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How to talk on the phone

So your child has a coveted internship at one of the world’s best-known companies. On a daily basis, she is required to make calls to other departments, as well as vendors, to request information or services on behalf of the boss. Sounds straightforward, right?

Well, not so fast. It turns out that millenials, while aces on the technology and social media front, can be hopeless on the phone. Why is that? Because they have never actually had to make any real phone calls.

Millenials have grown up in the era of personal technology, with communication occurring on a peer to peer basis. In other words, no gatekeepers, ever. Without gatekeepers, informality automatically ensues, meaning that most calls start with, “Hey, Dude”, instead of the more conventional and indirect, “Hello, this is John, may I please speak with Michael?”

Earlier generations had to learn to navigate the telephone from an early age, especially since, unlike our chlldren, most of us had jobs while in high school. Even if a job required simply announcing your name and that of the employer when picking up the phone, this was still good experience for more sophisticated roles yet to come.

With e-mail fast becoming an unmanageable communication tool, the phone is being heralded as the stealth weapon of today when you really need to get through. In this new/old world, how will our kids fare?

Consider the intern at the big media company who calls the technical department and fails to mention her name or the department from which she is calling.

Parents, I urge you to review with your children how to talk on the phone. In case you’re a bit rusty, remember that basic courtesy still prevails. Here are some examples you may want to share with your newly-minted interns:

1. How to say hello (Hello, this is John Smith, I’m an intern in the production department, working for Jean Wallace. How are you today?)

2. How to say goodbye (Janice, I really appreciate your help on this. It’s been a pleasure speaking with you.)

3. How to speak when calling the boss (Hello, this is Ingrid Moss; I’m interning in the marketing department for Cheryl Jones. Cheryl asked if we could push our 11 am meeting to noon today. Would that be convenient for you?)

4. How to call the IT department (Hello, this is Ingrid Moss. I’m an intern for Cheryl Jones. I accidentally deleted an important document and am wondering if someone can come up here as soon as possible to take a look.)

5. How to call business clients on behalf of your company (Hello, this is Ingrid Moss; I’m an intern with Cheryl Jones at IBM. Cheryl wanted to know if you’d had an opportunity to review the contract we sent over last week.)

Just remember: with the bar set this low, practicing communication skills with your child will have him impressing the higher-ups in no time. And while you’re at it, don’t forget to tell him to turn off his phone and to never use headphones in the office!

Allison Cheston is a New York City-based career adviser who works with mid-career executives and young adults who are in high school, college or are recent graduates. She blogs on career issues for young adults at In the Driver’s Seat, as well as at Forbes.com. And she blogs for mid-career professionals at The Examiner. A marketer and inveterate networker with a background in executive search, Cheston is the author of an upcoming book designed to help young adults from late high school through college develop strengths and interests and match them to internships, coursework and, ultimately, the right career.