When you’re job hunting, it’s hard enough coming up with something to say when you call a manager you don’t know. What will stimulate a peer-to-peer discussion that might lead to a job or to a good referral to another manager?

But when you get voicemail — that’s another level of anxiety. Take a look at this reader’s question about How to Say It:

“Repeated calls to a manager I don’t know get me nothing but the manager’s voicemail. I don’t want to have my caller ID coming up like I’m a stalker. I want to leave a voicemail message that will produce a call back. How do I say it when I’m talking to a recorder?”

In the new edition of the newsletter (June 16, 2009) I offer this suggestion:

“Hello! My name is Linda Jones. Mark Smith at Systems Inc. suggested I give you a call. I read the article in Widget Monthly in which you were quoted. You can reach me at 999 555-1212. I look forward to talking with you. Thanks.”

Never say anything about the substance of your call. Create an obligation: Always refer to someone you know in common. Stimulate interest: Allude to an article or event that reveals the person you’re calling is highly regarded. Do not make the call until you have a name in common and a credible allusion.

(There’s a new How to Say It in every edition of the newsletter.)

When you’re trying to get in the door, how do you leave voicemail that will ensure a return call? What works? (What fails?)

  1. I might not be representative, but I don’t think I’d call this person since they didn’t say what it was in regard to. I’d forward the message to my assistant and ask her to return the call instead. I do that with almost any call where I don’t know the name and the caller doesn’t indicate what they want. She then screens them for me, and callers who are calling about jobs almost always get asked to email in their materials before we proceed, unless they’re clear, clear rock stars.

    This is because soooo many candidates call, many of them not highly qualified, that I’d spend half my day on the phone with them otherwise. (And I should note that hiring isn’t my primary job; managing is. If I were a recruiter, I assume I’d handle this differently and be more willing to invest the phone time.)

  2. I agree with manager, one should leave the person a reason to call back, e.g. somethging like “I like your approach to manufacturing widgets, but I would like to discuss some possible improvements, like doing this and this”. The manager called must feel that calling back is beneficial to him, not only the caller.

    Flattery gets you everywhere, but it must be flattery with substance.

  3. Cold calling is hard enough. Cold calling on voice mail is really tough. I would look for ways to avoid if at all possible.

  4. If I don’t know why I’m supposed to call the person, the chances are very low I’m going to call back. My assumption is that the caller is a salesman, trying to get something from me.

    If I’m looking for pointers toward the next link in my chain of contacts, I’d say that in the voice mail. If the person doesn’t want to help me, that’s OK, and he won’t call me back. Better that that him calling back, finding out what I want, and feeling hoodwinked.

  5. Andy,

    Why is a call from a job hunter who has done his homework a “hoodwinking?”

    I accept the lashes for suggesting a voicemail where you don’t say exactly what you want. I still find it works, because the mention of a mutual contact and the reference to a relevant news article creates a context. Of course, when you get a call back (okay, IF), you must have something to say that will be interesting to the manager.

    But I’m not suggesting that “something” must necessarily relate to a job. How about this:

    Ask an intelligent question about what you read about the manager… then try this, bending it to suit the topic you read about: http://www.asktheheadhunter.com/crocs4beamindreader.htm

  6. This is probably not the correct forum for my response but I’ve found it works to get a live person on the phone. It borders on being dishonest but, hey everything’s fair in love, war and job hunting.

    I use a program called Spoof Card to get through. Basically, it makes any phone number you’d like to show up on their caller ID.

    You can find the program on the web at http://www.spoofcard.com. As I recall it’s about $10 for 60 minutes.

    I try to find out where the hiring authority worked before and use that number. Seems to work pretty well. Nobody has ever commented on how I am calling from that number but you can tell they’re a little puzzled.

    A lawyer friend of mine put me onto this progam. He says he and his associates use it a lot to get through to deadbeats.

  7. The easist thing to do is possibly to hang up before the voice machine starts – that way the manager youcall will either get curious and cal back (be prepared!) or ignore the call, which means that you can call back later without having to leave any more or less deceptive messages on the answering machine.

  8. I have a casual aquaintance individual who is a departmental director at a university. In “small talk”, I mentioned that I had seen the university was hunting for a Campus President. Since I have been in a university setting for 14 years and have served in C-level positions for an overlapping 25 years, I asked if that particular campus was one looking for the CP. She said no, but they WERE seeking an Academic Dean. She told me to call the “approachable” existent President to set up a meeting and to use her name. I called and got the 20-something switchboard person who asked my name, who I was representing, and why I was calling. I told her my name, said I represented myself, and was calling at the diretion of one of her department heads to talk with the Pres. I have called 3 times over a 10 day period. I am always directed to the voicemail and receive no return calls. So much for “networking”. I cannot get past the “gatekeeper”. Arriving in person to try to set an appmt is met with the same 20-something year old gatekeeper who informs guests that the president is busy, in a meeting, or cannot see you now….leave your name, number, and reason for coming by and she will get back with you when she is able……which is NEVER.

  9. Jake, at this point you’re sort of stalking the guy and it might not look great. Stop what you’re doing (since it’s not working) and instead contact your friend who originally made the suggestion. Tell her you’ve been unable to get through and ask for her help.

  10. In response to Jake’s comment about getting past the gatekeeper – it’s importatnt to realize that these individuals do leave their post on occasion for lunch etc. Although some admins have a replacement during this time, often they leave the phone system to manage calls and most likely – your placed call will go through.

    I find the best time to reach out to an executive is before or after working hours. They tend to come in early and work late. I have reached c-level execs as early as 6 am and as late as 7 pm.

    Depending on the size of the organization, the “dial by name directory” generally rolls straight to their extension. If you are unable to reach them on a particular try, you may be given their direct number through the phone system – which can be useful later.

    Another approach that works when calling for an executive and dealing with an admin is using the “it’s personal” line. Let’s face it – your job search is personal. I recently said to an admin “so and so recommended I call” and when she pressed further about the nature of the call I told her “it is personal beyond that”. I told her “Kindly let Mr.CAO know I am on the line and that I have been referred by “so and so” and he can choose to take the call”. Mr. CAO did take the call.

    Good luck with your search !

  11. Nick and readers:

    Make it simple and easy for the contact to return your call. State your name and say your phone number slowly at the beginning of your message and then repeat at the end. If they miss it, all they have to do is replay the very beginning of your voice mail to find out your contact information. And don’t forget to be polite, patient and courteous and thank the contact for their help and calling back or leaving a message on how they want to be contacted in the future. Persistence does get results. Call regularly to demonstrate that yuou are genuinely and sincerely interested in a conversation. This is not a one-shot transaction but an effort to establish a connection and promote a relationship. If you don’t get a callback within 10 days, allowing for travel, vacation, assignments, etc, then call and leave a second message. If you are trying to catch someone by calling frequently, block caller ID and don’t leave a message each time. I agree with the method of calling outside of usual business hours when you are less likely to be screened by a gatekeeper and more likely to reach the contact directly.

  12. This is not a one-shot transaction but an effort to establish a connection and promote a relationship. If you don’t get a callback within 10 days, allowing for travel, vacation, assignments, etc, then call and leave a second message.