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5 Phone Interview Mistakes To Avoid

Previously, we talked about the full recruitment process from application straight through to the offer stage of the process. Today I wanted to focus in a bit more on the widespread practice of a phone screening, or phone/video interviews.

These days, the rise of telecommuting job options in the workforce and the ever-expanding global presence of companies allow team members to report to a boss that is not only in a different building, but often not on the same continent. Because of this, it is less unheard of for someone to get hired via a series of phone/video chat interviews opposed to the traditional in-person interview. Often when going into this phone conversation, you may not know if this is your only interview or if it's just a first round, so first impressions are just as important, if not more important during this call.

I have performed hundreds of phone screenings in my career; some were the only interview the candidate was going to get, others were more of testing to lead them to an in-person interview possibly. While this entire list could probably be wrapped up into the old Boy Scout motto of "Always Be Prepared," we'll still break it down. In talking with others who do phone interviews, I found the following five things to almost guarantee the candidate will not be landing the job or a secondary interview.

1. Not answering the phone when called at the scheduled time. If everything works as it usually does, the interviewer and yourself will agree upon a time for the call, at that time the interviewer will call you. If at this point you do not answer your phone you've already started by shooting a massive hole in your reputation of being a reliable employee. Whether a recruiter will admit it or not, many of them will never honestly give you a second chance if you don't have a good reason why you didn't take their call.

2. Attempting to take the call in a noisy environment/bad connection area. While we appreciate your desire to not faux pas and do #1 and not answer us, taking the call from a public area where we can hear a ton of background noise is going to cause issues. You could be distracted and not make the best first impression or we may not understand all the great stuff you are saying, in either event, not being 100% focused from either side is not likely to have the outcome you're hoping to achieve. If you live in an area that receives bad reception, either make sure you're in the room of your house that never fails or consider going to a location where your connection will be perfect. There's nothing worse than having to ask repeatedly for someone to repeat themselves when time is valuable to both sides. It's important to note that taking the call from your cars Bluetooth, putting us on speaker phone, or holding the phone with your chin all create unintended sounds that can be quite distracting and off-putting from our end.

3. Not being prepared to talk. Before you agree on a time to take your call, make sure you're allowing yourself sufficient time before the scheduled time to get to a place where you can talk. The number of times someone said to me, "hold on one moment, I need to leave my office, so my boss doesn't hear me." is alarming. Not because people don't want their boss to know they are interviewing for a new job, that's understandable. More-so because you've usually selected or at least agreed to the time for the call, by that time you should already be in a spot where you can talk without interruptions and without fear of being overheard. Hearing you run a 40-meter wind sprint to the other end of the building or down three flights of stairs isn't impressive unless you're interviewing for a position on a track and field team. Oh, and PLEASE blow your nose and get a glass of water beforehand if you know you're that you have a tenancy to breathe heavily or clear your throat often, listening to those noises will make us want to hang up quickly.

4. Not preparing thinking about what you want to say. Here's a heads up, we're going to ask you to talk about yourself! We're also likely to ask you what you know about the company and position you're applying to work with. Even if it's the truth, telling us "I need this job because I've got kids" isn't the answer most potential employers want to hear. You can easily spin that comment into something as simple as "I am looking to join your team so that I may start a career to support my family. I hope to be able to use my skills to contribute to the company immediately and prove that I'm an asset to the team." In general, it's a good idea to think about and even practice what you would want to say about yourself in a variety of areas, many people have trouble talking about themselves and what they can do. They start rambling, stuttering, or relying on "um" and "uh" to connect their thoughts. If you've already practiced some basic questions, you'll be able to tailor the answer towards whatever the interviewer throws at you. Make sure that practice is out loud, not just in your head; it's much different. Finally, on this point, if we ask you, "so what do you know about us?" please have some type of researched answer ready! There is zero chance you can be confident that your skills will help our company when you don't know what our company even does.

5. Not considering solutions for the unexpected. This section covers a little from each of the above; you may think you're home office is a nice quiet place until the dogs start barking or your babies barge in and interrupt you. You may plan on taking your call from your cell phone and end up using up all the power making other calls earlier in the day. When we do finally start our conversation, you may have prepared for all the standard interview questions, but are you ready for the zany questions? Wildcard questions like "What color is your brain?" or "If you could be anything (animal, food, object) what would you be?"

Thinking through everything that could go wrong might sound like someone just is being overly cautious, but being able to quickly overcome obstacles that present themselves can go a long way during the conversation.

Overall, the goal is to talk enough to convey that you know what you're doing but not over talk. To ask enough questions to show interest in the position and the company, but not so much that you're asking them to put you through a full day one orientation. If necessary, find a career counseling center or a service that can help you prepare for your interviews. Most importantly, if you're going for a position that you're a perfect fit for, be confident, if you're the expert and the best fit, let it shine through! Good luck!


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