can you save a bad interview?

A reader writes:

I had my first-ever phone interview earlier this week, and it was a total disaster. A few minutes after the appointed time, my phone rang and I answered “Hello?” to which he said “Hi Anne, this is Eugene from ABC Corp.” and then I said “Great, thanks so much for calling.” He responded, “Did you forget about our appointment?” I was really confused — no, I hadn’t forgotten, we had agreed via email that he would call me, and I was sitting in my car in the parking lot (so I wouldn’t be bothered by coworkers in the office), reviewing my notes when he called. I said, “No, not at all. I’m here, ready to go!” His reply: “You just sounded so surprised when you answered.”

The entire interview went downhill from there. He brought up my “forgetting” the appointment one more time during the interview, and repeated that I had come across as sounding surprised and unprepared … but mostly it affected me because it completely threw me off my game — I completely lost my confidence. I felt like I was at a disadvantage throughout the entire conversation, like I had done something taboo or made an unforgivable mistake.

Needless to say, I don’t think I’d be a good fit for the company, since it would involve working directly under Eugene and we obviously have different communication styles (plus he maybe doesn’t like my … tone?).

But my question is, should something like this happen again during an interview: Is there anything one can say to “save” an interview if it starts going awry for an innocuous reason — say you call the interviewer the wrong name, or wear the wrong outfit? I just couldn’t seem to snap myself out of my downward spiral once it started, and I thought it was childish to say “I’m sorry I’ve given you that impression; can we rewind and start again?”

Well, it’s important to factor into your thinking here that your interviewer was an ass. You didn’t do anything wrong. He behaved churlishly, and you’re blaming yourself for letting that throw you off your game … but it would throw most people off their game.

I actually suspect I know what he’s talking about re: you sounding surprised. Back in 2009, I wrote about how I was encountering a bunch of young candidates (I’m assuming you’re young since this was your first phone interview) who answered the phone for pre-scheduled calls sounding genuinely curious about who might be calling, like they weren’t expecting the call and were surprised that the phone was ringing. I’m pretty sure it resulted from them being inexperienced at answering business calls and even general discomfort with the phone itself (a discomfort that’s very much on the rise), and didn’t actually mean they weren’t expecting the call — just that they didn’t know the right tone to answer with.

But your interviewer was an ass to call it out. Checking once to make sure that you were expecting the call — fine. But then bringing it up again later? It’s an asshole move. Either he takes you at your word that you were expecting the call, or he doesn’t and he decides you’re disorganized and factors that into his assessment. But berating you about it is rude.

Okay, so all that out of the way … is there a way to salvage an interview that’s gone awry? Sometimes yes and sometimes no. But if it’s going awry because of something you did, it can make sense to just address it head-on. For example:

  • “By the way, I apologize for sounding confused when I answered the phone. My phone had been behaving oddly right before you called, and I wasn’t sure it had actually rung.”
  • “I’m so sorry I got your name wrong — I’m normally very good with names! My nerves got the better of me there.”
  • “Can we go back to your earlier question about X for a moment? I’m realizing that I may have misunderstood what you were asking and I’d like to clarify my response.”
  • “I think I mistakenly gave you the impression earlier that I was disappointed that the job has such a strong focus on rice sculpting. I hadn’t realized that from the ad, but I’m actually really excited about that prospect.”
  • “I’m mortified that I was late today. I hadn’t realized that you had two buildings and that I was driving to the wrong one! I’m normally neurotic about punctuality, and this is very out of character for me.”

Possibly the biggest thing, though, is not to let yourself get into a confidence death spiral, where you’re so thrown off your game that you can’t get back on track. One thing that can help is remembering that you’re not the first candidate who they’ve seen mess up a little. Candidates mess up all the time, because they are human and not robots.

But also, keep in mind that no matter how skillful an interview you give, you only have partial control over how the conversation goes. If your interviewer is unskilled or a jerk or just not engaged, there’s often not much you can do about that.

{ 377 comments… read them below }

  1. sunny-dee*

    I’m one of those people who would probably sound curious when someone called, not because I wasn’t expecting *their* call, but because if I don’t recognize the number, it could be anyone. And I get a lot of scam calls on my cell phone. I try to default to, “Hi, this is ,” but not always.

    1. Marcy Marketer*

      I always answer my phone this way, unless I have your number programmed into my phone. This is typically the way I answer the phone for pre-set interviews, yes, usually sitting in my car at a coffee shop to avoid coworkers!
      “Hi this is Marcy.”
      “Hi Marcy, this is Janice. Is now still a good time to talk?”
      “Hi Janice! Now’s a great time.”
      “Awesome. So as you know, I’m calling about the open marketing position for our company…..”

      Alison, now you have me all freaked out that I’m doing something wrong by answering my phone like this…. What does everyone else do? I’m nearly 30 so not that young…

      1. Poster Child*

        This is the right way to answer. Just a “Hello?” sounds like you don’t know who is on the other end of the line. Stating your name upfront is also helpful for the interviewer so they pronounce it correctly, know they reached the right number, and that you were expecting the call. As the interviewer, I always ask if it’s still a good time to talk. It’s polite and respectful of the other person’s time, and if they did forget they are gently reminded that this was the agreed upon time.

        1. Not Rebee*

          Okay, so this post has raised so many questions. But mostly it’s this: what about answering the phone “Hi, this is Rebecca” indicates that I was expecting the call? I understand that a simple “Hello” may sound overly curious, and leave the interviewer to ask some exploratory questions to make sure it’s you and you’ve got a second, but considering there are people who answer the phone on default with a “Hi, this is Rebecca” I can’t figure out how this indicates that you are expecting the call. And, to be honest, I can’t think of a single phrase you could use when answering the phone from an unknown number that would indicate you were expecting the call.

          Personally, I go with a polite “Hello” (which may sound curious, but hey – unknown number) and then a “Oh yes, hi Person”. Not sure if this is right or not but… no one has commented that I seemed surprised or unprepared.

          1. Environmental Graphic Designer*

            When you answer volunteering your name, it indicates a greater level of trust of the person on the other end of the phone. Intentionally avoiding declaring yourself is a technique many people (myself included!) use to fend off unwanted calls, so the simple act of declaration signals the opposite: that you trust the person on the other end of the line is a legitimate caller and you want them to know they’ve reached the right person.

            1. Miss Betty*

              Or we may just be answering the phone the way we were raised to answer the phone. I don’t know anyone who answers their personal phone with “this is ____”. Business phone, of course. Personal phone, no.

              I did have a 3rd grade teacher who told us everyone should answer the phone with “______ residence, _________ speaking” but apparently no one listened to her. Maybe she wanted us all to pretend we had maids like Alice? (Didn’t Alice answer the Brady’s phone that way?) Of course that was many years ago and I imagine grade school teachers don’t have time to teach phone etiquette anymore. (We learned to write letters, address envelopes, and keep track of our savings accounts in little booklets, too, and I keep thinking we walked to the post office as a class one day.)

              1. Executive Assistant*

                Those are all becoming lost arts! The other day I had to teach my accountant how to address envelopes.

              2. Marcy Marketer*

                Yeah, I was raised to answer the home phone with “______ residence, _________ speaking.” And if the caller didn’t identify themselves in reply, to say “May I ask who’s calling?”

                I think maybe it’s an etiquette rule to identify yourself right away? I don’t know! Someone should write to Miss Manners.

                1. Nikki*

                  I have always answered my cell phone with just, “Hello?” even for interviews. I thought that you only state your name if someone is calling your work phone. Is it unprofessional to answer “Hello?” on your cell phone? I thought that was just how you answer the phone, unless it’s a company phone.

              3. MikeVP*

                I do not think its about expecting the call, it’s more about how you’re projecting…I think “Hello, this is NAME” projects a more professional voice and also helps the person calling know they have the right number–def a good way to start an interview. I always found it helpful to do that to avoid any confusion with an interviewer and now during business calls.

      2. Bonky*

        Me too. Cheerfully: “Hi! Bonky speaking!”

        I do this for nearly everybody who calls: numbers withheld, work calls…my mother. It just makes things easier. Nobody seems put out – not even my mother.

