With the proliferation of the use of voicemail in most companies, the odds are great that you will often find yourself leaving messages. The good news is that most line managers review their messages personally (versus having a secretary review them), so you have an excellent opportunity to plant the seed for a future connection. Here is the best message:
"Hi, _____ (target's first name), this is _____ (your first name/last name). I can be reached at _____ (your phone number) between _____ and _____ today. I look forward to talking with you then."
The only modification of this is when you are calling based on a direct referral. Your message would then be:
"Hi, _____ (target's first name), this is _____ (your first name/last name). _____ (referral name) asked me to call you. I can be reached at _____ between _____ and _____ today. I look forward to talking with you then."
Then hang up. Short and sweet. This is not the time to give your full life story from the birth canal to the present. You merely need to set the hook for a callback, nothing more, nothing less. If you make the mistake of making your "pitch" on voicemail, you will lose your chance to respond to their specific needs. With minimal information given, the manager will feel obligated to return the call. Who knows? You may be a customer or supplier phoning them. In 50+ percent of the cases, they will at least attempt to return the phone call.
When you leave your name and phone number on voicemail, speak slowly, as if you were expecting the person on the other end to be taking down the information. Spell your first and last name. Repeat the phone number. Not as if you are talking to a second-grader, but as a matter of courtesy to make sure the recipient is able to write down the key information from the message. This raises the perceived level of importance attached to returning your call.
If you normally shy away from leaving messages on voicemail, get used to it. It's the reality of communication in the new millennium.
Another quick and easy response to the Guardian of the Gate who wants to take a message is to ask whether the manager has voicemail. If so, ask to be put through to it. You get to dictate what goes into the message rather than the person who is attempting to screen you. Voicemail is always better than a scribbled note and has greater professional obligation for action.
If you get no response to your initial voicemail message after at least three days, call again and leave a more detailed message based on your Thirty-Second Elevator Pitch. Give a quick synopsis of who you are and what you can provide to a potential employer. Ask for a return phone call to further discuss the employer's needs. And keep trying until you do get through.