Don’t Take the Telephone Interview Lightly; Be Prepared for 4 Potential Problem Areas

Plus additional advice from LinkedIn members.

Recently a former customer of mine told me he was offered an engineering position. He was extremely happy about getting the job and thought he’d enjoy working for the company. I noticed some hesitation in his voice.


It took five interviews before he was offered the job. These interviews were all conducted over the phone—he never had a face-to-face. This is why he seemed ambivalent about his new position.

If you think a telephone interview isn’t a real interview, you’re sadly mistaken. Telephone interviews are generally thought of as a screening device, but they carry a lot of weight and, in some cases, they’re full-fledged interviews. Often times job seekers don’t take the telephone interview seriously, and this is a huge mistake.

This is the type of response I sometimes get from my workshop attendees when they tell me they have a telephone interview, “It’s just a telephone interview. I hope I get a face-to-face.” I tell them to prepare as hard as they would for a personal interview and not get caught off guard.

Yes, the face-to-face is the next step, but you can’t get there without impressing the interviewer on the other end of the phone, whether she’s a recruiter, hiring manager, HR, or even the owner of a company.

Generally the interviewer is trying to obtain four bits of information from you, areas to which you can respond well or fail.

1. Do you have the skills and experience to do the job?

The first of the interviewer’s interests is one of the easiest to meet. This is a public relations manager position you’re applying for, and it’s “perfect” for you.

You have experience and accomplishments required of a strong public relations manager. Your communications skills are above reproach, demonstrated by excellent rapport with the media, business partners, and customers.

In addition, you’ve written press releases, customer success stories, and assisted with white papers. You’ve added content to the company’s website that even project managers couldn’t supply. One of your greatest accomplishments was placing more than 50 articles in leading trade magazines.

2. Are you motivated and well-liked?

Your former colleagues describe you as amiable, extremely goal-oriented, and one who exudes enthusiasm. The last quality shows motivation and will carry over nicely to your work for the next company. You’ve done your research and have decided that this is the company you want to work for; it’s on your “A” list.

When the interviewer asks why you want to work for the company, you gush with excitement and feel a bit awkward telling her you love the responsibilities set forth in the job description.

Further, through your networking you’ve learned about the corporate culture, including the management team. You tell her it sounds a lot like your former company and will be a great fit.

3. Why did you leave your last company?

This one is tough for you because even though you were laid off, you feel a bit insecure and wonder if you were to blame. But of the three reasons; you were laid off, you were let go, or you quit; this is the easiest to explain.

Your company was acquired and there would be duplication with the marketing department that exists for the company that bought yours. You keep this answer brief, 15 seconds and there are no follow-up questions. You’re doing great so far.

4. What is your salary expectation?

“So Bill, what are your needs?” The question hits you like a brick. “Excuse me,” you say. “What do you expect for salary? What will it take to get you to the next step?” the interviewer says. Your mind goes blank. You’ve been instructed to handle the question in this order:

  1. Try to deflect the question.
  2. If this doesn’t work, ask for their range.
  3. And if this doesn’t work, give them your range.
  4. When all else fails, you cite an exact figure based on your online research and networking.

You’ve forgotten everything your job coach told you and blurt out, “At my last job I made $72,000.” But this isn’t the question asked. The interviewer wants you to tell her what you expect for salary, not what you made at your last company. “Is this what you had in mind?” you timidly say.

There’s a pause at the other end, and finally the voice thanks you for your time. She tells you if you’re suitable for an interview at the company, you’ll be notified within a week. She says it looks promising for you…

But you know right then that the position hangs in the balance. You’ve spoken first and within 10 seconds said something you can’t take back. You were prepared, but not prepared enough. You didn’t think this interview counted; you’d do better at the face-to-face if you get there.

The additional advice

Recently I shared a popular long post on LinkedIn about telephone interviews, in which many LinkedIn members added additional concerns. You’ll note that a common theme is prepare for telephone interviews. Here are some of them:

Madeline Mann: The phone calls are difficult because they are often short – 30 min or less. So many of my hiring managers reject candidates because they rambled and didn’t articulate their value concisely and clearly enough. Make sure your answer to “Tell me about yourself” is tight and fits into 1 maybe 2 minutes.

Laura Smith-Proulx: It’s a good idea to record yourself (both audio and video) responding to common behavioral interview questions. I believe most people would be surprised to hear what is conveyed in tone of voice and cadence.

Adrienne Tom: If for some reason they call you out of the blue and want to talk on the spot – ask the recruiter/interviewer if you can book a time to reconnect soon. Be gracious and polite, but it is ok to ask for time. The call is too important to rush into.

Virginia Franco: I agree the phone interview has become more important than ever Bob McIntosh, CPRW. This is the stage where people are assessing you skills and aptitude (where the face to face is focused more on assessing cultural fit). Be sure to have examples that address as many points as possible from the job description!

Paula Christensen: Not taking the phone interview seriously is a personal pet peeve held over from my recruiting days. You are competing against others who DO take phone interviews just as seriously as face-to-face interviews, and this could cost you. Be prepared to concisely talk about what makes you different and the unique skills you bring to the table.

Marcy Depew….And a reminder – phone interviews are usually scheduled for a half-hour – make sure the interviewer gets as many of their questions answered about you as possible – keep your answers concise and to the point.

Phil Kasieki: If anything, I’m more concerned with the phone interview than going on-site. Because phone interviews are almost always the first step nowadays – I can probably count on one hand the number of companies with which I didn’t have one before going on-site – one would be wise to not gloss over it.

Lorie Comacho: One of the best ways to prepare for a phone interview is to practice phone networking by calling people regularly (especially if this is a pet peeve of yours) and skyping with contacts when possible to discuss your job search.

Sarah Styles: One more thing, you may not be told that it is an interview. A recruiter calls and says, “Do you have 5 minutes? I just want to ask a few questions.” This is a screening interview and you may or may not get an in-person based on your performance in this call!

Lezlie Garr: My advice to jobseekers is to treat a phone interview almost exactly like an in-person interview: 1) Use open body language, even if they can’t see you; 2) Smile, because you will sound happier; 3) Be animated (if that fits your personality); 4) Be as true to your in-person self as possible;  5) Finally, use headphones, so your hands are free, just like you would be in person! (I would advise against using speakerphone, though.)

Fiona Bryan: More and more hiring managers are simplifying their schedules and work lives by starting with a telephone interview, Skype/Zoom. Yet they really are more complicated, as there is less of an energy connection… And as people hiring people, we still HIRE people we “like”/can work with! Everyone has to prep for interviews. No one should wing them nor expect the call/meeting to be “just a chat.” PREPARE and understand [interviewers] can ask you anything. It really is an interview. You don’t get a second chance to make a good first impression.

Photo: Flickr, Dwight Anthony

3 thoughts on “Don’t Take the Telephone Interview Lightly; Be Prepared for 4 Potential Problem Areas

  1. Pingback: Don’t Take the Phone Interview Lightly; Be Prepared for 4 Potential Problems – Reuben Chase – Global IT Recruitment

  2. Pingback: 4 Common Interview Tools — and How to Prepare for Them – Jobs- Hausa Television

  3. Pingback: 4 Common Interview Tools — and How to Prepare for Them – NEWSNDTv

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