You Had Me At Hello. But Not In A Good Way.


Nearly every day, I pick up the phone to initiate a confidential conversation with someone I don’t know. In most cases, these calls are appointments with lawyers and law students who are prospective clients. In nearly every case, these attorneys answer the phone by saying, “Hello?”

We are less than two seconds into a phone call and they have already made a job search mistake by not answering the phone with “This is So-and-So.” Why is answering the phone “Hello?” a problem when you are conducting a job search? Well, there are at least three reasons.

Imagine you are the hiring attorney, calling a job candidate to follow up on the resume sitting on your desk… you dial… the phone rings twice… and you hear… “Hello?”

  1. It’s impersonal. Too often, “Hello?” sounds like the answerer is rushed, annoyed, tentative, or fearful that I’m a telemarketer. Answering the phone with, “Hi, this is Shauna” immediately sets a more personal, more friendly, more engaged, and more confident tone.
  1. It puts the burden on the caller to verify who you are.  I have no idea whether the person answering the phone is the person I'm trying to reach, unless I ask. And keep in mind, that although I have a name in front of me, I don’t even necessarily know whether the person I'm trying to reach is male or female. (There are plenty of unusual or gender-neutral names out there! Names like Jean, that in some traditions are generally female, but in other cultures generally male. Or names like Lynn, Leslie, Stacy, Dana, and Kim--all of which used to be predominately male, but have now morphed into predominately female names. Or all the names I’m simply unfamiliar with.) So I now need to ask the disembodied voice that’s answered the phone: “Is this So-and-So?” or “May I please speak to So-and-So?” Remember, I’m calling to start a conversation about your future employment, not ask your parents if you can come out to play.
  1. It forces the caller to guess how to pronounce your name. Yes, I have your name written down in front me. That doesn’t mean I know how to pronounce it. You can save callers anxiety, frustration, and embarrassment by simply telling them from the outset how to pronounce your name. Remember even “simple” names like “Jean” are gender-neutral and can be pronounced different ways. Just tell me, “This is Jean,” and I can immediately jot down how to pronounce your name. I don’t have to guess, be corrected, and then feel bad.

Start re-training yourself now. And don’t forget to update your voice mail message too!