Don’t Burn Your Bridges after the Beep | 7 Tips for Voicemail Success

Leaving a great voicemail isn’t easy. Here’s some advice on how to leave a good one, without undoing the positive impression you left in the interview.

Let’s say the human resources director is fronting the interview process for a mid-level management job opportunity in his company.

When he returns to his office after an interdepartmental meeting, there are three blinking voicemails— all, it turns out, from candidates inquiring about the aforementioned opening.

The first one starts with about two minutes of meandering small talk and we’ll pick it up here:<

“… So anyway, you’re not there and I was, as I said before, just touching base to see what’s going on as far as, you know, setting up an interview for that marketing position at Flatland Enterprises.

You said you’d get back to me and that was like a couple of weeks ago. I tell you I’m perfect for that job, man. That’s all spelled out in my résumé. It’s like the job description was written about me. I can make a pretty good case if you give me a chance. Hey, I guess that’s about it. Oh, yeah, this is Steve…”

The message is cut off at this juncture, because the answering machine has a three-minute time limit. Then comes the next message.

“Whoa, man, that doesn’t give you a whole lot of time, does it? So this is Steve (unintelligible) again. I called right back regarding that job interview. I guess I mentioned that and like, as I said, I think I’m the man, er person, Flatland needs to help you, you know, market your damn fine products.

This is the, what, Twenty-First Century, after all, and you need someone with youth and energy to meet the challenges you’ll face. Anyway, the reason I called is to ask you to give me a call at— I guess my cell is best—at five-seven-zero-three-four-three, ah, make that four, two-one-eleven. Have a great day!”

He’s still trying to clear his head as the third and final message grabs his attention.

“Mr. Abramson, this is Teresa Snodgrass. I know you are a very busy man, but I just had to give you a call about your regional marketing position. I have to say I am so excited about what I can do for Flatland Enterprises.

As I pointed out when we spoke two weeks ago, my wealth of experience with many of the same providers allows me to hit the ground running. Of course, that is made clear in my résumé, and I’d love to talk about this face-to-face. Again, this is Teresa Snodgrass, and I’d so appreciate you giving me a call at 343-5711. Again, that’s 343-5711. Take care.”

So which of these two are you most likely to call back? Probably not Steve What’s-His-Name.

Let’s hope that in the real world one person would not make so many mistakes in a simple voicemail message, but it is amazing how people don’t seem to be prepared when they hear the beep to leave a message. That includes people who know they have to impress HR contacts, hiring managers and even recruiters who are in the business of helping people land jobs. They are all busy and, if it is a highly sought position, looking for excuses to narrow the field of candidates.

So what did poor Steve do wrong? A lot, obviously, and just one or two of those gaffes would be enough to banish him from the field.

1. Your Name

For starters, the most important thing to make clear in such a message is who you are. Steve may assume you remember him, but he should clearly state first and last name—at least twice so there is no confusion.

People are in the habit of spilling out their name conversationally, which may be okay shooting the breeze at the neighborhood watering hole. Not here. Say it slow and say it twice.

2. Your Phone Number

The same goes for that all-important phone number you want him to call. People don’t pay attention to their own phone numbers. How many times do you call yourself? So any time you are leaving a message for an important call-back, write it down in front of you—even if you know it.

3. Keep It Short

The general rule in leaving call-back messages for potential hirers is to do it in less than 30 seconds.

4. The Tone of Your Message

Keep it conversational but at a professional level. Say the person’s name you are calling right up front and then tell him who you are. Stay formal—unless in a previous conversation you were asked to use his first name.

If you aren’t going to state his name as all, as was the case with Steve, you probably shouldn’t call him man, guy, dude or any other casual moniker.

5. Give a Reminder

Tell him something briefly to remind him of something positive in a previous conversation or strengths that stand out in your résumé or cover letter.

6. Don’t Be Clueless

You are the job seeker, and a follow-up call after a discussion or email about a job interview is part of the process. Don’t suggest that he was somehow negligent in not getting back to you— even if he was.

And always convey your sense of excitement about the position being offered without carrying on about how great you are. You don’t have enough time for that and the potential hirer doesn’t have time to hear it at this stage.

7. Practice Before Hand

Finally, if you come across as ad-libbing, speaking off the cuff, that means you didn’t take the time to prepare for even a simple voicemail message. What does that say about how much you’ll be prepared for that interview you are so desperately seeking?

Funny example of a voice-mail FAIL – Jon Favreau leaving extremely awkward messages. Do NOT do this to your interviewer.


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