Great ResignationDiversity and InclusionCompensationCEO DailyCFO DailyModern Board

Want to wow an interviewer? Voicemail follow ups beat email

March 3, 2015, 6:56 PM UTC
Businessman Getting Interviewed
Photo by Neustockimages—Getty Images

Let’s say you’ve had a promising meeting, or more than one, with a company where you’d really like to work, and now it’s time to follow up, thanking the interviewers and reiterating your interest in the job. You could send an email, or a brief handwritten note, of course. But a phone call, or an after-hours voicemail, it seems, may make you stand out as smarter and more capable, hence more likely to be hired.

That’s according to a new study called “The Sound of Intellect: Speech Reveals a Thoughtful Mind, Increasing a Job Candidate’s Appeal” by Nicholas Epley, a professor at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, and PhD candidate Juliana Schroeder.

In a series of experiments, hypothetical employers and real-life professional recruiters rated candidates as more competent, thoughtful, and intelligent when they heard the candidates speak than when the exact same words were shown to them in writing.

“The closest we can ever get to watching other people’s mental activity is hearing them speak,” explains Epley, who has done previous research on how humans draw inferences about each other. That’s because “paralinguistic cues — like tone, pauses, volume, variations in pitch, and the pace at which someone talks — can reveal the process of thinking and reasoning while it is happening.”

For job hunters, that means that “if you want to seem sincere and smart, tell them, don’t write it,” Epley says. “Call or, if you hesitate to interrupt people during work hours, wait until evening and leave a voicemail.” Job seekers often don’t have the chance to be heard early in the process, he notes, but “in general, speak to potential employers, rather than writing to them, as much as you can.”

A bit of good news for anyone who’s nervous about video or Skype interviews: The study found that seeing the candidates made almost no difference in the way employers or recruiters perceived them. A group of MBA students who were asked to describe their qualifications and tell why they should be hired did so in writing, on video, and by audio only.

“I was surprised that even the professional recruiters who watched the videos didn’t rate the candidates any differently when they saw them than when they only heard them speak,” says Epley, adding, “Everyone on the videos looked fine — and, since they all wore ‘business attire,’ more or less the same. You hear a lot about body language, but its importance is probably overrated.”

The study will be published in a forthcoming issue of The Journal of Psychological Science.