Calling to Follow-Up? Hand Me a Fork.

Calling to Follow-Up? Hand Me a Fork.

by Kerry Scott on 16 September 2009

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This post originally appeared on February 3, 2009.

I’m new to blogging. One of the things that made me choose job hunting as my main focus is the fact that there are so many people giving unbelievably bad advice out there. Some of them are just tragically cluefree, and others are in the business of placing candidates and advising candidates rather than hiring candidates. There’s a big difference.

The one piece of advice that makes me the craziest is this:

“You should call to follow up on the resume you sent after you apply for a job.”

Honestly, every time I read that, I want to poke my eye out with a fork.

Yesterday, I read a quote from someone who thinks it is a good idea to call and follow up on your resume. Here’s what she said:

“Back when I worked in HR, I’d try to get people to follow the rules of course because that made my life easier – but the job seeker’s job isn’t to make HR’s life easier!”

And then I went to find a fork, so I could poke my eye out (unfortunately, we didn’t have a clean fork, because I forgot to run the dishwasher last night…duh).

Seriously, folks, this is SO not about “making HR’s life easier.” It’s actually really easy to skip-and-delete a couple hundred voice mail messages from people who want to make sure I have received their resume, or see if I have any questions, or whatever goofy line they’ve told you to use this week.

It’s really about understanding that the key variable in getting a job is being the right person for the job. It’s not about being the most attention-seeking candidate. It’s about being the most qualified candidate. If it’s not, you’re applying to the wrong company.

I know a guy who argues with me on this. He insists that you have to call to follow up, because you have to “stand out,” and “show them your enthusiasm” and all of that crap. He’s gotten various jobs using this pay-attention-to-me strategy, and invariably, he later whines about the politics and company culture. “It’s not fair!” he says. “They give all the plumb assignments to Joe, because he plays golf with the boss! Jane got a bigger bonus than everyone because she goes shopping with the owner!” And I’m like, dude, what did you expect? You specifically target companies who respond to the flashy one, not the talented one. If you try to side-step meritocracies, you can’t complain when you end up working someplace with no meritocracy.

Here’s the thing: in most instances, companies receive hundreds of candidates for a particular position. Let’s say there’s only 100 for the job you want (which is a really, really low number in this economy). If every one of those people called and left a two-minute voice mail, that’s nearly 3.5 hours just to listen to the voice mail messages. If they actually called you back to tell you that they’d receive your resume and would call you if they were interested in setting up an interview, that’s another 3.5 hours (assuming you only talk for two minutes, which, again, is a really low number). That’s why no one is calling you back (or calling you back with a terse message in a mildly hostile tone). Think you’re endearing yourself to the person who would rather have spent that seven hours actually interviewing qualified candidates? Nope.

Of course, all the advice says that you’re not really one of 100 candidates. It’s all about you. You’re the special one, so although those other people weren’t worth seven hours of somebody’s time, you are, because you are perfect for the job (or you really want the job, or whatever the logic is for this sort of thing). You have to stand out. You have to get ahead of those other people. You’re telling the recruiter that they need to see you…but that you don’t really trust them to figure out that you’re The One (because it’s not like they assess people’s fit for a particular job for a living, right?) . You’re saying that you need to take up some of their time giving them that guidance. Think that’s endearing? Nope. Even if you’re right, and the person on the other end is an idiot who wouldn’t know talent if it bit her in the ass, she’s unlikely to appreciate the fact that you’re essentially pointing that fact out to her.

Now, I have known handful of corporate recruiters who say that they pay more attention to the ones who call. In every case I can recall, it was because the recruiter was so disorganized that he/she wasn’t keeping up with the work, wasn’t really reading the submissions, or was otherwise…well, incompetent. I know far, far more recruiters who say they consider it a huge negative when people call. In fact, when companies say “No Calls Please” in their ad, it usually means they’re going to disqualify you if you call. That’s actually a little harsh for me, but “can’t follow directions” or “thinks the rules only apply to other people” isn’t a good way to impress a company.

