Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Leaving a Phone Number on Voicemail

How many times have you received a voicemail message in which you understand every word except the phone number of the caller? Either the person says their phone number so fast it sounds like one big slur, or the connection is so bad that one or more of the digits is cut out.

The other day Bob Jones (not his real name) left me a voicemail, asking for help with his resume. His message was articulate and complete until it came to his phone number. "Call me at 123-555-1-ey-23," he said really fast before hanging up. I listened to his message six times, trying to figure out what the heck the digit "ey" was. I couldn't get it. Great! I had everything I needed to get back to Bob except one digit in his phone number.

I called nine different telephone numbers, each using a different digit (1-9) for the mysterious "ey." Here were the results:
- Four outgoing messages were from people, each of whom identified him- or herself as someone other than Bob Jones.
- One number had been disconnected.
- One outgoing message was a woman's voice giving only the phone number I had called. This was probably not Bob's number unless his wife or girlfriend had created the outgoing message.
- Two messages used a robotic voice that only indicated the phone number I had dialed without identifying the person by name. Any of these two could have been Bob.
- One didn't have an answering machine or service connected to it so the phone just rang and rang. Because no one answered, I had no idea if that was Bob's number or not.

So three of the nine could have been Bob's phone number but there was no way to tell which one it was. On the two that had answering machines, I left messages like, "This is Susan Ireland at 510-524-5238 returning a call from Bob Jones. If this is Bob, please call me back for help with your resume. Susan Ireland, 510-524-5238."

One day passed without a response from Bob, I then called the career counselor who had referred him to me. She was on vacation so it took a day for her to get back to me with the message that I should call her assistant to get Bob's phone number from her files. When I called her assistant I left a voicemail, and a day later the assistant called to give me Bob's phone number. Finally, three days after his original voicemail to me (and enough cartwheels to make me dizzy), I was able to call Bob back!

Let's imagine that I had been an employer Bob was contacting about a job. Do you think the employer would have turned even one cartwheel to respond to Bob? I doubt it! Most likely the employer would have pushed the Delete button and Bob's message would have gone spinning down the voicemail drain.

Don't let that happen to your voicemail. Follow these guidelines, especially if you use a cell phone, as messages from mobile devices are more apt to break up than those from land line phones.

1. Start your message with your name and phone number.
2. End your message with your name and phone number.
3. When you say your phone number, say it slower than the rest of your message (not faster, as most people do) and use a cadence that breaks the digits into memorable clumps (e.g., 123-555-12-34).

Doing this not only increases the chances of your name and number being heard by the voicemail recipient, it also means the receiver might not have to rewind the message to get your name and number -- something that will be much appreciated by a busy manager.

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