Job seeking "phone tag" etiquette
July 17, 2010 3:48 PM   Subscribe

What's the proper etiquette for playing phone tag across several days with companies during job recruitment?

This has happened to me twice in short time, and it's irritating beyond belief.

Exhibit A: On Day 1, a company employee contacted me in the morning about my resume and had questions, but I was away from the phone so she had to leave a message. I returned the call that afternoon and left a message. I then left messages on Day 2 and Day 3, but my calls were never returned. My messages were to a direct line, though I don't remember the times that I called.

Exhibit B: On Day 1, a company's staff recruiter called and left a message concerning my job app and had questions, but I didn't hear it until later because there's a 3-hour difference and the call happened while I was still asleep. That morning, I called back twice (not a direct line, so I had to go through the front desk to her voice mail) and left a message in the early afternoon. On Day 2, I called twice in the morning and left a message in the afternoon. On Day 3, the front desk operator already knew me and said so-and-so would call me back that day--I then canceled my social plans and stayed in all day awaiting that call that never happened. I washed my hands of that company then.

Summary: Should I have kept calling in those cases? I felt by the third day, if someone hasn't called back, there's no point. But some others around me have disagreed; one person suggested I leave a message once a day for a week, and another suggested I call every 15 minutes on Day 3. The second suggestion is ludicrous especially if I don't have a direct line... (and that seems to border on harrassment/stalking.) Now, I know the onus is on the job seeker to exhibit enthusiasm and interest in a job search, but there must be a reasonable line where I can expect the company to respond appropriately, even if it's just to say "Sorry, but we've already found another candidate."

These days, with the job market the way it is, I know employers can take their bloody time getting the exact perfect candidate because they have all the power right now, but... Argh, really.

Advice--best times to call, what I should say, etc.? (For future reference, because I know it will happen again.)
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (6 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Leave a message, wait for them to call you back. They will, eventually. Remember that employed people don't feel the same sense of urgency about your job prospects.
posted by libraryhead at 3:59 PM on July 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Almost this exact thing happened to me back in February. Once two weeks had gone by with me calling and leaving messages intermittently, I gave up.

I went and talked to a career counselor a week ago at the school I graduated from, and asked her what to do in this situation. She told me to call them back and say, "so-and-so expressed an interest in me back in February but we lost contact. Is the position still available? If not, are any other positions available or do you have any colleagues who are hiring."

I wasn't sure if I wanted to call them because it's been, like, a really long time and, if I were on the other side, I would think that the person should have just gotten the hint. I ended up not calling. Just a couple days ago that same company had almost exactly the same position open up and post to their job board. When I sent in my cover letter, I mentioned in my email that I had applied back in February and that someone had liked me enough to call me then.

So, we'll see how that goes. The "official" advice I got was keep calling. It sounds weird to me, though.
posted by phunniemee at 4:00 PM on July 17, 2010

Former recruiter here.

In both cases, you called way too many times. If they call you, they want to talk to you. Call back, leave a clear message with your name and phone number, and perhaps a good general time to call if there's a time difference or you know you'll be out of pocket for a bit (i.e. "I'm on the West coast, so the best time to reach me is after noon EST").

Multiple calls and voicemails = pretty annoying. Especially in the age of caller ID. If you've left your one voicemail, and several days have gone by without hearing anything, call the front desk and get the email address of your contact. Resend your CV and say that you are eager to discuss potential opportunities. If you don't hear back after that, move on.

It used to be normal to get some kind of feedback- positive or negative- but now when there are literally hundreds of applicants for each open position in many fields, it's just not feasible. Most companies now have a "finalists will be contacted" line in their application materials.
posted by charmcityblues at 4:23 PM on July 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Unless the position you're seeking is one which requires a lot of persistence and aggression (cold calling comes to mind),or the person you are trying to reach is a very high end person with a lot of gatekeepers, calling persistently is more of a turnoff.

If neither of the above two cases applies, call them once, or twice at the most, and pursue other opportunities. No need for you to sit around waiting for them to call you back.
posted by dfriedman at 4:48 PM on July 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

My experience is being on the inside of a couple of medium to large companies trying to hire somebody. Typically, hiring is a two or three step process. The HR people start with a basket of resumes/applications. Their initial concern is making sure they have good representation for the position (e.g. 100 applications good, 20 applications bad). They then do an initial screen to get to a short list. The short list might be like 10 or 15 applications that are then circulated for review by the hiring manager or maybe an interview panel. That list gets winnowed down to however many people we can stand to interview in person (maybe three to five). The speed can vary quite a bit depending on the hiring situation. In my current position I'm often asked to participate on interview panels, and sometimes I'm the hiring manager. Real examples I've experienced in the last 12 months that have either accelerated or decelerated the hiring process: backfilling a retiree with two months to go who screwed up his retirement paperwork and now has three months left; filling a new position where we are still hashing out the exact job responsibilities; a critical employee just had a heart attack and passed away; a temporary hiring freeze because of an re-org; the hiring manager changed his mind; the applicant pool was too shallow so HR went back out to advertise the position more widely; the hiring manager had a family emergency and was away for two weeks.

So: if you are in a hiring pipeline process like I described, at the front end of the process, it probably isn't so critical that the staffing recruiter gets their question answered. At the back end of the process, if you are really about to get an offer, they are going to make the effort to return your return call if they've got a question that will hold up the offer. And just because you haven't heard anything for a week or two doesn't mean they still aren't actively pursuing the position. TL;DR summary: calling back once was plenty; you may still hear back from these companies; you'll never hear that you got winnowed out, simply too many applicants.
posted by kovacs at 5:12 PM on July 17, 2010

I've been in this situation many times. Is there any way you can email the person? Do you have their name, and can you look up their email address through their company's directory? Can you ask the secretary for the person's email address? I would sometimes also send an email that I'd just called. They may or may not email back. But 6 months down the line when another position opens up, they may just email you out of the blue.
posted by rybreadmed at 5:23 PM on July 17, 2010

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