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