In today’s workplace, most people do some business by phone. In fact, entire industries are built around workers who never see their customers face-to-face. Unfortunately, jobseekers seldom worry about their phone voice, and hundreds of opportunities are lost every day through sloppy phone etiquette and poor diction.
Sound like an exaggeration? Most recruiters screen by phone first, getting an idea of your energy level, your education level, and personality over the phone before ever bringing you into an office. Yet most jobseekers worry more about the shine on their shoes than the quality of their diction. Here are the most common mistakes people make over the phone:
Poor diction and projection. A recruiter will gauge your effectiveness with customers by how you project your personality over the phone line. Think about how you sound, or ask your friends or family to evaluate you on routine calls. Common mistakes people make include mumbling and swallowing the ends of sentences. Speak up! At the very least, pronounce your name clearly and spell it if it’s difficult or unusual. Almost as bad as mumbling is the habit of speaking too loud. Trust the technology to carry your voice; shouting into the phone is hard on your listener’s ears.
You project energy through your phone voice. Try to sound upbeat and positive when you call – or answer – your phone. If you’re not feeling well, or have just awakened from a nap, don’t pick up – that’s what answering machines are for. Return the call when you’ve cleared your voice and your thoughts.
Silly voicemail messages. Recruiters all have hilarious stories about silly, endless, or just plain offensive messages on home answering machines and voicemail. (They generally just hang up and never call back.) It should be common sense, but please save the cute messages for when you’re not in a job search. Don’t forget to state your family name or your number for the caller (“You’ve reached the Smiths” or “You’ve reached 555-1234”) to give the caller confidence that they have left a message for the right person. This is especially important if you have a roommate or other household member who personalizes the message without making it clear that you live there, too.
Leaving incoherent or long, rambling voicemails. Practice getting to the point quickly and concisely. Few people have the time or patience to listen to more than a minute or so of your voicemail message. I know more than a few who never finish long messages from people they don’t know – they just hit the button after 30 seconds. Some voicemail systems cut you off after more than 90 seconds. Avoid this embarrassment by stating clearly and quickly your purpose in calling. “This is Mary Jones, and I’m calling to follow up on the interview we had last week. I’m very interested in coming in to take the assessment, and wondering when the next session is scheduled. Please call me at 555-1234.”
If you’re calling to schedule an appointment, have your calendar or planner right by the phone when you dial. And always keep a pen and paper by the phone, so when you receive a call, you can take notes. Fumbling for paper and asking for directions to be repeated over and over makes a clumsy first impression. Jot down the name of the caller immediately when he gives it. That small trick allows you to end the conversation by using the caller’s name (“I look forward to meeting you on Tuesday, Phil”) which sounds very polished and organized.
Great phone skills make great first impressions. Working on yours can give you an edge even before the interview.