should you return a missed call from an interviewer who didn’t leave a message?

A reader writes:

I had an interview, which went splendidly, and was contacted the next week by my interviewer. She said that I would be recieving an email or phone call from a third individual, a man I have not yet spoken to, about moving forward in the process and discussing other aspects of the job that we didn’t get to in the interview.

This is all fine and dandy with me, but my question is this:  If I receive a call from this person’s phone number, but he does not leave a message, do I call back? I’m leaning towards no, because it seems stalkerish to say, “Hi, I have a missed call from you, and am hoping that did indeed mean to call me? What did you want?” However, in a world where everyone uses cell phones and everyone knows that cell phones display missed calls, I don’t want him to be waiting on me to call him. I’m getting conflicting advice from my friends!

Is this purely speculative, or has it actually happened? It’s sounds like it hasn’t actually happened, and if that’s the case, you probably don’t even need to worry about it, because he’ll probably leave a message, at least if he has any appreciation for efficiency.

However, if he does indeed call you, doesn’t reach you, and doesn’t leave a message, no, do not call him back. If he wants you to call him back, he will leave you a message saying that. He is not going to assume that simply seeing a number in your missed calls list is a sufficient signal to call him back. That really only works among friends and sometimes relatives — it’s not the way the work world generally works, and it’s definitely not the way hiring works.

And yes, calling and saying “I have a missed call from you” is kind of obnoxious — because, again, if he wanted you to call back, he would have left a message saying that.

There are all kinds of reasons why he might not have left a message — he was going to spend the rest of his afternoon in a meeting so would be unreachable and figured he’d try you tomorrow, or someone walked into his office as your voicemail started playing and he hung up to talk to them, or all kinds of other possible reasons — but one of those reasons is not that he assumed that seeing a potentially unrecognized number in your missed call list would alert you to call him back.

But really, stop worrying about this. It hasn’t happened and is unlikely to.

{ 59 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    Also, a separate point that I didn’t think was important enough to make its way into the post, but which I want to mention: Be wary of job search advice from your friends, who I would bet a large sum of money are recent/semi-recent grads, based on your letter. The way your peer group operates is not always how the work world operates (case in point: lots of people do still use landlines; only about a quarter of households are cell-phone-only), so their perspective can be skewed. Plus, you want to take advice from people who have been in the professional world for a while and been successful in it. Early to mid 20something friends are suspect in this regard. (Please tell me if I’ve judged your age wrong, but I feel pretty damn sure about this one.)

    1. Hari*

      I’m a mid-20 something who does know better but this kinda seems like common sense to me. Then again I have an numerous interview experiences due to lots of internships during college and post-grad job hunting so maybe it is cultivated common sense lol.

  2. Hari*

    If it isn’t scheduled and they don’t leave a message I agree with Alison not to call back. Although it would be odd of them to call and not leave a message (if they intended for you to call them back) or for that matter not schedule a phone call. I know that employers sometimes spring impromptu calls but if it was really to “discussing other aspects of the job that we didn’t get to in the interview” then they would likely schedule as its more practical and convenient in regards to everyone’s time. An email would suffice if it was just concerning “moving forward in the process” aka scheduling another interview. With all this in mind I also think that OP is worrying over nothing.

    I’m one of those people though that always calls back an unknown missed number. I never remember numbers and I upgrade phones bi-annually so people are always calling me who’s number I had but don’t any more when I switch.

    1. class factotum*

      I’m one of those people though that always calls back an unknown missed number.

      Stop that! If I call you and don’t leave a message, then I don’t need you to call me back. I definitely don’t need you to call me back when I call a wrong number.

      1. Cat*

        I’m going to take the extreme view that you should almost NEVER return a missed call if the caller didn’t leave a message. The “almost” caveat being repeated calls from the same number in a short period…could be an emergency (but could also be a robo-dialer).

        Why, oh why, did this behavior start? If I need you to call me back, I’ll leave a message. If I don’t leave a message it’s either not that important or I need the information now and I’ll get it via another method.

