A lot has changed in the last twenty years with regards to how we use the phone. Once tethered to the wall for an entire family to share, cell phones can be found in the pockets of everyone. Even small children have cell phones. They’re no longer reserved for the elite business person, or successful celebrity.
Often, homes no longer have land lines at all. When I arrange interviews for my career podcast, I ask guests to use a land line if possible. For many guests, finding a traditional phone is virtually impossible.
In the past, when you called someone at home, a family member would often answer first. Now, it’s very rare for anyone else to answer your personal cell phone but you.
In addition, we now often text rather than call. And, if we do receive a call from a number we don’t know, we’ll let it go to voicemail so we can screen it before deciding if we want to call back.
Along with all of these changes comes a net set of rules and etiquette. And, unfortunately, we’re not all following those rules.
Here are a few tips that will help you to be at the top of your phone game:
- When you answer your phone, introduce yourself. This is especially important if it’s a business call. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve had a conversation that’s gone something like this:
- Bob: “Hello?”
- Angela: “Hello. Is this Bob?”
- Bob: “Yes.” (silence)
- Angela: “Hi Bob. This is Angela. We have a meeting scheduled for this time. Is this still a good time to talk…?” Talk about awkward. A much better solution would have been something more like this:
- Bob: “Hello, this is Bob.”
- Angela: “Hi Bob. This is Angela. Is this still a good time to talk?” When the phone is answered with an empty hello, the caller may think they’ve dialed the wrong number. They also think the person they’re calling has forgotten they have a call scheduled.
- If you answer someone else’s phone, explain that when you answer. I had this happen recently. It was both confusing and a bit off putting. The conversation went something like this:
- Jane (answering Susan’s phone): “Hello?”
- Angela: “Hello. Is this Susan?”
- Jane: “No. This is Jane.”
- Angela: “Oh. I must have the wrong number.”
- Jane: “No. I’m answering Susan’s phone.”
- Angela: “Oh. Is Susan available?”
- Jane: “Yes. Hold on.” Wow! Talk about a mess. Answering someone else’s phone can be helpful, especially if they can’t get to it in time. But, introduce yourself and explain the situation on the front end. Something like this would have been more helpful, and far less confusing:
- Jane (answering Susan’s phone): “Hello. This is Jane; answering Susan’s phone.”
- Angela: “Hi Jane. This is Angela. I’m calling for Susan. Is she available?”
- Jane: “Yes. Please hold on just a moment.”
- Setup a voice mail message on your phone you can be proud of. So often, voicemail on our phones doesn’t represent us in the best light. Listen to yours. Is there wind blowing in the background? Can you hear cars, children, music playing, or dogs barking? Is your voice clear and professional? Do you introduce yourself? Stay away from messages like this, “Hi guys! I’m not available. Leave a message.” Instead, try something like, “Hello, you’ve reached the phone of Michael Smith. I’m not available right now. Please leave your name and number and I will call you back as soon as possible.” A clear, concise message (in a quiet room) that asks the caller to leave their information will be a much more effective use of your voicemail. It will also sound far more professional to a potential employer.
- When you leave a voicemail, make it professional. Voicemails should be short and concise. Think before you speak and be brief. Voicemail is not the place to share every detail or thought you’re having at that moment. Say your name, phone number, and the reason for your call. Request a call back and thank the person. That’s it. Keep it short and sweet. If you blunder, many voicemail systems will allow you to rerecord your message. Take advantage of this feature if you need to. A short, concise message will ensure that someone actually listens to your entire message and it will get them to call you back faster.
- In a business setting, use text messages sparingly. Text messaging is on average very generational. People of different ages use texting differently and have varying opinions of what’s acceptable and what isn’t. Reserve text messaging for those you are truly comfortable with or who have texted you first. If you are interested to text with someone from work, but don’t know their perspective on texting, ask them. And whatever you do, don’t use text messaging when you’re interviewing for a job. It should be reserved for after you’ve landed the job.
- Be aware of the time of day you make phone calls and send text messages. I cannot stress this point enough. You may turn your phone off when you go to sleep at night (so late night calls might not bother you), but not everyone does. Try to limit work communications to work hours: 8 or 9 AM to 5 or 6 PM. Keep personal communications between the hours of 9 AM and 9 PM. For some close friends you talk with regularly, these rules may not apply. But, don’t assume everyone is comfortable receiving random text messages or phone calls at 10 PM. It can be both rude and frustrating for the person you’re contacting.
In business, much of your success is tied to your personal brand. And, your ability to know and follow the rules of phone etiquette are very much a part of that brand. Be conscious of these simple rules and you’ll be on your way!
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