Calling to Follow-Up? Hand Me a Fork.


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.

Photo by kevindooley

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