        1. TL*

          I find it irritating to check my voicemail to hear a message that says, “Hey, this is (close friend/family member). Call me back!” If it’s an unknown number I usually don’t call back but if it’s someone I know well, I do. Then again, I’m not a chat on the phone person, so I can safely assume that people called me for a reason.

      2. Natalie*

        And of course, some people don’t even bother to check the message, they just call back. I’ve even gotten that from strangers (i.e. Craigslist purchases) – “I had a missed call from this number?” Yes, I left you a message explaining who I was and why I was calling. Maybe you should listen to it and call me back.

        1. twentymilehike*

          And of course, some people don’t even bother to check the message, they just call back.

          I’m on the phone a lot at work and boy, does this IRK me. Usually what happens is they will call back WHILE I’m leaving a detailed message, so they don’t HAVE to call me back, and then I just have to repeat myself. It’s really annoying, especially since I’m on the phone leaving them a message, and then someone else answers the phone and they have to go through the “someone called me from this number?” and then they have to walk around the building asking if someone called so-and-so.

          AAM, I know you mentioned that you thought it might be a younger generation thing, but I’m seeing it happen quite a bit from people who either don’t really understand how the cell-phone-voice-mail thing works–people like my dad, who couldn’t check his voice mails to save his life.

          1. Chinook*

            Definitely not a generational thing. As a receptionist to 100+ people who’s call display number all showed the main line, I would regularly get calls from someone saying this just missed a call from me. I would then have to explain that it could be anyone and that, if it was important, they would have left a message (at which point the caller usually mentions that they do have a message waiting).

            As a side note – if you accidentally call 911 at work, please DO NOT hang up as 911 operators ALWAYS call back the number displayed and then we at reception have to do an office sweep to make sure no one is keeled over their phone, dying. On the plus side, here in Canada, that does mean we are guaranteed a visit from polite police officers.

            1. some1*

              This happened when I was a receptionist, too!! Have you been asked to read the employee roster to them, too? ::)

              You’re lucky that 911 only called back…every place I have worked the cops showed up.

              1. Chinook*

                Oh they still come because there is always that worry about the bad guy telling the person on the phone to tell 911 that everything is okay. But, they are a lot happier if you can tell them, when they show up, you can tell them that it is okay.

                1. JohnQPublic*

                  I used to work security at a major carrier. The tech support people would be accustomed to using the internal phones (Dial 9 to reach an outside line) and then 1 because they would often have to call subscribers in other area codes. But when they were troubleshooting on a cell phone similar to the subscriber’s, their fingers would hit the wrong buttons. I’d say we had the city’s finest at our door once a week if not more. =)

            2. Elizabeth West*

              I’ve pocket-dialed 911 before. *blush* My feature phone has the 1 button dedicated to that, and there’s no way I can turn it off or change it. Put it in my pocket for a few minutes while heating up my lunch, and next thing I know I get a nice call, “This is 911 Emergency, is everything okay?”

              I always apologized profusely and they told me it happens a LOT. I still felt stupid. Now I just lay the phone on the table or counter nearby.

      3. Hari*

        Stop that! If I call you and don’t leave a message, then I don’t need you to call me back.

        Think everyone is blowing this way out of proportion. That maybe true for you but its not true across the board. I’ve never gotten a missed call from someone I know without the expectation that I’d call them back. Do all of your friends/family members leave messages when they call you? Mine almost never do save for my mother but they still expect me to call back (and will ask why I didn’t if I don’t). The issue is since I’ve switch phones a lot I don’t know if a number is from an old friend or not. I rarely get unknown missed calls with no VM, so I’d say most of the time it is a friend who still thinks I have their number and would like a call back. Granted it IS different for people you don’t know informally but like I said rarely do unknown missed calls not leave VMs and usually it is friends.

        1. Hari*

          *Granted it IS different for people you don’t know informally, but like I said, I rarely get unknown missed calls that do not leave VMs and usually it is friends.

