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Common Phone Interview Mistakes

While video interviews have largely displaced phone interviews for when an in-person interview is impractical, they are still commonly used for screening interviews. The purpose of screening interviews is to determine who should get a follow-up interview, either video or in person, especially when there are a large number of applicants.

Screening phone interviews are not typically done by the Hiring Manager. For large organizations, it’s usually the HR department that does them. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t important. You might even say they are more important than a first interview, as they frequently determine who gets a first interview.

I’ve covered in another post what you should do in a phone interview. Now I want to focus on those things you should not do. These are the common mistakes you want to avoid.

Lack of Preparation

As a general rule, you need to be as well prepared for a phone interview as you would be for an in-person interview. Even though many phone interviews are screening interviews, some of them can be quite detailed and may even count as a first interview. You just never know.

Also, advance notice is sometimes not given. You may answer a phone call and find yourself suddenly speaking with the company to which you applied. When they start asking questions, you better be prepared.

At a minimum, you’ll need these items near enough so you can get to them quickly if you get a phone call:

  • Your resume
  • A printed copy of the job listing
  • The notes you made during your research on the company
  • Any answers to common questions that you’re prepared in advance
  • Paper and pen so you can take notes.
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It’s also a good idea to keep a glass of water close to keep your throat from becoming dry.

You don’t want to answer a question and have it come out as a croak. And remember, since you can’t be seen, the interviewer will focus on your voice. Make sure it’s well lubricated so you come across smoothly.

This, of course, means you have to have this all prepared in advance, without knowing if you’ll get an interview or even a screening phone call. But it’s what you need to do for each job application you submit.

The last thing you want to happen is for the interviewer to hear you furiously typing as you research while on the phone. It’s a dead giveaway that you didn’t take the time to research the company before the phone call.

Putting Yourself on Speakerphone

Yes, a speakerphone makes it much easier to write, as well as look at your notes during your phone interview. However, it also lowers the quality of your voice and may even make it harder for the interviewer to hear and understand you. It also runs the risk of picking up unwanted background noise.

I once did a phone interview with an applicant who obviously had me on speakerphone and I could actually hear whispering in the background. This person obviously had someone coaching them on the answers while they were on the phone!  Needless to say, this person did not get a callback.

Your voice and what you say are the things the interviewer has to go on, so make sure yours – and only yours – comes across as well as possible.

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Using a Poor Greeting

If I call you for a phone interview and you answer with “Hello”, I’ll then have to ask if you are the person for whom I’m calling. Then you’ll have to say “Yes”, and I’ll have to respond with who I am.

It’s much better if you answer the phone like this: “Hello, this is John speaking.” I then know immediately that I’ve got the right person. This shows consideration for me and shows you’re a professional.

Not Having Notes on Hand

 A huge advantage of a phone interview is that you can have detailed notes in front of you and can refer to them as often as you like. I can’t stress enough how much of an advantage this is.

Not being able to see your interviewer, and vice versa, is one of the negatives of a phone interview. But being able to use your notes almost overcomes that disadvantage.

You’re able to have detailed information about the company, along with all the other material you’ve prepared in advance. If you do, your answers will be far better, as will your chances for a subsequent interview.

Making Yourself Too Comfortable

It’s very tempting to make yourself as comfortable as possible for a phone interview. After all, it’s a stressful situation and you want to be as relaxed and comfortable as possible, right?

Your voice is your personality in a phone interview and it’s difficult to come across as interested and enthusiastic when you’re sitting in the recliner with your feet up.  

You should stand up and walk around while on the phone. This automatically makes your voice sound more resonant and enthusiastic. Just be sure you can get to your notes quickly!

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Talking Too Long or Too Much

One of the disadvantages of not being able to see the interviewer is that you don’t have any visual cues to tell you when you’ve said enough. In person, you can see things such as a nod, a gesture, or even a look on the face, that tells you when you’ve said enough.

On the phone, you have no way of telling and they will probably be too polite to interrupt you. You may find yourself giving a monologue longer than you realize. Typically, you have two to three minutes before losing the listener’s attention.

If you have to, keep a timer in front of you so that your answers are brief and to the point. If they want more details, they’ll let you know.

I won’t penalize a candidate for giving a short answer because I can always ask for more. But there have been many times where I’ve inwardly groaned when someone soared off into a 10-minute soliloquy that stopped being relevant seven minutes ago.

Not Remembering Which Job Goes With the Company Calling

This happens more often than you’d think, particularly if you’re applied to several companies in a short period of time. It’s been my experience that this usually happens when the company calls unexpectedly.

I once called an applicant for an actual first interview, not just a screening interview. Our video conferencing system was down and I was anxious to fill the job. It was for a Business Systems Analyst position. I should have had HR schedule it in advance, but I was in hurry.

When the candidate answered and I identified myself and my company, he enthusiastically told me how much he was looking forward to talking to me about my Project Management opening.

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Oops. This pretty much killed his chances for my Systems Analyst job.

If you’ve applied to several jobs simultaneously, make a list of each company and the corresponding job. This way you’ll always be able to match the correct job with the caller.

Of course, if the phone interview is scheduled in advance, this shouldn’t be a problem.

Multi-tasking During Your Interview

Since you can’t be seen, you may be tempted to do other things during your phone interview.

Reading emails, texting, fixing a meal, opening mail, or any activity other than your phone interview is not a good idea. Your answers won’t be as focused and one of those other activities may cause something sudden and unexpected to take place.

One of my friends in HR told me she was once doing a phone interview with a candidate when suddenly he blurted out a loud expletive. Turns out he forgot he was cooking something on the stove and it boiled over. That pretty much ended the interview, along with his chance of being considered.

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