how much contact is too much contact when job-searching?

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A reader writes:

I’m about to lose my job (temporary hire for a project that’s almost over) and now am starting the hunt again. I’ve been reading all the advice, going to the free federally-funded we-help-you-get-hired places, and all of them tell you to constantly call, call, call the place you’re applying. Call after you’ve sent in your resume/application to make sure they got it. Call to get an interview if you haven’t heard anything. Call after the interview to thank the interviewer. Call to see if a decision has been made. To me this just sounds… insane. And stalker-ish. 

So, how much contact is too much contact? How much should I give to show I’m interested but not a crazy stalker lady?

Your instincts are right. The advice out there to aggressively call at every opportunity is crap, and is probably being provided by people who either haven’t done much hiring in the last decade or who weren’t that great at it when they did. Here’s why:

1. Being interrupted by an unnecessary phone call is annoying and even arguably rude.  Email is much more courteous, because it allows the person to respond when it’s convenient, rather than having to stop whatever they’re doing to take a call. And remember, you’re not the only one applying; you’ve got to multiply your phone call by the 200+ applicants they likely have for the job

2. I’m organized and competent and thus I don’t need to be reminded of your application, because it’s not going to slip through the cracks. If a great candidate can only get an interview with me by calling to nag me, I’m horrible at my job.  Now, it’s certainly true that plenty of employers are unorganized and incompetent, which is why you’ll occasionally hear a story about someone who called to follow up on their application and got an interview out of it. But if you take that as confirmation that those calls are worth making, you’re self-selecting for bad employers over good ones.

3. The “advice givers” who recommend this aggressive calling routine are generally basing it on the idea that it’ll help you “stand out.” Can I train everyone’s gag reflex to kick in whenever you hear people talk about  “standing out” in any way other than by being a well-qualified candidate?  You stand out by being a highly qualified candidate, writing a great cover letter, and being responsive, thoughtful, and enthusiastic. You don’t want to stand out for having an overly aggressive, rules-don’t-apply-to-me, pay-attention-to-me-now approach. (And if such an approach actually gets you somewhere at that company, guess what it’s going to be like to work there?)

The one exceptions to the above might be for (a) jobs where they’re actively looking for someone who is aggressive to the point of intrusive and (b) jobs in restaurants or retail, where the convention for calling seems to work differently.

Aside from those exceptions, if you want to communicate with a prospective employer, use email. Times when it’s appropriate to follow up via email are:

* sending a post-interview thank-you note

* checking in about their timeline for next steps, particularly if they’ve exceeded the timeframe you were originally given

* alerting them to a constraint on your own side, such as a deadline for responding to another job offer

* if you’re not local, alerting them that you’ll be in town during certain days and available to meet

I want there to be some kind of career-advice-giving certification — run by me, of course — where we could fine the people giving bad advice on this kind of thing.

{ 11 comments… read them below }

  1. Kate

    I've done lots of hiring for restaurants, and on behalf of all other hiring managers: please don't call! And if you feel like you must call, do the hiring manager and yourself a favor and make sure NOT to call during the restaurant's service hours.

    Unless you are applying for a corporate position, or with a restaurant that is big enough to have a dedicated HR staff (which would have to be pretty big), the person hiring you will probably someone who is actively involved in working the floor or in the kitchen. No matter how desperate they are to hire someone, they have more immediately pressing matters to deal with. Like guests standing right in front of them. I can't tell you how poorly it reflects on a candidate when he calls to follow up on an interview or to see if a position is still open while everyone is in the middle of dinner service. Not just because it's obnoxious (which it is, for all the reasons Alison mentioned), but because it indicates a lack of attention to detail and limited of awareness of other people's priorities, which are both ridiculously important in hospitality.

    Restaurants operate on a very tight, set schedule. Phone calls can be intrusive, and even worse can tie up phone lines that the restaurant needs open to make reservations, give incoming guests directions, and so on. E-mail is your friend. If you must call, research the restaurant's operating hours and call at least one hour before service begins.

    I promise you're doing yourself a favor. Every restaurant manager I've ever worked or commiserated with is irritated by the poorly timed phone calls. E-mail, e-mail, e-mail!

  2. Ursula

    I went to a workshop at the local unemployment office. The woman leading it told everyone that employers don't care about your education (no matter how recent) and you should go to corporate offices and submit your application and ask to speak with someone. I'm glad I thought she was nuts, or at least passe with her job hunting methodology. Everything I've read on AAM has reinforced my original feeling. I kind of equate unsolicited calls with the phone sales we get during dinner.

  3. Anonymous

    I never call to follow-up but I do submit emails for positions that I am very interested in if the given timeline has passed. I am just happy to hear that emails are okay because I am reading this book called "What does somebody have to do to get a job around here?" Most of her advice is good but some of it seems kinda extreme and off base. In the book she says that you should NEVER follow up on a job after the thank you letter. She says that following up makes you appear desperate and lacking in confidence.

  4. Anonymous

    Alison's advice is good if you're applying to small to medium sized companies or anybody else that doesn't recruit in masses. If you're applying to a large corporation or govt entity it's a good idea to make as much contact as possible if you're applying to most non managerial positions. Why? Because even after resumes have been screened there may still be dozens and sometimes a couple hundred qualified applicants. It's crazy to think a hiring manager is goin to sift through them all. They're going to go down the list one by one and most likely find a great candidate without even looking at all of the resumes. If you make contact early in the process and have the right stuff they may pick your resume out of the pile to take a look.

  5. Ask a Manager

    Anonymous, I think you'll actually find that the vast majority of (good) people who do recruiting for very large corporations will also tell you that they don't want to be called, and that calling doesn't help.

  6. Kimberlee Stiens

    I can offer one exception to this. I'm a supervisor at a fast food restaurant, and there isn't a email for it (there is an email address for the store, but it is used for communication between corporate/franchise office and restaurant only). In our last round of hiring, my manager said there was one candidate who looked pretty good but hadn't called after the interview to follow up, and that was a negative. I don't know that that's how I would operate, but I will say that if you're not in the running, it won't make a difference, but if you are, it MIGHT. Maybe. But I agree, its still mostly annoying. I just won't knock off points for it.

    AAM, I have a blog (where I reference your advice all the time)where I frequently talk about the hiring process at fast food places, if you'd like to learn more about it? It seems like it is one area of hiring and management that you don't have a lot of direct experience with. http://businessforgoodnotevil.blogspot.com/

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