          (typing sucks this morning).

          1. Hari*

            Agreed! If it was a work phone, I would take a different approach but this is my personal cell phone I was speaking of.

    2. Anonymous*

      I upgrade phones bi-annually

      I can only assume you’re using a smartphone by now. Sync your contacts to an online service (I use Google Contacts and have an Android phone). If you don’t have a data plan, that’s ok – just turn the wifi on when you’re at home or at work (or in a coffee shop for that matter).

      1. Hari*

        The sync when switching Android phones never worked for me, it only ever synced up facebook contacts with numbers (something that I think is really creepy, idk). Now I have an iphone so its a lot simpler with icloud but I didn’t activate that until I got the 4s last year.

  3. CatB (Europe)*

    I can’t stop being fascinated by the cultural differences! IME (working in hiring with/for SME’s and some national companies / local branches of MNC’s), the advice would be the exact reverse. Contact for hiring (scheduling / interview by phone) is almost always a cellphone (a landline is regarded as an odd choice) and not everybody has an active voice message box (I’d venture to guess that less than half of all cellphone users still have this feature enabled; a while ago cellphone companies switched from “enabled by default” to “enable by request” due to popular demand). So, missed calls, especially in a business setup, are requested to be called back (again, YMMV, that is my experience).

    Anyway, when hiring for a client I would expect a candidate to return a missed call. Lack of that in a decent period of time (same day usually, but next day is also acceptable) can be seen as a lack of interest in the position.

    1. Ryan*

      That IS strange. I would never expect someone to intuit I wanted them to call me based on a missed call on their cell.

      And as far as a lack of interest goes…that’s a two way street. If you can’t be bothered to leave a message or have the patience to even see if the call GOES to voicemail the candidate might wonder about how much interest you have in them.

        1. Ryan*

          Even more than that…it all depends on who the hiring manager is. Sometimes it feels like a crap shoot where the best you can do is to show up on time and not chew gum haha

    2. Jen in RO*

      I was just thinking that I turned off my voice mail… pretty much after I got my first phone. I wouldn’t even know how to check if I had a message… The US is endlessly fascinating with their “pay even when you receive a call” plans, I guess our “voice mail, what’s that?” ways are just as strange.

      (Then again, I never call people back if I don’t recognize the number and I’m not expecting a call. I’m just antisocial like that.)

  4. Katie*

    This actually did happen to me. I received a call from an organization that I had interviewed for, but no message. I figured that they wanted to talk to me on their own terms and didn’t want to catch them off guard/running into a meeting/etc. So I sucked it up and waited for them to call back. It was tough to wait, but it seemed like the right thing to do. They called back, same time, on the following day. If you are a strong candidate, they aren’t going to use one missed call as a reason to reject you.

  5. Jess*

    Funny enough, something like this happened to me (or, rather, a coworker of mine). My coworker and I had both applied to another company, where there were two openings. After our interviews the hiring manager called me and left a message, and right after called my coworker and did not leave a message. I returned her call, and she was offering me a call. My coworker called her back after I told him this, and she offered him the other position.

    Yes, of course she would have called my coworker again eventually to offer the job if he did not call first, but his calling did quell a couple of hours of anxiety! We never did figure out why she left a message for me and not him.

    1. Elise*

      His voice mail may not have identified him by name. It is generally frowned upon or forbidden to leave personal information on an unmarked answering system. If your VM message states your name, and his is just the computer stating the phone number — I would leave you a message but not him, since I couldn’t be sure I had called the right number.

  6. Anonymous*

    Alternatively, the missed call could be from pocket-dialing or accidentally selecting the wrong name from Contacts, rather than an intentional action.

  7. Zee*

    I don’t know about anything about smartphones. My dinosaur cell phone lists the missed call’s number, but it doesn’t give me a call ID unless I have that contact’s name and number already in my address book. If I don’t know who it is, then I can only guess by the area code and town code where it is from. Otherwise, I’m in the dark, especially if no message was left. At home, though, my land line does have caller IDs so I know more specifically who is calling, usually.

