How to Deal

Ask for Feedback on Voicemail Before Making Changes

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By Lily Garcia
Special to washingtonpost.com
Wednesday, May 7, 2008; 5:12 PM

In the past, I applied for three positions via e-mail, in which I received call-backs from the companies (Caller ID) but the people who called did not leave messages, as if they were "screening" my voice.

My voicemail says: "Hello, this is ______. Please leave a message and I will get back to you. Thank you and have a wonderful day."

I used no broken English, slurs, or "ebonics" -- so I'm wondering, for what possible reason would these people call, listen to my voicemail, and decide not to leave a message? I have a B.A. in journalism and an M.A. in public communications.

Perhaps I sound black or too black? I just find this very odd. Should I take my voice off the voicemail and use the automated one? Or should I keep my voice on the voicemail, because if they are screening to see whether I am black, Hispanic or white -- I don't need to be working there anyway? Thanks.

No, you wouldn't want to work for an employer who would screen applicants based upon the presumed ethnicity of their voices. Nor, in the absence of further evidence, would you want to put yourself in the position of trying to prove that this is going on. But the important question is whether they actually are ruling you out because your voice message makes them think that you are black.

Maybe. My years in employment law and human resources have taught me that bigotry is sadly alive and well in our country. It is not rampant in employment decisions in part because it makes no business sense, for example, to reject talented applicants based upon such extraneous characteristics as race. But it still does happen and, who knows, maybe it has happened to you.

Yet, it also helps to remember that many people are in the aggravating habit of not leaving messages when they call. Perhaps it stems from a need for control, preferring to call you again some other time rather than leaving a message and waiting for your response. Or maybe it is lack of professionalism, assuming that you will see the "missed call" and take it upon yourself to call back. In any event, unless they dialed your number in error, they should have left a message.

In my opinion, the words of your greeting are fine, but I don't know how the recording actually sounds. To eliminate any lingering doubt that you are presenting yourself well, ask for feedback from a couple of people whose professional opinion you trust. Whatever you do, do not switch to the generic message that comes with your system.

Join Lily Garcia on Tuesday, May 13 at 11 a.m. ET for How to Deal Live.

Lily Garcia has offered employment law and human resources advice to companies of all sizes for 10 years. To submit a question, e-mail hradvice@washingtonpost.com. We reserve the right to edit and publish submitted questions for length and clarity and cannot guarantee that all questions will be answered. The information contained in this column is not intended to be legal advice.


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