      3. TheOtherJennifer*

        I always do this when taking interview calls. You sound professional and “not surprised”.

    2. MillersSpring*

      Yes, but if it’s 11:01 am, and you’re expecting a call exactly then, then you shouldn’t act confused that your phone is ringing. “Hello?” reads as “OMG, who could this be? What the hell?” Try not to be on high alert that a telemarketer has chosen this exact moment to bother you. Assume that it’s the interviewer even if you don’t recognize the number (because they often don’t give you their number).

      If you’re expecting a call, Sunny-Dee’s default of “Hi, this is Name” is an ideal way to answer the phone.

      1. sunny-dee*

        True story, I actually *have* gotten a telemarketer call when I was expecting a phone interview. A couple of times. :)

        1. Audiophile*

          This has happened to me. I’ll say that I often avoid stating my name for this reason.

          Or if an interviewer is running late, I feel like that throws me off too.

        2. Bad Candidate*

          Scottrade called me about my IRA right when I was waiting for a phone interview. It does happen!

      2. Katie-Pie*

        This is so interesting to me. I’ve always answered my personal phone with “Hello?” even when I can see who’s calling. It never occurred to me this could be seen the way the above comments have described.

        I gave it some thought and it could have to do with my age. I’m 32, and grew up with a landline. And of course, as a kid, you’re trained not to give out info on the phone because it could be a bad person, so the response was always “Hello?”, putting the onus on the caller to identify themselves and state their intent. Right when I left home is when cell phones became normal, bringing with them caller ID, and shortly after that texting came about and my phone usage dropped off significantly (mid-college). The old ’80s-’90s standby of “Hello?” is still my default. Never thought anything of it, but now I might reconsider, at least with unrecognized numbers.

        (This is all personal phone usage. When I answer my work phone I’m very professional.)

        1. Oryx*

          I’m 35 and it’s the same thing for me. I didn’t get caller ID until I got a cell phone and even then it’s taken a really long time for me to stop answering “Hello?” when I know exactly who is on the other end of the line.

          1. Revolver Rani*

            I’m 45 and of course learned the same thing, growing up even before caller ID. When I was practicing law, I got into the habit of answering the phone “This is Rani(*)”. My mother (who had also practiced law) felt this was too informal, that I should answer with my first and last name, not just my first name. I didn’t care that much though. (It went with the reputation I had for being very nice and pleasant to work with, which one of the partners said was good for disarming opposing counsel. ;)

            Anyway the long and the short of it is I haven’t practiced law for years, but I still answer the phone “This is Rani” unless it’s a caller I know (like my mother or a friend).

            (*) Rani isn’t me real name, but you get the idea.

            1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

              Oh mannnn

              I’ve done call center stints, and I always end up having to resist the urge to answer my personal phone with “Thank you for calling [Company], this is Boochie.”

              1. Jenbug*

                I worked a job where I was on the phone all day and had to verify the identity of the person I was speaking with. More than once, I answered a call on my cell phone and asked a relative to verify their date of birth.

              2. Lynxa*

                Oh man, it took me a while to get out of the habit of answering the phone “This is Star-1234!” after I left the call center.

        2. Myrin*

          This is such a fascinating topic because I never realised how cultural it is; or rather, I began to faintly realise that when I first started to learn English at school but then I forgot about it until I became more engaged with American-tending websites.

          What I mean by that is, I’m a landline person myself and the way everyone here learned to answer the phone was explicitly not just a “Hello?” or something similar, but with your surname. Mine is only one syllable so it would sometimes be cut off for some weird technical reason and people would ask who’s there anyway so I trained myself to use my full name and still do that even with caller ID (unless it’s someone I’m really close with, like my mum or sister, then a simple “Hello!” really does suffice). But yeah, it’s the norm here to answer the phone stating your (last) name so it’s intensely interesting to me that other cultures want to not give out their names at any cost.

          1. Bad Candidate*

            I think it’s part of “Stranger Danger” that a lot of us grew up with in the 80s and 90s here in the US. The fear was that if it was a bad guy calling they might try to social engineer you into giving them information about yourself or your family which could result in a kidnapping or burglary or something else equally bad. I have no idea if those things actually did happen as a result of bad guys calling kids when they were home alone or what. Older American TV shows have people, even children, answer the phone with “Hello, Cleaver residence” so I suppose just saying “Hello?” wasn’t always the norm.

            1. Miss Betty*

              I think that was just a tv thing, seriously. I never knew anyone who answered anything except “hello” and I’m 53. Well, except for some of my friends’ moms who were weird and answered “mmmmyello”. I never got why they said that!

              1. Simonthegreywarden*

                Call my dad in the evening and he will answer, “City morgue; you stab ’em, we slab ’em.” Has since before caller ID.

                1. notgiven*

                  I had an aunt that used to answer, “Ace’s Pool Hall, Eightball speaking. It’s your nickel start talking.”

              2. Teclatrans*

                I am 40-ish, and i use the construction at my 90+-yo grandmother’s. [Surname] residence, this is Firstname.

                Through my work in an office, where I did often recrive professional calls, I learned to say CorpX, this is Firstname, how may I help you?” My husband was in sales and answers with his full name whenever he *doesn’t* recognise a number, while I only use it if I think I know who is calling and it is a company/doctor’s office/etc. I would never just say “hello” for a phone interview, precisely because I want to convey that I was ready and expecting the call, and because I want to demonstrate that I understand professional phone-answering norms. Hello really doesn’t demonstrate that.

          2. Violet Rose*

            My first thought was the show Castle, where Beckett always answered her cell phone with just, “Beckett”. It took me ages to notice, so I guess it’s not *too* rare!

        3. SophieChotek*

          Me too. (And I’m about your age too.) I get so many telemarketers and Scam the last thing I want to do is answer the phone and confirm – Yep, it’s me — your list is correct.
          And since a phone interview might be calling from an unknown number…though I suppose if you are expecting the call that takes a bit of the question out of the “who is calling” but…yes, I feel the same way.
          (And my mobile personal phone doubles as my work phone, so I can’t separate the two.)

        4. olives*

          Yes, this! When I entered the business world, I had no idea that it sometimes makes sense to answer phone calls with something besides “Hello?”. As far as I knew, that was the standard greeting! Even these days, with friends and family members who I can clearly see the names of on my caller ID, I’ll still often pick up and say “Hello?”. It’s what I was taught to do and had no idea that it wasn’t appropriate for an expected business call – to the contrary, it struck me as “polite” to use the usual formal greeting (which I considered “Hello?” to be, for better or worse) instead of making assumptions about who was calling.

          Plus, as far as I was concerned, I *didn’t* know if the person on the other end was calling about the interview. The number comes up with no label on it! And I definitely don’t like announcing who I am to telemarketers, who are the only other people who pop up on my phone with no ID.

          As I’ve gotten older I’ve definitely adapted to business standards in this regard, but I think it’s super normal when you’re young to make this kind of faux pas.

        5. Not Rebee*

          Millennial here (27) – I kind of thought the point of caller ID was that we all pretended, mostly, not to have it? I mean, when my mom calls I say “hi mom!” and some closer friends, but since number saving conventions differ from person to person, when it’s a newer acquaintance I would default to the more formal option of “Hello?”. Considering I have that rule for my personal phone, I would definitely follow that rule with an interviewer – unless I’ve known them a long time and could definitely identify the number (not all numbers come up – just because Caller ID exists doesn’t mean that my grandma hasn’t had to identify my number by my “wireless caller” name flashing on her machine) I would not answer with a flat out “Hi, Person” as it seems terribly informal.

          1. Katie-Pie*

            I agree. I almost wrote about that, too, but my post was already a little long. Like you, unless it’s my mom or best friend or similar relation, I answer with “Hello?” even when I can see who it is. It’s just my default, and seems to be with my peers as well.

          2. Not So NewReader*

            I. can’t. do. it. Not on my personal phone.
            I can’t pretend that I do not see the name on the caller ID. I have tried and it is just too weird. When I know the person, I greet with,”Hi, Person’sName!”
            I do have one conflict though, I can’t read the caller ID without my glasses. I have gotten stuck with a ringing phone and no glasses anywhere in sight.

