How To Overcome Your Phone Interview Hang-Ups: 10 Tips for Success


Phone interviews  are known to create anxiety similar to that experienced by teenagers waiting for an answer from a potential prom date. Symptoms may include sweaty hands, shortness of breath, confusion about what to expect from the conversation, babbling, long pauses, tangents, and the complete loss of reasoning skills. How you handle the conversation once you answer the phone may even determine whether you go to the big dance.

10 Tips for Setting Aside Your Phone Interview Hang-ups

  1. Clean up. (Both yourself and the area where you will be while taking the call.) Take a relaxing bath or shower beforehand. You’ll feel better. Make sure the table or desk where you are taking the call is clean and organized. Be a little obsessive-compulsive: if you plan to refer to notes or your résumé, arrange them in the way you hope to refer to them. Use post-it notes or notes written in colored pen, or color-code text on the documents before you print them out. This is an occasion when over-compensating and over-organizing is easily forgiven, and when it’s okay to sequester yourself for a while and banish the cat and the kids from your immediate area.
  2. Dress up. You’ll feel more confident and professional. While your pajamas may be comfortable, they are not business apparel. Treat the interview like a business meeting. It is one-a sales meeting. Would you buy stock in a company from a guy in bunny slippers who hadn’t shaved that morning? Yeah, I wouldn’t, either.
  3. Stand up. Surely you’ve heard the term “thinking on your feet?” It refers to having the ability to speak extemporaneously in front of an audience. The phone interview is an improvisational dialogue, and you are center stage. You’ll feel more engaged, and standing will force you to stay engaged in the conversation. It may also give you more surface area to work with as you refer to your notes. You can tape your résumé, cover letter and notes up at eye level, and spread out talking points on a desk in front of you. You should get a headset (affiliate link) to allow you to move around and talk with your hands.Who doesn’t love that?
  4. Speak up. If your phone interview is with more than one person, you should expect it to be conducted over a speakerphone. This isn’t always the case, but if the screening committee is vetting multiple people in a short period of time, scheduling a room and doing several interviews at a time makes sense. Since you don’t have any idea whether they can hear you well, speak clearly (a headset with noise cancellation can help quite a bit with this), ask early on whether they can hear you, and pace yourself. If you are talking with five different people, you have five different approaches to taking notes, listening skills, and filtering out distractions. Get feedback early on and adjust your volume, tone, and pace as needed.
  5. Wait Up. (Sorry, bad grammar! I grew up in the South, and we “up” all sorts of terms. It drives my wife Sarah crazy, because she was raised near Detroit, and they say things like “wait” and “put that away” instead of “wait up” and “put that up.” She calls Coke “pop,” too, and well, that just ain’t right.) But, anyway…in this context, I mean pace yourself so you don’t lose your interviewer(s), pause periodically to take a breath, give them a second or two (or longer) to catch up. People comprehend after they hear and process. Allow them time for at least a little of both.
  6. Shut up. And by “shut up,” I mean “be comfortable with silence.” You’re allowed to process, too. You don’t have to immediately answer each question. If you need a second to process, ask for one. If you can’t answer a question, ask if you can move on and come back to it later. Most interviewers will understand, and appreciate the opportunities they’ll have to cover required ground. If they don’t get answers to some key questions, they may end up liking you, but having no basis for inviting you to campus over another candidate. Don’t let wordiness scuttle your candidacy. Do yourself a favor, and enjoy the silence.
  7. Listen up. Nervousness often compels people to spend too much time “in their head” rather than in the conversation. If you aren’t listening, you may be constructing the perfect argument to a question other than the one being asked. Listen actively and effectively.
  8. Finish up. Try to have a beginning, middle and especially an end to each of your major talking points. And plan a summary statement about why you are a good fit for the position, that will allow you to gracefully close out the interview and leave the screening committee feeling they have a good handle on who are as a person and about your viability as a candidate.
  9. Look up. In her wonderful Inaugural Poem “On the Pulse of Morning,” Maya Angelou wrote about having the grace to look up into the eyes of others to simply say “good morning.” There’s a powerful idea of kinship in that poem. It’s about greeting people warmly, appreciating our common bonds, and looking forward with hope. Do this, and you will likely have an open door and a friendly face or two on the other side if you ever cross paths again. Even if the interview didn’t go quite as planned, or you didn’t get the feedback you were hoping for (it’s hard to really know, without the visual cues you get from people’s facial expressions and body language), end the interview on a hopeful and cordial note. Sometimes an opportunity isn’t the right one, or a day just isn’t “your day.” You never know when the right opportunity will come up, or who will be on the other end of the phone line or interview table, when that opportunity arrives. End warmly and you will leave your options open.
  10. Follow Up. How to do this the right way was covered in this previous article. So please read it and use the advice in that post guide you as you keep tabs on your opportunities.

If you have an upcoming phone interview, good luck!

If you still aren’t ready, one of the services I offer are customized mock interviews. I use both common questions and some tailored to your specialty and level of experience. The interview usually takes about 30 minutes, and I record the mock interview and the feedback session which follows (30-45 minutes) and send you some personalized feedback and tips, as well as an .mp3 of the interview. Please contact me if you would like to learn more or schedule a mock interview.

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