I am at work, right in the middle of the working day. Surrounded by my respected colleagues. My phone (sound off, of course) starts shaking. The number is unknown. How should I know, maybe something important is going on with my family? I start the conversation just to discover that yet one more head hunter company somehow got my phone number.

I have no time to talk, it has not been scheduled, and the worst, I seem unable to say quickly “Sorry, not interested now.” Are you not interested in? Really? And why so? And what are you currently working on? And why do you like your current job? And what are your plans, and so on and so forth.

How to say normally I have no time to spend half an hour for an unwanted job screening interview? And my current boss will not be happy to fund my time for that with his money? And I do not even want to talk full voice with you now because there are people around? Leaving the room is not an option for me because the corridor of the building has very poor mobile connection.

  • 8
    Any reason you can't just let it go to voicemail? Surely if something important is going on, they'll leave a message and you can call them right back? Bonus is you can find a better place to talk before you return the call.
    – Kat
    Commented Dec 10, 2019 at 5:53
  • @Kat "The number is unknown. How should I know, maybe something important is going on with my family?"
    – zakinster
    Commented Dec 10, 2019 at 12:35

11 Answers 11


Sorry, this is not an appropriate time.

Then just hang up, you don’t have to wait for any response.

If the same recruiters repeat same behavior, consider putting the number on block.

And don’t worry, if there’s any burnt bridge that you will never regret in your career, it’s the bridge with a predatory recruiter.

  • 52
    Sometimes, burning a bridge is the only way to rid yourself of the troll that lives under it.
    – bta
    Commented Dec 10, 2019 at 0:43
  • 6
    Only suggestion I would make is to say you're not interested period, because this response invites them to call back.
    – Kat
    Commented Dec 10, 2019 at 5:49
  • 3
    I disagree with the "appropriate time" choice of words. It's something any headhunter will use to turn it around to "call me back later, now was not a good time". Simply say "Hello, I am not interested nor shall I be in any near future, thank you", and hang up without any extra comment. It is not rude to throw off someone whose job is to bump into you, it is part of the game. Commented Dec 10, 2019 at 8:54
  • 1
    @Kat 2 things to consider, first, OP specifically indicated that he/she is unable to say quickly “Sorry, not interested now.”, not an appropriate time is a much softer response that doesn't shut the door right away, and keep such door open may worth something if the recruiter is able to change the behavior and find a better time to connect. Second, imo sorry, not interested now indicates a much narrower scenario, and considering OP is in a quite open office environment, this is not an appropriate timeis much more general response that doesn't expose who's calling.
    – tweray
    Commented Dec 10, 2019 at 13:55
  • 2
    Once they had my number it was impossible to get rid of these calls until one day. Phone rang, I realised it was recruiter in opening sentence, after which I asked them how they know me. The head hunter said something vague and I told him: "Oh, it's easier that you didn't know my brother in person, unfortunately he died 3 days ago in car accident, I am holding on his phone for few more days to notify people he might have known". They NEVER called again. A bit harsh, but after 10+ calls per month, there was no getting out. This alone stopped at least 4 different companies from calling again Commented Dec 10, 2019 at 14:13

I seem unable to say quickly "sorry, not interested now"

You have to.

You need to learn to avoid distractions. It's your time they are wasting, they are just getting their job done. So, you need to end the call swiftly, to avoid being on the losing end.

Just treat this the same way you'd deal with any other unsolicited phone calls, without being rude, step 1-2-3:

  1. Mention it's not a good time to talk and you will get back at a later point of time, when you find it suitable to talk.
  2. If they ask for a time, just repeat that you will get back.
  3. Once more - go ahead and hang up.

That's it - you're done.

  • When he says I seem unable to say quickly, I think he means that when he does say that, it doesn't work, because the recruiter just switches to a lot of followup questions. I.e. it doesn't have the intended effect. Which is my experience as well.
    – Gertsen
    Commented Dec 10, 2019 at 12:41
  • @Gertsen Yes, I understand and I was also saying the same, they need to learn to say no quickly. Commented Dec 10, 2019 at 13:37

This is a time when automated voicemail-to-text services are effective. Let all unknown calls go to voicemail. Then, you get a transcription of the message as a text, which you can easily look at discreetly - allowing you to decide if you need to respond (i.e. it's a family emergency) or you can ignore it (an aggressive recruiter).

Otherwise, if you answer, and it's an annoying and unsolicited marketing call (which is what an unprompted recruiter is), just hang up.

This is also an issue for which having multiple phone numbers can help. Google Voice and other services allow you to take out a new phone number which you can use from an app on your phone (or tablet or laptop). Having two phone numbers that both ring on your cell phone gives you a "personal" number you can use with friends and family, plus a second phone number for "public" purposes, including listing it on your resume. This gives you a hard separation between calls you may feel inclined to answer, versus those which can go to voicemail.

  • 2
    This. Even if you're a dedicated on-call worker, in which case calls shouldn't be going to a personal phone. And make sure you have as many family numbers stored on your phone as possible, so you can feel confident you're not missing anything letting if go to voicemail. If you don't already have the confidence to just cut an unwanted caller off swiftly but politely, the next best option is just not to engage. Commented Dec 9, 2019 at 18:24
  • 4
    (My problem is I want to throw an F-bomb at them, but that would go down awfully with any colleagues overhearing me :) ) Commented Dec 9, 2019 at 18:27

How to say normally I have no time to spend half an hour for an unwanted job screening interview?

Tell them "Sorry, you have the wrong number" and hang up. You can say this in your normal full voice and none of your coworkers will think anything of it.

In the future, unless your family frequently calls you from unknown numbers I would simply ignore the call. If it is actually an important call, they would likely leave a voicemail.

