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Phone interview, how you blew it before you even said your name

phone interview

A bygone era of style, etiquette, and interesting HR

How you just blew your phone interview!

The phone interview determines whether or not you are going to move onto the in-person interview.  You may have done your research and have prepared some great answers, but in the same way, a lot of candidates lose me in the first 5 seconds of reviewing their resume, a lot of candidates lose me in the first 3 seconds the phone interview.  

I blogged about how to be successful in a phone interview earlier, but I forgot one important piece in that post.    

Three things will put me in a foul mood when it comes to recruiting but all are related to number 3 below: 

  1. Calling a candidate at a pre-arranged time for a phone interview and having to leave a voicemail.
  2. 10 minutes later I get a call from the candidate with an apology that they were on another call.  FYI, unless mom is in the hospital, I don’t care how hot the girl is, how cute the boy is, this is unacceptable.
  3. Hearing the phone pick up and the candidate deliver me a single “yeah” as the candidates greeting to me.

How you answer the phone sets the tone for the rest of the 30-minute phone call.  Your greeting is the first impression and if all I receive is a “Yeah” you are literally digging yourself out of a hole for the rest of the call.

Call me an ass, but when I call for a phone interview at a pre-determined and agreed upon time, I am not looking to hear “Yeah” or an “Uhh hello” when the phone is picked up.

The greeting gives the impression of one, or all of the following:

  • The candidate has never heard a phone ring in their life and I picture them looking at some electronic doohickey with a confused look, wondering whether to pick up the phone or not. 
  • I am NOT the one they are expecting on the other line. 
  • They are expecting the caller to be a telesales person or a bill collector.  They were not looking forward to a potential phone interview.

After I hear the initial “Uhh yeah”, I try to give a hint by saying something to the following in my irresistible, engaging, magnanimous, outgoing and upbeat manner.   I am hoping I can generate some excitement so the next 30 minutes won’t be so painful: 

“My name is HRNasty, I work at Acme Publishing is Suzy Candidate available?  We had a phone interview scheduled.”

Most of the time I hear a repeat of the initial greeting,  “Uhh yeah”.

If I am really lucky I hear “Yes, this is Suzy Candidate”.

Very rarely do I hear “Yes, this is Suzy Candidate, thanks for calling”.

What would I appreciate hearing?  “Yes, this is Suzy Candidate, thanks for calling!  I am really excited about this opportunity and have been looking forward to talking to you.” 

It isn’t that I need someone kissing my ass.  To me, the way you answer the phone represents how you will probably pick up the phone when a customer calls if you are hired here at Acme Publishing.  Behavioral Interviewing is a recruiters methodology and its maxim is “prior behavior is the best indication of future behavior”.  How you answered the phone in real-time, live data. 

I may sound like high maintenance with a long list of suitors that are interested in hanging out with me this Thursday night and if I do, that is exactly the point I am trying to get across.  I am high maintenance.  This intro may have only taken a total of 10 seconds but these are 10 PAINFUL seconds for me.  These are 10 painful DOG seconds.  Each second passed feels like 7.  If this is what it takes just to confirm that I am talking with the right person, how will the rest of the interview questions be answered?  Timid one-liners probably.  After pulling teeth to find out if I am finally talking to the right person I do get bitchy.  You do not want to be around me after I just wasted 30 minutes with “Candidate going nowhere.”  I might as well have taken that call in my second office while saving myself a pair of Pampers and amusing myself by seeing how many squares of toilet paper I can pull off the roll with a single tug.  Even if I am not amused, at least I would have gotten something productive done.   

Yes, yes, yes.  This is about the candidate experience, and I want to try to provide a great candidate experience, but I feel like this is common courtesy 101 here. 

Is “yeah” what you are going to say to our customer when you answer the phone if hired?  We fully expect to train someone on how to use our VoIP phones with their flashing lights and 25 buttons.  If we need to train a new hire on the etiquette of how to answer a phone call, then what else do we have to train them on?  How to write a business letter?  How to write a follow-up thank you email? 

I was just talking about this topic at lunch with a friend I look up to.  He is not only smart but is a very a gracious guy.  Talk with this guy for 10 seconds and you know this guy is smart but you would never know this guy went to Harvard and holds an MBA and a JD.  Humble and unassuming.  He also happens to do Business Development at a very high level with a world-class employer so he knows something about business etiquette.     

I was explaining to him that my current candidate search has put me into a place where I know a number of recruiters have already gone, and a place that I had vowed I would never let myself go.  That place is the hell frozen over where common courtesy and consideration is a forgotten thing of the past.  I then explained that “maybe it isn’t the candidate’s fault.  It is the parent’s fault for NOT teaching them common courtesy and awarding a trophy for just picking up the phone.”

He leaned forward, looked at me for just a single second and I think he summed it up perfectly and put me back on course.  

He gently patted his chest with his hand and explained “Common courtesy is about heart.  If you have good intentions, you will say “thank you”.

Bammmm!  Leave it to this guy to sum it up so succinctly and bitch slap me at the same time without engaging Mr. Backhand.  

We agreed that 10 years ago, it was unusual to NOT receive a thank you letter after an interview.  It was not unusual to receive a handwritten note.  Now it is literally the opposite.  You can’t believe it anymore when you receive a short thank you letter.  You almost fall out of your chair if you call someone and the person on the other end of the line announces himself or herself.  

Well, enough of this rambling.  I should have been born in another era, specifically circa MadMen.  Back then, even if manners didn’t matter, they dressed well and HR was interesting.  If you are going to pick up your cell phone today, give whoever is calling the courtesy of letting them know who they called.  Me, I have a bunch of candidates I need to call, so I will head to Office “No. 2” and try to push out something productive. 

See you at the after party,


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 who is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.

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