When I blogged previously about the importance of thank you notes (including five real job seekers whose thank you notes hurt or helped them get a job), I meant to showcase an often-overlooked by powerful job search step. This isn't to say, however, that for any of the job seekers I showcased the thank you note was the only factor in the hiring decision. There are always numerous factors that employers use to make hiring decisions. Typically these factors build upon each other, so job seekers should aim to showcase their best at all stages. Here is a job search checklist for what employers look at when deciding whom to hire.
The Attention Grab
Notice that I didn't specify the resume as a first step. Sometimes it is a resume that grabs an employer's attention, but it might also be an online profile, an employee recommendation, a referral from a recruiter (who might use their own summary in lieu of your resume), or even a general networking email that isn't a formal job application but gets the sender a meeting. The takeaway here is that the very first step to get a job is to grab the employer's attention, and how you do that is one factor the employer now has to judge you on. Is your resume and online profile updated? Is your network, including recruiters, recommending you? Are you reaching out and staying in touch?
The First Meeting
Once the employer thinks of you for a role or at least a possibility somewhere in the company, you start the hiring process with a first meeting. This could be an exploratory back-and-forth: You hear about the company and the role (or department overall), and you get to share your background and your interests and motivation. Or the employer might have a very specific checklist of qualifications and deal breakers they want to vet. This step can be over the phone, but might also be conducted like a formal interview or casually over coffee. The first meeting is varied both in content and style, but whatever the format, it's another factor that counts for that employer. This step will confirm what the employer liked from the attention grab, or this step may close you out entirely, or you might reflect some positives and some negatives (more positives are needed, of course, if you are to move on).
The Consensus-Building Follow-Up Activities
When you do move on, it might be for one, two, three, or even more meetings. Some meetings will be like your first meeting – general, exploratory. Others might be more in-depth now that the employer has more information about you and may have items they specifically want to review. Again, multiple formats are used—phone, live, video, over a meal, multiple interviewers at a time. This step can take a few days or even months. I've heard of hiring stories that took a year or more! All of these follow-up meetings are factors that come into play, as disparate decision-makers at the employer try to reach a consensus on whom to hire. The follow-up activity that you initiate (such as thank you notes!) are also factors that employers consider. At this stage, the employer has their initial impression from the attention grab, feedback from that first meeting, plus impressions from all these additional follow-up activities.
Ultimately, the employer will come down to a decision and contact you with a verbal offer, at which time the offer negotiation starts. Even if you're 100% satisfied with the money part of the offer, you might have additional questions about the role or start date or benefits—there are a lot of moving parts to deciding on your next job. Your conduct at the close of the process is another factor employers consider. In the later stages of the hiring process is where references are usually checked, and these references are an additional factor that is weighted. Don't get complacent and think that once offer talks start, the employer is no longer vetting you. Don't take your references for granted—make sure they get back to the employer in a timely and enthusiastic way.
The search concludes when the job begins. Keep in mind that vetting continues even after you start—the employer is looking to confirm they made the right decision by hiring you. In this way, your performance in the early days is yet another factor in the hiring decision because, even though you're already hired, your employer can always decide to part ways. You don't want to give them buyer's remorse! Aim for a strong start. A strong start also builds your credibility to your boss and colleagues, which makes your life easier and more enjoyable in the new role.
Caroline Ceniza-Levine '93BC is a member of the Columbia Career Coaches Network. For more career resources, visit her website, SixFigureStart, career coaching by former Fortune 500 recruiters.