In the old days, it was the receptionist or a secretary who deflected cold calls. Today it's voicemail, that cheery voice that tells you "Your call is important to us." Ha! Since voicemail has become universal, many people do not return calls. It's rude, but when did that deter anyone, especially when dealing with salespeople and, yuck, job hunters? How can you get through when voicemail is used as a barrier? Here are some ideas when you're determined to speak to a specific person.
Construct a compelling message. "Ah, this is Tim Sneed, and I, uh, want to talk to you about a job with your company," does not motivate anyone to call back. What if there are no openings? Why would anyone return the call?
Doesn't it make more sense to craft a message that will motivate your target to reach for the telephone? Write it out. "I understand from John Smith at Worldwide Widgets that you're looking for some top engineers. He suggested I call you." The person is much more likely to return your call because we assume he/she trusts John Smith's good opinion. Whether you're dealing with a live or an electronic secretary, this ploy works. Limit your message to 40 words. Edit ruthlessly. Practice on a tape recorder. If you should get a live person to talk with, you'll be well prepared.
If this advice seems too obvious, come to our office some day and retrieve our voicemail messages. People ramble, they talk too fast, they don't speak clearly, they don't leave enough information. We're often not sure what they want, other than a call back. That's not good marketing.
If there is an option to talk to a human, take it. Nearly every voice message includes a tag line, something to the effect that "if this is an emergency. . . " or, "if you need to talk to someone immediately, please dial 0 and ask to speak to my assistant . . ." How many job hunters take that option? The assistant may not be your target but he/she might tell you the best time to reach that person. Don't assume you need an emergency of 911 proportions. Getting the assistant on the line may be a better way to get attention than leaving a voicemail. If you can sell the assistant, you're that much closer to selling the boss.
Persist. A top saleswoman in Chicago will leave at least 20 voicemails to reach a prospect. (And job hunters often feel discouraged because they have called someone six times.) She's always surprised that about 15 percent of those people say, "Thank you for continuing to call. I've been swamped." They don't threaten her with a lawsuit or bodily harm. Much as she hates leaving voicemail messages, she knows the odds are good that she'll eventually get to speak to her prospect.
Use email. For reasons even psychiatrists can't sort out, people pay more attention to email than to voicemail. One reason may be that email is easier to answer. You don't have to write down a number and then dial the telephone. It's also faster. You can click "reply," type a couple of sentences and be done with it. No need for small talk.
Many older workers - managers and decision makers - are finally getting online and should soon be comfortable enough to use email regularly.
Email also allows you to attach a resume which a target can peruse before responding. Don't send it as an attachment which must be downloaded and printed out. Paste it into the email message. It won't matter if some of the formatting is lost if your resume is constructed - and it should be - with the most important points right at the beginning. You increase your chances of a response when you make it dead easy for the target to respond.
Call at odd times. Calling before 8:30am and after 5pm may increase the chances your call will get through. Job hunters tell us that, while hirers aren't working from 6am to 7pm as they did in the early '90s, many are in their offices before 8am and still there at 6pm. It's worth stalking your prime targets both early and late.
Use an intermediary. If mentioning the name of the person who referred you doesn't elicit a return call, ask the referral to make the call for you. (Don't do this unless you've tried numerous times to get your target on the telephone.) If you throw yourself on the mercy of the person who referred you - someone who has a relationship with your target - you're likely to get an explanation, if not a return call. You can keep the contact alive by sending a note to your target explaining that you weren't sure he was getting your messages.
Network indefatigably in person. An unemployed job hunter skipped his monthly association meeting because "it looked as if it might snow." This is not someone eager for job leads and interviews! If he had needed to go and return by dogsled, he should have done so. Today's market hasn't changed any of the basic rules of job hunting. The more people you talk to in person, the more contacts you'll be referred to who will take your calls - or return them. Nothing short of death - your own - should keep you from a meeting which offers the promise of industry contacts.
A final suggestion: It doesn't hurt to leave a voicemail message with the people in Human Resources. Even in this market, they may actually be useful!