Phoning in your good fortune

We've all been there: waiting to get an important phone call returned.

It's a scenario that feels especially crucial when you're a business owner, especially when you're just starting out, and you feel like your company's future success hinges on that one call being returned. It also can be life and death when you're unemployed and broke, and hoping against hope that your future employer calls you back before your phone is shut off. And, of course, that whole "phone home" line was an important part of the plot in the movie, E.T.

So when career coach Deborah Brown-Volkman offered some advice to me on getting people to return phone calls, all I could think was, "Where were you when I was a sophomore in high school, and waiting for Buffy Johnson to call me back...?"

Well, never mind. Deborah is an expert at getting people to return her calls (well, at least, I returned hers), and so if you're hoping to land a big business deal or that dream job, you'd do well to consider following her advice.Her main tips:

1) Don't expect people to call you back. (Ah, that's where I've gone wrong.) She points out that we all get busy, we get sidetracked, we get hung up with other projects. If it's been a few days, don't be bashful about making another call. Or sending another email, since her tips are pretty transferable to email.

2) Schedule another phone call before you hang up. "This way you have a time and a commitment from the other person to talk again," says Brown-Volkman. "So when you follow up, you don't have to feel like you're being pushy. Rather, you're fulfilling on a commitment you made to have another call." If the person you're talking to can't schedule a time, ask if there's a good time you can call back.

3) Keep calling. If you've been calling someone and your voice mails or emails haven't been returned, "Here's another effective trick," says Brown-Volkman. "Wait three days after you've had a conversation with someone, and then call them. Then, call them once a week until they get back to you. Most people feel funny about this, but it does work." That is, if you're nice and gracious when you call, stresses Brown-Volkman. "If you get angry, and it comes across in your voice mail and messages, you will not get a return call."

In fact, sound angry, and I'm imagining that you may get a restraining order. Which may be why Brown-Volkman offers this caveat: "Please don't think I've advising anyone to sound pushy or to stalk someone. If someone says they'll get back to you, they should. Following up is your way of ensuring that they do. If someone says stop calling, then stop calling."

Now that I think about it, that's pretty much the advice Buffy's father gave me.

Geoff Williams is a freelance business journalist, primarily for Entrepreneur magazine, and the author of C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race: The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run Across America.
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