I applied for a job position more than 3 months ago. Then today I get an email from their HR department with the line "We've been trying to reach you" in size 30 font.

I realized from this email that the phone number is same one that called me some days ago. I didn't pick up the call since I didn't recognize the number.

I don't want to burn bridges with this employer.

am rejecting the job, since I have already signed onto another job. Should I apologize in my rejection email for not picking up their call?


Perhaps the HR department called me again after that call when my phone was not in active, but I am sure that I didn't get any call afterwards.

  • 24
    How would they know that you did not pick up the phone on purpose? Would you apologize if you had been away using the restroom when your phone rang?
    – nvoigt
    Dec 10, 2015 at 15:25
  • 114
    I have no sympathy for people don't leave a voicemail when trying to reach someone by phone.
    – McCann
    Dec 10, 2015 at 17:08
  • 1
    I have little or no belief in people claiming they tried to reach you if they only tried once. They could always have tried an email, or a letter, or left a message, or tried again, or ... You don't have any obligation to these people at all, let alone to answer their offer, if that's what it is, which you didn't state, let alone to apologize or even account for their failure to reach you. It's their failure, not yours. If it wasn't an offer just ignore it. It's their problem entirely.
    – user207421
    Dec 13, 2015 at 9:05
  • It is not your fault they called you once. I would not apologise for that, and much less if we are talking of a 3 month gap. Everyone can now and then miss a call for perfectly good reasons. It seems someone as usual is slacking off at HR, and they are trying to pass the buck for you. Apologising is just playing into their game. I would avoid that place, life is too short to deal with idiots. Dec 13, 2015 at 15:03

7 Answers 7


Run. Seriously.

You've got several huge red flags right here:

  • emails with a giant font
  • HR responding to applications after 3 months
  • HR calling you without leaving a message
  • HR apparently blaming you for their failure to communicate or follow professional norms

The only "mistake" you made is not answering your phone because you didn't recognize the number. Since you're presumably applying for jobs, you generally want to answer these calls. Of course, if you aren't actively looking and your last contact was 3 months ago then even this isn't a problem.

How to respond?

Now, just because that HR staffer and possibly their entire HR department is incompetent, that doesn't necessarily mean that you should extrapolate their behaviour to the rest of the company and your potential colleagues (See: Does bad HR mean a bad company?). But it's not a good sign and if you choose to continue the process be very alert for any other red flags from management or potential colleagues. Also consider that a consistently unprofessional hiring process is likely to mean that the people they hire (i.e. your future colleagues) aren't great. High performers don't put up with this kind of treatment because they have plenty of options.

If you don't mind putting up with this so you can get an interview with the actual hiring manager, I'd simply email back with a variation of the following.

Dear X,

Thank you for reaching out to me. [Due to a high volume of commercial calls] I generally do not answer my phone when called by unknown numbers. [As I last reached out to you three months ago I wasn't expecting to receive calls from new numbers.] I assumed that someone was calling the wrong number as you didn't leave a message on my voicemail. I'm still interested in the position and if you'd like we can set up a time for a phone call so we don't miss each other.

[Close and formalities]

Your tone should be apologetic, not because you did anything wrong, but because this person has already shown you a lot of irrational behaviour and your goal is to get in touch with someone sane. Skip or replace the bracketed sections if they don't fit.

If you are no longer interested in applying for their current position, just replace the last line with some variation of:

Since I originally applied for the position of X, I've [accepted a new position at][decided to remain with my current employer][relocated][been promoted] so I would like to withdraw my application from consideration. [If you have any openings in the future I would appreciate being considered.]

  • 7
    I'd recommend taking out this part "I generally do not answer my phone when called by unknown numbers...I assumed that someone was calling the wrong number as you didn't leave a message on my voicemail." These can be taken as an unprofessional, defensive, and passively accusatory as if you were irritated by their actions. Maybe you actually were irritated, but it is unprofessional to show it, even passively.
    – krubo
    Dec 12, 2015 at 16:37
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    No response at all is best. Your reasons under "Run. Seriously." pretty clearly indicate that no good can come from further correspondence. Put another way, when dealing with a wild disposition as demonstrated, you have no means to predict how anything will be interpreted and the optimal reply could be read as insult.
    – msw
    Dec 13, 2015 at 5:41
  • 1
    I would not take the "blame" for missing a single phone call. Thank you for your contact, I already got a new job" Dec 13, 2015 at 15:05

Generally speaking if I don't recognise a number that calls me, I won't pick up. The assumption being that if they want to talk to me about something important, they will leave me a message.