            OTH, I have a friend who does not see well at all. I have no way of knowing if she has her glasses on when she answers or not. And if she does have her glasses on, is it the correct pair for reading the ID, ugh. So I just say my name before she even has a chance. “Hi Friend, it’s me, Not So.” We had a very long convo about her not reading the caller ID, so I feel I have been forewarned.

          3. notgiven*

            The cell account is in my name, so when my husband calls a landline, it shows my name on caller ID.

        6. scarydogmother*

          When you use your personal phone to conduct job interviews, though, you should go into “work mode,” and thus treat your phone like a “work phone.”

      3. Recruit-o-Rama*

        I disagree. I do at least 6 pre-scheduled phone screens per day and I would not read a single thing into someone answering the phone by saying “hello?” It happens daily, it is such a default normal way to pick up the phone. I just identify myself and thank them for making an appointment with me and dive in.

        OP, your interviewer was an ass, count your lucky stars that he revealed himself so early on before you invested too much time

        When I am training interviewing skills, I always tell my trainees that the number one rule is “be nice” just like you wouldn in any other kind of business meeting.

        1. Fortitude Jones*

          Yeah, I’m a “Hello?” only person when answering my cell, even when I know who it is and even though I say my company’s name and my first name when answering the phone at work, yet I’ve never had an interviewer have a problem with it (or if they did, they never mentioned it to me). I’m also 29, so not young or new to the workforce. *shrug* I guess saying, “Hello, this is Fortitude” from now on wouldn’t hurt in case it is making a negative impression and I just don’t realize it.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          The issue isn’t “hello”; the issue is the tone. If the “hello” sounds hesitant/surprised, that’s weird. If it doesn’t, then cool. But “This is Alison” tends to ward off the whole problem.

          1. SystemsLady*

            Yeah, I definitely try to downwards-tone my “hello” so it sounds more friendly than questioning, for the occasional legitimate unrecognized number call I get from a doctor’s office or whatever.

            On my work phone I’ll try to say “This is [me]”, but only if I recognize the number or it’s an area code we cover.

          2. Recruit-o-Rama*

            Still…someone who does a lot of phone interviews has to have a better grasp of the awkwardness of phone interviews then to let a simple “hello?” With a “question” tone turn into something meaningful. Answering the phone that was is reflexive and not indicative of anything more without any other context. It’s a weird thing to get hung up on. Very power trippy, in my opinion…and I say that as someone who conducts a LOT of phone interviews. People are nervous and no one is perfect so if an interviewer is going to use that as their bar…well, I wouldn’t want to work for them anyway.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              It’s one data point that goes into an overall impression. Obviously this interviewer was a complete ass to make such a big deal out of it. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not A Thing that people notice. That doesn’t mean it should be your bar — of course it shouldn’t be! But, like lots of little things, it contributes to the overall impression someone makes.

              1. Recruit-o-Rama*

                I spend a lot of time thinking about interviews and relationships and hiring processes so this kind of thing really irks me, I don’t mean to be argumentative, in case that’s how I’m being taken.

                I think companies lose out on good candidates when they make things like this a “data point”. If I set up a candidate for a phone interview with one of my hiring managers and this was their feedback, I would be very disappointed in them. I would be asking them a lot of questions about the candidates qualifications and experience and if I had the feeling they half assed it because the candidate said “hello?” Instead of “this is bob” I would probably coach them to do the interview over again, this time with less ass showing.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  I wouldn’t expect this to be significant enough to be part of a hiring manager’s feedback to a recruiter.

                  It goes into an overall impression but it’s just a little thing.

              2. NeedAjob*

                This happened to me a few weeks ago. I answered “hello?” And he asked if I had forgotten our interview. Probably his ass-like way of trying to set the tone.
                The entire time, he sounded robotic (or depressed) and I’m a happy, upbeat person and I think it put him off.

          3. Oldgrouchylady*

            In many other countries, you don’t answer the phone by saying “hello” but instead state your name. This dates from the landline era when people shared phones. I wonder if this practice will change in the era of personal cellphones.

            I personally always say “Hello, this is X…” The X depends upon the level of formality with which I need to address the other party and the rest depends on the situation. If they call my office and I have it ring through to my cell, it’s “Hello, this is Mrs. X, how may I help you?”

            I also have to wonder about the age and gender of the OP. A lot of young American women speak with vocal fry, upspeak, and other vocal methods that sound tentative to older listeners. It personally doesn’t bother me unless I can’t tell the meaning or intent of the speaker. Nevertheless, a lot of people hate the way “young folk” speak today. This isn’t just a typical old folk v. young issue. The patterns of vocal speak have changed in the past 25 years or so.

            1. Mookie*

              Your third paragraph is how I read this situation, balancing uninterested blandness (a monosyllabic “hullo”) with a possibly polarizing youthful perkiness (“hello!”) by reverting to the less threatening, less controversial upward inflection (“hello?”). It’s a question that invites the caller’s answer — “I am [name] calling for [other name] to discuss [thing]” — so the conversation can move forward. I don’t think it lacks professionalism, but it’s a little less polished. The gender aspect is important here, as you say, because women in particular are expected to behave like the male default while also being extra accommodating and “gentle” about relinquishing control verbally. “Hello?” immediately yields that control in a way that “this is [name]” does not.

      4. LoiraSafada*

        I had a stalker once, and get calls from an offensive number of telemarketers. If someone has a problem with me just answering “hello?” they’re probably not someone I’d want to work for anyway. That seems like an incredibly petty thing for an interviewer to even think about.

        1. Oldgrouchylady*

          Could also be a cultural thing. Having lived all over the USA and in foreign countries, saying “hello” only is the minority practice globally.

          I think a lot of this depends upon the context.

          In this situation, based on what we have heard from OP, it seems like an issue with the interviewer.

      5. SystemsLady*

        Robots routinely call me every day or two within the first five minutes of a random hour so, particularly if the interviewer has a cell phone with a different area code from the company, so I don’t agree it’s strange the OP might start the call with a “Hello?”.

        I’m also hesitant to say my name because I get so many bot calls.

    3. Zoethor2*

      I use exactly this strategy – I always answer my phone (both work and personal) with “Hello, this is (myname)”, unless the call is clearly from a close friend or coworker. I find that by making my phone-answer-default a statement (stating my name), it avoids any tendency for my voice to sound questioning or have the end-of-question-tonality.

      My first name is also subject to mispronunciation, so this system helps head a little of that off, at least.

      1. Oldgrouchylady*

        This is the practice in much of the world. Saying “Hello” only is an American thing and not even universally what is done here.

        In several foreign countries in which I have lived, people answer the phone by stating their name.

  2. Sharon*

    I’ve had more than a few interviewers (phone and in person) who deliberately put me on the defensive right from the start. It takes an effort of will to set that aside and continue the interview in a confident and cheerful way.

    1. College Career Counselor*

      Yup. “Stress interviews” where the interviewer is deliberately aggressive or challenging, or you can’t seem to answer right, no matter how hard you try. They’re looking to see how you handle yourself in awkward circumstances. You are correct about trying to be as confident and cheerful as possible.

      Of course, some interviewers are just power-tripping assholes. Like the president of the university who just wanted to make me squirm in front of his senior staff during an interview. His post-meeting comments (and those of other senior staff) confirmed it.

      Bullet. DODGED.

      1. Human Resources Assistant*

        I’m gonna go ahead and say that doing a “stress interview” inherently makes the interviewer a power-tripping asshole, period. Just one who has a thin veneer of justification for their behavior by giving it a name and attaching it to a vaguely legitimate-sounding concept (wanting to see how the candidate performs under stress). Interviews are a two-way assessment, after all, and what that interviewer is showing me is that they, or their company, likes to play mind games and mess with people. No way in hell would I ever want to work at a place like that, even if I did pass their stupid “stress interview”.

        Also, holy hell that guy sounds like a complete piece of work, wtf?

        1. College Career Counselor*

          There are some examples of stress interview techniques that be useful. For example, I recall the interviewer for a trading floor position who made candidates stand on a chair and shout “good morning” as loud as they could–some people loved doing that, some were really not into asserting themselves verbally.

