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Graduates: How To Actually Answer The Phone

WorkGraduate JobsTips and Advice

Sure, you may never use your phone for actual calls, but if you are applying for a job, you will need to be able to communicate effectively. This trusty guide tells all...

Picture this: Your phone starts to make a weird noise. It's not your Whatsapp alert, nor is it the familiar ring of a Snapchat arriving... it's an incoming call (wtf?!) from an unknown number (how did you find me??)... So what do you do?

Answer it.

But remember:
  • It could be a cold-caller
  • It could be your bank/estate agent/landlord/bill company
  • It could be a recruiter
  • It could be an employer
  • It could be a wrong number
Now, 2 out of 5 of those will be fruitless, so there's no point making any effort with your phone etiquette, right?

But what if it's not one of those? How can you even tell?

You're probably job-hunting if reading this, so why on earth would you NOT assume an unknown number will be job-related?

It is this reason why we need to go back to basics, because effectively answering the phone is clearly a problem.

A Graduate's Guide to answering the phone:

1. Make a good first impression

" Always assume an unknown number is a professional call. You literally have nothing to lose if you do so.
  • "Hi, this is ___ speaking"
The caller knows they've reached the right person, and they'll be impressed by the professional attitude.

  • "Hello" / "Good morning/afternoon"
Just a simple and polite greeting will also do, allowing the caller to begin by explaining their reason for calling.

Do not:
  • Answer: "Yes/Yeah/What?"
You might be shocked, but this is a very common occurrence amongst students and graduates alike. You may not have had experience in answering the phone professionally through work, but now is the time to brush up!

  • Say nothing
Yes, this really does happen. A phone call is for speaking.

2. Actually listen

"Is this Callum?"

The caller needs to ensure that they have come through to the right person. It could turn out to be a cold-call, but how will you find out unless you listen?

What to respond: "Yes, this is Callum" (in a friendly manner) - that is it.

Do not then interrupt and ask "Who is this?" or "What do you want?" because they are about to tell you. Don't be so impatient that you can't politely wait for the caller to introduce themselves, as this comes across as arrogant and rude.

If you actually didn't hear the caller, then be diplomatic in your questioning such as: "I'm sorry, I didn't catch your name. May I ask where you're calling from?" - much better.

3. Do not answer the phone unless you CAN talk

" If you're too busy to talk, such as on the toilet, playing FIFA or eating an apple, seriously, don't answer. Let the 'machine' catch it, then actually LISTEN to your voicemail to find out what the call was regarding. A caller with a genuine need to speak to you will leave a message with clear instructions on how to call them back. They will probably email you too. If you ignore these messages, and call back saying "Who is this?" this will come across as rude and can seriously affect your chances of employment, especially if the caller is a recruiter or an employer.

If you decide to answer the phone, pay the caller your full attention; turn the TV off, go into a quiet room and stop chatting to your mates. It's rude when people do it to you, so treat the potentially important call exactly as you'd like to be treated.

Do not:

- Put the caller on hold

They will call you back if you need them to, and often they will ask if this is a good time to speak anyway, so be honest.

- Answer: "Will this take long?"

If you really can't speak, just be polite and explain so - they want to talk to you, so they will make an effort to arrange a better time to speak. But they are not mind-readers.

4. Interact!

"How are you doing today?"

It's not a difficult question, but people still struggle with this one. Again, be polite: "I'm good thank you, how are you?" instead of: "Fine...*silence*...*tumbleweed*..."

5. Do not swear

Recruiters and employers will be assessing your communication skills from the get-go, so bear this in mind. Just like a face-to-face interview, even an initial phone call will be picked apart by the caller; swear words and informal slang will bode well in neither.

6. Do not hide behind emails

" If the call is in regards to a job, you will need to be able to speak to someone - either a recruiter or an employer - so there is no point trying to avoid it. If you cannot speak on the phone, there are services available such as live signing via Skype. Do not assume, just explain.

7. Is your voicemail professional?

Like it or not, you will receive important phone calls that you can't answer, so check that your voicemail is appropriate. Do it right now. If you have one of those annoying 'I'm-pretending-to-answer-the-phone' messages, you may just be completely disregarded as a candidate. They're not funny, and you're not 13 anymore.

8. Learn the difference between confidence and arrogance

The former denotes ambition, and pride in your achievements in order to sell yourself as a worthy candidate, and then there's being rude and patronising. Yes, you may have completed a fantastic degree and have certain standards in regards to your next employment steps, but do not let this come across. If you are informed about a job you're not interested in, then fine, say so politely. But if you jump to conclusions, and assume that an unsolicited phone call about a new job is beneath you, you will get nowhere. And yes, this happens all the time.
lizzi hart grb author

Lizzi Hart is the Social Media & Content Manager at the Graduate Recruitment Bureau (GRB). Outside of work, she enjoys reading, music, binge-watching TV and dreaming about the dog she'll one day own.

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