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Phone Interviews Can Catch You Off Guard

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contact-usJust because the can’t see your face, nor can you see theirs – it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t shine on the phone. This communication (a traditional telephone call) can make or break your candidacy with a company. Many aren’t prepared to take the initial call or worse, not prepared when on a call that’s been previously schedule. Let’s first talk about getting an unexpected call from an employer or their recruiting representative. You need to figure out first: Are they responding to an online application or resume you sent the company, or did they simply find you through LinkedIn or other professional channels and are cold-calling you in relation to a job opening they have?

Many times, the initial phone screening has been completed by someone in human resources, but now you may be scheduled for a technical phone screening with someone, before you are brought in to the office to meet in person.

Don’t be surprised if there is one or more phone conversations before being invited to interview onsite.


So let’s consider that first scenario – they are responding to your inquiry about a job. What if you can’t remember applying to them? Well, you will most definitely be caught off guard – and thinking on your feet, or not – may be the first thing the caller notices. Let’s hope you’ve kept a handy list of the companies you’ve reached out to, and when – and regarding what role. It becomes more of a challenge for you to remember if some time has passed. Companies do retain applications, and most are mandated to – for a certain time period. If the company is using an ATS (applicant tracking system) they are able to look back at previous online applications when a new position opens up, before they spend more time or money posting on some job board. Often, candidates may be cross-referenced when a strong recruiter is the one managing the ATS and making sure they are taking advantage of quality people – regardless of industry or profession relevance.

When you take this call, be sure to ask to confirm the position and/or company and go from there. It is not a good idea to be interviewed on the spot. It’s one thing to have a quick screening to make sure you are still interested and available, but do put off a formal phone interview (I know, a bit of an oxymoron) until a time you can be prepared. Be ready to say and suggest something like to this affect:

‘I’m quite eager to talk with you but I am on my way to an appointment. Can we schedule something later today (or tomorrow) that can work for both of us? I’ll be able to give you my full attention at that time.’

Now, on the other hand – when you get a cold call from a recruiting agency or internal recruiter – be sure to ask right away how they came across your resume. Just explain that you are quite organized in your job search (that will make a good impression) and that you want to be sure how they came upon your candidacy.

Same rule applies here – there is no need to jump into a long conversation. If you feel ready – and prepared enough, state that you would like to call them back in 5-10 minutes, as you were on another call that is nearly finished, so you can give them some undivided attention. In this scenario – you will now have a return phone number to use in the future when you follow-up. If the caller states that this is the one and only opportunity to talk with them, in that instant – I would become skeptical.

Here are a few guidelines) on how to best handle a phone interview:

  • First, whenever possible, have the conversation from a land line – to avoid dropped calls, bad connections, etc.
  • Next, NEVER talk while you are mobile. This means driving, commuting by train (yes, this has happened) or even taking a walk around your block or around your kitchen. That movement will be noticed and will be distracting. You don’t want any distractions while on this all — none!
  • If you are the one calling in to the hiring rep, use your phone service’s do not interrupt option. Some systems direct you to dial *70, listen for the tone, then dial the real number. This will prevent your Caller ID from interrupting your conversation. That alone, could be deter any progress made.
  • When you do have that scheduled call, be prepared. Have on hand any job posting you recall, the company website, even Google the caller so you know more about who you will be talking with. So what if they see you looked them up on LinkedIn. It shows you’re doing your homework and most employers want people who are resourceful.
  • Beyond your credentials and some basics that might be covered in this interview – will be your communication skills. The interview will determine your energy level (or lack of), your articulation and use of the English language – or possibly be quizzing you in another language if that is part of the job. We often coach people to be prepared enough so that you are presumed to be in-person. Awake, ready, fresh and even smiling. Keep a mirror handy.
  • Avoid other background noises like barking dogs, TVs or radios on. The focus will be on you – and you should be focused on them as well. As in all interview scenarios – it should be a mutual effort to get to know each other and the organization as well.

Your personality, communication style, readiness, etc. will be critical in being selected for any job, and you need to first shine on the phone. You already have through your resume, or you wouldn’t have received that call.

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