The old adage "you never get a second chance to make a first impression" holds true for both telephone conversations and face-to-face meetings. Recently my HR colleague recalled a conversation she had with a job candidate. She called an applicant to schedule an in-person interview, got voice mail, so she left a brief message asking for the applicant to return her call. The applicant did return the call, and opened the conversation with "Somebody there call me?". Yes, the person really initiated a conversation with an employment recruiter using those words, and in a confused tone of voice. When my colleague asked the person if he had listened to the voice mail message, she was told "No, I didn't."
Ironically, the position my colleague was looking to fill requires a great deal of phone contact. My colleague went ahead and scheduled the interview with the applicant. However, this applicant has no idea how hard it will be to overcome the initial impression he gave when he returned the call. At this point, he has demonstrated that he has poor telephone skills for a position in which excellent telephone skills are important.
It is important for job seekers to remember that anyone calling them may be a potential employer (or representative of that employer) on the other end of the line. Of course the applicant should have listened to his voice mail messages before returning the call. But let's say the voice mail message was not clear or got lost in cyberspace. He could have called the number back and said to the person answering the phone "Good afternoon, this is John Smith calling. I received a telephone call from this number and I did not recognize the number. Was someone at this number looking for me?". Now how much more professional did that greeting sound as opposed to the original greeting given by the applicant?
I was recently recruiting for a position and emailed the applicants to offer them a selection of times to interview. Out of 7 applicants, 5 got back to me within 24 hours with their availability and I confirmed the date and the location of the interview. The other applicants, took more than 36 hours to respond to the initial email. When I contacted them by phone for the follow up (thinking that I'd get a quicker response by telephone), neither candidate returned the call until two days later.
Not only should job seekers remember to have a professional sounding presence over the telephone, they should also remember to check their email and voice mail accounts at least once a day. While it is unlikely that you will miss an opportunity to interview if you take longer than 24 hours to respond, you do run this risk of appearing less than professional and not a serious candidate to the recruiter.
You do not get a second chance to make a first impression. Make the impression you give to someone who has the potential to hire you, or recommend you to someone, a professional one even if it is over the phone.
Kathy Bradshaw, SPHR is the Human Resources Librarian at University of North Carolina-Greensboro (UNC-G). In her role as the Human Resources Business partner for University Libraries she heads up search committees to find top talent for both faculty and non-faculty positions. Kathy has a MS in Human Resources Management and a Master of Library and Information Science.