          That said, you are right about power-tripping asshole interview behavior. As for that president, it gets better: less than 3 months after that president retired (after significantly expanding the university’s academic programs over the preceding years–delusions of grandeur, much?), that university shuttered over a dozen academic programs and laid off 8% of its standing faculty.

          1. tink*

            I did an pre-screening for working in police records once, and as part of the preliminary testing you had to demonstrate that you could lift and move up to 50 lbs across the copier room and up a step ladder, because they were a pair of frequent actions you’d be required to do while on the job, and someone that couldn’t do them would be unable to be effective in the job. It was done one at a time, but I thought it was a pretty effective stress test of sorts.

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Totally agreed. I’ve done stress interviews, and all they led me to believe was that the interviewer (or organization allowing the interview to be conducted that way) had unhealthy and inaccurate ideas about what motivates and encourages employees. And that the interviewer was a total a-hole.

          1. Fortitude Jones*

            all they led me to believe was that the interviewer (or organization allowing the interview to be conducted that way) had unhealthy and inaccurate ideas about what motivates and encourages employees.

            I used to think this way until I got into insurance. There’s one AVP at my company who sits on the interview panel for the company’s training program for claims adjusters who does the stress interview thing (his colleagues don’t), and he’s not doing it because he believes it encourages or motivates employees – he does it to show exactly the kinds of personalities we’re going to be dealing with everyday in our business, especially when you have to deny things or just tell people no to something in general. If candidates can’t take his very pointed questioning, they won’t make it in our field because we get cursed out on a pretty regular basis, and that’s much worse than any of the pseudo-negging he can come up with.

            It’s also interesting to note that everyone talks about how rough this guy is in the interview, but after they’re hired, he’s a total sweetheart to them. The only time we really see him get aggressive or angry with anyone is when he’s dealing with plaintiffs attorneys and incompetent defense counsel.

            1. turquoisecow*

              That’s an interesting way to do it. I guess I’m not cut out for insurance, then, because I’d be so annoyed/upset/freaked out by how the guy treated me in the interview that I probably would turn down the job if they offered it to be afterward. I worked customer service for a while, so I can see the benefit to treating a perspective employee the way a customer would treat them, but at the same time, I’d be thinking “I’m going to have to deal with crap from customers all the time, I’d at least like my boss/coworkers to be on my side or else I’m going to leave this job every day feeling like crap, and that’s not good for my emotional health.” I guess if I were to be warned about it, though, that would defeat the point.

              1. Fortitude Jones*

                The thing is, the AVP is on the interview panel, but doesn’t work directly with the trainees at all. Every single person he’s said wasn’t going to work out based on his stress interview techniques have quit within one year of being placed in their respective divisions after graduating from the program – every. one.

                I tell people all the time – claims is a beast. You have to be a special kind of person to deal with the shit we deal with every day, and we don’t even handle personal lines.

                1. turquoisecow*

                  Hmm. I might be more interested in the job knowing the mean guy who interviewed me wasn’t actually going to be supervising me then. Maybe.

                2. Fortitude Jones*

                  Lol @turquoisecow. We actually had an internal candidate get up and walk out after being grilled by him recently – that candidate was smart. This job will test your patience and can kill your very soul (I put up with it because the pay is very good).

                3. Not So NewReader*

                  My husband did claims adjusting. In rural areas was not horrible at that time. But in more populated areas, it was a nightmare, even then. That was decades ago, I cannot imagine it being better now. He got out because there were just so many things. He had to put a price on a 300 year old tree. Like you could go to the store and pick up another one. Then there was the awful stuff like bribery [insert many stories here]. Sometimes the boss told him how his report should read and he had not even started the report yet. Of course, what the boss said was not what my husband actually found. They moved him five times in three years. When he got moved a sixth time he quit. That was decades ago, now must be beyond the pale.

                  He would actually end up advocating for the customer because he knew the company was screwing the customer. And he was told repeatedly to “resist claims”. This probably had something to do with why they moved him around so much, they were trying to make him quit because he was not seen as ” a company man”.

              2. Not So NewReader*

                I agree with you turquoisecow, the nature of the work can be conveyed in other ways. This type of interviewing can drive many people away. I would come to the same conclusion as you, it’s one thing if the customers are nasty but it a totally different and bigger problem if the coworkers/bosses are nasty.

                If a company knows the employees are going to be dealing with difficult people, why not invest in training them how to deal with difficult people instead of letting one guy at the interview stage do all the work?

                1. Fortitude Jones*

                  We get extensive training on this and pretty much everything relating to our job (we have to have CE hours to keep our licenses up to date) – training doesn’t remotely prepare you for the kind of nonsense we deal with. We’re dealing with people at one of the worst points of their lives, when they’ve suffered some kind of personal loss to their property or body, and people that are going through that and then have to deal with somebody behind a desk who they don’t think could possibly understand their plight are not the most polite or adjusted people. I definitely don’t think negging should be A Thing in most job interviews, but in our industry? It makes sense. I just had a guy try to gaslight/neg me into giving him coverage for something that was specifically excluded under his lender’s policy, and this ish went on every other day for THREE MONTHS. Trust me when I say, the AVP’s interrogation is a cakewalk compared to something that damn annoying.

              1. Fortitude Jones*

                Everyone else is too dang nice. Seriously – most people at my company are almost Stepford levels of nice (to your face anyway). Plus, it’s not exactly like claims adjusting is a hot career choice and people are banging down the door to get into the business, especially now that the economy in our area has slightly improved. The other panel interviewers probably don’t want to scare anybody off because then that would drag out the already long as hell hiring process, which would screw up the scheduling with our company’s divisions.

                1. notgiven*

                  My cousin is an adjuster. She gets sent to disaster areas, hurricanes, floods, big disasters. Like driving an hour to get to a hotel room with electricity.

            2. aelle*

              I still think stress interviews are a bad idea if the aim is not disclosed. If the work is going to be high stress, tell your candidates upfront that the interview process includes a call simulating a realistic, high pressure work situation. Then you can still assess their skills in these situations, and they can assess whether they’re willing to put up with it.

              Personally, I know I am willing to put up with very, very different behavior from clients than from my own management. Especially in a high stress environment, I want a management that has my back. If an interviewer leads me to believe that their standard behavior is to be aggressive and demeaning to their staff, I’m going to turn down the job, plain and simple.

              1. Lynxa*

                Agreed. I have worked in many high-stress environments, some involving the general public, and I will put up with a lot from customers. But if someone acts like this at an interview it’s telling me that I’ll get it from customers AND management.

        3. AnonAnalyst*

          Yeah, I actually have removed myself from consideration for a couple of positions after stress interviews. In one of these instances, the interviewer spent the entire hour trying to demonstrate how incompetent I clearly was. She would ask a question, and then after I answered it she would repeat the answer in this disbelieving tone like I was clearly a moron. I think I was supposed to speak up with more information to prove her point.

          This person would have been my manager if I had gotten the job, so I was totally out on continuing in that hiring process after this experience. She sent me an email the following day about scheduling an interview with one of her colleagues, and I thanked her for the opportunity but explained that, based on our discussion, it seemed like my skills were not a great fit with what they were looking for so I thought it would be best for me to remove myself from consideration. She then sent back a multi-paragraph email about how surprised she was to hear it because she thought I was one of the strongest candidates in the running and hoped I would reconsider.

          I did not reconsider, although I do wonder if she still conducts interviews that way.

        4. Kristine*

          >Interviews are a two-way assessment, after all, and what that interviewer is showing me is that they, or their company, likes to play mind games and mess with people. No way in hell would I ever want to work at a place like that, even if I did pass their stupid “stress interview”.

          Agreed, so much. Last summer I had an interview that called me on the day of and asked me to go to a different address, which turned out to be an ice cream shop. They said they wanted to see how I handled the stress of the location changing last minute and if I could remain professional and articulate when surrounded by distractions like screaming children.

          I actually did well (because I can handle that kinda stuff, I guess?) and they offered me the job, and were actually shocked when I turned it down.

          1. Fortitude Jones*

            Was this a teaching gig, and how in the hell did sending you to an ice cream shop show them how you would handle screaming children? I’m confused.

