Posted: by HRNasty in Job Interview Tips, What HR Really Thinks, What Recruiters Really Think
phone interview

Doesn’t matter where you are or what you are doing, pick up the phone!

Phone interview

“The phone interview is where you make your first impression.  Your voice and attitude are the ONLY things I have to go on during the phone interview.  Negative examples and rude behavior are only amplified over the phone because I take my cues from your voice, and the voice tells all.”

You have sent out your resume, and are now waiting for the call from a recruiter.

As a guy that has called on hundreds of candidates, I thought it might help to let you know what myself and most recruiters are thinking as I go through the process.  Some of this won’t be admitted to publicly, but trust me, it happens, and this is why I wear a mask and dark glasses.

If your online profile checks out, my next step is either a phone call or email, depending on my timeline.

When I call a candidate for a phone interview, I am looking for a couple of things:

  • I want someone to answer the phone when I call.  I don’t want to leave a message.  If you have caller ID and don’t recognize a number, PICK IT UP!!!!  That could be your next employer calling.
  • I am on a timeline to fill this position with hiring managers breathing down my back.  If you are calling the hot girl or cute boy, you wouldn’t want to follow up or leave a message.  I don’t either.
  • If I get a message, I want it to be a message that would be appropriate within our business setting.  I don’t want to hear Rod Stewarts “Do ya think I’m sexy” and a beep.  I don’t want to hear an automated voicemail that has your +1 yelling in the background or some cutesy message where you are saying “Hello?  Hello?  I can’t hear you”.
  • If I am going to leave a message, I want to know I called the right person.  Your message should confirm who I called.  I want something polite, energetic, and is just that, “a message”.  Nothing more, nothing less.

If I do get a real person, I want to hear something that would be business appropriate and would delight our customers.  Yes, I said it, “delight”.  I want to hear a smile come through the phone, I want to hear energy, and would love to hear the candidate announce their first name.  A flat hello followed by silence is not business appropriate and although I won’t hang up immediately, the clock is ticking and the  conversation hasn’t even started.

This is my very first impression of you, and within 5 seconds I am trying to figure out if I can bring you in to the office without embarrassing myself.  Remember, you are going to be representing me. I am going to put my reputation on the line for you when I present you to the hiring manager, so I have to figure out if you are “with me”, or “not”.

In an effort to minimize my disappointment on this initial call, I will announce myself and give you a hint.  I will literally say something like this:  “My name is HRNasty and I work with a company called Acme Publishing.  You applied for a position with our sales group and I was wondering if you were still looking for new opportunities.  I realize I am calling un announced, is this a good time?”

I don’t know how many times I get the following even after I introduce myself per the above.  I often hear:

  • “Huh?”
  • “Yeah”
  • “Uh Huh”
  • “What did you say?”
  • “You finally called, what took you so long?”

So many people answer the phone as if they are expecting a telesales person.  With any one of the above answers, the interview is over.  Why?  Because at our company, we want people to answer every phone call like it is a customer on the line.  We shouldn’t have to train someone on how to answer a phone.

Great answers sound like:

  • “Thank you for calling, I have been really excited about this opportunity since I first heard about it.”
  • “Yes, this is a great time.  I have heard so many great things about your company!”
  • “Thanks for calling, can you give me one minute, I want to move to a quieter place.”
  • “Thank you for calling.  I am at a restaurant; I am in a meeting, can I call you right back in 15 minutes?  I am really excited to talk about the opportunity.”

Sounds corny as I write it, and sounds cornier as I read it back, but trust me, this stuff works.   The tone has been set and here is why:

  • I don’t feel like I have to explain myself
  • I feel welcome
  • I feel like I have someone that isn’t just looking for a job, but wants to be with ACME Publishing.

See the theme in the two sets of bullet points?  Excitement has been conveyed by the candidate and the words “I feel” from me.

When you called your first high school crush, and the answer was positive and welcoming, “Game on!”    If she said “I am so happy you called, I was hoping I would hear from you” the tone was set for the rest of the conversation.  When you called your first crush and got the “yeah, what do you want?” regardless of your crushes “intent”, the “impact” was felt. 

Make me feel like your first crush.

Like any phone interview, I will have a few standard questions.  You should know these are coming and be prepared:

  • Can you tell me what you know about the company.  (This is a test which will prove how interested you are in our company. If you can’t tell me anything, there was no interest.)
  • What are you looking for in a new position?
  • How much are you looking for?  ( I want to know if we are in the same ballpark financially)
  • When can you come in to talk?  (Hint, if you are really interested, you will move your schedule)
    • When the hot girl called you up for a date, you dumped mom’s Sunday dinner to make hook up if needed.

