How to Answer The Phone (and Other Professional Skills You Missed in School)

Your years in school probably meant a lot of studying for math tests and writing an English essay or two. Now, you’re on the other side of teachers, classrooms, and typical assignments. But your learning may be just beginning, especially if your instruction never included the ABCs of professional skills.

Working in a professional environment requires you to have knowledge that isn’t usually taught in most schools. Even if you have an advanced degree or are the owner of a startup business, you may struggle with things that seem basic but can get complicated fast. Take financial literacy, for instance. It’s something plenty of successful entrepreneurs wish they had known when they launched their first organizations.

Answering the phone

To help you get an edge whether you’re building a business or exploring the decidedly candidate-friendly job market, read through these tips. They’ll be your fast track to becoming an educated master in navigating the corporate realm.

1. Develop a Confident Phone Voice

Have you ever called someone only to be met with mumbling? It’s annoying—and it leaves an unprofessional image. Unfortunately, far too many of us these days aren’t accustomed to picking up the phone. We text instead, leaving our phone skills lacking.

Being able to speak to anyone over the phone is essential, even in the digital age. Just look at the customer service and support industry. Right now, the field of 24/7 customer care agents is booming. Why? Consumers want to be able to call an HVAC answering service, medical support team, or other entity at any time imaginable. In fact, 81% of people say that if they call a business and the phone keeps ringing, they’ll take their loyalty elsewhere.

Need a few pointers on creating a phone voice that sounds great to anyone on the other end of the line? First, have a ready-to-go greeting. “Hi, this is ____. How can I help you?” is an oldie but a goodie. Secondly, keep your volume strong without shouting. Try to use good enunciation and don’t let the tail end of your sentences trail off. Finally, listen carefully and take notes when appropriate. That way, you can follow through on promises.

2. Limit Emoticons and Emojis in Introductory Work Emails and Texts

Though you grew up relying on emoticons, emojis, and GIFs to express yourself, you can’t always do that in the corporate world. Let’s say you’re trying to snag the attention of an investor for your dream business. Do you think the investor will want to give you $1 million if you plaster smiley faces all over your correspondence? Maybe, but maybe not. Yes, emoji use went up 15% in the early phases of the pandemic. You just don’t want to be wrong.

While it’s fine to engage in some lighthearted, friendly Slack pings with colleagues you know very well, always opt for professionalism first. This means using full sentences or at least avoiding abbreviations that could be confusing. Until you know otherwise, stick with the safest, blandest way to communicate. Yes, you might end up in a company where the culture is all about emojis. Nevertheless, know your audience before sending out an LOL message.

This doesn’t mean you can’t have personality in your written exchanges, of course. Simply be self-aware. And always read over everything before you push “send.” It’s not so much that you want your grammar to be perfect, but that you don’t say anything that could be misinterpreted.

Negative impacts of social media
photo credit: Prateek Katyal

3. Make All your Non-work Social Media Profiles Private

With the exception of your LinkedIn profile, you should either clean up your social media profiles or make them private. Employers, clients, and even colleagues are bound to look you up. If they don’t like what they see, you could lose a job opportunity, a sale, or the trust of a coworker.

It’s easy to forget that whatever you post, the world can see. (Even if you’re private, someone can take a screenshot. But at least you’re protecting yourself.) There may be some aspects of your life that just aren’t safe for work. If you choose to keep your social profiles public, never trash someone you work with online. Again, it’s just a bad idea. Posting in anger or frustration isn’t a smart move. Wait until you cool down to deal with workplace-related situations.

You may have graduated from school. However, you’ll never graduate from the process of gaining knowledge, particularly the knowledge that can help you succeed at work.