Acing the Phone Interview: Matt & Matt Weigh In

For whatever reason, I have a lot of people asking me for tips on phone interviewing these days.  Typically, when this happens, I route them to a blog post I wrote up a few years back that provides some specific advice on gearing up for phone interviews — an article you can find here if you, yourself, have such a conversation coming up — or want to tuck the piece away for future reference.

What’s more, in a wonderful stroke of coincidence, my friend and frequent collaborator Matt Bud just wrote up a piece documenting his own thoughts on the phone interview process, which he’s given me permission to share below.  Matt’s credentials?  He’s not only a highly regarded financial consultant and executive recruiter, but also serves as the esteemed Chairman of FENG, the Financial Executives Networking Group, one of the largest professional networking groups in the world with over 40,000 current members.

In fact, if you’re a financial executive and HAVEN’T heard about FENG, I’d highly encourage you to check out the group’s website here and consider joining.  Becoming a member not only gets you plugged in to all of Matt’s excellent ongoing articles about the job market, but also provides numerous other benefits, as well…

Back to the matter at hand, however.  Here’s the article Matt recently wrote up, outlining his thoughts on how job hunters should approach an interview with only one channel of communication: audio.


Probably one of the most difficult interviews to pull off well is a telephone interview.

Let’s start off with the idea that the lack of face to face contact prevents you from seeing if the words and ideas you are presenting are playing well. A live audience is always better. Is the person on the other end of the phone nodding in agreement? Are they rolling their eyes? Even for someone who spends as much time on the phone as I do, it is often hard to tell.

Sitting during a telephone interview is probably not a good idea because your conversation will tend to lack energy. This is at least one of the things you can solve. If you have a wireless phone that you can use walking around the room, that will help, but one of those “operator headsets” would be best. I have one, and it allows you to gesture wildly if you are so inclined.

I may be wrong, but phones don’t seem to “duplex” as well as they used to. I find that interrupting someone while they are speaking is very difficult these days. Perhaps it is the wireless phones, or just the state of technology, but if you are the kind of person who doesn’t take a breath when you are in a “sales pitch,” be aware that your “customer” can’t interrupt you and ask another question.

Just as when you are speaking to a large audience, you may have to force yourself to speak a little slower than you normally would and perhaps even a little louder, although neither of these two changes should be so extreme as to be obvious to the person on the other end of the phone.

Since this is a strained situation of sorts, you should also be aware of the importance to be organized. Have your resume out on your desk and, even so, review it before the call comes in. You have probably read it so many times you are sick of looking at it, but do it anyway. In addition, make a list of the areas you feel you would like to cover and check them off as you are able to communicate them.

More and more I hear stories that candidates are first put through a telephone screening before being invited in to interview at a firm, even for local jobs, but especially for ones that are out of town. The cost of travel is considerable these days, and it probably is a valid approach.

As much as you may feel the need to cover EVERYTHING in your telephone interview on the theory that this may be the only shot you will get, remember that your goal is to be invited in for an in person interview. It is not inappropriate to try a “trial close” if you feel it might work during the conversation. The interviewer may have an agenda, but then again, they may not. The worst thing that can happen is for you to “rattle on.” And trust me, the lack of visual cues as to how you are doing can cause idle chatter that can unwind a “done deal.”

Anything you do a lot of, you will get better at, even pitching your services over the phone. It is, like so many things, one of the skills we have to build to be good at this “job search thing,” so don’t avoid it or dread it. It is all part of the game.

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