After you get off the phone interview send a thank you email.  Send it postal mail to the attention of the recruiter if you didn’t get the email address.

If you are asked to come in to interview in person (congratulations!).  Send a thank you email including the following:

  • Reinforce that you are excited about the opportunity
  • Confirm the time and date of your interview.
  • Keep it short


  • ask about benefits
  • ask about pay  (the recruiter will ask about this)
  • ask about vacation, parking, time off

See the theme?  At this point, the conversation is about me.  This phone call isn’t about the candidate “yet’.

What to ask in a phone interview

  • What do you like about the company?
  • What attracted you to the company?
  • Any advice for me?  (you will be surprised how easy this is, remember, you represent me)
  • How did this position become open?  Is it a new position?  (Don’t ask if someone got fired)

This interview will probably be short.  The recruiter will make a pretty quick decision based on your social profile, blog, and profile picture, and this conversation whether or not they feel you will be a “fit”.  Help them keep it short.

A phone interview is to confirm what is already suspected.  Based on the resume and the your social skills over the phone, I just want to confirm your skill set and personality fall within the parameters so I can bring you in.

How to set the tone of the interview

How you are unknowingly pissing off the hiring manager

I wanted to give a shout out to my peeps at Kazileo!


nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone that is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.

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  • Richard Rabinowitz

    Also, because there are a TON of telemarketers out there, and they outstrip the recruiting agencies by a good deal, it is natural to assume that someone calling from, say, 555-2321, is a junk caller or telemarketer. So… if you REALLY want my time and energy… email me, or text me – and use an appropriate topic. Thanks.

  • Richard Rabinowitz

    Thanks for demonstrating that the technique of phone interviewing is inherently discriminatory towards deaf/ hard of hearing people. How would one expect a deaf/ hard of hearing person to understand an unsolicited caller? Also, even though deaf/ hard of hearing people sometimes have captioned telephones, the captioning process imposes a delay that a tele-interviewer with normal hearing would misinterpret. It may be “unbusinesslike”, but sometimes it is necessary for a delay to occur.

    tl;dr: Phone interviewing discriminates against the deaf/ hard of hearing.

  • AF C

    After reading this article I think it’s more for hiring people to work at taco bell instead of a business professional. Horrible…..

  • Henry

    This was great advice!! It really helped me today. Thank you!

    • HRNasty

      Henry, thanks or stopping by and glad the info helped out. Good luck!

  • Chandra

    As a recruiter I agree with some of what is said. It’s important if you’re expecting a call for an interview the only way to answer is “Good morning/afternoon, this is ….”. It’s basic professional etiquette. I expect the call to sell me on why I want to work with you.

    However, I disagree on other points. I think it’s okay to ask about benefits, vacation, the headquarters and if a recruiter has a problem with that they’re missing an opportunity to sell! The one thing I will point out is that if you’re serious about an opportunity asking about pay likely won’t get you far. Most organizations keep their compensation models tucked away and those who ask you early on — well this maybe a warning that they pay may not be competitive.

    If you’re far beyond midpoint in the role, however, it’s not a bad idea to check in to make sure you’re making the best use of everyone’s time. I recommend treading lightly in this territory though, as a recruiter I’m weary of folks that are focused on base salary specifically because people who make a change for the money will leave you just as quickly when a higher salary comes along. Also, it’s just not in your best interest to negotiate a salary upfront especially without knowing about the role. It could be your dream job but pay on the lower end or it could be a nightmare and pay far more than other companies. So if you’re asked about salary expectations, don’t be afraid to be coy let the recruiter know you need a few more details before making a decision.

    Secondly, the candidates role is to show professionalism and provide relevant examples of experience and background. The recruiter’s role is to act as an ambassador for the company. If you treat people badly, that’s going up on Glassdoor straight away and you can destroy your brand. Savvy candidates do research and they won’t talk to companies who are known for negative candidate experience. At the end of the day your candidate is your customer, no matter how annoying they are it’s your job to treat them respectfully and ensure they have a positive experience. Even when candidates are driving me up the wall, I give them the benefit of the doubt by looking at whether this is a yellow flag or a red flag but at the end of the day I’m courtesy, professional and respectful.

    The last thing I’d like to say is that those questions are terrible. There are far better questions you can ask during an interview. I like to find out what drew the interviewer to the company, what’s different there compared to their prior employer or how success is measured in the role. These questions are far more likely to either sell you or cause you to run screaming.

    So overall just remember, this is your reputation and it will follow you. Professionalism, transparency and respect for both parties involved in the conversation. Anything less is worth walking away from.