            1. Kristine*

              No, it was a receptionist position in a regular office. The screaming children weren’t necessarily supposed to be part of the interview, that just happened to be one of the many distractions at the ice cream shop that day.

          2. turquoisecow*

            Yeah, what sort of job was this that they wanted to know how you handled distractions? Was the office or job setting really loud and disorganized?

            1. Kristine*

              It was a receptionist position where I would be dealing with ringing phones, requests from coworkers, and visitors to the office on top of other duties. They wanted to see if I could handle a distracting environment because I would be getting interrupted from my work many times a day.

        5. Dan*

          Yup. If the org as a whole thinks that stress interviews are appropriate, they need to figure out if that’s the norm for the industry. If they aren’t, or there isn’t an appropriate business need for sussing that out so quickly, they risk running off good talent.

          In my line of work, stress interviews are far from the norm, so there’s no way an org can pull it off and not come across as power tripping glass bowl. I “self selected out” of an interview where the interviewer was a complete dick. I work in a niche industry, and TBH, I think the interviewer thought he could have his way with me because I didn’t have many other choices. His face looked pretty shocked when I told him that I was only interviewing for jobs in this industry, and if this wasn’t the opportunity for me, then so be it. His jaw dropped, and he kind of stammered “… but, but, there can’t be many jobs in this field.” I looked at him and said, “If you’re good, there only needs to be one.”

          If I hadn’t been unemployed at the time, I would have bluntly told him he could kiss my ass. Since I was unemployed, I figured I should be more polite. I asked around for some pointers on how I could politely tell them to kiss my ass. The response I got was that when I accepted another position, just call them up and say I’m no longer available, and that they’ll get the point.

      2. JM in England*

        I’ve always thought that interview and actual on-the-the-job stress were entirely different animals. Therefore, how you perform under interview stress paints an inaccurate picture of how you’d react whilst doing the job.

      3. NotAnotherManager!*

        Oh, god, I had a terrible interview like this once! I was applying for a paralegal position, and I thought I had really good interviews with everyone save one attorney who clearly could not stand me from the moment I walked in the room. My best guess was that she wanted another candidate for the job, but she was so openly hostile, it would not have mattered what I did. She insulted my alma mater and my then-current employer, and she then proceeded to hostile-witness question me (e.g., “You don’t have experience doing [very specific task], right?”), and, when I would start to answer, “No, but my experience with X, Y, and Z is very similar and I would approach it in [this manner] unless there is an existing best practice you’d prefer I use.”… and she’d cut me off around the fourth word with, “So, the answer is NO, then, right?”

        I should have had my recruiter withdraw me immediately, but I was young and naive and had really liked the rest of the team a lot. Obviously, I didn’t get the job, and it was a good thing because working with that asshole would have been miserable.

    2. knitcrazybooknut*

      I immediately thought that this was a power move on his part, to put you on guard and see how you react to stressful situations. Generally speaking, the people who use this type of tactic are using it to weed out anyone who will either stand up to their bullying during the normal work day, or will buckle under the pressure.

      You’ve dodged a really bad situation, OP. Count yourself lucky.

    3. Bonky*

      If you’ve the luxury of choice, it’s a good way to weed out cultures you really don’t want to be working in. It’s a simply absurd way to interview, but people do seem to do it deliberately. I’m sure it’s a power-trip thing – and nobody wants to work for someone who’s on a power trip.

  3. Murphy*

    So, how should one answer the phone? Whenever anyone calls my personal cell phone, I answer with “Hello?” (unless it’s my husband, or my mom, or a friend, etc.) This seems like a normal way to answer the phone. How should one answer? (And this is not how I answer my work phone, just my personal phone.)

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      “Hello” is fine in this context as long as you don’t sound like you’re surprised the phone is ringing and weren’t expecting the call.

      But for a scheduled business call, something like “this is Alison” is better.

        1. Karen D*

          LOL sometimes I answer my personal phone with “(My company/my department), this is Karen speaking!” Always gives my siblings the giggles … but increasingly, I’m fielding work calls on my personal cell — which is fine — and if I don’t recognize the number, a more professional greeting is usually a good idea.

          1. MommaTRex*

            Glad I never had a phone interview when I was in high school, because I often accidentally answered my home phone with, “Welcome to McDonald’s! May I take your order?”

            1. RKB*

              This is the (grocery store + location) service desk, how may I assist you?

              Sometimes I’d wake up from a dream saying it.

            2. Zathras*

              Reminds me of when I worked retail for a couple of years and switched to a different location of the same chain about halfway through. For a while after the switch I would occasionally confuse the heck out of a customer by answering “Hi, this is Zathras from StoreName OldTown, how can I help you?” when they were expecting to reach (and had in fact reached) StoreName NewTown. I usually caught the mistake right as I was saying it and would correct myself with a quick apology, but I was really surprised how deeply ingrained the habit was.

              1. bkanon*

                I had to go through four different locations once before I hit on where I actually was. Luckily the man on the phone just laughed. “Transfer, huh?” Yep, I’d just moved again.

            3. turquoisecow*

              I almost did that for the longest time. “Thank you for calling [store, town] how can I help you?” was the default forever, because I answered the phone way more often at work than at home or on my cell.

          2. Whats In A Name*

            My very first job out of college I answered with college-job greeting “Thanks for calling Eat ‘n Park, how can I help you this morning?” Whoopsie.

        2. Anony-mouse*

          Answering a business call (or potential interview call) with “Hello, XXX speaking.” or “Hello, this is XXX.” also cuts out like 1 to 2 minutes of unnecessary back and forth. It cuts right to the chase. No more “Hello?” “Hello, is this so and so?” “Yes it is, who is calling?” and on and on. Bam! Right from the jump the person on the other end knows who they are speaking to and that the person is prepared and ready to begin, no nonsense. Ready to go with the interview.

          Personal calls, whole different ballgame, and the two should not be confused. If you dont wear the same clothes and makeup to work as you do on the weekend, why should you speak and answer the phone the same way.

      1. Elizabeth*

        I answer my phone at work with “Hi, this is Elizabeth.” I’d say nine times out of ten, there’s a pause in a response, and then the person says “oh, I thought it was your voice mail.” Any suggestions of what I should do differently?

        1. Lemon Zinger*

          Maybe just say “This is Elizabeth.” The “Hi” makes it sound like they’ve reached a voicemail and are hearing the greeting.

          1. EW*

            I don’t know if I agree with you there. I use a different tone for my voicemail than I do when I answer my phone. Answering the phone I say “Hi, this is *Name*” with a kind of questioning/receptionist tone (don’t know how to describe it) whereas my voicemail is a lot more flat and declarative.

            1. HeyNonnyNonny*

              Yes, I do this too! “Hello, this is Nonny…?” is usually enough to prompt the person to respond with who they are.

            2. EW*

              Oh and I just listened to my voicemail. I feel like “You’ve reached *Name*….” is a more common way to start a voicemail than “Hi, this is *Name*.” I would think I’d reached the person if the VM started like that!!

          1. Jaguar*

            Yeah, this is what I use at work. “Company Name, Jaguar speaking,” if it’s a number I don’t recognize. I admit I have the slightest (like, almost nothing, but nevertheless there) bit of annoyance at answering as if I was in a customer-service role since I’m not and don’t want to give people the impression that I’m going to bend-over backwards to suit them (since I’m not going to), but it lets the caller know immediately that they phoned the right place, that I’m a professional, and if it’s a wrong number, the caller doesn’t have to suss that out.

          2. stk*

            This is what I do – “Hello, stk speaking.” Although on my mobile (where presumably people know exactly who they expect to answer the phone!) I do sometimes slip into “Hello?”…

            1. Salyan*

              Some time ago, I started the habit of answering my cell with “hello, salyan speaking”. Always gave my friends a laugh (along the lines of “of course ‘this is salyan speaking’! Who do you think I called?”). Lately, though, they’ve started answering their phones with ‘friend speaking’. Life is sweet.

        2. the gold digger*

          I answer my work phone (which thank goodness nobody ever calls) with “Gold Digger.”

