How to Leave the Perfect Voicemail

by Brett & Kate McKay on April 22, 2008 · 30 comments

in Money & Career


Photo by roujo

I’m not a big fan of voicemail. I don’t mind leaving voicemail messages; I just hate having to listen to them. For some strange reason when people know their voice is being recorded, their brain short circuits. What normally would take 30 seconds to say, now takes 2 minutes.

I don’t mind it so much for people I know. I have to deal with them on a daily basis, so I can’t hold voicemail grudges against them. However, if someone cold calls me or it’s just an acquaintance that calls, a crappy voicemail annoys me and leaves a bad impression.

I know. It’s superficial, but I’m human. But a prospective employer or client is also human, so there’s a good chance that crappy, unclear, and long voicemails annoy them too.So, for your consideration, here are 10 tips to help you leave the perfect voicemail and, consequently, a good impression.

Think through what you are going to say before you place the call. When men hear the beep, they often freeze up and forget what they wanted to say. If you want to be the go-to guy at work, then you have to exhibit competence on all levels. Don’t spoil your confident image by hemming and hawing and filling your messages with “uhhhhs,” and “ummmms.” If it’s a really important call, consider writing out what you want to say beforehand. If the person picks up, great, you now have some notes to remember what you wanted to talk about. If they don’t answer, you can leave a clear and concise message.

State your name first. You would think this would be so basic that it shouldn’t even be mentioned. However, I can’t count the number of times I’ve gotten voicemails where people go on and on and I don’t even know who’s talking to me until the very end. Pretty annoying.

State your number right after your name. Many people wait until the very end of the message to state their number. This will irritate the receiver of your message because if he doesn’t get it down, he then has to sit through the whole damn message again to hear it repeated.

Repeat your phone number twice. People seem to forget that the receiver of their message has to write the number as you say it. Don’t rush through it. Even when you say it slowly, it’s hard to get down the first time. So repeat it again, so they can check to be sure they got it down right.

State the purpose of your call. In as few words as possible, state why you’re calling. Is it in regards to an interview appointment? Are you following up on a previous meeting?

Find some common ground. If you’re cold calling someone, your voicemail is your 30 second chance to make a connection and leave a good impression. One of the best ways to make a connection in that short amount of time is mentioning a mutual acquaintance. You could also mention a shared affiliation with an organization.

Be brief. Don’t make your listener resent you for leaving a 5 minute long message. People are busy. Listening to 5 minute phone messages is not on the top of their priorities and wastes their time. Many callers seem to think they are the only person in the world leaving a voicemail for a particular person. Yet a dozen other people feel the same way and a man ends up holding the phone to his ear for an hour.

Leave a specific request. What do you want your listener to do? Sure, you want them to call you back, but why? To answer a question? To set up an appointment? People will appreciate it if you give them specific actions for their call back. That way they’ll know they won’t be wasting a lot of time on the call back trying to figure out what you want.

Consider leaving your e-mail in addition to your phone number. People like choices. Some people like to have conversations on the phone, while others prefer communicating through e-mail. You don’t know what kind of person your listener will be, so leave the option on the table. For many, e-mail correspondence is less threatening and might actually encourage them to reach out to you.

Be Brief. Did I mention be brief? Yeah? Make sure to do it.

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{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

1 guidetomanliness April 22, 2008 at 10:22 pm

I agree; I don’t much like voicemail for the exact reason that most people don’t adhere to these rules! After listening to so many bad voicemails, I’ve naturally begun to adopt a few of these, such as I always say my number twice and write down what I want to say beforehand….that’s my number one. It helps a lot and I don’t freeze up like you said.

One thing I’d add, say the number SLOWLY……….MUCH slower than you might think. In fact, try leaving yourself a voicemail with a random phone number (so you won’t already know it) and try listening to it and writing it down. You’ll probably surprisingly find that you give the number much faster than you should. You’re USED to the number because it’s your own, the other person ISN’T. Say it S L O W.

