Why Not To Pick Up The Phone When Unemployed

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I was having a session with my career coach when the phone rang. In polite society, you let the call fade while continuing to have a conversation with the person in front of you, but my coach advised me otherwise. "Pick up the phone," she said. "You're in job hunting mode and the call could be your next job opportunity. Nothing is more important right now."

It was a good piece of advice, but as my job hunt evolved, it was the one piece of advice I rarely followed. In fact, I actively worked to not pick up the phone whenever it rang, especially if it was a potential interview or employer. Here's why:
  1. Not in a Good Place. Nine times out of 10 the call would come in when I was walking the dog, food shopping, or just out and about. There would be too much potential noise in the background; I would sound too winded; or I wouldn't sound professional. I learned to let the phone go to voice mail and picked up the message when I was quietly sitting at my desk.
  2. Not Prepared to Talk. During the weeks I was sending out multiple resumes, I couldn't always immediately remember who was whom. The person would call and say "I'm Sally Smith from mumbled company name," and I'd have to rack my brain about the company. I learned if I let the call go to voice mail, I could study my old cover letters to find the caller and get information about them before I called back.
  3. Not Prepared to Have an Interview. Sometimes an incoming call was to set up a future appointment, but several times the call turned into an instant interview and took a full hour. The call may have been initially designed as a screening, but in at least two cases it turned into an interview after the hiring manager felt there was enough synergy worth immediately pursuing. They would check to see if I could devote time there and then to a full interview, and my answer was always "yes." By letting the first call go to voice mail, I was in position to talk as long as required when the hiring manager and I finally connected.
  4. Out of Town or Otherwise Occupied. Several times a call would come in when I was at a conference, networking event, or out of town. In those cases, I would call back, sometimes after hours to leave a voice mail of my own and let them know I was very interested, but was out of town and would call back the next day when I could get a break in the conference agenda. Again, I'd make sure I was in a quiet place where I could have a calm, collected conversation, and let the potential employer know how genuinely interested I was and my willingness to break away to learn more about the position.

Not answering a ringing phone when you're unemployed sounds counter-intuitive, but it can be a good policy particularly if you're not good at thinking on your feet, need time to do research, or need to get to a quiet place. If you're inclined to be like me and not to pick up the phone, you also need to have a solid back up plan that includes:
  • Making sure your voice mail is clear and professional. "Hi, this is Sally Smith. Your call is important to me and I'm sorry I'm not available to talk. Please leave your name, phone and a clear message and I'll get back to you shortly. Thanks for calling!" Your voice mail will be your first audio impression so make it a good one.
  • Being responsive and accessible. You need to get back to the caller quickly and clearly. Many times I'd call back within 10 minutes, but the 10 minutes gave me enough time to gather my thoughts, catch my breath, and position myself at my desk or at another quiet place where I could sound professional.
  • Having your research in reach. By not taking a call, and hearing the voice mail, I was able to get some quick research done before calling back. The short interlude gave me time to find a copy of my cover letter, have my resume in front of me, check the caller's profile on LinkedIn, and review the job description. Then, if they were available, or when they next called back, I was well prepared.

Like dating, job hunts are not for the faint of heart. It can take courage not to pick up the phone, but it can also serve you to not seem desperate, or sound distracted. Not picking up the phone immediately can buy you a short period of time to position yourself for success. Just be sure to keep it a short period of time, because great opportunities wait for no one.

Related article: Now that you're thinking about NOT picking up the phone so quickly, here's an article on when you should pick up the phone and initiate calls!
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