employer left me a message — but wouldn’t respond when I tried to get back to them

A reader writes:

Recently I faxed my resume and cover letter to a company that had a job posting on Career Builders. About a week later I received a call from a lady in HR asking that I return her call. I got home about an hour and half later and returned the call and received her voicemail. I left a brief, polite message. 

Two days passed and the lady did not return my call. I called back on the third day and left another message stating who I was and that I had returned her call three days ago and asked that she call me back and said that I hoped to hear from her soon because I was eager for a chance to talk to her about the position available. Another week passed with no call from her. I emailed my cover letter and resume to her again with a brief message that I was interested in knowing if the position was still available. I never received word from her. 

What was the reason she called in the first place and is this just a missed opportunity because I missed her first call by an hour and a half?

Unfortunately, she has probably moved on and you should too.

Here’s what likely happened: She’s looking for, say, four people to interview in-person. She’s going to phone-screen promising-looking candidates until she finds those four. When she gets to four, she’s done with the phone screens. And she found four before you called her back. (I don’t like this method because it means the strongest candidates may never get identified, but it’s not uncommon.)

There are other possible explanations too, although I think the one above is the most likely: After calling you, she found a stronger candidate who bumped you out of the running. Or she found out that the hiring manager has settled on a candidate. Or changed the job description. Or canceled the job altogether.

Now, in any of those cases, she should have gotten back to you to tell you, so that you weren’t left hanging — no matter what, but especially after seeing you follow up more than once. Not doing so is rude and inconsiderate. It’s also sadly typical of the increasing number of employers who feel no obligation to treat candidates with politeness once they decide they have no further use for them.

Now, what could you have done differently? Short of never being away from your phone and always being prepared to talk — which is unrealistic and no way to live your life — nothing. It’s something you’ve got to chalk up to an irritating reality of job hunting. And you’re entitled to feel frustrated.

{ 30 comments… read them below }

  1. Tracy D*

    I had something similar happen to me. And it really irritated me, I certainly didn't care for the lack of respect. Her message back to me was, "Call me in the morning." And of course she didn't answer her phone in the morning. And why the heck didn't she let me know what time in the morning would have been a good time to connect?
    I basically chalked it up to someone I wouldn't have wanted to work for anyway.

    1. GermanLostinUS*

      I experience this situation almost daily and I know the answer to this. HR are interested because of my skills and experiences, so they contact me via email and ask me to call them. As soon as I do this, I have long interviews, perform very well and professional, even had direct phone interviews with the companie’s president,
      ..left countless voicemails at other positions…

      The real reason, why they don’t want to hire people like me is easy, even I do speak flawless english, I do have an european accent. Also I have been unemployed for a while do to US immigration ( don’t forget I was FORCED to be UN-EMPLOYED). Now I have my papers and I don’t DREAM anymore,..very depressive situation. You feel worthless.

      1. Lane*

        You should still dream! You are a very marketable bilingual candidate with experience working in diverse environments. Don’t let somebody tell you your worth just because they work in an HR department.

  2. Anonymous*

    Not returning phone calls is a terrible business practrice and should not be tolerated. It's unprofessional and show a level of ignonorance.

  3. Charles*

    "she has probably moved on and you should too"

    Yep, that's most likely what has happened. At several of the places where I have been temping I have watched them post a job on Monster, CareerBuilder, etc. Then after a couple of hours, or at the latest the next day, RANDOMLY pull off ten or so resumes (from the hundreds, if not, thousands who have responded). Call folks, leave messages, and deal with the first 5 or 6 that actually touch base with them, that's it. Everyone else be screwed.

    Sad to say that this is becoming the "norm" rather than the exception for so many organizations today.

    You've called them twice. It is, unfortunately, time to move on.

  4. Anonymous*

    An alternative when dealing with an HR rep for the first time is to call them, but don't leave a voice message more than one time. Just hang up and call at another time. I don't think HR will try to get back with you just because you left messages. They may just hit *delete message*, before hearing all that you say. I can just imagine them having to deal with numerous voice messages from other candidates, from their collegues, their boss, all whilst worrying about the blender they have to return to Walmart. Your message will probably be on their low priority list.

    Secondly, you are cheating yourself from being in contact with them by leaving a voice message. In other words, you can possibly get away with leaving 2 voice messages (spaced a week apart atleast) with an HR rep without being viewed as overwhelming, but you can *call* (without leaving a message) an HR rep a lot more times than that and potentially catch them when they are willing to speak on the phone. If you choose to do the former, the ball is in the HR court. In the latter, the ball is in your court, because you can call them whenever you want.

    Also, leaving numerous messages (key word: numerous) may come across as too eager. Imagine an HR rep listening to their voicemail and hearing your voice several times inquiring about the position, and then opening up their inbox to see an email from you. I'm not sure what sort of image this eagerness conjures up..could be bad or good.

    Maybe someone can give us insight.

  5. Anonymous*

    Something similar happened to me about a year ago. I had a recruiter contact me for a position, I sent her my resume and cover letter. She called me back to talk a little more, then told me she would contact me the following week to set up an interview with the company. After not hearing from her, I e-mailed her once and called her a few days later. No response.