          I get annoyed at long salutations – “Hi this is Seth at PerkyTown USA! How can we help you today?” Don’t make me wait, please. Let’s get to the point.

          1. Justme*

            I wish I were kidding when I said this, but I worked customer service for a retail store and we had to answer the phone “Thank you for calling (Location and Store Name), this is (Your Name). What can I help you discover?”

            1. Alter_ego*

              This is annoying if only because no matter what, the first thing the person says is “hi is this (store name)? The one in (location)?” No one ever listsens to the greeting, I wish corporate would stop forcing people to say it

            2. Jadelyn*

              Ouch, that’s a bad one. Yesterday my mom and I stopped at Krispy Kreme drive-thru on the way home from a medical appointment for her, and the guy opened with “It’s a beautiful day at Krispy Kreme, my name is [whatever], what can I get for you?”

              1. Whats In A Name*

                I am mostly cornball but I love it when I am greeted like that at a drive thru. It makes me smile and say “thank you, name, have a great day!”

                1. MsCHX*

                  My kids, both teens, get downright mad at me when I call retail employees by their name. They say they hate it when people call them by name (one works food service, one at a movie theater).

              2. Sophie Winston*

                I bet it was a Longmire fan. The saloon owner always answers the phone “It’s a beautiful day at the Red Pony Saloon and continual soiree…”

            3. Amy*

              I worked for a bank where it was “Thank you for calling (Bank) (town) Branch. This is Amy speaking how can I help you. They would have secret shoppers call regularly to make sure we were answering the phone right. You could almost always tell it was them because they never had questions about their account it was always like “are you on X road” or “Do you have savings accounts?”

            4. Miles*

              I called a customer service line where the salutation was “You’ve reached (Company Name), this is (Name) speaking! How can I make your day even better?” I can only imagine the kind of responses the reps would get to that one.

              1. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

                Oh my. That is just asking for trouble. As a former call center worker, I can assure you the pervs need no help at getting started and people who are already mad are just going to go ballistic because they aren’t having a good day so you can’t make it “even better”.

            5. mskyle*

              I remember having a script that varied week to week depending on specials!

              “Thank you for calling (Store Name Mall Name), where all of our jeans are 50% off! This is (My Name). How can I help you?”

            6. Sunshine*

              Heard this week: “Thank you for calling X, this is Fergus, how may I earn your business today?”


            7. SarcasticFringehead*

              “Thank you for calling (pizza chain), my name is (name), would you like to hear about our specials today?” So very tedious. But one time some corporate person called the store and was impressed that I answered the phone “correctly,” so at least I got a little recognition :p

              1. Mephyle*

                That one has a certain amount of sense, because when I call for a pizza, I do want to hear about the specials.

              2. Jaydee*

                That makes a lot more sense than fast food drive-thrus where the the employee says “Welcome to [fast food chain], would you like to try our [particularly unhealthy promotional food item] today?” I have never once ordered the suggested item. Out of 47 things on the menu, the odds that I am coming to order that one particular item are pretty low. And I always feel weird saying “No” and then just launching into my order, but what else is there to do?

          2. all aboard the anon train*

            When I worked retail, we got in trouble if we didn’t answer the phone with, “Thank you for calling Store Location. This is Name. How can I help you today?”

            I know the customer service agents at my current company have a scripted line they have to say, too.

            1. Wipperwill*

              When I worked retail and someone called the store, they got a message first that went through the store’s address, hours, etc. Then it would ring through to a human, and we had to then answer, “Thanks for calling Store Branch. This is (Name). How can I help you?” Anyone who called had to listen for a full two minutes before they got a chance to speak. It was especially annoying if you were calling to call off sick.

          3. Turtlewings*

            At my old job, we were supposed to answer the phone with, “Good [daytime], you’ve reached [Area] City-County Public Library, [Location] Branch. This is [Name]. How can I help you?” Not even kidding. I timed it once, it took me almost ten seconds to say it, especially without slurring any of it together. NO. ONE. WANTS. TO. HEAR. THAT. I refused to do it–got away with it, happily, since I was in a back room, but I felt sorry for those at the front desk (and those who called them).

          4. Elder Dog*

            Talk to the upper levels of the company you’re calling. This is never the choice of the person answering the phone, and they get marked off by quality control if they don’t use the script, and will lose any raise they might hope for. Sometimes their entire “team” gets marked off if one person out of 60 misses a word on the required script.

            If you don’t like it, call corporate and complain.

          5. Yet another Allison*

            I used to work for a small company and the owner insisted we answer the phone with, “It’s a Wonderful Wednesday (or Terrific Tuesday, etc.) at [Company Name], this is Allison, how can I help you?” :/ It was so cringe-inducing on everybody’s end and I grew accustomed to people laughing and/or remarking on the cheesy greeting.

          6. Amber T*

            Me too! I’d rather just hear the name of the person I’m calling – ever half second counts! Then again, whenever I call someone, I always follow up with “Hi so-and-so, this is Amber T from Teapots, Inc. How are you?” Usually I get a quick “Good, and you?” and then it’s onto the real conversation.

            1. Amber T*

              Then again, my boss just picks up the phone with “Teapots” (assuming we work for Teapots & Kettles, Inc.)

          7. Emi.*

            I used to volunteer as a radio announcer, and we had to answer the phone with the station name or call sign. I’m not sure whether that was a station policy or an FCC rule, but if the station manager called and you didn’t do it right, he’d tell you off and then post an extravagantly snarky sign about proper phone manners on the sound board.

          8. turquoisecow*

            Oh, me too. I used to work Customer Service and I’d answer with “Thank you for calling [town, store], how can I help you?” and often I’d leave off the “thank you for calling” part and just say “[Store name], how can I help you?”

            Then the management came around with a script we were supposed to follow: “Thank you for calling YOUR [Store name] of [Town Name], this is [name] speaking, how can I assist you?” Which basically said the same thing but with more words, and sometimes people were impatient (like they were just calling to see what time we closed or something) and would interrupt me before I finished talking. I switched back to the old script if there wasn’t a manager standing right there when the phone rang.

          9. Sal*

            At my old job, it was “Org-acronym, Firstname Lastname.” (Now I use a more formal greeting that doesn’t use my name at all.)

        3. Emi.*

          You could try calling your friends’ voicemails to see if this is actually a pattern, but on my VM message, I say, “Hi, this Emi[voice down],” whereas my voice goes up more if I’m actually answering. It’s not a full-on “Hi, this is Emi?”, though. I guess it’s basically “Hi, this is Emi. [pause for breath] I can’t answer the phone right now…” versus “Hi, this is Emi [expectant pause].” In my mind, my voicemail has a period-pause but answering the phone in real life is a comma-pause. Does any of that help?

        4. Jesmlet*

          The way I sometimes do it is “Company Name, this is Jesmlet” but we have a couple shared lines in addition to personal ones so it makes sense for us to do it that way. Or “Good morning/afternoon, this is Jesmlet”, or just “Salutation, Company Name”. We had a two syllable name so it’s not that annoying to do it that way.

        5. Gandalf the Nude*

          If you switch to “Good afternoon” or “Good morning” instead of “hi”, it might be more plain that you’re human and not voicemail since voicemail responses aren’t usually tied to a specific time.

      2. This is the OP*

        Ahhh!! It seems so obvious now that you say it, but in the moment I honestly didn’t know how else to answer the phone – it seemed presumptuous to answer “Hi Eugene” right from the start.

        1. I'm Okay, It's Okay, Everything's fine.*

          If you’re not used to answering business calls, I can see not knowing how to answer necessarily. “Hi Eugene” likely would have come off irksome to Eugene (even if he didn’t know exactly why). At least now you know and it sounds like you may have dodged a bullet.

        2. stk*

          If you had, he’d have somehow turned that into a Thing too. He sounds like that kind of douchenozzle.

        3. olives*

          yes!! “Presumptuous” is definitely the word for how it felt to me when I first started getting calls like this. I’ve since learned that that isn’t quite the appropriate attitude to take to a job interview, thanks to AAM’s great advice about both people evaluating one another.

