First and foremost, read the book that came with your voicemail system. Over the course of a year, you may waste a few hours repeating whole messages if you don’t know the simple commands for forwarding and rewinding calls. What? You’ve lost the book, or they never gave you one? No excuse: Search for your phone model, and you will probably find the manual. No time to read it? Bring it with you to meetings, on airplanes, the grocery store – find a minute here or there to pick up a new tip.

Your Outgoing Messages

Identify your name, organization, and telephone number in your outgoing message. “Hi, this is Karen Smith with Adcomine at 212-555-1234.”

  1. State that you are not available and any other important information. “I’m out of the office today, January 3rd, 2006. I will be returning January 5th, 2006. I will not check voicemail until I am back. If this is an emergency or you need immediate assistance, please call Bill Withers at 917-555-6543.
  2. Tell people how to leave an appropriate message. That’s right, if you want good information, ask for it.
    “Please leave a brief message stating how I can help you, along with your phone number, and I will call you back.”
  3. If you prefer email, offer that as an option to callers. If you have an unusual name or company name, spell out the email address. “You may want to email me at .”
  4. To cut down on repeat calls if you work in a high-volume call area, state that you will return calls within 24 hours or whatever time period your organization’s policy on return calls requires.
  5. If you update your message when you go out of town, don’t forget to update it again when you get back.
  6. If your system allows callers to bypass your message by hitting the pound key, tell them that, especially if you have an unusually long message.

When to Check and How to Check Voicemail.

The number of times you check voicemail each day will vary depending on your job function and industry. However, if you have not told people differently, at a minimum you should check messages once a day and return those calls. Here are some other helpful tips for checking voicemail.

  1. Have a pen and paper ready when you begin dialing – duh. (This is Voicemail 101).
  2. Listen to all of the messages before you start returning calls.
  3. Remember that you don’t have to return them in the order they were received.
  4. Sometimes it’s easier to return calls when you are pretty sure the recipients won’t pick up the telephone. You can answer their questions on their voicemail and move on with your day.
  5. If you are super busy and have the luxury of an assistant or some other kind soul, ask this person to return some of your phone calls. This is especially good if it is going to take an unusually long time for you to get back with someone.
  6. Don’t save messages you really don’t need. If you wrote down the information from the call, most of the time there is no reason to save the original recording. After all, do you really want your box so full no one can leave a message? That’s embarrassing and unprofessional. Imagine that you are charging clients big bucks, and they can’t leave messages because you can’t get your act together well enough to leave them adequate recording room. Pitiful.

Leaving Effective Voicemails

When leaving messages, have mercy on your listeners and do the following:

  1. Speak slowly and leave your phone number at the beginning and the end of the message.
  2. Limit your comments to one or two subjects. Voicemail is not a one-person show.
  3. If you are rambling, for the sake of others and your reputation, stop yourself and rerecord.
  4. If you need action of some sort, state what you need. Voicemails that simply say, “call me” are irritating at best.
  5. If the recipient of your messages tends to fall into the trap listed in the previous point, tell him or her, “When you return my call, please leave a message on my voicemail to let me know the status of the project if I’m not able to pick up the phone.”
  6. If you are using a group distribution list that lists everyone’s name on the message, read the manual for your phone system and put the list at the end. If people want to listen to it they can.

Sample of a Perfect Voicemail

“Hi, this is Karen Smith with Adcomine at 212-555-1234. I’m calling to let you know that we have received your package and will have a response to you by Friday. If you have any questions, please call me. Again, Karen Smith with Adcomine at 212-555-1234.”

There you have it: Voicemail 101 in a nutshell. A little careful planning and attention can free your time and help you view voicemail as the useful tool that it is rather than the torture it can be.