We’ve designed Clay with the principles above in mind to help you follow up with new and existing relationships. With birthday reminders, reminders for significant dates, and prompts when you haven’t chatted with someone in a while, Clay helps you strengthen and deepen your relationships so you can show up for those who matter to you–when it matters.