Some want ads will clearly state “no phone calls please.” If that is the case, follow those instructions and don’t call!
Most of the time, however, no such instructions will be given. In that case, it is perfectly appropriate to follow-up your job application with a phone call. Phone calls are something you learn how to do – i.e., something you learn and that you get better at over time; even if you’re “good with people,” you can learn more; everybody has to learn.
As always, planning your conversation in advance will be the best way to get the most out of a follow-up phone call. Is it information? Have a specific list of questions ready. Is it to set up an appointment for an interview? Be clear about that, and be prepared to give the employer some good reasons for seeing you.
Ask to speak with the person to whom you addressed the letter (Note: if you did not have a personal name, and you addressed the letter simply to the company or organization, you may ask to speak with Human Resources.). If they are not available, ask when would be a more appropriate time to call back. Leave a message by all means, but also try to call back at a more appropriate time.
Sooner or later you will reach the person with whom you want to speak. Introduce yourself briefly, mention your letter or email, and then ask for what you want. Usually this will be an interview. If you initially contacted the person for information, you may ask for a time to meet with them, or ask if they have time to answer some of your questions at that moment, over the phone.
It may be comforting to know that the person to whom you are speaking can only do one of two things:
1. Ask a question -- e.g., who did you say you were again, or, where are you calling from again, or what is this in reference to, or something of that kind. In this case, you have an opportunity to begin talking about your background, your interest in the organization, and again, to ask for more information or an interview.
2. Raise an objection. The party on the other line will flat out tell you that no, there are no jobs available or, no, they have no time to talk to anyone. If this is the case, you must first recognize the person's objection as valid. Let them know that you understand, perhaps with a specific reference to the kind of work that they do or the tasks they are engaged in (you'll be familiar with these from your research). If you do understand what challenges the employer faces, let them know that you have specific ideas for making their job easier. Apart from that, you might ask yourself: do I change tactics? Ask merely for some information? Ask for the name of someone else who can help you, or some other organization or school that might be hiring? It’s up to you.
CLP has a more complete handout on phone call conversations available.