Amp Your Job Search: Master the Telephone

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This article is part of our Video Game Job Hunt Guide. Read the full guide to learn how to write a strong resume, build a winning portfolio, ace your job interviews and more.

Upside-down performer reaches down to answer a phone call

Opportunity is calling! But this probably isn’t a good time to answer.

If you’re like me, you love chasing the latest tech to boost productivity or communicate with friends. But there’s one gadget you’ve been using for so long, you take it for granted – and it’s hurting your chances in the job market.

I’m talking about nothing less than the oldest communication device in your entire geek-gadget arsenal: The lowly telephone.

You’re Doing It Wrong

Your life-long relationship with the phone has made you develop some pretty nasty habits. Think about it: You learned to use the phone when you were in grade school. And you’ve been using it much the same way ever since!

It’s time for a fresh look at how you use this venerable piece of gear. Let’s start by kicking the old habits and learning some better ones.

1. How To (Not) Answer the Phone

Think you already know how to answer the phone? Maybe. But everything changes when you’re on a job search. You never know when the voice on the other end could have the power to hire you… or not hire you. It’s worth getting right.

For starters: If you aren’t positive that it’s a friend or family, then never – and I mean NEVER – answer the phone unless you’re prepared to treat the call like a phone interview. Let them go to voice mail. You can call back later from a more controlled environment.

Never answer your phone if any of these things are happening:

  • You aren’t sure you’ve got strong reception. It’s frustrating and unprofessional to keep repea… yourse… …connecti… dropping out…
  • You’re someplace noisy. For example, if you’re at a grocery store or a mall. Taking calls at a speed metal concert is also a bad idea.
  • You’re someplace that doesn’t allow normal or safe conversation. For example, if you’re in a library, in class, getting a haircut, or driving a car.
  • You’re not in a good mental/emotional state. Have you just woken up, or are angry, or have been drinking? Then don’t answer.
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For those time when the coast is clear and the time is right? Just pick up, speak a quick greeting and say your name (so they can be sure they’ve got the right number). Something simple like “Good morning, this is Jason.” And smile! They can’t see it, but they can hear it in your voice.

2. Voice Mail Etiquette

Think of voice mail as your personal secretary: It’s representing you to employers, so it needs to sound professional and work perfectly. Here’s a checklist to make sure your voice mail doesn’t fall asleep on the job.

  • Record a professional-sounding greeting. “Yo what’s up, I’m out gettin’ my swerve on, yeeeaaaaaah!” is funny but not adequately professional. Record a new one someplace quiet with good reception. Make it short and to the point. “Hello, you’ve reached Jason Bay. Please leave your name and number and I’ll call you back as soon as possible.” Boring, but professional.
  • Remove custom ringbacks. Some phone carriers let you use a custom ringback to entertain callers. Remove it! Forcing employers to sit through your favorite nerdcore track is not professional.
  • Empty your mailbox regularly. Most carriers only allow a handful of messages to pile up before they start locking out new ones. Don’t miss a great opportunity just because your mail box is full – delete old messages regularly.

3. Returning A Call From An Employer

When you call somebody back, you’ll either get the person you’re trying to reach or somebody who is a “gatekeeper” for that person. Either way, start by clearly stating who you are and why you’re calling.

  • Speak slowly. E-nun-ci-ate.
  • If it’s a gatekeeper, be sure to mention why you’re calling. They’re more likely to let you through if you have a good reason. “Good morning! This is Jason Bay, I’m returning a call from Jessica Smith. Is she available?”
  • If it’s the person you’re calling, start with something short and direct. “Hi Jessica, this is Jason Bay returning your call. Is this a good time to talk?”

4. Leaving A Message

If you call them back and in turn get transferred to their voice mail (tag! You’re it!), just leave a brief message.

  • Speak extra slowly and clearly.
  • State your name, who you’re calling, and your reason. Be brief. Don’t ramble or over-explain.
  • Repeat your name and phone number twice. It helps them write it down without having to rewind.
  • “Hi, this is Jason Bay returning a call from Jessica Smith about the game design job opening. I’m at 425-555-0100. Please call me back any time. Again, that’s Jason Bay, 425-555-0100.”
  • If they don’t call you back, it’s okay to try again in 2 or 3 days.
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Good Call!

If you’re guilty of having grade-school caliber phone manners, don’t feel bad. It only takes a little thought and attention to improve. Follow these guidelines, and your phone skills will be wearing a cap and gown and getting a diploma in no time. And you might just be graduating into a new job!

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