Now, there are a few (very few) circumstances under which a follow-up call after an application might be a good idea. I’ll cover those in a future post (probably on Monday, because Monday is list day around here). Also, if you really just can’t resist the urge to follow-up, you can do it by email, and it’s far less annoying than a phone call. Because people read faster than they speak, email is MUCH faster than voice mail. It’s less intrusive than a ringing phone, and unlike returning phone calls, responding to email can be done 24/7. You’re at least showing a little bit more respect for the recruiter’s time.

Generally speaking, though, if someone tells you that you should call to follow up on each of your applications…well, somewhere an HR professional is reaching for a fork. Let’s hope it’s not the one who is deciding whether you’re going to get an interview or not.

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{ 12 comments }

Ask a Manager September 16, 2009 at 6:47 pm

Seriously, do you live inside my head? Or do I live inside yours?
.-= Ask a Manager´s last blog ..calling to follow up? =-.

Tim G September 16, 2009 at 10:24 pm

I can’t recall a single time in hundreds of hires, thousands of interviews, where a phone call was the difference. At least not a positive difference.
And speaking for myself as a candidate, if I didn’t get the ‘message of me’ across in the interview, I don’t think my phone call will suddenly give you the insight to say “That’s the guy!”
.-= Tim G´s last blog ..Unemployment Hearing or Funeral? =-.

Kerry Sandberg Scott September 17, 2009 at 7:02 am

AAM—Maybe we’re sisters. Like, the Sisterhood of Crabby Bloggers Who Tell People to Knock That Crap Off.

Melissa Barber September 17, 2009 at 8:05 am

Ok Kerry and Alison, I have to ask — does the no-call rule apply to hourly job applicants as well? On SnagAJob.com we’ve told our job seekers to call their local hiring manager within a few weeks if they want to follow up on their online application. The reasoning: retail and restaurant managers, etc. want to see that candidates are genuinely interested in the job, and many of these managers don’t use email as much to communicate with candidates.

Thoughts? I’ve got a fork right here if you need one!

Andrew September 17, 2009 at 12:13 pm

This should be mandatory reading for all applicants, I’d share more but I have hours and hours of voicemails to delete…

Kerry Sandberg Scott September 17, 2009 at 1:22 pm

Melissa–I would say that restaurant and retail jobs might be the exception to the “don’t call” rule. The culture is different, and you’re right…there’s no email.

For most hourly jobs, though (especially the ones with big companies where you fill out an application through a website), I still wouldn’t recommend it. My last job was with an airline, so we did lots of hourly hiring (rampers, gate agents, etc.) and the same rules applied.

If you want to be sure, you should interview people from the different industries you serve to get a sense. I can tell you “no” from an airline perspective, but I can’t tell you from, say, a hiring-for-a-grocery-store perspective, because I’ve never done that.

Melissa Barber September 17, 2009 at 3:54 pm

Thanks, Kerry! I’ll see if we can do a mini-survey of hiring managers from a few different companies — I’d like to know what they say.

Adriana September 18, 2009 at 12:29 pm

As a consultant, I’m frequently in the two sides of the hiring process, and I hate receiving calls from candidates before I contact them to set up a phone screening.

I never had a problem having my resume noticed because I didn’t call to follow up after sending an application. You make a very good point for people thinking about using this technique to “stand out”. If it works, don’t be surprised to find out later that meritocracy isn’t the main focus of the organization.
.-= Adriana´s last blog ..By: Adriana Beal =-.

Susan P Joyce September 19, 2009 at 10:08 am

Well, sorry, I don’t have much sympathy for you or anyone else in HR right now. Have you noticed, you have jobs? Sure hope they last!

I kinda come from the other side of the table, having “graduated” from an extended, massive corporate layoff by a multi-national company 15 years ago and witnessing – just in my location – 2 suicides and 1 murder/suicide (husband/wife) as a result of job loss and lack of hope at the end of prolonged periods of unemployment.

And, BTW, I’ve heard recruiters from small, medium, and large companies tell vast audiences of job seekers that NOT following up with a call shows lack of interest and enthusiasm for the job. EH?

I did spend 3 years in HR a long time ago, so I do understand the perspective of that side of the table, at least somewhat.

But, I must ask:

* When was the last time YOU looked for a job via the resume submission process, and how were you treated?

