how to stand out in a phone interview, and awkward talks with your coworkers

by Ask a Manager on February 1, 2012

Please do me a favor and excel in your next phone interview by following my advice here. I’ve written about why finding out in advance how much time to allot can help you better prepare, what kind of notes you should have on hand, and more.

And then do me another favor and have a really awkward conversation with a coworker. I’ve written about how to handle five uncomfortable coworker situations here.

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Laura February 1, 2012 at 11:28 am

It also helps me to dress as if I were going to a face-to-face interview. Sounds silly, but when I dress the part, I act the part, even on the phone.

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RecentInterviewee February 1, 2012 at 1:41 pm

Alison, thanks for the great phone interview tips!

Recently, I’ve endured two very awkward phone interviews that left me feeling cold because of how hurried and distant my interviewers seemed. Is that a common occurrence now that the job competition is so high? Should I make any attempt to small talk with my interviewers if they just seem to be reading from a script?

Also, should I look at my interviewers’ LinkedIn profiles and Twitter accounts prior to the interview for further ideas on what their work is like, particularly for communication and marketing fields? Or might that be excessive for a phone interview?

Again, thanks for the helpful phone interview tips. I really appreciated your unique perspective on the basics for a successful auditory interview.

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Ask a Manager February 1, 2012 at 3:16 pm

Well, you’re talking to someone who hates small talk, but in general you want to take your cues from them. If they’re very focused on just getting through their questions, they’re not open to small talk right now; they’re just collecting the basics at this stage. You can still be warm in your tone and manner; just don’t go into extraneous stuff and stay focused on the questions at hand. I wouldn’t read too much into it, unless it’s the actual hiring manager (as opposed to an initial screener).

I think it’s useful to look at profiles ahead of any interview just so you have a better sense of who you’re talking to, but you might not bring any of the stuff you learn up in a phone interview, since they’re often relatively quick and to-to-the-point and not about relationship-building at that stage.

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RecentInterviewee February 1, 2012 at 8:17 pm

Alison, thanks so much for the fast and thorough response.

On the phone, I do tend to follow the lead of the interviewers; however, sometimes I find it off-putting to get a disinterested and monotone interviewer. Experience has taught me that the disaffected tone has little bearing on whether I actually get invited to a face-to-face interview.

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Rana February 1, 2012 at 1:49 pm

I rather like phone interviews, as it means that I can have my notes (and take more) without it being disruptive.

One thing that I’ve found can humanize the experience, if it’s possible, is to look up photographs of your interviewers (if you know who they are) on the company website and have them to look at during the interview. It also helps you recognize them if you later get to have an in-person interview.

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Eva February 1, 2012 at 4:57 pm

“Before the interview, go to the employer’s website and read enough to get a good feel for their work and their general approach. Don’t leave the site until you can answer these questions: What does this organization do? What is it all about? What makes the organization different from its competition?”

The last question is one I’ve wondered about in the past. Many organizations have such generic content on their website when supposedly describing what makes them unique that I’ve found it very difficult to learn anything about their actual place in the industry from it. Do you have any advice for how to parse company website self-descriptions in order to understand what actually sets them apart from the competition besides from, you know, being an industry leader who strives for excellence in all areas and creating value for their customer?

On that note, here’s a fun link: http://www.huhcorp.com/

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Ask a Manager February 1, 2012 at 4:59 pm

A better way to phrase that would be: What would the company say makes them different? What’s their self-image? Based on the website, who do they want you to think they are?

You can’t always figure that out either, but it’s sometimes easier.

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Eva February 1, 2012 at 5:04 pm

Even that I’ve not been able to figure out in the past. But I guess the important thing is to know what *is* on the website, right? :)

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Anonymous February 1, 2012 at 10:58 pm

Great articles! For the phone interview topic, I like to stand up while I’m interviewing. It helps keep my energy level up. Also, smiling at times (when saying thank you at the end, for example) is good. You can often “hear” a smile on the phone.

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Anonymous February 2, 2012 at 8:35 am

What are good ways to ask about the company’s culture?

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Ask a Manager February 2, 2012 at 11:59 am

I’d say “can you tell me about the culture?” and see what they say!

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Judy February 2, 2012 at 10:46 am

A lot of times my first phone interview is with the HR Assistant so I find it hard thinking of questions to ask them since they dont really know anything about the admin job, the department or the Manager I am interviewing for. Any suggestions on what kind of questions to ask?

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Anonymous February 2, 2012 at 11:39 am

You don’t know that they don’t know these things. Chances are, whoever is doing the phone screening has been briefed enough on the position that they could answer plenty of your questions. So, treat it like any other interview and ask what you would normally ask.

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Ask a Manager February 2, 2012 at 12:00 pm

Agreed. Ask about the job, the culture, etc.

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