When coaching clients that want my support with regards to a career change, we often end up looking at their own application strategy.

My coachees traditionally put a lot of energy in creating the perfect CV and meaningful cover letters to use on the overt job market and activate their network to find a job on the covert job market, but they rarely leverage the power of reaching out to potential employers via phone.

Why could that be important? And, in which particular situation?

When getting job referrals from the network it might be less relevant, but particularly when applying for a job on the overt job market it can be a valuable supporting activity.

Whether it is an option for you or not depends on several variables:

  • What role you work in
  • What key skills you bring
  • Whether you are searching for a job within your original business area or a new area
  • Whether you are applying to a multinational or an SME / Start-up

…and depending on the above, your course of action will vary as well.

WHAT to ask?

The job market is a market of expectations and interpretation – rarely a job ad explains everything to everyone, so chances are high that you’ll have a question anyway about the job ad.

WHY to call? Why can it make sense at all to speak to anyone at your potential future employer before sending the application?

  • You gain a first impression of your employer in general when speaking to HR. Or, in case you manage to speak to him/her, of your future boss
  • You have the opportunity to leave and give a first impression yourself, by for example asking a smart and relevant question related to the job application
  • You are noticed before your application is on the stack together with all other applicants – and you can relate to it in your cover letter
  • You can stand out!

no second chance for a first impression

Let’s go through the above points one by one:

Gain a first impression:

Before you have anyone on the phone, you’ll have to find out the phone number! That’s a first gate you have to open and it will tell you how approachable the company generally is. Ideally you get in touch with the line manager that will be involved in the interview. It’s usually much easier to get directly in touch with line managers in small companies, but you can also research the person’s contact in large companies online, either on their corporate website or through LinkedIn. You may even call HR and ask for the phone number.

The first impression you will get can be an interesting indicator for things you should check later on during the interview phase. Ask yourself the following questions to identify potential red lights:

  • Was it in some way promoting a culture that is in contrast to the language used in the job ad? How friendly or stressed did the people you spoke to sound?
  • How difficult or easy was it to get hold of the person?
  • What was your gut feeling when speaking to the HR department? When speaking to the line manager?

One of my recent clients that followed my advice, ended up speaking almost an hour to the CEO of the organization and rather than just answering that one question she asked for the CV during the call, looked at it and realized the person could be a great fit. They immediately agreed on next steps and my client was able to omit the standard way through the HR department.

Give a first impression:

As mentioned already, your question should be smart and relevant, therefore nothing that you could or should know from the job ad. Think of a question that is relevant to your work area and ideally even shows certain expertise.

Classic questions could be on the way projects are managed or use of tools.  For example: “I was wondering whether you do work with software xyz or zyx?” / “In order to understand whether there is a fit for this position I was wondering whether you organize your projects by principle xyz?”

Ideally you have a follow-up question or two good questions to get the other person warmed up and into a conversation.

Make sure you pick a good timing to call! In case you’re applying in the hospitality sector, close to lunch may be a bad timing and so is usually Monday morning or during late business hours.

One company ended up thanking my client for the question and said towards the end of the call that they were going to adjust the job ad with that, apparently essential information, as he was the first one asking it and so far the applications they had received were all missing exactly that specific technical knowledge.  – Now they knew that unlike the other applicants HE had this knowledge and he could leverage this by specifically mentioning it in the cover letter.


Be noticed

If you managed to speak to the line manager and were able to clarify your question. Now it is time to further leverage that activity: start your application letter by thanking the person for the friendly call. This will also make the HR department aware of the fact that you have already spoken to the line manager and therefore most probably not let you end up on the so called “B or C-pile” of applications, where those that are second choice or no-go’s end up.


Good luck and have interesting conversations!


Was this blogpost helpful to you? Feel free to share it with your friends and sign-up to our newsletter to stay updated on tips and tricks around jobsearch and other topics!


Interested in books related to jobsearch?* Here are some books I can  recommend to you:

Job interview 2019

Die CEO Bewerbung (in German)

Wo sehen Sie ihre grössten Schwächen? (in German)


*I love books and believe they can be a powerful coach! I only promote books that I have read myself and therefore truly recommend. Some of the links in my blog are affiliate links and if you go through them to make a purchase, I earn a small commission. Once I have a critical mass of visitors on my blog, I hope the commission will finance the many books I buy, but I am not yet there ? If you like my recommendations and want to support me now you know what you are contributing to. The decision is yours, and whether or not you decide to buy something is completely up to you.