2 Oogie Pringle April 23, 2008 at 3:18 am

I like to state my number at the beginning as well as the end so the other person doesn’t have to rewind to hear the number. This allows them to to two things:

1) If they were ready when they listened to the voice mail, they can confirm the number they write down the first time I said it.

2) If they decide that they do need to call me back, it gives them another chance to hear it without rewinding.

3 AK April 23, 2008 at 3:51 am

Another thing: if you don’t want to sit through those prolonged introductions that the phone companies tack onto the beginning, just hit ’7′ or ‘#’ and it should take you straight to the beep so you can get started.

4 Dave April 23, 2008 at 5:13 am

Slow, clear and concise is a good way to sum it up. All good advice!

5 cory huff April 23, 2008 at 5:23 am

I do phone sales for a living. This is good advice for my whole office. Thanks!

6 Fred April 23, 2008 at 5:36 am

Also, leave your first and LAST name. I hate it when I get a voicemail that says, “Hey, this is Dave” or “John,” as if the caller thinks he is the only “Dave” or “John” in the world.

7 Chad April 23, 2008 at 5:46 am

Emails should be given sparingly. It can be tough to communicate one’s email address over the phone, even more difficult when their is no feedback as to whether or not they got it (correctly).

I’ve got an important phone call to make, thank you for the help.

8 Corey - Simple Marriage Project April 23, 2008 at 5:57 am

Clear and concise- this is a lost art in our society. And not just with voicemail. In normal everyday interaction many people struggle to get their point across succinctly. Maybe the clear and concise voicemail message can be a training ground for regular conversation.

9 Brett McKay April 23, 2008 at 6:36 am

Great comments everyone.

@Oogie-Good tip, sometimes I do it that way too. I think both are effective. I prefer leaving it at the beginning and end, only because not everyone’s phone has a rewind option.

@Fred-That reminds of another phone tip….when someone does pick up your call, unless you are well acquainted, don’t call them by their first name. Someone called me from my credit card company for a legitimate reason mind you, but when I picked up, they said, “Is Brett there?” Sorry credit card man, but it’s Mr. McKay to you. I’m turned off by pseudo chumminess.

10 Santa April 23, 2008 at 7:21 am

When doing a follow-up for job interviews these are great skills to have. Although I don’t normally repeat my number twice as most people have caller ID now days and it seems redundant.

11 Bob Ragsdale April 24, 2008 at 10:36 am

Smile. When you are leaving your message, smile while you speak. It warms up the tone of your voice and makes it easier to listen to.

12 Phil Craig April 28, 2008 at 1:43 am


You should always leave your number. Whenever I call people who have Caller ID, they get some kind of switchboard number rather than my number. It’s probably a quirk to do with my office’s system, but still, why take a risk? Especially when following up a job interview!

13 Skeeter April 28, 2008 at 8:14 am

Please don’t leave the following message on someone’s voicemail: “Hey it’s [name], call me back.” I probably didn’t take your call because I am busy right now and asking me to call you back without providing any context doesn’t help me decide when I should take the time to call you or how much time I will need to take. Do you just want to check in with me, did your Mom just die, are you trying to find out how long to cook a turkey…just how long is this conversation going to be an how important/urgent is it. You should always say, “I need to talk to you about [subject], please call me back.”

14 Tomas April 29, 2008 at 9:50 am

Thank you.
I am going to overview my blog in the light of your advices. There is no doubt for my will look better. in the result.
Editing the way we are talking makes our messages sound and sunny. The briefness of the words gives the weight to our talk.

15 Arrica Lee May 3, 2008 at 5:21 am

A wonderful and slurpicious post.

16 1866Umidget May 7, 2008 at 6:42 am

time is so precious to us here at! we can’t tell you how many times while we are on the phone, we will notice the caller ID on the other line call and not leave a voicemail and continue to call back repeatedly until they get someone to answer directly. frustrating! ugh! isn’t that why voice mail was invented?

“we’ve noticed you’ve called a couple times and haven’t left messages. thank you for trying to reach us and stay in contact. since time is precious for both of us, please leave a detailed message if we are not able to pick up your call. this will ensure more efficient use of time for both of us. thank you!”