  • Or they may text you, which is easy to read discretely, then you can step out to make the call back if it's urgent.
    – FreeMan
    Commented Dec 13, 2019 at 15:36

For what's worth the try, if you're in Europe your country probably has a law against being unrequestedly called by businesses and/or on the next call you can request to be removed from their DB under GDPR.

Expanded: In spain we have 3 layers:

  1. GDPR - you can request to be removed from their database on the basis that your phone number is a sensible information you didn't allow them to save on the first place or you want them to remove, if you did allow.
  2. LOPD-GDD - Spanish law of data protection + Subset of GDPR tied to the civil law layers where you can also request, on the same basis, to be removed, with legal implications. There are many court rulings already forcing companies and political parties to erase lists of "possible affiliate/customer" phones, adresses and indirect data, so companies are aware of it.
  3. Robinson List - A law-binding ( depends on the country ) mechanism that allows you to blacklist yourself from telemarking, e-marketing and physical marketing contacts. I know UK also has it, but am unsure if others do.

How you handle these calls should depend on whether or not you are currently seeking a new position.

If you are happy where you are, a simple "I'm not looking for a new position right now - I'm (very) happy with my current role" is more than enough. You have nothing to hide so there is no need to whisper or be secretive. Plus it might get you some brownie points with your employer if they overhear. You should also feel free to firmly request that they remove you from their candidate list. (Don't worry about burning bridges with them by asking this - they will be more than happy to add you back to that list when you decide the time is right).

If you are looking for a new position a firm and direct "I'm sorry - I'm busy now. Could you call back at some-other-time o'clock". Most recruiters will be more than happy to accept this since (a) it's not a "no" and (b) they want to make money by placing you in a new role - being rude and/or annoying is most definitely not the way to do that.

In both these cases, you'll need to be firm and maybe a little abrupt. They are essentially sales people so they will talk a lot. You will need to interrupt them at times - just make sure you don't do it so rudely that they won't want to work with you in the future. A polite "I'm sorry..." or "Let me stop you there..." and then deliver your message. I know some have said hang up without waiting for a reply, I guess that depends on local cultures etc. but I'd be inclined to let them respond. It only takes 2 seconds for them to say "Great talk to you then". If they continue to push it then go ahead and hang up with "I'm sorry, I can't talk now".


For a multitude of reasons you shouldn't take unknown numbers. I.e. that way a malicious caller knows it's actually in active use. That's the easiest way to handle these calls.


If you are not interested in a new job.

Hang up, it's that simple. Impolite? Yes. But cold-calling people when you don't know if they are interested is even more impolite, so you don't have any obligation to show any politeness to people who do this.

And you are actually doing the recruiter a favor that way. Every second you spend on explaining to them just how uninterested you are in their offers is a second they can not spend with someone who might be interested.

If you are interested in a new job, but don't want anyone around you to know.

Tell the recruiter that you can not talk right now but would like to schedule a call at a time which is more convenient for you. You can easily do that in a way that people who only hear your side of the conversation won't know what kind of appointment you are actually scheduling.


Recruiters are more sales than anything else, and with any salesperson, the best answer is a simple "NO".

Any excuse you give beyond a simple "no" (or it's equivalent) merely gives them an opportunity to annoy you further.

Do NOT say:

Sorry, not interested

instead, say

Not interested

If they follow up with

Why? Aren't you interested in... et cetera

You just repeat

not interested.

Do not give them an opening. Just repeat

not interested

They will hang up, and in case someone is nearby or can hear you, it will not give the impression that you might be job hunting.


Ascertain who they are (incase it's not a recruiter), try to end the call politely, then if they don't reciprocate, just hang up.

Even if I were to job hunt, I have been burned enough times not to trust third party recruiters. Some are really pushy too, and the only way to deal with these is to push back using that big red handset button on your phone. A conversation like below is one I've had a few times.

  • Me: [Picks up phone to unknown/hidden number] Hello? This is 520, how can I help you?

  • Recruiter: Hi, I came across your CV online and I think you're a good fit for some roles we have.

  • Me: Thanks but I'm not looking for a new role at the moment. Thank you for your time!

  • Recruiter: We have a few Head Derp roles going in Derpington-on-Derp, with an annual salary of a single pat on the back...

  • Me: K thx bye [click]


Here's how I deal with this situation:

1) Say quickly: "Sorry, I don't have time to talk right now, please call me back later" and then just hang up. That last part is really important. No time to respond, no questions, not even a "goodbye", just kill the call. The recruiter cold-called you and if they don't understand that sometimes cold calls hit people at bad times, they're not a recruiter you want to talk to. This serves a couple purposes:

  • It doesn't shut out the recruiter, you have literally told them "call me back later". That means you're interested, but not at the immediate moment.
  • It doesn't indicate to your boss who you're talking to. Could be a family member with something not important to say, could be your friend asking what you want to do for dinner, could be anything.

2) When the recruiter calls you back, stress to them in no uncertain terms that you do not respond well to cold-calls, as you have a job and you can't be taking random calls throughout the day. Most recruiters will (or should) understand that, because they wouldn't want randoms calling them during the day either. My personal strategy is to ask every recruiter to email me before they call me so we can schedule a mutually good time to chat. I schedule that time when I don't have meetings, and then I can step away from my desk to take a call. Most recruiters will be happy to do this for you. The ones that aren't, I just blacklist them. If they cold-call me after I have asked them not to, I inform them that I am not interested in working with them if they won't be respectful of my time, and then I simply don't take their calls anymore; if they call me and identify as being from that company, I just hang up on them, and if they email me I just respond to say that I don't work with their company and that's it.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .