The previous posting on telephone skills listed 3 do's and don'ts. Here are a few more points about using the phone that I've collected over my years of talking to candidates on the phone:
#4 - Don't answer the phone if you can't talk. If you are looking for a job and have sent out your resume and left phone messages, it's highly possible that someone will call you back. When they do, you want to sound confident and professional. I have called candidates before and when I told them who I was they began whispering, "I really can't talk to you right now - I am at work." This leaves me wondering, "Why did you answer the phone if you can't talk right now?" and "Who would you have forsaken your work to talk to?" Either way, I am not interested in playing covert espionage games, so I move on.
#5 - Don't give out a phone number unless you want people to call you on it. This is similar to #4. If you put a phone number on your cover letter or resume, make sure it is a number that is okay for people to use to reach you. I once had this conversation with a candidate:
Me: Hello. I'm calling from ABC company. I received your resume for the Coordinator job and wanted to ask you a few questions.
Candidate (sounding panicked): Please don't call me at this number - I can't talk here!
Me: This is the number on your resume.
Candidate (sounded irritated): Well it's the only one I had to put down at the time.
Me: I apologize for the inconvenience.
I don't know if the phone number on the resume was a work number or a family member's phone. And frankly I don't care. When the candidate called me back, I let her know we had "moved forward with other candidates whose skills and experiences more closely matched our requirements." Meaning, of course, that we had a minimum expectations that job candidates know how to communicate accurate information (i.e., give the right phone number) and behave professionally on the telephone (not rudely and illogically).
#6 - Give succinct, targeted answers and check for understanding. This is a hard one, especially on the phone. Because you cannot see the caller's facial expressions and body language it can be difficult to know how they are responding to what you are saying. The temptation is often to keep talking. However, it's important to remember that just as you cannot see the face of the recruiter or hiring manager who called you, she also cannot see your face. Very likely she is taking a few notes to help distinguish you from other candidates, and she is probably looking for a few key phrases in your answers vs. lengthy explanations. So when you get asked a question, first pause for a split second. The pause serves two purposes. First, it ensures that the interviewer is done talking and you don't accidentally overtalk her. Secondly, it gives you a split second to collect yourself and organize your response. Then briefly answer the question as it is asked. It's perfectly okay at the end of you answer to check-in by asking, "Does that answer your question?" Pausing and checking-in are basic business skills in today's world of global conference calls. Employing these skills during a phone interview shows good professional savvy.
I cannot emphasize enough the importance of having good phone skills. In this age of text messaged acronyms and e-mailed bullet points, it's easy to forget that a telephone call is about building rapport as much as it is about delivering information. So few people actually use good phone skills that it is a great way to stand out from the other candidates and start building a good relationship with the hiring company right from the start. Look for more on this topic in the future!