* Do YOU let people know you’ve received their resume? Or do you just add it to the stack on the desk, or, more likely, the saved resume files with ABSOLUTELY NO ACKNOWLEDGEMENT that it was received?

* Have you heard of auto-responders? They send out massive amounts of email with no effort on your part at all, once they are set up. Not personal, at all, but somehow I don’t think that will trouble you much, and it gives the job seeker some indication that their resume was received.

* Do you absolutely, positively believe that EVERY email sent is received? Corollary questions: Does your organization have spam filters? How many? How up-to-date? How well-managed? How often is the “junk mail” folder checked?

* REALLY, the most-qualified candidate ALWAYS bubbles to the top? How very reassuring that is, so things in HR have improved dramatically the last few years. Good to know.

Yes, applicants can be colossal pains-in-the-a** often – entitled, selfish, even clueless. But, they are often justifiably desperate. No one has ever taught them how to find a job, really, and most people don’t do it often enough to be good at at.

And, yes, these are trying times, but, trust me, MOST of the misery is NOT on your side of the table, so a little more kindness and understanding would be greatly appreciated.

A woman called me for help the other day from her home – the last day she would be in it and the last day she would have a permanent address.

So, before you poke your eye out with a fork (you can only really do that once), take a deep breath and try to improve the process so that people aren’t forced into this no-win situation. I think it’s a better alternative for everyone.

Kerry Sandberg Scott September 21, 2009 at 2:39 pm

Susan—let me try to respond to your points in order (my comments are in bold):

Well, sorry, I don’t have much sympathy for you or anyone else in HR right now. Have you noticed, you have jobs? Sure hope they last!
Actually, I’m not sure you noticed, but on the front page there’s a tab that says, “About.” That tells you about the author. In this case, it will tell you that my job in HR ended 14 months ago.

I kinda come from the other side of the table, having “graduated” from an extended, massive corporate layoff by a multi-national company 15 years ago and witnessing – just in my location – 2 suicides and 1 murder/suicide (husband/wife) as a result of job loss and lack of hope at the end of prolonged periods of unemployment. I came from an airline (you can see which companies I’ve worked for and when on my LinkedIn profile; there’s a link on that About page.). My entire subsidiary is gone, and nearly all of the parent company is too. I agree—it sucks.

And, BTW, I’ve heard recruiters from small, medium, and large companies tell vast audiences of job seekers that NOT following up with a call shows lack of interest and enthusiasm for the job. EH? I haven’t heard that from any actual recruiters. I’ve only heard it from people who have little or no recent experience as an in-house recruiter or hiring manager. As you’ll see on that About page, one of the reasons I started this blog is that I get really frustrated when people give advice on how to get hired when they don’t have a whole lot of experience in hiring people. That seems wrong to me, and with the tough economy, there seems to have been an explosion of people who think they can make a buck off of people’s misery by giving bad advice that will appeal to desperate candidates’ desire to DO something. For me, it’s kind of like those diet gurus who tell you that you should eat nothing white, or live on grapefruit or Tabasco, or never eat past 5pm, or whatever their particular magic trick might be. There are few diet gurus who say, “You just have to eat less and move around more.” That doesn’t sell books, or career counseling services, or get you booked at those “vast audience of job seeker” events. If you want to speak at those events, you need a Powerpoint and 50 minutes worth of gimmicks. That’s probably why you’re hearing that in those venues. But the people who actually HIRE people aren’t speaking at those events. They’re busy hiring people. That said, I certainly acknowledge the fact that you may have heard advice contrary to mine.

I did spend 3 years in HR a long time ago, so I do understand the perspective of that side of the table, at least somewhat.

But, I must ask:

* When was the last time YOU looked for a job via the resume submission process, and how were you treated?
About 12 minutes ago. I got an auto-reply.