  • Rachel

    phone interview is where you make your first impression. Your voice
    and attitude are the ONLY things I have to go on during the phone

    This is why most experienced candidates will refuse to interview with an HR drone. Because you’re honestly incapable of using the content of the candidate’s actual answers to assess their skills, you use irrelevant measures like these to “assess” them instead. All you’re really assessing by using irrelevant heuristics is your own suitability as an interviewer. If a company can’t be bothered to send a competent interviewer to their own meeting, what makes them think any worthwhile candidates will be interested in showing up?

  • Alexander K. Dumas

    these motherfuckers are full of shit. I have been called numerous times for phone interviews. They ask me to go in for a face to face, but then tell me they went with someone else. Half the time I think it is because I am black. FUCK THESE PHONE INTERVIEWS.

  • RetardintheWH

    This is the typical attitude from recruiters. They act as if they own a person. You don’t. That’s your job to recruit and who cares about who’s breathing down your back. The reason why you have frustration is because your lousy at picking candidates. Recruiters NEVER return calls or even respond back, then they criticize us for not following proper etiquette. I’ve had more luck doing it myself. Don’t waste your time and energy. Most recruiters are just looking for leads. My word of advice. NEVER give a recruiter information on others you know. Make them earn the information first and come back with viable offers of employment that pan out first.

    • HRNasty

      Thanks for stopping by. I am sorry you feel this way about recruiters. FWIW, I am trying to provide the impression that most recruiters have so that candidates CAN arm themselves and know how to play “the game”. Recruiters can be a resource, we just need to know how to leverage them.

      • RetardintheWH

        I’ve had at least thirteen recruiters call me in two months. How many have called back just to say “yes” or “no?” Zero. A resource is great if there is proper follow up, but I’ve become jaded from recruiters. Sorry, but the game is on your side. Not mine. I’m too busy trying to make a living to worry about the “game.” If you really want to help make sure other recruiters know how we feel, you can do one thing. FOLLOW THROUGH regardless of the result. It’s to easy now for people to blow you off over the email and phone. It’s disrespectful and annoying.

        Best Wishes..

  • Junior

    … And pic? They’ll use your PICTURE to see if you’re a good candidate or not? What? Why would someone EVER make a decision based off of your picture? I get if you’re not dressed correctly or presented well. But why your linkedin or twitter picture? To SEE if you LOOK like you fit? Lol, what? See, things like this make me think if you’re a minority, they’ll be quick just to not even move forward with the hiring process if they see anything other than a certain skintone.

    • HRNasty

      Yes, most recruiters do look at pictures as do hiring managers. The reason is not about skin tone but more about company fit. If I am recruiting for a conservative bank that requires a suit and tie, I will probably hold off on the candidate with extreme hairstyles and facial piercings. I realize that I am short changing the selections and there may be brilliant candidates with piercings, but I have a customer in a hiring manager and when they are in the mood for a suit and a tie, I need to give it to them. This is why I recommend that we go with a conservative picture that will blend in with any corporate environment. If I am hiring for a radio station, a hair salon, I won’t think twice about the extreme hair style or tattoo. My point is that a conservative picture will keep you in the selection process for more jobs than a less conservative image. Hope this makes sense, HRN

  • Cityflower

    HAHA! This made me laugh. Written by a typical recruiter! Entitled/self-absorbed/ and focused on nothing but the bottom line! They don’t care where you work – only that they place you somewhere. Trying to sell their clients top-tier talent but continuing to overlook the “no-brainers” that lead you to those. GUESS WHAT? – most good candidates (not all) already have jobs. That’s why they are good candidates. They are simply opportunistic and it’s YOUR JOB to sell them on new opportunities. NOT the other way around. I’m not going to answer my phone because I AM WORKING. AT MY JOB. The one that YOU need to convince me to leave. Don’t ask about benefits, time off, or pay? Are you KIDDING ME? Once again – let me reiterate: Since I ALREADY HAVE A JOB, these are factors that need to be presented in order for me to assess if it’s worth leaving my current position or not. If you won’t present them to me, then we won’t be working together. This mindset is limiting recruiters only to desperate people. Ones who have been out of work and are struggling to find it. They are the ones who are most likely waiting by the phone and who won’t care about benefits or pay. I’m sure your clients will love that you are inadvertently filtering out good/employed candidates in favor of desperate ones!

    • HRNasty

      Thanks for stopping by and I appreciate you pointing this out. FWIW, I am not an agency recruiter, I work internally for the hiring company. The point I am trying to make is that there are a lot of un employed folks who are making these mistakes, who are answering the phone with too much casualness or asking me to leave a message and then calling me right back. I am trying to point out the impression that is being left by those struggling to find a position. If you have a job then you probably have not these points figured out.

      Again, thanks for getting to realize this needed clarification


  • Tom

    Who wants a job where you have to talk on the phone anyway? Sounds positively dreadful.

