Even when you’ve secured a new job, it’s still possible to lose that job at the last minute – even before you’ve actually started. I’ve seen it happen. You should follow-up after a job interview, but don’t overdo it.

A friend of mine recently realized that his days were numbered at his current job. A new boss had been promoted over his head, and the two of them just didn’t get along. It’s not just that they had different working and communication styles, it was downright acrimonious.

I knew the people at a rival company who were looking to hire someone with just his skillset. It seemed a brilliant match: he gets to jump to a competitor (leaving a boss who was likely going to fire him anyway), and the other company gets a motivated, experienced worker with industry knowledge. I made the introduction.

His interview went smoothly, and they were impressed with his portfolio. It looked like it was in the bag. In fact the hiring manager told him as much, saying that she would get back to him with a starting date as soon as some paperwork was finalized.

And that’s when the wheels came off.

Perhaps emboldened by having lined up a new gig, my friend became even more confrontational with his current boss. That relationship, which had never been good, soured further.

Having not yet officially signed anything with the rival company, he sent a second follow-up email to them to find out when they could close the deal. Unfortunately, paperwork and approvals can sometimes take weeks. They said that he was their top guy, and that an offer would be forthcoming, but there were some details they had to work out internally first.

So as the current working situation went from less-than-ideal to downright toxic, and the future job stalled for time, my friend lost his cool. He began leaving increasingly frantic and desperate-sounding messages on the hiring manager’s voicemail. He even sent multiple follow-up emails, the last of which was accusatory, passive-aggressive and bordering on hostile.

I spoke with the hiring manager about this later, as I knew her socially. She said that she had been prepared to hire my friend. He had just the skills and experience they were looking for, and he had seemed like a good fit for the team. However, the friendly, professional impression he had made at the interview had been completely contradicted by the over-the-top, stalker-esque, calamitous follow-up.

In fact he had scared them so much that they didn’t end up hiring anyone. They used freelancers for a year rather than risk making a mistake on a first impression again.

Four career lessons from my friend’s story:

    Keep it professional. You don’t have to like your boss personally, but you do have to treat them with respect and keep the communications friendly and professional. The antagonistic relationship he had with the woman promoted over him meant that he was doomed at his current job. That didn’t have to be the case.

    Get it in writing. He assumed that he had the new job because he had conducted a successful interview for a role that he was perfect for. Until you’ve signed the contract, never assume a job offer is official. Even if the hiring manager tells you specifically that you’re hired. It’s not real until it’s on paper.

    Don’t leave angry. Instead of working on the bad relationship with his current boss, once he had conducted a successful interview, my friend let the situation deteriorate even further. In this way he completely burned his bridge with her – and anywhere that she might work in the future. He should have used the interim time to work on his communication style with her, and improve the relationship so that he could leave on a positive note. (It’s much easier to put up with stuff you don’t like when you know you’re leaving anyway.)

    Don’t be a stalker. There’s nothing wrong with following up after a job interview. In fact, sending a thank you note to the interviewers is an important step. A phone call can be appropriate. Just do not overdo it. Candidates don’t get to dictate the timing of the hiring process. You can’t pressure an employer to move faster. My friend’s attempt to do so cost him a job offer that he really needed and was about to get.

Those four lessons can be boiled down to not letting your emotions dictate your professional life. As soon as the new boss was put in charge of my friend, he should have found a way to work with her – while quietly looking for a new job. Instead he got angry, stayed too long, and was forced to act out of desperation – all of which damaged his professional reputation.

He’s fine now, by the way. It was a temporary lapse of reason. Once he lost his job (as was inevitable), he had the chance to regroup, regain his composure, and get back in the game.

Sometimes just getting out of a toxic situation is enough to give you your perspective back.

Here is a humorous illustration of candidate follow-up gone wrong.

Peter Harris

Peter Harris on Twitter