* Do YOU let people know you’ve received their resume? Or do you just add it to the stack on the desk, or, more likely, the saved resume files with ABSOLUTELY NO ACKNOWLEDGEMENT that it was received?
Since you and I have never met or spoken, and since it appears that this is the only post you’ve ever read on my blog, I’m not sure why you believe it’s “more likely” that I’ve added resumes to the “saved resume files” with no acknowledgment that it was received. That’s not true. In jobs where I accepted resumes via email, I set up an auto-reply. In jobs where I used an Applicant Tracking System (ATS), I used the built-in feature that sends an auto-reply to each candidate. Also, this post is not about calling to see if your resume was received. It’s about calling to follow up (that’s why it’s titled as such). Calling to see if your resume is received is also a bad idea, because a company stupid and rude enough not to know how to set up an auto-reply is not likely to be kind and smart enough to actually look through all the resumes and give you a truthful answer as to whether your resume was received. That’s one of the reasons I’ve done several posts on how to bypass this system. You can find a few of them here, here, here, and here.

* Have you heard of auto-responders? They send out massive amounts of email with no effort on your part at all, once they are set up. Not personal, at all, but somehow I don’t think that will trouble you much, and it gives the job seeker some indication that their resume was received. Yes. I’ve heard of auto-responders. Again, I don’t believe we’ve met or spoken, so I’m not sure what is leading to to believe that I have not responded to the candidates I’ve heard from during the course of my career. That’s not true. Also, again, this post is about calling to follow up, not calling to see if your resume was received.

* Do you absolutely, positively believe that EVERY email sent is received? Corollary questions: Does your organization have spam filters? How many? How up-to-date? How well-managed? How often is the “junk mail” folder checked? No, I don’t believe every email sent is received (and I hope you’re also aware that many medium-sized and most large-sized companies use online applications, not emails, to receive resumes). I’m sure if you spend a little time reading more than just this one single post, you’ll find that I’ve repeatedly cautioned candidates not to rely solely on email applications as a means of getting a job. The links above are probably a good place to start. As I mentioned, I don’t have an “organization” right now, but it’s been about 10 years since I encountered a company that didn’t turn off the spam filter on its resume email address. Also, as you probably know, applicant tracking systems don’t have spam filters, and since they’re in use by a large number of employers, I don’t think spam filtering is a significant issue on the resume-receiving side. In fact, I think the main point at which spam filters affect this sort of thing is on the candidate end. I can’t even begin to count how many candidates have called me to say they never heard anything after they sent a resume. When I pull up the record, and give them the date and time the auto-reply was sent to them, I ask them to check their spam filter and see if it’s in there. This usually leads to a sheepish candidate, because lo and behold, they DID get an auto-response. They just didn’t check the junk folder.

* REALLY, the most-qualified candidate ALWAYS bubbles to the top? How very reassuring that is, so things in HR have improved dramatically the last few years. Good to know.
I’m not sure where this is coming from. It doesn’t say it in this post. In fact, it says quite a bit in this post about idiot recruiters. But calling them won’t make them stop being idiots. It’ll just make them idiots who are annoyed.

Yes, applicants can be colossal pains-in-the-a** often – entitled, selfish, even clueless. But, they are often justifiably desperate. No one has ever taught them how to find a job, really, and most people don’t do it often enough to be good at at. Agreed. That’s why I’m trying to give them the perspective of someone who has been an in-house corporate recruiter.

And, yes, these are trying times, but, trust me, MOST of the misery is NOT on your side of the table, so a little more kindness and understanding would be greatly appreciated.
Again, I’m on the same side of the table as the candidates right now, and I would agree that it’s a far more miserable place than that of the person who is trying to fill jobs. I’m not trying to be unkind; just honest. I honestly believe that if you call to “follow up,” most of the time, you’ll harm your chances of getting the job. I honestly think that it’s better to email (or better yet, to employ some of the other techniques I’ve outlined in other posts). I understand that you disagree. I think you and I can have different opinions without unkindness on either end.

A woman called me for help the other day from her home – the last day she would be in it and the last day she would have a permanent address.
I’m hearing similar stories. It’s horrifying and frustrating what some people are going through. On that, I agree with you completely.