    To me, it's just plain rude, especially since I had already done a phone interview with her and she was supposed to be setting up an interview with the company. The least she could have done was to e-mail me and let me know they went in a different direction, so I wasn't left wondering what was going on.

    I have been searching for a job for two years now (I'm employed but very ready to move on) and I am so tired of the general rudeness out there from HR and recruiters.

  6. andrea*

    My thought on this is, do you really want to work for a company who treats people this way? While it may be common practice to treat prospective employees this way, it's not right and will eventually bite them in the ass. Karma.

  7. shawn*

    Re: calling but not leaving messages

    don't do this either. it isn't uncommon for me to be at my desk between phone screens or meetings, talking with a coworker, or just plain busy, and to just let a call go to voice mail. we are a non-profit but can afford phones with caller id. i've had candidates call every 15 minutes. it's obvious when the same number keeps calling. this looks extremely needy, besides flat out annoying me.

    find an email address and use it.

  8. Anonymous*

    Imagine calling your bank or call center about an issue with a bill and no one ever called you back despite repeated msgs? Part of your job is to follow through on committments. If youcan't do that then you're basically an incompetent failure

  9. Anonymous*

    I've been searching for work for 18 months. My most recent experience with HR is similar, and my refences as well. They contacted them, left a message, my referees returned the call, left messages. Now the HR person has not attempted to contact them again. I already agree it's rude to treat candidates so callously, even more so to treat my referees in the same manner! Extremely unprofessional!

    1. Anonymous*


      I’m sorry, I think you mean References.

      A Referee is a person who makes sure the players in a game are abiding by the rules.

      Your job search is making you batty!

      I know the feeling, mine is making me bonkers too!


  10. Anonymous*

    Karma will come back around to these rude unprofessional HR paperpushers when they are on the street!

  11. nyxalinth*

    I had this happen to me too (I'm starting to think that as far as bad pre-interview behavior goes, I've seen it all).

    The worst example was in 2006. I got a call from a recruiter about a likely job, and she said she would email me the location of the interview–we'd agreed upon a time-so I could go to that upcoming Monday.

    Hours went by, then a day. No email. it was Thursday by now, so I called and left a polite voice mail explaining I hadn't received the email, clarified my email address, told her I'd checked my spam, etc.

    No email, no call from her. I also didn't I have either on Friday, nor monday morning. The time of the interview came and went, and I felt like an idiot because that woman couldn't have been bothered to give me the information I needed.

    It only occured to me far after the fact that I could have and should have looked up the info on the 'net. At the time, I was too angry to think of it, and I sent her a tartly polite email informing her that since I never received the info, I couldn't not attend the interview as intended.

    I never heard from her at all.

  12. Jennifer*

    This has happened twice to me. I’ve called right back, left messages, but it doesn’t seem to matter. All I can do is apply to the next place.

  13. Cassie*

    I had a similar experience BUT I actually got communication with the HR person. He emailed me yesterday asking to respond quickly for an interview. I sent his email back within 15 min. He responded 3 hours later asking if Friday was ok. I responded 5 min later with “that’s great. What time would you like to meet?” That was 1 day ago. I emailed him this morning and if I get no response- screw his ass. It’s so moronic to conduct business this way. He has already left me with a terrible impression and luckily I’m already employed and only looking to move elsewhere.

  14. Anonymous*

    I had an owner of a company I applied to contact me within 24 hours of submitting my resume. I called her back within 2 hours of missing her call and never heard back from her. Unfortunately, I went a little overboard on the follow up and left 3 messages for her in 3 days. The job has recently been reposted and this is literally my dream job. Would it be crazy of me to reapply?

  15. Joe*

    Don’t waste your time “chasing” employers. That rarely has worked for me in the past. If they aren’t getting back to you and being flaky they’re probably not going to be good people to work for. Make sure you feel there’s a match as a job seeker. Regardless of what articles online or the media say the employer is not always right.

  16. LindzM.*

    This has recently happened to me. I’ve definitely interviewed with people and they don’t let me know for a long time that I did not receive a job. Recently, this week. I missed a call from a potential employer, a job I would really like. She said to call on Monday, and I did. I heard nothing, so I called Tuesday and did not leave a message. I called on Wednesday and asked if she was available from the HR desk and they said yes she is not out of town (it’s holidays). I left another message and well I have not heard from her. I have a few numbers I could call from that would not be recognized…thought of doing that, but then I read this and decided it’s probably not worth it. I want a career not a crappy job. Bad joojoo from the beginning is not a positive way to start.

  17. pauline*

    I keep calling. If she refuses to take my call or call me back, she certainly will not forget me.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Is your goal to make her remember you or to get a job? Because you’re not going to do the second one with that approach. I’m hoping this is a joke.

