Teenagers know how to text. They know how to multi-task — like eating a pizza, playing Xbox and listening to music. But many of them don’t know how to hold a business conversation on the phone and this might be hurting their chances for getting a job later on.
I teach journalism at Rowan University and coordinate the student-interns at companies all over the Philadelphia area. They intern at The Philadelphia Inquirer, NBC10, Philadelphia Magazine, Quirk Books, WXTU-radio, WTXF-Fox 29 and many other places.
At each company, they must conduct business on the phone. But this generation of students often lacks the skills for the task. The result is they are nervous at their internships and trepidatious when doing phone interviews for jobs after they graduate.
I grew up in the 1970s and 1980s, with the black rotary phone on the kitchen wall of our house in Tacony practically implanted on my right ear from the time I became a pre-teen. I called my friends constantly, after my parents taught me how to say: “Hello this is Kathryn. Is Anne home?” If I needed information on something, my mom said: “Call and find out.”
My phone skills served me well throughout my career as a newspaper reporter. But my students are stumbling. They grew up texting and instant messaging. If they want to talk to their friends, they text them. They order pizzas online. They email us teachers about class assignments. If their phones ring, they don’t answer it and instead text the person later.
The result is many of my student-interns are apprehensive when they first get on the job. They write me weekly logs of their intern experiences and many describe being scared and unsure how to gather information on the phone.
Obviously, the Internet has changed how offices work. But some work is still done on the phone. My students who intern for sports at The Philadelphia Inquirer call coaches to get scores and stats. At South Jersey Magazine, they call local schools to find students who are “Stars of the Week.” At WTXF, they call public relations people to get details on upcoming events. But at first, many student-interns don’t know how to do these tasks.
So I am asking parents and guardians out there to work with your children on phone etiquette, skills and manners. Model for them how to make a doctor’s appointment, wish an elderly aunt "Happy Birthday" or call the cable company to complain about a bill.
You may need to text your teens to actually get their attention. But the end result will be worth it.
Kathryn Quigley is an associate professor of journalism at Rowan University and a Philadelphia native. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.