If you're planning to reply to their email, explaining that you're rejecting their interest/are now employed then something along the lines of

Dear x,

I'm sorry that I missed your calls. I just wanted to let you know that I have recently accepted a new position, so my application is no longer open.

Thanks for your consideration.



would be perfectly adequate.

  • 11
    While sometimes "don't recognize = don't pick up" is a reasonable policy, you miss one important detail. Apparently, the OP listed his cell number in his CV. How else could the HR contact him? Well, I believe that if you give someone your phone number, this means you give them permission to call. And if you are actively seeking job or, say, selling a car, you should be prepared to answer calls from unknown numbers. Otherwise, don't mention your phone number at all.
    – IMil
    Dec 10, 2015 at 23:39
  • 4
    I have my cell phone on my resume too, yet I almost never pick up when I don't recognize the number -- that's what voicemail is for (and thanks to Google Voice, I'll receive an SMS with a (rough) transcription of the voicemail a few seconds after they hang up.
    – Johnny
    Dec 11, 2015 at 4:54
  • 1
    I disagree with anyone who thinks you "must" answer your phone when it rings... Whether you could answer at that moment or not, the fact remains that there are a plethora of situations where someone can't answer for valid reasons. This means as a caller, if you can't fathom a situation where someone might be occupied at the exact moment you call, you are very naive. Please leave a message...
    – Chris
    Dec 13, 2015 at 5:01

I don't think you need to formally apologize for not picking up a call. Many people screen their calls, and if you aren't expecting a phone call or the caller doesn't leave a message, there's not much of a reason to call back to find out who it was. At most, a one liner "sorry for not picking up your call - I didn't recognize the number" would be sufficient, but it's definitely not something to make a big deal of.

Personally, the communication from their side does seem a little unprofessional. 3 months is a very long time to hear back, and then a phone call without contacting you to set up a time or leaving a message when you didn't answer and an email with 30 point text size doesn't seem respectful of your time.

  • 6
    Good point about their communication being unprofessional. The way they have handled this (the long wait to respond to the application, and 30 point font have calling once a couple days previously) would be a red flag to me. Dec 10, 2015 at 16:28
  • 3
    3 months isn't unprofessional. It takes that long in some big companies. Ones with poor HR it is a norm. This is HR not the hiring manager. Almost assuredly a hiring manager liked the OP's resume and asked to talk to him ASAP. Probably HR not telling hiring manager that resume is 3 months old.
    – blankip
    Dec 10, 2015 at 19:42

I don't see what the others are seeing at all. It wasn't a hiring manager calling you or sending you emails with huge fonts, it was HR. It is EXACTLY what I would expect from most HR groups.

What probably happened? Job hiring got delayed, your resume filtered to a hiring manager, this hiring manager said I really want to talk to this person, and sent an email to HR.

The HR group is probably a bunch of buffoons hence your calls/emails so they have probably sent the hiring manager a very bad stack of resumes. It could be that yours was the only one the manager was interested in. Therefore this manager is hounding HR. HR is probably acting like they just got your resume too.

So the short answer is most HR groups are terrible. You probably have someone at that company that really wants to talk to you and it probably isn't shady or weird.

How do you handle it?

I might give them a call or email them and ask them what is going on and talk to the manager. If you wanted a position there before you have more leverage now that you were hired at a new job. The only issue being could this company provide you with a better work environment and pay and can you have a short-term job on your resume.

Your situation literally happens daily at my multinational. I hire for tech positions and can't get a decent resume and often the techies are for different skill sets. Call them, email them, ignore them, this is up to you but I find nothing odd about what is going on.


Actually it is common that companies may not leave a message when calling a job applicant. This could happen if the company isn't equipped to receive phone calls from job applicants, and so they don't want to leave a message for you to call them back. They only want you to contact them by email.

So do you need to apologize? Not at all. Simply say 'Thank you for contacting me.' If you gave your phone number, of course they may try to call you, but they shouldn't necessarily expect that you will answer their call unless you had agreed to be available for a call at that time. In fact, since you didn't fall short of any reasonable expectation, apologizing could even look unprofessional.

The giant font implies some emotion (and is quite unprofessional, but we're not judging their professionalism, we're fine-tuning yours); however the part you quoted 'We've been trying to reach you' does not necessarily indicate disappointment. If they didn't express further disappointment, don't assume they were disappointed.

Note: If they really did express disappointment, you can express sympathetic disappointment by adding 'I'm sorry I missed your call.' This kind of neutral wording should ensure you're not blaming them but you're not taking blame either.


