Nail the Interview

10 Telephone Interview Mistakes You Don’t Want to Make


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Let’s face it, applying for a job has never been easier. The Internet, smartphones, and cloud services have made it fairly simple and quick to apply to job postings “on the fly”. As a result, companies, and recruiters sometimes get hundreds of responses to a single job posting. Recruiters and corporate HR departments have several methods for scaling down responses to a manageable pile, but that is a topic for another post.

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It is rare these days to get an “in-person” interview without first going through a telephone interview.  As you know, the purpose of a telephone interview is to screen potential candidates and further pare down the list to a shortlist of individuals who will be asked to interview in person. Keep in mind that if your initial interview is done as a phone conference, the interviewer may be using a Polycom with other interviewers listening and participating. While these initial telephone screening interviews might seem like a formality, they are not.

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You would be surprised how many people make simple but fatal mistakes during a telephone interview. If you can’t successfully make it through a telephone interview, you have no chance of making it through an in-person interview. This is like a “take at home tests”, you can (and should) have whatever materials you need right in front of you – there are no excuses. Which of these mistakes have you made?

1. Too Much Background Noise

Make sure you have a quiet area where you can take the telephone interview. Standing in the middle of Grand Central Station or outside on the street is not the way to do it. Not only will you not be able to hear the interviewer, but they will not be able to hear you clearly and will think that you are not taking the interview seriously. Scout out a few potential quiet spots in advance of the telephone interview and test them out with a friend or family member.

If you can't successfully make it through a telephone interview, you have no chance of making it through an in-person interview.

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2. Did Not Research the Company

You need to have done your homework and researched the company that is interviewing you. You must know (at a minimum), what the company does, who their competitors are and why you want to work for them. To the extent possible (and linkedin is a great place to start), learn all you can about the interviewer(s) as well.

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3. Poor telephone reception

Depending on circumstances, you may need to use your cell phone for your telephone interview. If that’s the case, make sure that wherever you do your call you have good telephone reception.  There is nothing worse than having the call drop or not being able to hear the interviewer (or them hearing you). Scout out some areas a day or two before the call so that you can test the reception. Make sure your phone is fully charged as well.

4. Did not read the job description

You are interviewing for a job that is a great fit for you. You should have read the job description and you should be familiar with it. The best part is that you can have the job description right in front of you for reference while you are interviewing, but you should not be reading it for the first time. Take notes and highlight potential questions prior to the interview. You may expect that the interview is a high-level screening, but it would not be unusual to be asked very detailed questions.

“An interview is an opportunity to highlight your strengths and emphasize your fit for the position. However, you shouldn’t expect that the hiring manager will only ask easy questions about your past wins and proud moments. Come prepared to answer the tougher questions, like ones about your regrets, mistakes, and weaknesses.” –

5. Distractions

Your dog might be ready for a walk but you are in the middle of an interview. Your spouse may be looking for you to run some errands and your children think you are taking them out to play. If you are making your call from home or a common area, focus on the conversation on hand. Make sure your family knows you are on a telephone interview so that you are not interrupted. Make sure you’ve cleared your calendar and no one is expecting you to be available.

6. Not listening or allowing the interviewer to speak

It’s more difficult to get the ebb and flow of conversation in a telephone interview as compared to an in-person interview. Listen for cues from the interviewer and be careful not to dominate the conversation when it’s your turn to speak. While you will want to direct the conversation to your skills and experience, allow the interviewer to ask all of their screening questions.

7. Call waiting notifications

You might find this hard to believe, but there are people who get an incoming call and then ask their interviewer to “hold on”. Needless to say, it is doubtful they will make it to the next round.  Turn off your call waiting, email notices, Facebook notices, and Twitter notices while you are on your call.

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8. Not preparing for company or job-specific questions

You may have read the job description and done your homework in terms of the company, but have you prepared both, answers to questions that might be asked and questions that you may have? Some interviewers will ask open-ended questions like – “Why do you want to work here?”, “What attracts you to XYZ company?”, “Why do you think you are a good fit for this position?”. Be prepared.

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9. Lack of confidence or low energy

Keep focused and engaged during the interview. When you speak about your experience, be confident about your achievements. While the interviewer may ask difficult questions or challenge your achievements, stand firm in the conviction of your accomplishments and qualifications.

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10. Throwing your current employer under a bus

Don’t speak badly about your current employer. The interviewer knows you have reasons for looking for new employment. Let your reasons be about career advancement and better opportunities. Regardless of any difficulties in your current job, it will not help your cause to complain about these issues during your interview.

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