Job Search Tip of the Week #21 (2017)


How to End Your Interview Before it Even Begins

Infamous Voicemails and other Telephone Crimes

Your résumé gets your foot in the door (at least, if it’s written well). Now, how do you get all the way in?

Unfortunately, even in today’s digital world, job applicants often overlook how important phone presentation is in securing an in-person interview and moving on in the interview process. Job applicants who look perfect on paper can end up taking themselves out of the running by committing telephone faux pas.

Excellent verbal communication skills are essential for success in any position (especially as a sales engineer or other client-facing professional), and potential employers take advantage of any opportunity, including voicemails, phone screens, and video interviews, to assess them. Here are 3 ways to make your voice presentation and phone etiquette stand out from other job applicants:

  1. Develop a great speaking voice. It takes some practice and self-reflection, but it’s worth it to identify and maintain good speech habits. Some tips on improving your voice presentation, whether you’re creating an answering machine greeting, leaving a voicemail, or being interviewed:

    • Draft a voicemail greeting (see tip #2 below) or 30-second elevator pitch. Record yourself using the simple record feature on your phone or laptop, then play it back. Do you hear any stumbles; awkward pauses; or fillers such as “uh,” “um,” or “ah”? Keep practicing until you’ve cut it all out of your speech.
    • Changing your posture can make an immediate improvement in your voice and confidence. Relax and sit up straight with feet flat on the floor, shoulders back. Then as you talk, smile – you’ll hear that you sound pleasant and natural.
    • Breathe with your diaphragm, not your throat. It’s a technique singers use to avoid sounding breathy and improve their voice quality.
    • Take a short breath at the end of each phrase and exaggerate mouth movements to help with articulation. Try using speech recognition software such as Dragon or any other application that turns your talk to text in order to see how clear your speech is. If software can easily and accurately pick up what you’re saying, your interviewer can too!
    • Maintain a moderate volume, speed, and pitch, but modulate them to bring emphasis or attention to the meaning of your words and keep your listener engaged.

  2. [Automated robot voice]: Your call has been forwarded to an automatic voice message system. 617-227-5000 is not available. At the tone, please record your message. When you have finished recording, you may hang up, or press one for more options. (Beep.)

    Seriously, nothing is more annoying to hear. No one wants to feel as if they’re talking to a machine! In addition, having a generic voicemail greeting comes across as being lazy, and no one wants a lazy employee.

    Set up a personal voicemail greeting. Within your message you should at the very least identify yourself and state your intent to respond in a timely manner. If you’re still employed but seeking other opportunities, it’s especially important to detail when you’re available to speak. However, avoid giving a specific timeframe because if you can’t guarantee it, you’ll come across as unreliable.

    Try this: “Hi, you’ve reached [Your Name]. I’m currently unavailable, but check and respond to voicemails [Your Availability]. Please leave a detailed message with your name, number, and reason as to why you’re calling, and I will get back to you as soon as possible. Thanks and have a great day.”

    Record a couple of different versions, then listen to all of the outtakes several hours later (to give yourself time to approach it with fresh ears). Choose the one that sounds most natural to you, and make it your new voicemail greeting!

    It’s important to note that “personal” doesn’t mean “non-professional”. So please, none of the following, or variations thereof:

    • “Hey, what’s up…That’s cool…Just kidding, I’m not here, so leave me a message.” – Recording a message where you pretend to have picked up may have been funny in middle school, but not in the professional world where time is money.
    • “Not here right now, leave a message.” – Callers are less likely to leave you messages if they’re unsure if they’ve dialed the right number, which means that you could be missing out on messages from hiring managers about potential job opportunities.
    • “You know what to do” or “Speak your piece!” – A flippant message makes it seem like you have more important things to do and discourages people from leaving voicemails.
    • “Leave a message or email me.” – Direct, but not pleasant. And if we wanted to email, we would have. Do you have something against the phone?
    • “Hey, this is [Name]. Sorry I missed your call. I either didn’t make it to my phone in time, or I’m on the other line. Or there’s another good reason I didn’t pick up. Maybe I…or I…” – We don’t need to know every possible reason why you didn’t pick up. Steer away from superfluous and strive for succinct.

  3. Leave voicemails with just enough detail to guarantee you a call back.

    When leaving a voicemail, always lead with your full name and the reason as to why you’re calling. If you’re calling back about a job you applied to, help the interviewer out by referencing the position title. Then, state the best number to reach you at (don’t forget to include the area code) and repeat it once more. Lastly, restate your full name and the reason for your call. It’s important to say your name and number twice, so that the hiring manager doesn’t have to replay your message over and over to get the information (and oftentimes, if it can’t be done by the second or third try, he or she will get frustrated and not return your call).

    Your voicemail should always sound something like this, with slight variation to fit your purposes: “Hello, [Name of Contact]. This is [Your Full Name], returning your call in regards to the [Job Title] position I applied for. I’d like to discuss this opportunity further with you! I can be reached at [Your Phone Number]. Again, that’s [Your Phone Number], and this is [Your Full Name] returning your call about the [Job Title] position. Thanks [Name of Contact], and I look forward to hearing from you soon.”

    If you’ve had previous contact with your caller, make a good impression by mention a portion of your last conversation or something you have in common. Don’t drone on however! Show interest and your personality, but leave room to make the recipient of your message want to call you back.

    The most important part of your voicemail is your contact information, so slow down your speech rate and clearly articulate your name and your phone number. A great tip is to use your finger to write your phone number in the air as you state each digit. If you can’t write it as fast as you’re saying it, you can bet the recipient of your message can’t either!

    And please, whether you’re leaving a message or having a phone interview, make sure that you are in a quiet place with little to no background noise.

    One of our recruiters once had a woman he was interested in interviewing for a job leave him a voicemail. As he was listening to the message it became apparent that she had called him while at work, as one of her colleagues was yelling at her in the background (to which she even responded!). He gave her the benefit of the doubt and returned her call a little while later. During their phone conversation, she informed him that she had just “hit someone.” When he asked whether both parties were alright, she responded “I’m fine, not sure about them.” Needless to say, she did not get the job.

    The lesson to be learned? If you get a call while you’re at work, show respect for your current employer by not conducting a job search during paid work hours. Excuse yourself, step outside, and alert the caller that you’re unavailable to speak at the moment, or let it go to voicemail. And use your common sense to ensure an appropriate environment to have a conversation!

Remember: Hiring managers use the phone as an applicant screening tool. A phone conversation (or voicemail) is often one of the first opportunities you have to showcase your personality and potential beyond what’s on paper, so you have to make a good first impression if you want to land that coveted face-to-face interview.

Sound Off: What’s the most memorable (and not in a good way) voicemail greeting or message you’ve ever heard?

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Video Credit: Uploaded by YouTube user Ben Rinaldi III