7 Tips for Leaving the Perfect Voicemail


When applying for a job or talking to a recruiter, voice-mail is often where you'll leave your first impression. And a decision is made in a split second whether to return your call. Don't blow it.

Subject: Career
Source: James M. Citrin, Business 2.0

Your Objective: Getting a job; breaking the ice with a new client; securing a meeting.

When applying for a job or talking to a recruiter, voice-mail is often where you’ll leave your first impression. And a decision is made in a split second whether to return your call. Don’t blow it.

Here are seven tips to get your call returned.

  1. Be clear about the real goal of the message. Don’t try to do it all — get the job, close the sale, etc. The objective of the message should be to get a return call. Putting it as a football metaphor, all you want to do is advance the ball down the field enough for a first down.
  2. Do your homework to find a bridge to the person you’re calling. This can be someone who suggested you call, a mutual acquaintance, or some organization that you share, such as your university alumni association.
  3. Be brief. There is nothing more depressing to the listener than to hear, “New message received at 6:15 p.m., five minutes.” 
  4. Be upbeat. People always respond better to an energetic, positive-sounding person than to a bore. But avoid being obsequious at all costs — that is really annoying.
  5. Narrow your request. People are much more likely to get back to you if they know the talk will be confined to a clear topic. For example, promise a brief phone conversation with a specific question that you would like to get some advice on rather than an open-ended issue that the caller may fear will turn into a black-hole conversation.
  6. Leave your return phone number slowly and clearly. I know this sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised at how many people rush through their numbers so fast that you have to replay the message four times before you can catch the number. Also, some people check their voice-mail while driving, so the easier the number is to understand and remember, the greater the likelihood you’ll get the return call immediately.
  7. Offer an e-mail reply option. For those who prefer to start a dialogue via e-mail, this can be less threatening, given its asynchronous and more detached nature.

In an attempt to bring these points to life, here are three voice-mails I recently received (the names have been changed to protect the innocent and guilty). You decide which call(s) you would be more eager to return:

Caller Number One
“Good afternoon, Mr. Citrin. My name is Jonathan Jackson from Boston Consulting Group. I’m a second-year associate and I am looking to make a move out of consulting into general management — either in technology or financial services. I understand you work with executives like myself. I would appreciate it if we could spend 15 minutes to a half an hour on the phone. Could you please call me at (212) …”

Caller Number Two 
“Hello, Jim, this is Brian Murphy. Like you, I’m a Vassar grad, class of 1996, and I’m currently working at a small software company in San Jose. I have a difficult decision that I need to make in the next 48 hours — can I run it by you? It will only take five to seven minutes of your time. My number at the office is (408) … and home is (408) …. If it’s easier, you can e-mail me at [email protected]. Thank you very much in advance.”

Caller Number Three 
“Jim, this is Andrea Peters, and I am calling concerning a reference for your former colleague, Tom Johnson. We are speaking to Tom about potentially joining our organization. Can you please call me over the next two to three days so that I can get your views on his strengths, weaknesses, and fit into our company? If it is easier, I can have my office schedule a call with you so we can eliminate the phone tag. My number in the office is (312) …”

So Which One Worked?

Obviously, you can tell the difference between these approaches. They are each quite realistic, but will lead to different results. I’d return numbers two and three in a heartbeat, and I’d delete number one without a second thought. Keep the seven points in mind when you are leaving important voice-mail messages and you will be surprised at how much more quickly your calls are returned.

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