Telephone Job Interviews: Avoid Sounding Stupid

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Have you ever had a telephone job interview nightmare like this? The phone rang just as Marie stepped out of the shower. She wrapped a towel around herself and scurried to grab the phone. Surprise! It’s was an employer calling for a job interview. As she tried to pull herself together, the mailman rang her bell, causing the dog to bark furiously. This woke up her baby, who wailed to high heaven. As she grabbed the baby and tried to quiet the dog, she babbled foolishly. The employer wasn’t impressed and didn’t schedule her for an in-person interview.

Do you hate phone interviews?

OK, so you hate phone screen interviews. I don’t blame you. But they’re a fact of life and you can take control of them.

Find another time to talk

If the appointment isn’t scheduled, you can ask to talk at another time. Don’t speak when you’re caught off-guard if you can avoid it. Marie could easily have said, “Thanks so much for calling. Unfortunately, I can’t talk right now. Can we schedule the job interview later today (or tomorrow)?”

Of course – know about the company

Be sure you’ve done your homework about the company and how you might be able to help them. For really important interviews, prepare your research even more thoroughly.

Have Your Surroundings Prepared

Make sure you have a quiet space where you won’t be interrupted with a reliable, static-free phone, or a mobile that doesn’t drop calls. Since they can’t see you, you can have your resume, research on the industry and the company, talking points, and a list of questions for the employer – all at your fingertips for quick referral. Having your computer ready for a quick Google search is an added plus.

Be ready to speak your success

Be sure to have a number of stories ready that demonstrate how good you are. Keep them to about a minute in length and include the situation you faced, your actions, and the results of your work.

Be enthusiastic

Take a tip from good telemarketing professionals:  have a mirror by your phone to remind you to smile. True, they can’t see you in a phone screen, but a smile can be “felt” over the phone. Be sure to sound upbeat. You can give your voice more power by standing while you talk.

Keep salary issues from killing your chances

Many times, phone screeners will ask you about your earnings or expected salary. Employers often use money issues to eliminate candidates, so postpone talking about money, if you can. You might say something like, “I know your company pays its employees fairly, so I’m not that concerned.”

Or: “I’m very excited about the possibility of working with your company, and I don’t feel comfortable talking about money just yet. I don’t want to get screened out for earning too much or too little.”

[Be sure to read Jack Chapman’s book “Negotiating Your Salary:  How to Make $1,000 a Minute.” It’s the national “bible” of salary negotiations.]

Don’t talk too much

It’s a big turnoff when candidates talk nonstop. Be sure to be concise and ask good questions. Try to find out what’s really wanted and needed. Find out what the boss’s biggest problem is – and say how you can help solve it. In fact, that’s another place to use a brief success story from your past to illustrate your know-how.

Be sure to ask what’s next

Don’t hang up without finding out how you can follow up. Ask about the next steps and if they need anything else from you.

Take notes

Be sure to take notes what you’ve talked about so you can be aware of that when you go in for a follow-up interview.

Thank you note

Promptly send a thank you email/letter to all participants in your interview. Make them personal, not formulaic.

With proper preparation, you can make even the unpleasant phone interview work to your advantage.


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