  • Dirtbag359 .

    “I want someone to answer the phone when I call. I don’t want to leave a message. If you have caller ID and don’t recognize a number, PICK IT UP!!!! That could be your next employer calling.”

    While this is certainly understandable what about the flip side when I end up leaving 3 messages over the course of a week solely for the chance to speak with a recruiter at a particular agency for the first time?

    I understand not getting a call back within 10 minutes never mind the first day, but over the course of a week with multiple messages only to finally get a call from someone that doesn’t seem to care is pretty bad in its own right. Not to mention a promise to call me back when the recruiter has something else come up, only to break said promise. It’s not like I’m doing my best Toby Flenderson impression when I’m answering the phone.

    Maybe this is some sort of payback for the late 90’s when people avoided headhunters like the plague.

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  • ua2

    Always remember, HR can’t hire you, only disqualify you. I suggest for postings that are well written and specify what the direct team is to try to contact someone on that team via finding them through linkedin. Bypassing HR increases our chances dramatically.

  • Darin Clements

    Sound like all a recruiter wants is someone to kiss ass. Newsflash, Guido, yours isn’t the only job. Some of us are experts in our fields and we are interviewing YOU. If I don’t hear “delight” in your voice, yes, delight, then I’ll be sure to mark that down as well.

  • MeGa SaMa

    You won’t get shit if you’re the type that stands people up buddy. Lower your expectations if you make people wait for ever for your stupid ass to call. You should be grateful that people are so desperate that they would wait for you to begin with, many people don’t have jobs. Stop taking yours for goddamn granted.

  • really?

    “would love to hear the candidate announce their first name. A flat
    hello followed by silence is not business appropriate and although I
    won’t hang up immediately, the clock is ticking” . Are you serious? This isn’t the 50s where you are calling a party line, and you’re not calling your secretary in the office. If you are calling my cell, you know who you are talking to. I would wonder if someone who answered a call like that was sharing a house with a bunch of college roomies.

    • HRNasty

      You would be surprised that there are still folks out there with room mates and land lines. Yes, we do realize that folks are calling cell phone 95% of the time, but for those that are answering the phone like this, I just want to make the point that recruiters and hiring manager are left with a first impression and they do not want their VP or manager calling a candidate and getting a “Whats up?”

  • Michael

    Did you HAVE to post the picture of the girl in the bikini to attract readers? Jeez you hyNasty

  • Shona

    If you call someone during business hours, there is a good chance you will get their voicemail. I’m in the job market, but I do not take personal calls on my current employer’s clock. If I am tied up with work responsibilities, then I’m sorry, you must leave a message. When I’m on my break, or lunch, I’ll call you back. I’m sorry, but this advice is very inconsiderate in this regard!

  • Him

    the writer can’t spell, punctuate or use prepositions properly. I read online articles as with a new book, I expect to learn. Everything I’ve read since I was 18 I’ve known it all before due to my own experience and it doesn’t change

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  • Anon

    Biggest load of crock ever written. If this is how you select or reject candidates then I pity the company you work for.

    I don’t know how many times I get the following even before I can introduce myself:



    “Uh Huh”

    “What did you say?”

    “You finally called, what took you so long?”

    So many people answer the phone as if they are expecting a telesales person. With any one of the above answers, the conversation is over. Why? Because at our company, we want people to answer every phone call like it is a customer on the line. We don’t want to train someone how to answer a phone.

    • Guest

      Nothing could be further from the truth. This article was written with a lot of sarcasm and without a hint of regret. I get the hint already – HR means “business”, but a little courtesy from HR themselves can benefit a lot, especially when it boils down to “employee retention”.

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  • gander2112

    Great post as usual Mr. Nasty. The only quibble I would point out is if it is an unsolicited call from a recruiter on a fishing expedition, if they are blocking caller ID, I ignore the call. It never ceases to amaze me that head hunters (retained professionals) hide that meta data on calls.

    Of course, if I dropped my resume, and am interested in a position, then I behave differently.

    • HRNasty

      You are absolutely right! I wouldn’t call it “fishing”, I would call it bottom trolling.

  • Larry McKeogh

    Tried and true wisdom. This post reads like a script of my phone interview today. I believe I executed to plan and hopefully will hear back by the end of the week.

    • HRNasty

      Mr. McKeogh,
      Thanks as always for the support and glad you are proving out these humble theories. Let me know if I can help in anyway!

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  • marvinawhite blog

    Thanks ! Super Post !!

    • Tony Darnell


  • Curtis

    Looks like you are an expert in this field, great post and keep up the good work, my buddy recommended me it.

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  • Evelyn Amateur

    Everything is funny as long as it is happening to somebody else.