Am I the only one that is frustrated when people don’t return my messages? I’ll bet NOT. It’s a total hot button for me!  Many years ago I left a couple messages for a client of mine. No response. So I’m having breakfast with a mutual friend and he says, “Don’t worry, Tim will call you when he wants something.” Sure enough, two weeks later I get a call, “Can you get me into the Foundation Room?” Bahahahaha! In a nutshell, that is the answer: My value proposition was not strong enough. Let’s look at a few legitimate (and not so legitimate!) reasons people don’t return your messages.

The Right Way to Leave a Message – I’m not a huge fan of texting or calling people unless it’s something very important. Why? Because we are all running on the treadmill of life. Busy, busy, busy. Texts are disruptive so I reserve them for family emergencies. I’ll pick up the phone for something important; however as an Executive Recruiter I don’t want to come off as aggressive. For most items, email works great, and people can return the message when they have an opportunity. The right way to leave a voice message is to slowly state your name, company if necessary, your phone number and THE PURPOSE OF YOUR CALL. Then say your name and phone number a second time.

The Legitimate Reasons

Your Unique Value Proposition – The reason most people don’t get back to you is your value proposition is not strong enough. There is a certain CEO that never gets back to me on anything. One day I emailed to ask if I could make an intro to a new client for his company. He responded in 30 seconds. Or how about the time I congratulated someone on winning an award. Same thing – immediate response. Last one. “I have a $500,000 job and thought you might be interested.” 100% response rate. Make sure you have a strong value proposition! 

Huh…What? – It’s quite possible your message got garbled, or you were speaking too quickly. If they don’t get back to you, email them in a couple days.

They Forgot – One of my best clients called during breakfast and I committed to getting right back to him. Totally forgot, and the next morning I was appalled. Called and apologized profusely. Sometimes we get really busy, and unless we write things down, we just flat forget. We are human.

You are Not #1 on the Priority List – I know YOU are the most important person to you, HOWEVER you can’t expect people to drop what they are doing all the time. I get a dozen people a week that get fired and think I’m going to make them my #1 priority. Nope. God, family, friends. Then business, and my clients come first. If you are in sales, I know you want to close the deal. I know you want to make your quota, but your quota is not your client’s primary concern. Are you with me? The more pressure you exert, the worse the outcome.

Cold Calls – Unacceptable. If you want to speak with someone, get a referral. As one executive recently posted on LinkedIn, “I get 200 cold calls a week. If I took all those calls, there would be no time left to do my job.” Spot on! I don’t take cold calls. Unless the number is in my Rolodex, everything goes to voicemail. Why? Because I get 20 cold calls a day from candidates. Executive Recruiters get people for jobs…not jobs for people.

Did You Get my Email? – Does it drive you crazy when someone sends you an email, then calls ten minutes later to ask if you received it? I get it, some people are attached to their phones and/or work 70 hours a week. I don’t. And I get 500+ emails a day and up to 50 phone calls. I have to focus on what’s important. That could be family issues, filling a big executive search or helping a friend. This is not the TV show 24. Don’t expect people to return your messages immediately. Give them 24 hours.

Health Issues – They could be out sick or be having health challenges. Your call does not make their radar if they have the flu.

Vacation or Traveling – Most people use “out of office” replies on their email, but not always. They may be traveling. Cut them a little slack and try back in a few days.

People Asking for Free Stuff – Do I look like a ticket agent? Lord send me $20 for every person that asked for free hotel rooms and tickets. I don’t ask for free stuff! These are my clients. They make money by selling hotel rooms and tickets. Don’t ask for things you are not entitled to.

No Means NO – I had a guy apply for a CFO role. He was not a fit, and I courteously and professionally told him I could not represent him. He fired back a nasty email. My response was, “At this level I stick with executives I know personally.” There is good reason for that. I don’t get to make mistakes. My reputation is attached to every candidate I submit. Far too risky to submit executives I don’t know and have never met. Once I professionally say, “No thank you” I no longer owe anyone an explanation.

Everyone is on a Hard Journey – You have no idea what’s going on in their life. Alcoholism. Divorce. Death in the family. There are so many trials and tribulation in life. Don’t immediately assume someone hates you because they don’t get back to you right away. They don’t know you well enough to hate you!

The Excuses (Not Cool!)

You Can’t do Anything for Them – Yep, this is the big one. They are not buying what you are selling. We call these people “acquaintances.” Friends ALWAYS call you back. I could write pages about the people that dismiss me, and then plead for assistance when they get terminated. Pretty crappy, huh? Such is life. It’s just human nature – 90% of people only call to ask for something.

Narcissistic Meglomanics – You know the kind! Arrogant. Egotistical. They wear Ultimate Hubris Cologne. These folks, and they are many, only care about themselves. It’s a character defect. Sure, they call their Boss back. Or anyone that might be able to do something for them, however it’s best to avoid them. They will never add value. Focus on the good people.

Awkward! – In some cases they are uncomfortable speaking with you. They don’t want to tell you “no” and figure you will go away if they just don’t return your calls.

They Will Get What’s Coming to ‘Em – When I started by Executive Recruiting business 15 years ago, someone much smarter than me gave me some advice. He said, “You know Mark, it’s all good right now. Full employment; no one returns your calls. But trust me, the pendulum always swings, and when the economy goes south your phone will light up like a Christmas tree. All the people that treated you poorly and dismissed you will suddenly remember your cell phone number.” August 2008 he became a Prophet. And as my Daddy used to say, “Son, they will get what’s coming to ‘em. No need for you to help.” Those that treat everyone around them poorly eventually have problems. Karma is very real.

Personally, I return every single message, including cold calls. In many cases the response is, “Thank you so much, however I don’t have interest at this time” or “I only represent candidates I know personally or by referral.” Dismissing people says, “You are not important.” Getting back to people is the right thing to do, and the way my Dad raised me.