Yes, you should. Even if it can't lead you to an offer, you should.

It might be their mistake not to leave a follow-up mail or a message, but it is general courtesy to send out a small apology e-mail


Because it is ethical and polite to do so. You might cross paths someday with the HR or the manager of that company, and you don't want to look like the villain or the lazy person who had no courtesy to leave a small apology.

  • 13
    On the other hand, as a general rule, a successful person does not apologise when they have done nothing wrong. It's weak. Plus I don't see how "ethics" come into it. Dec 10, 2015 at 16:31
  • 7
    +1 @LightnessRacesinOrbit, I don't see how a simple I'm sorry that I missed your calls like Kialandei suggested would be considered weak. I agree that ethics probably doesn't come into it, but a bit of politeness rarely hurts. It's not accepting fault, just showing courtesy.
    – zelanix
    Dec 10, 2015 at 17:34
  • 4
    Another vote for "ethics" not being part of it. That word seems to be used to excess on this site.
    – alroc
    Dec 10, 2015 at 20:35
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    I don't see how this is ethical at all, or even polite. They've sent what can be considered a rude email, large font, and unpolite. They could've left a voice mail, but are not competent enough to consider this. I'd even go as far to say it is fine to ignore this email.
    – Joe
    Dec 10, 2015 at 20:59
  • @Joe, sure, I agree that their email is a bit rude from the description. And sure, he could just ignore it. But then this is an email from an employer that the OP stated that he doesn't want to burn bridges with. If the OP is considering applying there again in the future, then sending a short polite reply certainly won't hurt his chances (it may not help, but worst case won't hurt). An apology is optional, but again, won't hurt.
    – zelanix
    Dec 11, 2015 at 0:44

You should give a quick apology, to avoid burning bridges, but don't overdo it.

You caused them a significant amount of extra work because you did not answer your phone.

Conventional communication with a missed call relies on.

  • Person A calls person B.

  • Optional, Person A leaves a message saying "this is person A, I called you, which you already know because mobiles are clever, call me on the number you already know because mobile phones are clever.

  • Optional, Person B checks their voicemail

  • Person B calls Person A back

By breaking the conventions of "answer all calls" and "call people back if you miss a call", the only reasonable assumption their HR made was that you wrote your phone number down incorrectly. So they emailed you.

In the future, answer your phone unless you know the number is one you don't want to hear from. If it is spam, then hang up without a word. If you miss a call, ignore the voicemail if there is one and call them back at a time that is convenient.

  • wait, what? If you miss a call, ignore the voicemail if there is one ... - what possible benefit could there be to ignoring the voicemail? This may just add some context that you can use to introduce yourself when calling. And are you suggesting that I should return all missed calls from numbers I don't recognise? Often the return number is a switchboard so who do I ask to speak with? I do personally agree with your sentiment to answer your phone unless... but who are you or I to dictate how other people choose to lead their lives? Except for the first sentence this answer makes no sense
    – zelanix
    Dec 11, 2015 at 0:57
  • The voicemail will just say "its [name], call me back on phone number." Why bother? Yes, return all missed calls unless it's a number you know to be spam. If it's a switchboard, it's spam, hang up. And people should answer their phone because it dictates how the person who needs to talk to you has to live their life, not just how you live yours
    – Scott
    Dec 11, 2015 at 1:50
  • 1
    If they call and get your voicemail, they know you wrote your number down correctly. If they want to talk to you, the onus is on them to leave a message. I don't leave messages when I call friends or family, but that's established protocol between us. Anyone else is getting a message, which has been the norm since answering machines were invented. With the huge number of automated calls people get, not answering unknown numbers is a very normal concept, and no one is going to call those back. And there's no way they were caused a significant amount of extra work. Dec 11, 2015 at 4:45
  • @Scott, ok, so perhaps feeding the troll, if you don't listen to their voicemail, all you can say when you call is hello, it's [your name], you called me.... If you listen to the voicemail, you can say Hello, is that [their name] (more polite, and remember that many offices still have shared phones) It's [your name], you called me earlier about [what they called you about]. Again, it's more polite, and people at companies will often make many calls and may not remember your name, but this will at least help them know why they called which may help them. ...
    – zelanix
    Dec 11, 2015 at 9:29
  • ... In short, by not doing this, you may certainly cause them a significant amount of extra work which was the premise of your answer anyway. But hey, who am I to tell you how to lead your life :)
    – zelanix
    Dec 11, 2015 at 9:32

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