          OP, you did nothing wrong, keep on keepin’ on =)

      3. Ihmmy*

        I almost always answer my personal phone “Ihmmy speaking”. If I ever answer “hello” and it’s not a friend calling, I *always* get “Is Ihmmy there?” so, yeah, just say who picked up is my recommendation. It’s easiest.

      4. nonprofit fun*

        I had a reverse situation from OP today – I answered the phone with “This is (My Name)” and the interviewer seemed genuinely thrown off by not hearing the usual “Hello?” To be fair, my name appears to be a very common one but is pronounced much differently from how it looks – I wonder if hearing a different name might be confusing to others?

      5. Not So NewReader*

        I am noticing that people are writing “Hello?” and you, Alison are writing “Hello” without the question mark. I have never thought of “hello” as a question, so there shouldn’t be any use of raised pitch in the tone of voice. “Hello” should sound like “good morning”, the same tone used to make statement or greeting.

        I will agree that “hello?” sounds unsure almost fearful. But there is NO WAY that makes what this guy did right. That is a very simple thing to fix and can be explained on the first day of work. The fact that he made a huge deal out of it tells me that he does not know how to manage people.

    2. Lee*

      If I’m expecting an interview (or other business call) I typically answer, “Hi, this is (name)” so that the person knows it’s me, and that I was expecting their phone call.

    3. EddieSherbert*

      I do the same as sunny-dee and say “Hello, this is Eddie” (for personal and business calls).

      Not sure if that helps (It’s harder to discuss this when we all can’t type our tones when talking! Haha).

      1. Murphy*

        True! My husband always answers his phone like that, and it always sounds super formal to me, and it’s weird. (However, he does get work calls on his personal phone sometimes though.)

    4. Project Manager (Software Development) | GS-13, Step 3*

      “Hello. This is name”

      In this situation, the LW was expecting a business call on her cell phone. Treat it as such. Expect the number that calls at the right time is the person who made the appointment.

      There’s nothing wrong with “Hello. This is name” for your personal call. Even with annoying telemarketers, you’re not giving too much away. They are usually thrown by it and start with “Is name there?” or “Is Ms Name there?” anyway never catching how I started the conversation.

      1. fposte*

        And even if you can’t get to your name, make “Hello” a statement and not a question. I get a lot of “Hello?” in the tone of “Is this phone working?” from people on scheduled calls, and it’s almost never from senior people. You lose nothing by sounding confident and assured in answering your own phone, and it sets the conversation up much better.

    5. this*

      It’s the question tone. Hello is fine. Just hello, but making it a question makes it sound like you are not expecting any calls.

      1. Tuesday*

        Okay, I’m having trouble with this. I always answer “Hello?” on my own phone. I’m trying to imagine answering with, “Hello.” That seems off-putting to me. Am I misunderstanding this? In 30+ years of using telephones, “Hello?” has always been the standard way people answer non-business phone calls, in my American experience. I never would have thought of that as coming across as surprised.

        In my case, I sound bored or maybe even angry by default. I sound fine in my head, but when I hear myself recorded it’s really painful how half-dead I sound. Through a weird series of events, I ended up in possession of my own HR file from a previous employer and saw the notes from my phone interview with the department head, and she’d noted multiple times about how I sounded unenthusiastic. I got the job anyway, but it was enlightening to have that feedback, even if I was never supposed to see it. I now know I have to try to sound overly enthusiastic on the phone just to bring myself up to normal. All this is to say that if I answered my phone with “Hello.” instead of “Hello?” it would probably not come across well.

        FWIW, I answer work calls with, “This is Tuesday,” which is also probably how I’d answer my personal phone if I knew I was getting a call from an interviewer.

        1. Whats In A Name*

          OMG, at first I thought you meant you answered the phone with “This is {day of the week}”…hahahahaha

          1. Tuesday*

            Ha! Give the people some useful information right off the bat, that’s how I roll. If I’m feeling really charitable, I’ll tell them the date, too.

        2. fposte*

          Oh, that’s interesting; it was always modeled for me as a statement in the landline days, so that’s how I learned it.

          1. fposte*

            Put it another way–it’s like you’re saying hello to somebody you’re meeting in real life, like at a conference. You don’t say “Hello? Nice to meet you?” “Hello” is a statement there too.

            1. Tuesday*

              That totally makes sense in black and white, but it goes against a lifetime of personal experience and I think it would be really hard to change that behavior if I wanted to! In my mind, when you say “hello” to answer the phone, you’re letting the other person know you’re there and ready to listen, so it’s not really the same usage as an in-person greeting.

              In Italy they answer with, “pronto,” which translates to, “ready,” which I guess is a relic of early telecommunications. Like, “I’m ready to receive transmission.” I think in some Spanish-speaking countries they answer with, “bueno.” I know that can mean “good” or “well” but maybe has a different translation in this use, although I wouldn’t think it would really be a greeting, either.

              This whole thing got me curious about why we answer the phone this way. A cursory Google search brings up the info that the word “hello” was not a greeting until the post-telephone era. It was used to get someone’s attention. And, according to this old NY Times article (

              “At the time, Edison envisioned the telephone as a business device only, with a permanently open line to parties at either end. This setup raised a problem: How would anyone know that the other party wanted to speak? Edison addressed the issue as follows: Friend David, I don’t think we shall need a call bell as Hello! can be heard 10 to 20 feet away. What do you think? EDISON ”

              So the correct way to answer a phone is to yell, “Hello!” as if you’re trying to get someone’s attention from across the room. Or alternatively, the article says Alexander Graham Bell was a staunch supporter of “Ahoy!” as the proper way to answer the phone, so maybe that’s what I’ll do with business calls from now on. :)

        3. Lady H*

          I think there’s still a question mark at the end, just slightly less drawn out. At least, I feel like there’s a difference between a brisk “Hello?” and a surprised sounding “Hell-looo?”

          My partner answers every phone call like she’s surprised she has a phone and even more surprised that it rang (the latter way I described above). I just realized how much it bothers me!

          The only people who answer my calls with a “hello” are close friends or family who were expecting my call. I think doing that to an interviewer or relative stranger without stating your name afterwards is way too familiar.

    6. NaoNao*

      I think that the perception of “confusion” comes in because most people are using cell phones now. Cell phones come with built-in caller ID. It’s very rarely a case where you don’t know who is calling. So it used to be that “Hello?” was a sort of shorthand for “Hello, who’s this, please?” but now it sounds like you’re calling out into a deserted building, since you already *know* who’s calling! “Hello? anyone there? Hello? Is that you, kitty-cat?” Heh.
      So the older generation (myself included) that grew up with “land line manners” would answer “Stark Residence. Anya speaking.” But you wouldn’t answer your cell “Stark Car, Anya speaking.” That would be weird.
      But no one came up with a substitute that makes sense and widely disseminated it. So as Alison said “This is Anya” is the best way. It’s the new “Stark Residence, Anya speaking” that everyone’s mom used to drill into you.

      1. Wipperwill*

        But if it’s an interviewer, I often don’t know for sure that it’s them calling because I don’t have their number saved in my phone.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          But then you’d say, “Hello, this is Wipperwill” with either an expectant or questioning tone.

        2. fposte*

          But so what? It’s not going to hurt you if you respond to a phone scammer or your friend’s new number with a confident “This is Wipperwill,” whereas it could hurt you to respond tentatively to an interview call.

        3. NaoNao*

          Well, okay, fair. But what are the odds that a friend or telemarketer is going to be calling you on Thursday, Jan 4rth, at 11.30 on the dot? I’d say pretty low. Since you’re expecting a call from an interviewer, it behooves you (not you personally, the plural you) to answer the phone as if it’s the interviewer. “This is Wipperwill.” Or “Hi, this is Wipperwill.”

          I can’t think of a strong reason to continue to answer the phone with a tentative, space-y “He-lloooo?” or a sleepy, confused “‘Lo?” Regardless of who is calling you, it’s better to default to a brisk, in control “Hello, this is Wipperwill” or a “Hello, Wipperwill here.” or whatever.

          1. Lily Rowan*

            Oh! You know what I think some people’s problem is? Starting the “Hello” too soon, before the phone is ready for them. So then it sounds like the sleepy/confused “‘Lo”! I actually used to get that a lot, now that I’m thinking about it.