So, before you poke your eye out with a fork (you can only really do that once), take a deep breath and try to improve the process so that people aren’t forced into this no-win situation. I think it’s a better alternative for everyone. I think I’ve done some of that with some of the other posts I’ve written (I hope so, although only readers can decide that). One of the unique things about a blog is that each post is micro-targeted to a specific issue or question. Since it appears you’ve only read this one post, and since it seems to have made you very angry, I think you may have a distorted view of the advice I’m giving to job seekers. I would encourage you to read some other posts as well. You may still think I’m full of crap, but at least you’ll have a fuller picture of the breadth and depth of the crap. At that point, we can certainly agree to disagree (hopefully without being disagreeable).

Susan P Joyce September 22, 2009 at 12:01 pm

Kerry – Really appreciate the “3 (Possible) Exceptions to the Do Not Call Rule” post! Except I’m still not sure how someone on the outside would know whether or not the ATS was working properly, unless they called (annoying) or sent an email (unreliable). I think we just need to be “kinder and gentler” with each other – everyone is under a lot of stress.

5 brief points about the current discussion:

1. You: …this post is about calling to follow up, not calling to see if your resume was received.

Me: Didn’t see anywhere in your post that a phone call to see if a resume had been received was OK, not considered “follow-up” so would not be annoying. Didn’t see that it was a bad idea either, as you indicated in your response to my response. DO know that most job applicants get absolutely no response to a resume submission – maybe it’s sent to them and they don’t receive it, but they feel largely ignored and dissed. And very discouraged.

2. You: It’s not about being the most attention-seeking candidate. It’s about being the most qualified candidate.

Me:
* REALLY, the most-qualified candidate ALWAYS bubbles to the top? How very reassuring that is, so things in HR have improved dramatically the last few years. Good to know.

You: I’m not sure where this is coming from. It doesn’t say it in this post.

Me: THAT’s where it’s coming from, “It’s not about being the most attention-seeking candidate. It’s about being the most qualified candidate.”

Assumed (yes, I know) that you were saying being the most qualified meant you got the job.

3. Me: BTW, I’ve heard recruiters from small, medium, and large employers tell vast audiences of job seekers that NOT following up with a call shows lack of interest and enthusiasm for the job. EH?

You (but attributed to me in your response, above): I haven’t heard that from any actual recruiters. I’ve only heard it from people who have little or no recent experience as an in-house recruiter or hiring manager.

Me: They were in-house recruiters on panels at national and local conferences since Spring of 2007. Employers of all sizes and industries, w/emphasis on larger organizations. Some of the panelists would disagree, but at the end of the presentations, you were definitely left with the impression that MOST of them saw lack of follow-up as a lack of interest, enthusiasm, self-starter-ness, etc.- like a litmus test, of sorts. And, as I remember it, telephone call was the recommended method because it was more personal.

4. You & Me:
Me: * When was the last time YOU looked for a job via the resume submission process, and how were you treated?
You: About 12 minutes ago. I got an auto-reply.

Me: Does that happen every time?

5. Yes, I understand that many medium and large employers do use ATS, and, yes, I do understand the difference between ATS and email. However, many smaller employers do not use ATS, so are dependent on the very undependable system known as email, and even the larger employers who do use ATS:
a. Don’t bother to use the built-in auto responder
b. Ignore the resumes in their resume databases in favor of “fresher” resumes from those oh-so-MUCH-more-desirable “passive” candidates.

Yes, this post made me very angry because it seemed to leave job seekers with no way out. It seemed to be saying, just submit your resume, sit back, and hope or pray or both. I’d really rather see job seekers NOT BOTHER with applying at job boards or employer Websites, but they do, in overwhelming numbers (at least now). And I’m frankly tired of recruiters whining about being annoyed by needy job seekers.

As you did with the “3 (Possible) Exceptions…” post, referring to to other relevant posts IN your blog post would be helpful (e.g. “For more on HOW to stand out, see…) for those of us who are new to your blog. It will also increase page views and ad revenue. Don’t assume that everyone has the time to read all of your posts or that they are dumb because they haven’t.

Now that I’ve looked around your blog, I can see that we agree a whole lot more than we disagree.

Kerry Sandberg Scott September 23, 2009 at 7:23 am

Susan–thanks—I appreciate your input (and on number 4…no, it doesn’t always happen, but I never rely on just the recommended application method when I really want the job, so it’s less of an issue for me).

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