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November 20, 2009
Using Phone Interviews To Your Advantage

The phone screen or the phone interview is the first stage in most searches. The objective of the phone session is to be sure the person on the other end bears some reasonable relationship to the resume sent in and to spike out anyone who is obviously not right on the basis of personality, experience, processing speed or general attitude.

Phone interviews are very subjective. While there are many best practices in terms of asking good questions, there are virtually no consistent practices in how interviewers score the results. The person on the other end of the line is trying to get a better picture of you and to reduce the number of candidates. Often they are junior players who recommend a subset of candidates upward and are judged on their recommendations so they take this very seriously.

As a candidate your objective is to advance in the game and to generate enthusiasm for your candidacy. Everything you do should work toward giving the interviewer a good strong feeling about you as a person and as a potential colleague. The human ear is a finely tuned instrument. Most people get a mental image of the person on the other end of a call. Many factors go into creating that image. You can and should plan for and leverage as many of those factors as possible.


Google the Company. Read all the recent press releases on the Company web site. Prepare yourself to talk knowledgably about the company and if something big happened recently (e.g. an acquisition, big lay off, new sales results or change in stock price) be ready to incorporate a reference to these events in one of your answers.

Use Pipl.com, Snitch.name, Zoominfo.com or LinkedIn.com. Learn as much as you can about the interviewer. Who they are and what they’ve done shapes the kind of questions they ask and how they might react to or assess your answers. If they’ joined the firm within the last 12 months, they might have greater empathy for candidates and might have better insights into what’s going on internally because they made a buying decision to join up recently.

Check the Time. Find out how much time the interviewer has allocated to the call and be respectful of the time. Assume the interviewer will want to allocate time to small talk, your background, the job requirements, going thru your experience and any questions you might have about the firm. Anticipate the obvious questions and prepare concise and snappy sound-bite answers.

Practice with a Friend. People respond to voices. Energy, tone, pacing and timbre matter. Practice speaking up and speaking clearly. Don’t mumble. Pace yourself. Occasionally alter the rhythm or your speed to indicate interest and demonstrate passion but generally you want to come across as measured and relaxed. Also work hard to purge common speech expressions like “You know” “You know what I’m saying” and “Um” all of which make you sound less professional, especially when someone can’t see you.


Stand Up and Smile. Posture and facial positioning affect voice quality; it’s a lesson every actor knows. By standing you are focusing your energy, making the call a bit more formal and by smiling you are opening your throat in ways that shape the tone of your voice.

Use their First Name. This can be a very powerful way to close the distance and to put you and the interviewer on more equal footing. Don’t overdo it, because you aren’t really friends, but come back to his or her name at least 4 times during the call.

Use a Landline. Make or take the call in a quiet, private room without distractions. If you need to use a speakerphone, ask the interviewer if they mind. Sometimes speakerphones echo or reverb in ways that can be distracting. Other times it allows you to walk, gesture and either be yourself or manage your nervousness.

Write Out Your Selling Points. Prepare bullet points with the 5 key ideas you want to get across. Try to make these selling points line up with the job description. Then refer to them as you answer the questions. Ideally you can work your selling points into their questions and hit a home run. Your selling points should be phrased as accomplishments and, where possible quantified.

Ideally you will hear yourself answer a question by saying something like, “Yes. I have experience as a strong project manager. At the Zipper Company I managed 50 people in a 6 month project which reduced our costs by 35 percent and got our new products to market twice as fast as before.”

Ask 3 Questions. Make one question general (e.g. how would you describe the culture of the company?). Ask one job specific question and make question one something that comes organically out of the conversation. Ask the interviewer to clarify, explain or amplify something they said. It’s a subtle way of showing respect and of indicating that you are paying close attention. Never ask about money, titles, benefits, schedules, offices or vacations at this stage.

Monitor Your Talk Time. You should speak 80% of the time. But be respectful of the interviewer. Don’t talk over them. No matter how excited you are, let them say their piece. Ask questions but don’t challenge them. If they don’t know something, let it go. Many interviewers are HR people who may not have loads of operational information.

Check Your Progress. As you feel the conversation winding down find out where you stand and make one last pitch. Ask where they are in the process and how many candidates they are screening. Ask when they expect to have the new hire in-place. Then ask for the order.

Say something like … "This feels like a good fit to me and I am very interested in this opportunity. Are there any outstanding questions you have about me that I can answer for you? Am I a viable candidate? If so, what is the next step in your process? If not, why not?

Good Luck.

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Danny Flamberg, EVP Managing Director of Digital Strategy and CRM at Publicis based in New York, has been building brands and building businesses for more than 30 years.Prior to joining Publicis, he led a successful global consulting group called Booster Rocket, as Managing Partner. Before becoming a consultant, he was Vice President of Global Marketing at SAP, SVP and Managing Director at Digitas in New York and Europe and President of Relationship Marketing at Amiratti Puris Lintas and Lowe Worldwide.
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