  18. gto1221*

    I am dealing with this right now and don’t know if .I should give up! About three weeks ago. I received a phone call from my dream job. I spoke to the manager over the phone and he stated someone would call me and make an offer. No one called me back. So, called him back. He said he would make a call to get the ball rolling. I received a call that day from another manager. He said he would put in a recommendation to hire me. He said I should be expecting one last call from they Guy who will be my supervisor. I received a call after 8 p.m.about two days later and was unable to answer and he left a message stating for me to call him back. I tried several times to reach him, left voicemails and he has never returned any of them. I tried calling one of the other managers that interviewed me. He stated that he didn’t know what was going on and that last time he checked I should have gotten the call. He said he would try and call the other manager and see what’s going on. He said don’t worry we will get threw this. I still have not gotten a call and it’s very frustrating. I don’t want to keep calling like an idiot but I also don’t want to miss out on my dram job.

  19. ML*

    I am going through this right now. I had someone from a pretty reputable company call me beginning of last month saying he saw my resume and thought i’d be great for a certain position that’d be opening in July. He said to call him back July 1st to touch base and set up an interview. Called the 1st and left a message and then let a week go by, thinking he was likely gone for the 4th of July weekend. Next Monday comes around and I call and leave another message. Nothing. Leave a nice follow up email Wednesday and still nothing. Haven’t called again, but am really upset because I’ve passed on other good opportunities because I believe in the reputation of this company. I’m shocked at how rude some people can be. I don’t understand why a simple phone call to say “No” is such a hassel for them.

  20. Gisselle*

    Same here. I had a hiring manager call me and leave a voicemail at 1:52pm requesting I call her back. I called back at 2:15pm and was informed by the automated machine that she’s in office until 2pm. I called early the next morning, she didn’t pick up. I then called again two hours later leaving a voicemail… again, nothing.

    Honestly, it is unprofessional. I’m glued to my phone and have to make plans around my phone so I don’t miss the potential call again and it’s horribly frustrating.

    Why bother leaving a voice mail to call back if you won’t pick up? Why call 8 minutes before you clock out or whatever if you expect an immediate call?

  21. Donn*

    I just got the same thing today. I was expecting a call yesterday from the HR but I waited whole day and no call at all. Today, I got a call from the HR at 12:56pm and I missed the call (and got a voice mail to call back) because I was in the kitchen making my lunch. I called back at 1:05 but went through to voice mail, so I left a message. I was thinking maybe its lunchtime so I might as well wait till 2:30pm. I call back at 2:30, no one pick up. I call again at 3:30pm, no one pick up again. This is frustrating. Its almost 5pm and they are finishing work soon. Should I continue calling?

  22. Letty*

    I’ve had this happen so many times and in so many different fashions. Usually, my cover letter and resume gain immediate interest if the job is, indeed, a perfect fit; employers will call/email me right away. Last month I received an email from a potential employer only twenty minutes after she’d received my cover letter and resume, saying everything I’d written highly resonated with her and that she would be in contact after several days of reviewing other applicants. A month later, I haven’t heard a single word.

    A few months prior to that I interviewed not one, not two times, but THREE TIMES with staff and management of an organization who then proceeded to go silent over a month. After that month I checked in by emailing my initial point of contact, asking if they were still in the process of filling the two roles available. I received no response to that email. Finally, three weeks later, I received an email letting me I did not get the position, but that I had attributes they deemed perfect for another position they would soon be interviewing for and that my resume had been passed on to that department.

    Within a week I heard from the individual in that department saying my resume had been received from the initial party, but they were not yet interviewing for the position. Two weeks later I received an email from a friend who had received the mass job posting for this very position in her inbox (she was signed up to their newsletter) because she thought I should apply for it. I let her know I had already applied for their company and was referred for this position. It’s been almost two months since then. I haven’t heard a word from them since. I realized, immediately, this is not the type of company I want to be a part of. Any company who disrespects any amount of any job seekers time should be scrutinized which is hard for some of us because we’re struggling to pay rent or just about one foot in a homeless shelter or on the bread line.

    My time is just and if you are valuable as theirs and polite and courteous communication should be given as well as received.

  23. hamad*

    after reading all above experiences ,i think i shouldn’t b worry and depress .still i need a job ,but i learnt a lesson ,”while job hunting never ever away from phone ,and treat phone like a Boss”
    but my suggestion to HR Departments ,if some one unable to pick call , it dose not mean ,he/she is not perfect/deserve a second call ..

  24. Daisy*

    OK, I feel better having read this article as well as your responses. This happened to me this week and it’s a first! I submitted my resume and cover letter for a position I felt would be a good fit. Not perfect…but good. Within an hour of submission, the owner of this small company called and left a message on my cell. I was unable to return the call at that moment, but planned to before 5pm. At 4:30, I found another message from the same person that stated almost the same thing as the first message. Clearly, she either forgot that she had already contacted me once or thought she had called my home phone the first time. Whatever it was, I returned the call 10 minutes later and reached her voice mail. I left a message. No reply. I gave it a couple of days and left another message just to make sure she knew I had made another attempt to reach her. Still nothing. I even began to wonder if she knew one of my former employers personally and had already made contact, only to hear something negative (just one of many scenarios we can create in our heads thanks to inconsiderate hiring managers).
    I must say, I’ve never looked back on any jobs I didn’t get with any real sense of loss. There was always something better waiting around the corner, so it always made sense in retrospect. So, with that — I’m moving on to the next “better” thing. May you all do the same!

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