pick up the phoneChances are if you were born after 1990, you’ve never heard of the telephone game. In this game, people sit in a circle. One person whispers something into the ear of the person next to him. Then that person whispers what was said to the next person. And it continues around the circle. When the game is finished, the last person in the circle repeats the sentence aloud. It’s not always the sentence that started the game. What may have started out as “My dog likes to chew bones and slippers” may end up being “Cyborgs bite trombones and fur balls.” That is because something got lost in the translation.

In today’s world, communication takes many forms and continues to evolve. While email is a mainstay in many business operations, one mode of communication is still widely used—the phone. For many of you teens, if it isn’t a text, instant message, Instagram post, Tweet, or Snapchat, then it’s likely not happening. It seems that many of millennials avoid talking on a phone at all costs. But be careful; you don’t want your reluctance to speak up cost you a job or internship.

Soon, many of you will be connecting with prospective employers for a summer job or internship—and it may require talking on the phone. Does that seem daunting? Like anything new, it just takes a little training and practice. For those of you who are pros at the game of phone gab, congrats—you’ll do well in the business world this summer. For others who would rather let your fingers do the talking, listen up—it’s not too late to learn a few pointers.

You and Your Cell Phone

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Set up your voice mail and outgoing message! Callers who hear a robot voice telling them you haven’t set up your voice mail implies one thing: you aren’t open to receiving calls.

Your outgoing message should be short, courteous, and easy to understand.

Be sure your outgoing message provides the who, not just the what. State your name so the caller is certain you’re the right person. Example: You’ve reached Betty Boop at 555-555-5555. Please leave a message. Thank you.

Avoid silly, obnoxious, or incoherent outgoing messages.

Clean out your mailbox! A full mailbox is very frustrating for callers who would like to (but can’t) leave a message.

When you call someone (and you get another person or voice mail), leave a message. If you called and did not leave a message, then you did not call.

When you leave a message, speak slowly and clearly. Include your first and last name, phone number, and purpose for calling. Example:  Hi Mr. Johnson. This is Brendon Carter. Today is Friday, May 11th. I am calling to schedule an interview about a summer internship. Please call me back at 555-555-5555. Thank you.

If your phone rings and you are in noisy area, go to a quiet place to answer the call. If that is not possible, dismiss the call and return it as soon as possible. Luckily you’ve set up a great outgoing message, so the caller knows he or she reached the right person.

Check your voice mail every day. Return calls in a timely manner.

If you’re on your way to an appointment or your job, and you are going to be late, CALL. Don’t text. Don’t email. If you are driving, pull the car over to a safe place as soon as possible and call someone.

While at Work 

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If you are asked to answer the phone, ask a supervisor for instructions or even a script. Practice.

Ask for training if you are unfamiliar with the phone system.

Don’t yell into the phone. Don’t chew gum (or food) when you’re on the phone.

Always be polite. If you don’t hear or understand the person, politely ask him or her to repeat what was said.

If you can’t assist the caller, politely put the person on hold and go find a supervisor or co-worker to assist you.

Write down messages for others. Include the phone number and name (ask for the correct spelling). Repeat the information back to the caller to verify it.

If talking on the phone is outside your comfort zone, you may feel nervous or uncomfortable at first. However if you use these guidelines and practice the skills, you’ll be a phone pro before you know it.

More about phone manners and etiquette:

Emily Post: Cell Phones: Where it’s Okay to Answer...

8 Telephone Etiquette Tips

Teens: Test your business manners here!