What do we miss when we don't follow up? A lot

telephoneAfter a candid, insightful phone conversation -- during which he offered plenty of ideas and suggestions about whom to meet -- a local businessman signed off by saying, "Let's definitely keep in touch."

"I will," I assured him, thanking him again for his time.

"I'm serious," he said. "Will you keep in touch?"

This seemingly innocuous promise that people offer clearly had gotten this man thinking, and over what became the second half of our conversation, he told me that people often tell him they'll maintain a new connection or follow up on advice but seldom do it.
He's not sure why that is, given the stakes can be high. His brother, for example, hires many interns each summer for his own venture, and he looks specifically toward those he trusts for recommendations. Provided they do well, the interns' offer of full-time work with his company is guaranteed.

The directions are pretty simple: Call this man. Tell him I sent you. He will hire you. And yet -- for whatever reason -- people don't do this.

I asked Liz Ryan, a Boulder, Colo.-based career and workplace expert who has worked with employers and employees alike, why she thinks job seekers don't follow up. She offered several possibilities, including that the person offered a lead lacks interest for whatever reason -- length of commute, job description, type of company -- or has too many possibilities in play already, so he or she doesn't want to add one more.

It also could be a matter of lacking confidence, Ryan added. I considered that point in recalling a meeting with a bright, capable job seeker who wrote down the names of four people I suggested he meet, then admitted he probably wouldn't call any of them because he feared he'd waste their time.

"I mean, what do I ask them about?" he wondered aloud. "I don't know these people."

That attitude may explain why this man is still looking, despite possessing an impressive education and enviable experience: He's afraid of meeting new people or appearing uninformed. Job seekers: We must know we're worth someone else's time, and trust that if others are too busy to meet us, they will say so.

Another possibility, Ryan said, is that those offering job leads may not have a full understanding of what a job seeker is looking for. In those cases, she added, it may be easier for the seeker to say, "Great, thanks! I'll check it out" and do nothing instead of admitting, "This isn't really the right kind of opportunity for me."

Job seekers I know -- and I know plenty, across all industries -- are surprised when they hear about people not maintaining connections or following up on proverbial carrots dangled before them. The little bit of conscious effort required can yield tremendous dividends, they agree. And yet, because so little effort is required, it's just as easy to let connections slip away.

We always can call her later. We're not sure it's the right opportunity, so we let it go. We think he's too important to make time, so we opt to bypass potential embarrassment by not contacting him.

Unfortunately, when we seekers let these connections slip, we don't know what judgments might be made about us. For that reason and so many more, don't choose to let opportunity -- and new life experiences, and wonderful new relationships -- pass you by.

Make that call. The chances are high you'll be glad you did.

Laurie Huff is a former newspaper reporter and has been looking for full-time communications work for more than a year.
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