Yes, the economy is improving and you are among the 75 million or so people who want a new job . . . your career is stalled . . . you are frustrated . . . you are underpaid and you want a fresh start! So, you do what 90% of most job seekers do . . . you go online and start firing off résumé after résumé to online postings, hoping you will get an interview and maybe land something new.

A few of you will decide to do something a little bit bolder, though. You will take a deep breath and you will PUTT (“Pick Up The Telephone”). I gotta hand it to you, that does take guts. You will be doing what the overwhelming majority of job seekers simply will not do (for a whole variety of reasons that are beyond the scope of this blog!). Good for you!

The PUTT approach

Does this approach actually work, though? Well, it depends. Handled correctly and professionally, calling up a “headhunter,” hiring manager or Human Resources professional and leaving a compelling voice mail message can indeed pay huge dividends and get you a call back. Unfortunately, most voice mail messages left by most job seekers are anything but compelling. Here is an example of a very typical voice mail message left by a job seeker (and I am not exaggerating one bit!):

“Hi, this is Sue Simpson and I saw your ad on Monster for a sales position. I would like to learn more about it. Please call me at. . . .”

What’s wrong with a voice mail message like this? Well, the short answer is, nearly everything! But before I amplify this remark, let me put the entire situation in some kind of perspective for you.

Tales of the “headhunters”

As “headhunters,” we continually reach into companies looking for top talent. In addition, we post all available positions we have on our website (, as well as on Currently, my executive recruiting firm has over 45 positions posted. One-half are sales positions and the other one-half are technical positions. Just imagine how many more positions are currently open at hiring companies! One of our top client companies, for example, has 94 positions posted on its career website as this is being written.

So, referring back to Ms. Simpson’s voice mail message above, wouldn’t it have been nice, for example, if she would have at least mentioned which particular sales position she was interested in, the location of the position, what experience and/or expertise she might possess to want the hiring entity consider her candidacy, etc.? Clearly, the focus of the voice mail message was on Ms. Simpson herself and what the hiring company might be able to do for her, not on what she might be able to offer the hiring company.

In my recruiting firm, we let all incoming calls go directly into voice mail. (Most hiring managers and HR professionals do too.) On average, we get between 20 and 30 voice mails per day. Significant to note, however, in my firm, we do listen to all voice mail messages. That means that every potential candidate leaving a voice mail message at least gets a shot at being “heard.” Whether or not they get a call back, however, depends on how compelling the voice mail message is.

You see, neither I nor any hiring company today is looking to offer you (or anyone else, for that matter!) a job. We are not the conveyors of jobs. We are the buyers of talent. That means you, the job seeker, first have to sell us (through your voice mail message) on why we should consider buying the talent you’re “selling,” i.e., why we should even consider calling you back!

Another way to think of this: At night, when the phone rings during family dinner time, and the caller ID shows the call is from a 1-800 number, how excited are you that yet another telemarketer is calling you?! How do you think a “headhunter” or hiring manager feels after listening to most voice mail messages he/she receives? “Oh great! Another desperate job seeker.”

The voice mails not to leave

Here are some other examples of all too typical voice mails that I (and hiring managers and HR professionals) receive:

“Hi. My name is Skip Freeman. I saw your posting for a sales professional. I am very interested in the position and would like to ask you some questions. Please call me at. . . .”


“I saw your posting for an engineer in Houston. I am very excited about this opportunity and would like to discuss it with you. I can be reached at. . . .”


“My name is Skip Freeman. I sent you my resume and am following up to make sure you got it. Please let me know at. . . . .”

The majority of all voice mails contain one or more of the themes highlighted in bold above. Here is what happens to every single one of these types of messages: they got hit with the DELETE key! Why? Because in such voice mail messages the professionals brand themselves as just being average, as being “just another a job seeker,” as someone who is wanting to know what I (or a hiring company) can do for them, not the other way around.

Here is a typical voice mail message from a desperate job seeker:

“Skip, this is the FOURTH time I have left you a message. Won’t you pleeeese return my call!”

Now, a career services firm loves to get these types of messages. They know your message is inadequate and they want to try to sell you their coaching services. But a hiring company or a “headhunting” firm (also referred to as an executive search firm, a recruiting firm, etc.) only calls back those who brand themselves as a solution to our needs.

The voice mail messages that will be returned

What kind of voice mail messages are returned? Let me give you an example of the THREE (out of 27) voice mail messages I did return today:

“Skip, I saw your posting for an industrial sales professional selling paints and coatings in Ohio. I have seven years of experience with paint, calling on accounts such as. . . .”

“My name is Jim Smith. I am a mechanical engineer with a background in rotating equipment. It appears that one of your clients has a need in Houston. Rotating equipment is in my blood. I can be reached at. . . .”

“Skip, my name is Kevin Jones. I saw your need for an HI&I formulation chemist in Charlotte. I would like to know more about this position. If I am not a right fit, I know people who probably will be. . . .”

Why did these three messages get returned, while the vast majority got hit with the DELETE key? Simple, actually. These professionals quickly and immediately branded themselves as solutions providers. We represent a hiring company that has a need. These job seekers presented themselves as possible solutions to that need. In return, they may end up getting just what they want, too—a new job!

You’ve undoubtedly heard the old saying about having just one chance to make a good first impression. Well, this old saying couldn’t be truer than when it comes to the voice mail message you leave while job hunting. Brand yourself in your voice mail message as “just another desperate job seeker” and your potential candidacy ends as soon as the message is played. On the other hand, if you brand yourself as someone who is different from and better than the “average” job seeker, the chances are significantly improved that you will indeed get a call back and may well be on your way to a new job!


Skip Freeman is the author of “Headhunter” Hiring Secrets: The Rules of the Hiring Game Have Changed . . . Forever! and is the President and Chief Executive Officer of The HTW Group (Hire to Win), an Atlanta, GA, Metropolitan Area Executive Search Firm. Specializing in the placement of sales, engineering, manufacturing and R&D professionals, he has developed powerful techniques that help companies hire the best and help the best get hired.