Five Things Never to Say When Calling a Potential Employer – a Follow Up

May 2, 2013 | By Felicity Cull
on phone timparkinson


A couple of weeks ago I wrote 10 Do’s and Don’ts to follow when you’re thinking about calling a potential employer and as it turns out it’s been one of our most popular blog posts.  I’m not exactly surprised, follow up phone calls are nerve-wracking things to make and it’s good to have some tips before making one.

However, in the past few weeks when taking calls here at 10Collective, I keep thinking about the fact that so many people ignore the second don’t on my list: Don’t be rude to anyone even if you think that person is unconnected to your application.

I have seen some appalling phone etiquette lately that makes me think that this particular Don’t needs to be emphasised.

So, here’s five things you should never ever say when you’re talking to someone from the company you hope to work with.

  1. Question: “Can I ask what this call is regarding?” Your answer: “They know what it’s about.” No. No, no, no, no. In order to illustrate how stupidly ridiculous this response is, let’s do an exercise. I want you to visualise your To Do list. Say there are roughly twenty things to do, and number five on the list is talk to your accountant about your tax. During the day someone called Brian calls you. Brian wants to talk to you about your tax, which is indeed on your To Do list but it’s not the only thing on there. But Brian doesn’t say that he’s calling about tax. So you end up with a message that says “Call Brian” and for all you know Brian could be a talking dog from a popular animated television series. Don’t be Brian. Nobody is too important to give some details to the person on the end of the phone. Nobody.
  2. Question: “Can I get your contact details?” Your answer: “They already have them.” Why would you risk someone not being able to return your call because they lost your contact details, or they never had them in the first place, or they have been recorded wrong (etc etc etc). Most people who have worked in an office would have experienced having lost someone’s contact details for a variety of reasons and that’s why they’re asking. What are you doing that you can’t spare those extra fifteen seconds to quote ten numbers? Don’t be a chump.
  3. Question: “Would you like to leave your name and a message?” Your answer: “No, I’ll call back later” *hangs up* You just labelled yourself a weirdo while simultaneously suggesting that the person you are speaking to is so incompetent they can’t deal with your query or pass it on appropriately. Are you sticking it to the man? Are you a maverick? No, you’re being rude and if the person who took your call recognises your number on caller ID or your voice, they’ll remember you hanging up in their ear. So you have them offside and you haven’t gotten anywhere because you haven’t made contact with anyone in the company – slow clap, genius. If you’ve ever done this because you were too busy, why did you make the call at all? An email scheduling a call for when you’ve got the time makes more sense.
  4. Question – “Sorry, they’re in a meeting at the moment, can I take a message and get them to call you back?” Your response: “Harrrumph!” Okay, harrumph isn’t really a word but pretend it’s that sound that someone makes when they’re frustrated and annoyed. Goodness me, please wait until you have hung up to display these kinds of feelings, you’re an adult. If this person has been dodging your call and it’s gotten beyond a joke, very politely say, “I have called a couple of times and I do need to know [whatever it is you need to know] by [a deadline]. Could you please let them know that the matter is a bit urgent? Thanks so much!” You’re far more likely to get somewhere if you remain polite. If you’re rude the person taking the message is likely to think that’s why your call hasn’t been returned.
  5. Question – “Sorry, they’re on another call, can I help?” Your answer: “Can I talk to someone higher up?” or “No.” There’s a part of me that hesitates to include this one because sometimes this is the only course of action. Sure, if someone is being rude or particularly stupid you might need to (politely) ask to speak to someone else. But I honestly think that the majority of the time this is uncalled for and arrogant. Yes, sometimes the person you’re talking to is a receptionist. You know what? I don’t care. You’re an adult. Keep a civil tongue in your head, as my grandmother would have said.

Now, I know that many people don’t trust receptionists, or think they’re stupid, and I’m sure they have based these ideas on past experiences, which is fair enough. However, for every Bubbles from Ab Fab there’s a Joan from Mad Men and it’s never wise to judge a person by their position in the company. You don’t know who they are or how they operate just because you know their job title and making assumptions is, quite frankly, a stupid thing to do. You need to act in a mature and professional manner and being arrogant with people on the phone is not any of those things and it will not get you ahead.

If you have recognised yourself in these five things you’re probably thinking “But I’m good at my job” or “I’m important!” or similar. But no matter how good you are at your job you will get further if you behave in a professional way. Think about that next time you’re making a call.

Photo by Tim Parkinson.