Monday, November 3, 2008

The Seven Stupid Mistakes People Make on a Telephone Interview


"Mr. Jones? This is Mr. Smith from Acme, calling for our telephone interview?"

"Oh, yeah, sure. Can you hang on a sec?"


(A toilet flushes.)

"Whew! OK, much better. Wassup? Mr. there?"

"Uh, yes, I'm here. Now, Mr. Jones, I'd like to ask you about your work experience."

"Sure....prob....lots of..."

"Mr. Jones? Are you there? I seem to be losing you."

"Oh, damn. Sorry about that. My cell phone reception is lousy in this part of the city."

"OK, well, let's move on to what you believe your strengths to be for this job."

"I'll take a dozen chocolate with a large coffee to go."

"Excuse me? Mr. Jones?"

"What? Oh, I'm not talking to you." (Chuckling) "Just ordering some breakfast. Did you say something?"

"Mr. Jones, perhaps this isn't the best time for an interview. You seem to be busy."

"Mmhhmph?" (Slurping sounds) "No, no, now is fine. I really am interested in this job. Go head."

"Thank you Mr. Jones. I believe I will -- go."

Phone disconnects.

Welcome to the world of telephone interviewing. It's how many employees make their initial contact with an employer -- and how many of them lose that contact forever.

I've interviewed hundreds of people over the phone as a journalist, and I've been on the other end as I was interviewed over the phone for magazines, newspapers, radio and television. And one thing I know for sure: Giving a good telephone interview takes work.

Why? Because for most people, talking on the phone is as natural as breathing. They don't think much about it. But a telephone interview is so different in so many ways, I think it's a good idea to review proper telephone interview techniques:

1. Avoid cell phones. I don't care if it's the only phone you have, find a land line to do an interview. Low batteries, bad reception, weird feedback, etc. from a cell phone all disrupt the natural flow of a conversation, making the interview an endurance test for the hiring manager. Trust me, it's exhausting trying to interview someone and take notes with these problems, and I've never done a cellphone interview without such problems. At the same time, try not to use a headset (often has the same problems as a cellphone, including an echo chamber effect), and don't use the speaker phone.

2. Get rid of background noise. Lock yourself away in a quiet space to do a phone interview. That means no crying or noisy children should be in the background, or a barking dog, loud music, sounds of a toilet flushing, you scarfing down food, chewing gum, etc. You want the interviewer focused only on you, not the sound of you washing dishes or tapping computer keys as you Twitter while you interview -- or blaring your horn as you drive. Turn off your email so it doesn't distract you or give a "ping!" that the interviewer will hear. Also, don't forget to disable the "call waiting" feature on your phone. (Check with your local carrier for the code.)

3. Stand up. Your voice will emerge much more energized and confident. It's OK to sit down when listening to the interviewer, and will also make it easier for you to take notes.

4. Be prepared. As with a face-to-face interview, you need to research the employer and the industry so that you can contribute meaningful comments. But with a phone interview, you also can research where the hiring manager is located. Are they having snow in that area? Did a local college just win a major championship? Does the interviewer belong to an organization where you participate? These are all "pleasantries" you can mention since you won't really be able to win over the interviewer with positive body language or a firm handshake.

5. Listen to how stupid you sound. Before you do a phone interview, tape record a "practice" interview with a friend or family member. You'll be embarrassed, trust me. Your voice will either sound squeaky or weird, and you'll say "like" and "you know" too much. You'll cough into the phone instead of covering the mouthpiece, and your laugh will sound like you're snorting drugs. These are all things you can work on and find a way to present a more professional voice and demeanor over the phone. If you're saying "uh" too much, you need to practice your answers more so that you can say them smoothly (just don't read them from your notes). If you talk too fast, move your hand when you talk -- this helps even out your breathing and slows your speech.