17 Chris May 16, 2008 at 8:28 am

I’d never thought of it till I read your post but most of the messages I leave are work related. I work in a communications and control center for a military police unit so when something out of the ordinary happens I have to notify leadership. If it’s the middle of the night some of them listen to the message before diciding if they’ll answer the phone.

A long time ago I got tired of waiting for them to call back for the notifications and started giving a summarized brief in the message. I have to think about what type of questions each person tends to ask and answer those in the message. If I don’t get a call back with a question I know I got it right.

That or they’ve already gone back to sleep.


18 GMurder June 10, 2008 at 1:03 pm

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19 Brad June 24, 2008 at 12:39 pm

Jesus F-ing Christ, you hit the nail on the head with voicemails. I freakin hate them with all the passion that runs deep in my bones.

With friends, don’t leave a message that says, “Hey, call me back”. WTF!!!!! I saw you on caller id and if you leave a message it should be only for serious matters only. We live in the world of text messages too for quick responses for things.

And I agree with leaving the email with number. I started doing that and have gotten a lot of response, work related, from doing that.

Great post folks!

20 Aaron July 27, 2008 at 8:06 pm

Another reason to state your phone number is sometimes the audio quality of the message is not good either because of lousy equipment or lousy speaking. Innumerable times someone have left me a message stating their number only once and one or two digits is unintelligible, making it impossible to return the call. Saying your phone number twice ensures all the digits will be understood.

21 David August 24, 2008 at 12:02 pm

how to set up my busibess voice mail.(this is a new business that I am just setting up. it has to deal with buying mortgage notes

22 Barry October 7, 2008 at 9:02 am

I heartily agree with never leaving the message “call me back.” That is stupid. State the purpose of the call so I can call you back with my thoughts already engaged. Tell me your opinion on the matter so I can respond to you even if I just get YOUR voicemail. Some matters can be resolved even if we never get the chance to speak live. That’s efficiency. I have actually left mesages for people to this effect. On the 4th message of a “call me back” chain, I will ask the person to leave their question on my voicemail if we don’t connect on their next call, explaining that I may then be able to provide them an answer even if we never connect. My outgoing message specifically requests that callers leave a “detailed message.”

I also hate the messages where people state their name and number in a rushed mumble. Slow down for this critical information. Speak the digits at the same speed that they will be written. I have had people call back and specifically thank me for that.

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25 Patrick Salmon July 28, 2009 at 11:31 am

When leaving a phone number do as the recipient would be doing – write it down yourself as you’re saying the numbers and, of course, speak clearly.
This will force you to slow down and make it much easier for the other person.

26 novemh January 25, 2010 at 8:27 pm

In the business viewpoint, answering an incoming call is very essential. Missed incoming calls may become an opportunity lost. In business, every call is important and leaving messages on voicemails is not an effective way of doing dealing with you business partners and clients.
There are BPO companies that offers live answering services. Inbound call center staff are professionally trained to receive calls. Check out for your live answering services needs.

27 San Antonio Employment Lawyers February 4, 2010 at 3:01 pm

Love the post, really great advice for those of us that might not leave the greatest phone messages ever.

28 MJ December 13, 2012 at 12:43 pm

Good article and great comments, too. Here is one more: MOVE THE COVERSATION FORWARD!! Don’t leave a message to say call me back. Answer the question I left for you on your voicemail. Or ask the question that prompted your call. This constant game of tag is a huge waste of time. Just get on with it already!!

29 Dave Thomas January 5, 2013 at 6:01 am

Though many people will think that funny voicemail messages are unprofessional, it is a great way to help people cheer up and forget about the stress that they have been going through. Here are a few suggestions to think about when trying to think of funny voicemail greetings.

30 Nicole March 11, 2013 at 12:20 pm

leaving your # at beginning of message is pretty clever. my prob is that I sound nervous when I leave a message :( it’s just uncomfortable for me.

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