    This also reminds me something my mother used to teach me. You don’t need to answer someone if they don’t ask a question. If I’m not being asked to return a call, then I’m not obligated.

    1. ChristineH*

      I probably have the same dinosaur cell phone, because mine is the same way!

      Although, I don’t know if smart phones ID a caller either, at least my husband’s phone doesn’t (iPhone 4 I think).

      If I don’t recognize a number and there is no voice message, I never call it back because I assume it’s a robo or solicitation call.

      1. Natalie*

        I have an iPhone and it doesn’t display any caller ID information unless I have the caller saved, just the phone number and the area it comes from. When I was actively job searching I answered everything from a local zip code.

    2. Anonymous*

      If you Google a phone number (or do a reverse lookup) and the call was from a landline, chances are you can quickly see who the caller is, especially if it is a business.

  8. Anonymous*

    I’m the OP – yes, this did actually happen, and I am glad to see that I’ve done the right thing by not calling back.

  9. Kay*

    Also keep in mind that the number that shows up on caller ID may be the office’s mainline and not the direct line of the person who called. During a brief time as a receptionist, I would receive many calls from people who were calling back in response to a missed called with no voicemail. There were over 200 employees in that building and people would get very angry that I had no information about who called them. After being yelled at a few times, I swore I would never call back unknown missed numbers.

    1. Patti*

      This. We have a total of four buildings, all in the same area, and all on the same phone system. All of our outbound calls log the same number on caller id. If you call that number back, you get a maze of prompts covering each and every department. I’m always amazed that people spend that much time and energy trying to find the one person out of 1000 who may have tried to call them from one of the various buildings. If you don’t leave me a message, don’t expect a call back.

  10. AmyRenee*

    As a sidebar piece of advice related to this – for all job seekers (or all adults, really) – have a person you respect call and listen to your voicemail greeting to make sure it is clear to understand and professional sounding, If a recruiter calls and gets a voicemail greeting that is unclear who it is they have reached or is very unprofessional sounding (cutesy, rude, gimmicky), at best the applicant is going to come of as unprofessional, at worst they might write you off altogether. Oh, and make sure your voicemail isn’t full so people CAN leave you messages – full voicemail boxes are a personal pet peeve of mine.

  11. Jennifer*

    I’m surprised that people have such strong feelings about getting callbacks from missed calls. Honestly, I rarely call back an unfamiliar number that has called me and didn’t leave a message, but I wouldn’t be upset if someone called me back if I hadn’t left a message. It seems like such an innocuous act.

    1. Tim*

      I’ll echo this. Is there something horribly offensive about getting a call back that I’m missing?

      “Hi, sorry to bother you, I saw I had a missed call from this number and just wanted to verify that I hadn’t missed any important communication. Thanks for any help you can provide.”

      Even if the answer is “Nope, no additional info. Busy. Gotta run.” that only costs you 30 seconds of your day.

      A single return call strikes me as due diligence. It’s only multiple calls or expectations of an answer that drops everything for a full report that seem overbearing to me.

      1. Jamie*

        Some have mentioned this – but it really is a pita when you’re returning the call to a business that has a receptionist and main line.

        My direct dial, like a lot of companies, will show just my companies main number on the caller ID. My office is near enough to the front desk that our receptionist has my sympathies when she’s trying to track down “someone” who called someone else.

        And also, wrong numbers do happen. I misdialed a number the other day and of course had a human being answered I’d have apologized for the wrong number…but once I heard the message I knew I misdialed and hung up. I don’t want to live in a world where misdialing will result in some stranger calling me back so I can tell him all about the wrong number.

        It’s certainly not the end of the world if someone does this – I don’t think it’s the rudest thing one can do…but it’s a pointless waste of time. And it adds up for the receptionists.

