Job Search Communication Etiquette: Email, Phone Or In Person?


Anyone deep in the job search trenches knows that the “simple” decision of whether to email, call or request an in-person meeting with an interviewer or contact can be a downright baffling one.

In many cases, demonstrating proper communication savvy can spell the difference between success or failure at nailing your dream job.

“Bosses are busy, and you show disregard for their time and workload by phoning and putting them on the spot mid-task to make a decision about how (or if) to deal with you.” —Mark Stanski, publisher, Centennial College Press

The rules of employer engagement have changed tremendously. While applying for jobs online seemed unfathomable just a generation ago, Gen Y  lives, breathes and works on the Internet. This, of course, begs the question: What are the new rules?

When can you send an email instead of picking up the phone? Under what circumstances will an in-person meeting get you farther along in your career as opposed to “Skype-ing” a conversation?

Centennial College Press publisher Mark Stanski, whose first career move involved personally asking for an internship through email, offers some guidelines on balancing the fine line between enthusiasm and over-eagerness, and why it’s important not to give in to the temptation of contacting your interviewer once (or twice) every hour for updates.

Best practices

If you want a job, don’t call me up

Email is always preferable for an initial contact. It’s the most considerate way to make someone a proposal, from hiring you, taking you on as an intern or giving you a freelance assignment. Managers often struggle to organize their time and workloads, so they will only welcome a work proposal in an email that they can evaluate when they have time to take a breath.

Phone-in for something real

It’s only appropriate to use the phone when you have something real to discuss with the person. Examples of things you can phone hiring managers to discuss include assignments they already have you working on or their opinions on which persons to approach for more work.

The only other reason to use the phone is in lieu of a face-to-face meeting to discuss career opportunities in the industry or gather information about a specific employer. Except as a substitute for meetings, the phone is used only between people who already have a work relationship of some kind.

What to do when:

Applying for a job/internship

Your interest in an internship and a proposal of the time commitment, duration and nature of the work agreed to should all be done via email. This allows the manager to assess the value of your proposal on paper, with no pressure and no time constraints. It’s natural that you and one or more managers at the organization will discuss the proposal in person on your first day to clarify and revise any inconsistencies.

Photo credit: job hunting by Robert S. Donovan on FlickrFollowing up after an interview

A “thank you” email is always appropriate and should be sent the morning after the interview for the hiring manager to find first thing.

The email should be brief: a few sentences relating what you learned about the work opportunity, the organization or the hiring manager himself/herself—in other words, something that conveys that you have taken away useful information and experience from the meeting. Naturally, also mention that you are eager to hear from the manager and organization again about the work.

Finding out a contact’s name and information from a colleague or acquaintance

This is best done by making a phone call to the receptionist, assuming your efforts to use the company website, Google the info, or glean it from online articles or news releases about the organization have failed.

Asking for career advice (from a former professor, boss or contact)

Asking should be done through email and should include a request for a meeting in person, assuming that’s practical. If it isn’t, a telephone call on your dime is your next best option. Bosses are busy, and you show disregard for their time and workload by phoning and putting them on the spot mid-task to make a decision about how (or if) to deal with you.

Following up or re-introducing yourself to a contact after meeting him/her

Email should be used for all follow-ups because anything otherwise puts the manager on the spot and imposes your career needs on their schedule.

Following-up with a contact person who is on extended or vacation leave

Emails should be used let the contact person know of your interest in them, the basic reason for your message, and your plans to communicate again in more detail in a week or two after they return.

Is there a bad time to e-mail?

I don’t think there’s a bad time for email contacts. Emails do not impose upon people’s time in any significant way. They’re read and responded to when the person finds the time, which makes them ideal and generally safe. Only the content of emails and subject lines risks loss of credibility or lack of interest.

The right time for “updates”

Follow-up emails generally comprise reminders, thank yous, or clarifications and confirmations. Of these, only reminders might need a little thought as to timing: generally send them three days to a week following the day on which you expected to receive a message from a target manager.

“Update” emails are used with a manager who has agreed to keep in touch with you and who seems to be interested in helping you out. They should be sent several weeks to a few months apart, and should offer news about your career: what you’ve been up to, a new skill you have, or a new interest. They should ask what’s new with the manager, and offer him/her any industry news you have that might help.

Photo credits: Dan’s day, summed up by liquidindian on Flickr
job hunting by Robert S. Donovan on Flickr
About the author

Jeleen Yu is a long-time TalentEgg contributor and former assistant editor. She graduated from Ateneo de Manila University (Philippines) in 2007 with a degree in business management. She was all set to start a career in the corporate world, but a sabbatical made her realize that her real passion lay in writing and the publishing industry. After serving as a writer and editor for the newsletter of a non-profit organization in the Philippines, she now resides in Vancouver and is currently working towards an editing certificate at Simon Fraser University.