When's the last time you listened to your own voicemail greeting on your phone? If you created it a while ago, you might not remember what it says and whether it's job-search appropriate. Now's a great time to check and see what callers — including hiring managers — are going to hear when they give you a call. Here are a few things to keep in mind.
Record an actual greeting. At the very least, make sure it states your first and last name to callers. When I call candidates to set up interviews and get a recording that just repeats the phone number back to me, I don't know for sure that I have the right number and that I've gotten the candidate's direct line (as opposed to, say, a general office number). For reasons of confidentiality, this means I have to leave an obscure message or just plan to call back later, delaying the whole process.
Keep it short and professional. "Hi, you've reached Your Name. Please leave me your name and number and I'll respond as soon as possible. Thanks and have a great day!" Not the most creative or exciting, but if you want to be perceived as a serious professional, you'll avoid cutesy or funny messages where an employer can reach you. You also want to avoid making a hiring manager sit through an awkward, drawn-out message: "Hi, this is Your Name's phone. I can't answer my phone right now or... um... I don't have it with me, so leave me a message... or you could send me a text, or e-mail me... or, um, yeah, so..." If you need to, write out exactly what you want to say and record it.
Make sure they can hear you. It's amazing how many voicemail greetings I've heard that seem to have been recorded while the person was walking down a busy street in the wind. To make sure your name is clearly audible (see #1) and you sound prepared and professional (see #2), pick a time when you're inside in a quiet space to record your voicemail greeting.
Of course, if you're lucky, you'll be prepared to answer the call and it won't have to go to voicemail. If you're in the midst of job searching, you should get in the habit of answering calls from numbers you don't recognize, particularly as some companies won't leave voicemails at all.
How you answer the phone also conveys an impression of you. Choose a standard greeting for any phone numbers you don't recognize:
Best: "This is First Name."
Worst: "Who the f*** is this?"
At every step of the process, an employer is forming an opinion about you. That includes the impressions they get when they call you. Maybe it doesn't seem fair that your voicemail greeting could affect whether you get hired, but it's still the truth. As with every other aspect of your job search, don't give a hiring manager an easy reason to eliminate you from their stack of candidates.