        1. Jamie*

          FTR I do know the difference between companies and company’s – even if I typed it incorrectly.


          Someday you’ll need a license to operate a keyboard and I’ll be out of a job.

        2. Hari*

          Maybe it’s just my opinion but I think it goes above and beyond if you are a receptionist to try to track down the mysterious employee who called lets say, Bob. If Bob inquires to a miss call in an office with many employees, I would find a satisfactory to say “This is the Chocolate Teapot Factory, as all calls direct to the mainline I cannot say for sure who contacted you. Unless you know the name of the person who could have contacted you, I can take down your name if you would like, and if they inquire, I can tell them you returned their call.” That last part I threw in there extra to appease those certain people who might actually think you have nothing better to do then to run around trying to find out who called them but obviously did not find it important enough to leave a message. It would be at the receptionist’s own discretion whether or not they actually want to bother writing down the name as it is super unlikely anyone who worked there would bother to inquire.

  12. Victoria*

    “And yes, calling and saying “I have a missed call from you” is kind of obnoxious — because, again, if he wanted you to call back, he would have left a message saying that.”

    I am a recruiter and I get this all. the. time. And yes, I do almost always leave a message. They just don’t listen to it. I get that calling the voicemail is annoying and takes forever because the cell phone companies want you to drag out your minutes, but if you’re looking for a job, take the time to listen to messages before calling back a missed call.

    99% of the time, when this happens to me, it’s someone going “yeah whatcha want???” It’s never a politely phrased “Hello, I missed a call from this number, and didn’t have a message, so I was inquiring as to what you needed?”

  13. Rana*

    I have to admit there have been a few times when I’ve been tempted, if only because my phone service sometimes has a lag between when it lets you know you’ve missed a call, and when you’ve been left a message.

    But so few people call me on the phone, I can generally assume that any missed unknown call is either spam or a wrong number.

  14. Heather*

    I once had a hiring manager get annoyed at me because she had called (twice), I didn’t pick up (at work), and didn’t call her back.
    Still scratching my head.

  15. AK*

    I was once calling potential candidates for interviews and I have hung up on a few once I got to hear their VM, why?… because another phone call came in that was much more important and another reason, my boss walked in… AAM has it right. Few minutes later, the person I called had called me back. It annoyed me a little since I was still in the middle of the other important stuff but I sure definitely was going to call her back at some point.

  16. Marie*

    This actually happened to me. I did call back but nothing came of it. This was from a company where the HR manager would tell me to keep calling back and praise me for being persistant, but never actually return my calls. I finally gave up after three months and I haven’t heard anything from them since.

  17. Mister*

    I received two missed calls from Staffing Agencies that didn’t leave a voicemail. I blocked both of their numbers. If they don’t have the decency to leave a professional voicemail I don’t have time to see their scum presence on my phone. Enough said.

  18. John*

    of course you can return the call. Simply say HI its John X here , I missed a call from this number. … they will say , OH hi John and continue the call as if you had answered it originally

  19. Robin*

    I missed a call from the district manager said he would call back in 2 hours. He never left a number. I have terrible service where I live. Not sure if he called back never got a second message. What should I do.

  20. alice*

    This just happened to me, the company i sent application called me twice within 5 mins which I missed due to a lunch meeting, so I called back and it ended up in the reception, the next working day (which is monday) I called back to the phone number on the add, explained that Ive miss the call, the woman said she will call me back as she is on another phone call at the moment, a couple of hours later she called me back and invited me to an interview tomorrow, I dont know if she will call me back if I didnt call her, but I think at least in here in Sweden, it is acceptable to call back a number when its the company you applied for, I mean I dont even know how to use my voicemail, I’m a mid-20, answermachines belongs to the last generation

  21. Julianne*

    Question: I received a phone call from a potential employer but missed it, she did leave a message. I was able to call back about 3 hours after but she didn’t answer her phone so I left a message. Should I call back the next day or just wait for her to call me back?

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