I’ve done some blogs for a career coaching website, giving tips on how to land jobs. It’s a little weird, I must confess, because I haven’t done a formal job interview since the late seventies. Here’s an example of the kind of stuff I did, and I offer it because it contains legitimate good advice for anyone leaving voice messages they hope will impress a potential employer or client.

Let’s say Hank Abramson, the human resources director, is fronting the interview process for a mid-level management job opportunity in his company, Flatland Enterprises. When he returns to his office after an interdepartmental meeting, there are four blinking voicemails— all, it turns out, from candidates inquiring about the job opening. The first one starts with about two minutes of meandering small talk and we’ll pick it up here:

… So anyway, you’re not there and I was, as I said before, just touching base to see what’s going on as far as, you know, setting up an interview for that marketing position you got there. You said you’d get back to me and that was like a couple weeks ago. I tell you I’m perfect for that job, man. That’s all spelled out in my résumé. It’s like the job description was written about me. I can make a pretty good case if you give me a chance. Hey, I guess that’s about it. Oh, yeah, this is Steve…

The message is cut off at this juncture, because the answering machine has a three-minute time limit. Then comes the next message.

Whoa, man, that doesn’t give you a whole lot of time, does it? So this is Steve (unintelligible) again. I called right back regarding that job interview. I guess I mentioned that and like, as I said, I think I’m the man, er person, you guys need to help you, you know, market your darn fine products. This is the, what, 21st Century, after all, and you need someone with youth and energy to meet the challenges you’ll face. Anyway, the reason I called is to ask you to give me a call at— I guess my cell is best—at five-seven-zero-three-four-three, ah, make that four, two-one-eleven. Have a great day!

Hank is still trying to clear his head as the third message grabs his attention. The voice at the other end seems to be shouting as if standing too near a speaker phone:

Yeah. Hank? Noah Tawl here. Just following up on that résumé I sent and the talk we had on the phone. You said you’d pick finalists for one-on-ones in two weeks and guess how long it’s been? All my contact information is in my cover letter and, I gotta tell you, if I’m not the one you choose, you lose. Later, Dude.

Well, at least this guy remembered his name, even though they weren’t exactly on a first-name basis yet. One more blinking message, and here’s hoping for the best.

Mr. Abramson, this is Teresa Snodgrass. I know you are a very busy man, but I just had to give you a call about your regional marketing position. I must say I am so excited about what I can do for Flatland Enterprises. As I pointed out when we spoke two weeks ago, my wealth of experience with many of the same providers allows me to hit the ground running. Of course, that is made clear in my résumé, and I’d love to talk about this face-to-face. Again, this is Teresa Snodgrass, and I’d so appreciate you giving me a call at 343-5711. Again, that’s 343-5711. Take care.

So which of these three are you most likely to call back? Probably not Steve What’s-His-Name. Let’s hope that in the real world one person would not make so many mistakes in a simple voicemail message, but it is amazing how people don’t seem to be prepared when they hear the beep.

So what did poor Steve do wrong? A lot, obviously, and just one or two of those gaffes would be enough to banish him from the field. Noah didn’t leave enough information and came across as doing Hank a favor.

For starters, the most important thing to make clear in such a message is who you are. Steve and Noah may assume you remember them, but they should clearly state first and last name—at least twice so there is no confusion. Say it slow and say it twice.

Same goes for that all-important phone number he wants you to call. People don’t pay attention to their own phone numbers. How many times do you call yourself? So any time you are leaving a message for an important call-back, write it down in front of you—even if you know it.

The general rule in leaving call-back messages for potential clients or employers is to do it in fewer than 30 seconds. Keep it conversational but at a professional level. Say the person’s name you are calling right up front and then tell him who you are. Stay formal—unless in a previous conversation you were asked to use his first name. You probably shouldn’t call him man, guy, dude or any other casual moniker. Tell him something briefly to remind him of something positive in an earlier conversation or strengths that stand out in previous correspondence.

A follow-up call after a discussion or email is part of the job- or client-seeking process. Don’t suggest that he was somehow negligent in not getting back to you— even if he was. And always convey your sense of excitement about getting together.

Finally, if you come across as ad-libbing, speaking off the cuff, that means you didn’t take the time to prepare for even a simple voicemail message. What does that say about how much you’ll be prepared for the next step of the process?