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Cautious and Smart Use of Telephone to Get Interviews

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Telephoning can be torture. Frustrations to communication lurk behind every call: the palace guards whose job is to prevent you from disturbing the boss, the voice mail systems from which there are no exits, the phone answering machines whose owners use them to avoid all human contact, the operators who transfer your calls to the moon while disclaiming all knowledge of any department or person you might be seeking. Telephone tag has become a national pastime, and there are some very fast players in almost every organization. Your mission is to play their game and beat them at it. But only when necessary.

Telephone Tip 1: Be persistent; do not call yourself out until after at least three strikes.

Use three as a magic number to condition yourself to repeating your request at least three times to everyone you contact in a game of phone tag before accepting a "no." Usually you should not repeat your request verbatim; instead, your task is more complex. You will try at least three times to reach your goal by alternative routes, which may require modifying your original request or figuring out how to rephrase it so that it is more clearly understood. Whether your goal is to get a phone number or an appointment, take three no's before giving up.

Suppose you call Zertex to get the number of the marketing director profiled in a recent magazine article on the company. You sent him a letter and resume and you are now following up. You dial the number for Zertex given in your local phone book and reach an operator at the central information desk.

Some of your maneuvers in telephone tag games will be nothing more than a means of buying time to figure out your next move. In the above dialogue, for example, asking the operator to recheck the directory for a listing is essentially a way to buy time. During this time, the caller is able to regroup her thoughts. She wants to talk to the director of marketing about employment at Zertex and needs to be able to contact his office to make an appointment. Whether Jim Williams is still the director makes little difference at this point, so she decides to find a way to reach the marketing department, from which she will doubtless be able to discover who is in charge of marketing. If it is someone other than Jim Williams, she will have to decide whether to write another letter before seeking an appointment or to seek one immediately.

Telephone Tip 2: Consider every live human you contact during phone forays as a potential ally and source of helpful information.

Callers often make the mistake of viewing anyone who is not the intended recipient of their messages as enemies or simply as barriers to be gotten around. As a result, many callers become angry, pompous, impatient, demanding, and rude with the very people who can be most helpful in finding ways into an organization. You can learn a great deal about an organization from the people who stand between you and the person you want to reach, and the information you gather may be useful in crafting your strategy for generating a job offer. In addition, you may need to go through the same people repeatedly as you move along in the selection process, and you are at a great advantage compared with other job seekers if the middle people are on your side.

Having a number of stock questions to haul out if you feel blocked by a middle person, helps in avoiding frustrating encounters. Anticipating a variety of off putting responses also helps. Never expect to sail smoothly through corporate channels of communication; always anticipate rough waters, dead calms, and tricky currents that way you won't be as tempted to abandon your voyage when you hit treacherous waters. Below are a list of questions and responses that often come in handy:
  1. "When is the best time to catch Mr. or Ms. Always scout?"

  2. "Is there anyone there whom you would suggest I contact instead of (or in addition to) Mr./Ms. AO?"

  3. "Perhaps you would be willing to help me. I've been trying to get in touch with Ms./Mr. AO for two weeks, and he/she doesn't seem to be responding to my messages. I'd be grateful for any suggestions or help you could provide."

  4. "Could I at least make a tentative appointment to see him/her? I'll call you back at the end of the week to make sure its OK."

  5. "I hate to keep bugging you I know you must be getting tired of taking messages from me so could you suggest a way for me to get to talk with Mr./Ms. AO for just three minutes?"

  6. "Do you think it would be a good idea for me to write to Ms./Mr. AO and then call him; or would it be better for me to speak with him briefly over the phone first and follow up with a letter if appropriate?"

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