6. Don't worry about filling in silences. The interviewer may be taking notes, so avoid blabbing nonstop. It's often difficult to know what's going on when you can't see the other person, but it's important you give your answer and then shut up. Motormouths have a bad habit of digging themselves a hole during phone interviews. And never interrupt the interviewer, no matter how excited you are.

7. Follow up. After a phone interview, you can send a thank-you e-mail, but also send a personal note via regular mail. Make sure before the interview ends that you have verified all the contact information, such as the correct spelling of the interviewer's name, the company address, phone number, e-mail, etc., and what the next step will be.

What are some other tips for phone interviewing?


Paul Copcutt said...

Here is my list that I give to clients:

- It is still an interview and should be treated as such

- Even if it is convenient when you are first called, arrange the interview for another time when you can ensure quiet and full concentration

- Before the interview prepare a list of questions you want answered

- During the interview, take minimal notes about what was asked and said – make sure you have two working pens within reach

- Have in your mind examples of your experience relating to the major areas of requirements on the job description

- Do your research, make sure you have visited the company web site etc

- If you do not need it for he interview switch off your computer, cell phone etc - do not be tempted or interupted.

- Smile Smile Smile !!!!!! - Even think about putting a mirror in front of you so that you do remember to smile.

P.S - Put the dog/cat/parrot (insert pet of choice) in a different room

Just my toonies worth

Anita said...

Terrific additions to this list! I especially like the one about smiling -- people don't realize that you CAN smile with your voice. Thanks for making such a great contribution.

vimoh said...

Sigh! I AM Mr Jones. Or was, till a few years ago. Paid the price.

Ankur Chadha said...

cheers. This can be used as a ready reckoner anytime.

I also follow a blog on Importance of Human Resources:


Anita said...

Oh, no! Well, the important thing is that Mr. Jones is no longer. You've grown and learned from your experience, and that's heartening to hear.
Thanks for sharing.

Anita said...

Thanks for the link. Good information is always appreciated.

Joshua said...

Great stuff. Am printing it out right now! Thanks.

Anita said...

Wonderful! That makes me feel great!

Dr. Jim Anderson said...

Anita: it's HARD to talk to someone on the phone - we are much more conditioned to talk to people who are standing in front of us. That's why when I know that I'm going to have an important phone call with someone, I'll paste a headshot of someone on the wall and I'll talk to them. I try to match the gender of the headshot to the person talking - otherwise things get just a bit too weird...!

- Dr. Jim Anderson
The Accidental IT Leader Blog
"Learn What Management Skills You Will Need To Make It To The Next Level In Your Career"

Anita said...

That's an interesting idea, and I like the fact that you make so much effort to prepare -- that really is what we need to do more of when we have important calls.
Thanks for posting.

Joan said...

So true! I can't tell you how many times I've done a phone interview and people have been cut off because of call waiting. Great advice!

Anita said...

I think a lot of people are not even aware you can disable this feature, so that's why I mentioned it. Let's hope it helps avoid the disaster you mention!
Thanks for commenting.

Anonymous said...

Ever have a technical interview? You absolutely need a computer handy.

Interviewing is a two way street. Fortune 500 companies are no exception. The interviewer has, on numerous occasions, been someone who has trouble articulating what they're aiming to say. Most of the companies use employees during the interview process. However, not all employees are well-suited for them. Many of the methods of interviewing are so lacking in common sense, I can only imagine how many potentially good candidates and mediocre candidates they're missing. Maybe that's the point.

We should stop treating the interview as a ritual and snap out of the recruiter/HR fluff. First, ask yourself what interviews are for? The answer is brainlessly simple: they exist to allow both the company and the employee to discuss a mutual partnership for mutual benefit. It's not the looming corporate power doing you a favor out of mercy. They need someone to do X for them, you need a salary and maybe a certain kind of work. Companies do themselves a great disservice with crappy HR departments and flawed hiring processes.

Also, don't pay attention to that "smiley" nonsense. No one likes the smiler. They're seen as goofballs and airheads if they overdo it.