John and Angela both began their job search activities Monday morning. Each had a list of twenty people to contact. By Friday afternoon John was frustrated. He’d left 11 voice mail messages and had reached only 2 people. Angela had 4 meetings set up by the end of the week. Without speaking directly to her contacts, she had built rapport, scheduled appointments, discussed needs, and received referrals. For John, voice mail was a frustrating barrier; for Angela, a useful ally.
Voice mail, e-mail, cell phones, and remote forwarding, are supposed to improve communications. They can, but only if you are wise about using them! Otherwise, managers may “disappear” behind these technological barriers. Whether you’re on a job search, in sales, or just trying to talk to friends, the following tips will help.
DEFINITION OF TERMS
To avoid confusion: “voice mail” is an electronic message system, connected to a private line or extension. Messages may be retrieved directly from that line or from remote locations by the voice mailbox owner. An “answering machine” is a device connected to a phone line that is not necessarily private.
1. Don’t Get Upset (it will come across in your voice). Be Grateful.
Voice mail can help you bypass assistants who might otherwise screen out your call. When leaving messages, use voice mail to help you to connect, not just to leave messages. Angela set appointments by voice mail without ever directly speaking to the contacts or their assistants.
Remember that smart managers are always looking for talent. If properly approached, they have some self-interest in meeting you. Be sure you clearly communicate your purpose in a letter or e-mail sent to introduce yourself prior to the call. NEVER assume a person does not want to talk with you unless they tell you explicitly. Perhaps they will refer you to someone else. If someone referred you to the contact, spark their interest by mentioning that person’s name in the voice mail message.
2. Use Operators.
When the voice mail system gives an option to be connected to an operator, leave a message for your contact, then connect to the operator. Unlike assistants, who are often screeners, operators are generally connectors. Ask the operator for help in reaching your intended contact in person. Often an operator or receptionist will give you valuable information about how and when the voice mail is on, other voice mail addresses or extensions to call, or the personal schedule and message-responding habits of your intended contact.
3. Create a Reason to Call Until You Get Through.
Always mention the date and time of your call even though most voice mail systems do this electronically. This will underscore your reliability around following up at the time you indicated in your letter of approach or most recent message. THEN, “warn” them you’ll be calling frequently by saying something like: “If you haven’t been able to reach me by three o’clock today, I’ll call again with more information about how and when to reach me.” Sharing your schedule and available times makes further calling less like nagging and more like taking responsibility for good communication.
4. Always Be Polite.
You never get a second chance to make a first impression. If contacts don’t return your calls, resist the urge to lash out at them. There may be a legitimate reason they haven’t called. Even if there isn’t, you never know to whom that person talks or where they may reappear in your career. In addition, your voice mail message may be forwarded “as is” to others on the system, so make sure all messages are clear and appropriate. Should you reach an answering machine, remember that it may not be as confidential as voice mail, so be extra careful to be polite and positive. You never know who will be listening.
5. Try Calling Outside of Normal Business Hours.
Remember that many executives answer their phones directly, outside of the normal 8:30 to 5:00 business hours. By calling “off hours” you may be able to avoid voice mail and reach them at a time when they are less pressured and more available.
6. Practice Beforehand.
Many of us are accustomed to leaving messages haphazardly. That won’t work any more, because these days, the first impression you make is the sound of your voice on voice mail. Remember, your contact will evaluate you based on the tone of your voice and your clear, concise communication. Don’t blow it! Practice your message before calling. See #8 on replaying your message.
7. Don’t Play Tag; Schedule Meetings.
When you receive a reply voice mail message from your contact, immediately suggest two meeting times in your next message. You can often set and confirm meetings without ever speaking directly.
8. Use Voice Mail’s Special Features.
Voice mail’s special features can help you polish your message to leave a better impression. While not all voice mail systems are identical, most have a menu which can be accessed by pressing the pound (#) key after leaving your message. Use it to replay your message, then delete and re-record until it is positive, clear, and enthusiastic. Caution: not all systems have a readily apparent way to access the menu, so give it your best shot the first time. Hang up and call back if you’re not ready.
John and Angela’s tasks were similar, but Angela’s use of voice mail turned it from a pain in the neck to a useful tool in her job search. By following the tips above, you can, too.
♦ ♦ ♦
! ! CONGRATULATIONS ! !
–Lorie Damon has been hired as Vice President, Healthcare Finance at Raymond James| Morgan Keegan.
–Gregory Little now works at St. Louis Public Radio’s (KWMU) new Grand Center location where he coordinates building operations.
What I’ve Been Reading
If you’ve been called introverted, shy, quiet or self-contained (or you love someone who is), this book is worth reading.
While not diminishing our culture’s “bias for action” or its premium on being outgoing, Cain makes the case for the undervalued contributions of introversion.
Cain’s writing is informed and weaves together contemporary research with examples from all facets of life — work, relationships, education, politics, and so forth.
For a look at Cain’s TED talk, click on The Power of Introverts.
THANKS FOR REFERRALS
Connie Knox, Nick Ganim, and Michelle McMahan.
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