Now more than ever, there are many ways to sabotage yourself when searching for a job. Social media and digital profiles are baked into so many aspects of our lives, but even if you’re not leaving incriminating posts on Twitter or Instagram, an older gaffe still remains that could see your chances of landing a new job torpedoed if you don’t pay attention: I’m talking about your silly, nonchalant voicemail greeting.
After acing a job interview, the last thing you want is for a potential employer to call you and hear a voicemail greeting you saved after a keg party in college, or one with music blaring in the background, or some slapdash greeting that suggests you have little time or consideration for people trying to get ahold of you. Or worse—one of those prank voicemail messages where someone pretends to answer the phone only to trick the caller with a recorded message.
While how to leave an acceptable greeting is pretty intuitive, here are some examples that might shoot you in the foot if a prospective boss is unfortunate enough to call you and wait for the beep.
For one thing, make sure your mailbox isn’t full
Nothing screams “I don’t have it together” like a full mailbox. For one thing, most people in younger cohorts—think Millennials and Gen Z—aren’t particularly reliant upon voicemails anyway. But an employer is always going to leave you a voicemail—so when one does, you shouldn’t get caught with your pants down.
The fix? Just sit down and clean out your voicemail once a week, or even once a month if it’s not particularly clogged.
Stop using your voicemail greeting as a joke
It’s funny when you’re in high school, but leaving an inside joke or some kind of scripted greeting meant to prompt giggles loses its luster pretty quickly once you grow up. Don’t get me wrong, it can be funny, but chances are the joke is lost on an HR person calling you up to conduct business.
As an alternative, save the audio file of your inside gag for posterity. Keep it buried in your phone or whatever hard drive you have on hand, and dig it up for nostalgia’s sake when you want to share with friends. You can all cherish the memory of the silly voicemail greeting that probably stunned your older family members at one point, but that’s what it needs to remain—a memory.
No greeting at all might be just as bad
You’re not going to earn any plaudits for failing to set up your voicemail in the first place. And in fact, it might hurt you. As Andrea Barger, the head of PR at the job listings platform Snagajob wrote in 2016, having no greeting “makes you look a little lazy and can frustrate the hiring managers.”
She goes on, stressing the importance of not only having a greeting as a baseline, but noting how a good greeting can only work to your benefit:
Little things like a great voicemail can really set you apart from your competition. Think about it. Would you be more inclined to want to interview someone who is shouting about how much they hate calling people back, or the person who simply asks you to leave a message?
Some helpful tips
For the clueless among us, there are a few ways to record a proper voicemail greeting. It can be short and sweet, and doesn’t have to go overboard in any sense.
Voicemail greetings should be professional, but the structure can vary depending on the situation. Here’s a sample voicemail greeting script: “Hello, you’ve reached [name] at [company]. I’m unable to come to the phone right now. Leave your name and number, and I’ll return your call as soon as I’m free. Thank you.”
If this is your personal device, you don’t need to mention your company (though you can if that’s your speed). The point of a voicemail greeting is to convey something very simple: “I am not here right now, but I will call you back. Thank you for your time. Enjoy your day.” Beyond that, I wouldn’t recommend being more ambitious.