            So just give it one millisecond more before you start talking.

      2. LadyKelvin*

        It might be my phone, but I can only ever see the number and not the person’s name if they aren’t saved into my contact list. And since I get a lot of spam calls plus if I have lots of things going on at the time for which I’m expecting calls (i.e. right now I’m moving and selling things on craigslist, so it might be a mover, it might be someone who wants my couch, it might be the interviewer calling on time, it might be a spammer) I don’t know who is calling. I do answer my phone hello, but it’s more like Hello! not Hello?

        1. TheVet*

          There have been weeks where my phone doesn’t ring with an unknown to me number and then weeks where I receive 5-10 of these weird scam callers/fake debt collectors a day. I’d never answer my phone with, “This is the Vet” because I can’t tell you if that person calling me at 10:02 is the interviewer I was waiting on or someone calling for “The Vet” about a payday loan I’ve never taken out or the “IRS” calling about my back taxes that don’t exist.

          Couple that with a creepy stalker and “Hello” is all I’m giving.

          1. L R*

            I’ve been interviewing for jobs the last few weeks and noticed that if I have exchanged emails with the recruiter/hiring manager, if they call me, my iPhone will ID the number as “Maybe: (Recruiter/Hiring Manager’s Name)”. I don’t have any of their numbers saved, so it must be pulled from the emails. It’s useful for not being caught off guard, but also a little creepy.

            1. TheVet*

              I met a woman attending my alma mater in the same UG program I was in. I gave her my number and my name popped up when she put it in her phone, but I can’t recall if it was an iPhone or Android or something from outer space.

              She winked and said she pays extra for that. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit creeped out.

      3. a different Vicki*

        Very often, what the built-in “caller ID” means is that I see an unfamiliar phone number, and the cell phone helpfully tells me where (it thinks) the call is coming from. So my phone tells me there’s a call from Albuquerque, and I’m thinking “I don’t know anyone in Albuquerque, but $in-law is in New Mexico,” and when I answered, that one turned out to be my physical therapist’s office. In Washington. A new employee was calling from her own cell phone, not from the business number that was programmed into my cell phone.

  4. Snarkus Aurelius*

    You’re asking the wrong question. The better question to ask is: why would you want to save an interview with someone who treated you that way?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’ll answer that question! For some people, it’s that they’re new/new-ish to the work world and haven’t yet calibrated their sense of what is and isn’t worth jettisoning a potential job over. For others, they may not have enough options that they have the luxury of walking away from a job because of the interviewer.

      1. This is the OP*

        I’ll also point out that Alison was slightly incorrect thinking I’m “young” – I’m actually in my late 30s, but I’ve been with the same job for 10 years. Now that I’m looking to switch careers, I’m finding that the hiring/interviewing process is a lot different than what I remember.

        1. Bwmn*

          In addition to being out of the job hunt for a while – I have to say that I have found phone and video interviews to always appear more awkward than in person interviews. Pauses to speak, glitches in connections, etc. – all of that I find to be far more difficult to calibrate for than when I’m interviewing in person.

          During a recent interview experience where everything was done over phone or video, I was forever stunned to hear that the recruiting company felt I was the best because to me it felt consistently difficult and glitchy. The last interview was a video conference with 4 people calling in from different places – and I barely understand how they felt they got anything they needed from me, despite getting very positive feedback.

          I’ve found the most important thing is to be confident when I’ve finished a thought, and to expect a potentially longer pause from the interviewer and not to end up rambling to fill silence.

        2. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

          So true at how different it is! I honestly can’t remember having any phone interviews until I was job hunting for the first time in almost decade this time last year. And I like to read people’s faces to see if my answers are getting through. But it is nice to have the first short(er) interview by phone, instead of having to go in and then realize that it’s not a fit.

    2. Emilia Bedelia*

      It’s also possible that the interview is with someone you won’t be directly working with – for example, if a recruiter does an initial phone screen, or if you have an interview with an HR person in addition to the hiring manager. While it’s never pleasant to have a negative interview with anyone, it may be worthwhile to save a first-round interview that’s gone off the tracks so that you can move on to the second round and make a better impression on someone who you will actually be working with.

      1. Lemon Zinger*

        Good point. My first job out of college required me to do two Skype interviews, neither of which were with managers who would oversee me or have anything to do with my work. It was bizarre but because they do mass hiring, they spread things out that way.

        One interview did not go very well because I misinterpreted what they asked, but I was invited to a second interview and then offered the job, so it wasn’t the end of the world.

      2. Doodle*

        A company I used to work with (that was awesome) had a notoriously snarky HR person who did the phone screen. I was recommended by a friend of mine who was leaving the job for personal reasons, and she actually went so far as to say, “Don’t get turned off when [x] is grumpy — they’re just like that! And no one else is!”

        Both turned out to be true — it was a great company.

    3. Not Karen*

      Because you’ve been conditioned to think that when someone treats you that way, it’s your fault.

    4. Cath in Canada*

      In my worst ever interview, the interviewer and I just couldn’t seem to figure out how to talk to each other; there were lots of awkward pauses followed by talking over each other, repeated for half an hour. We were both pretty frustrated by the end, and things got quite tense. It was really weird as I hadn’t had that problem with anyone else before, literally ever.

      I was eventually hired for a different job in the same company, and ended up working on a couple of projects with this guy. Well, we got along great! After we both left that company we ended up writing a book together (with a couple of other former colleagues too), and we still go out for beers every once in a while. We look back on that first meeting sometimes and wonder WTF happened.


    I use… “Hi, this is (first name)” if I know an interviewer is calling. But yes, yours was an ass to keep bringing how you answered the phone up.

  6. LadyKelvin*

    “I’m so sorry I got your name wrong — I’m normally very good with names! My nerves got the better of me there.”

    What if you are genuinely bad at names? I can’t remember people’s names to save my life unless they are written down for me (and not on a nametag, although that helps immensely). I met and had long interesting conversations with my husband three times before I could finally remember his name. And this was someone I was interested in dating, let along a new coworker. I usually head this off by telling them when I meet them “Hi (name), you’ll have to forgive me if I have to ask what you name is again later, I’m really bad at remembering people’s names.” I’m really good at faces, and I recognize people, but can’t tell you their name. And yes, I have tried every trick in the book to remember people’s names, they just don’t stick.

    1. Snarkus Aurelius*

      It very much depends on the circumstances. Once or twice, okay. When I’ve literally been introduced to you at work 14 times, then it’s your problem. (Happened to a co-worker of mine. She started counting because the interactions were getting asinine. This was not a casual work acquaintance; this was someone she dealt with on a weekly basis in person and over email.)

      As for me, I’ve never been driven to that point of frustration. But I do notice when I’ve had to introduce myself to the same person multiple times. I’d never say anything, but I do find it careless and insensitive, especially when I see whose names those people do remember in similar circumstances.

      1. Mabel*

        I know people take this sort of thing personally, which I completely understand, but since menopause, my brain remembers certain things/people and not other things/people, and it has NOTHING to do with how important those things/people are to me. I used to be able to remember things fairly easily, and if I was having trouble, I could figure out some way to make the memory stick. That doesn’t work anymore, and I’m very unhappy about it. I hate that I’m likely hurting people’s feelings.

    2. DeskBird*

      I am also terrible with names. When I start at a new job or office set up – I will draw up a map where everyone is sitting and as I am introduced I will write their names into my map where they sit. Every time I get up to do something I will look at it “Ok – Katie is by the window and bob is next to the door and Jenny is at the front desk”. For some reason this always works to get me to remember names. When there is a new person in the office I will make myself double check their name on the company phone list every time I think of them until I know I’ve got it down. I try very hard to never ask someone what their name is beyond the introduction.

      1. SJ*

        I got a huge org chart when I started my new job and wrote physical descriptions or what they wore when I met them next to their names (I’m great at remembering people based on clothes!). Of course, this was slightly embarrassing when a coworker borrowed it and someone had been labeled “tall hot guy with dark hair.” (Well, I certainly never forgot his name…)

    3. Sophie Winston*

      I read something the other day that resonated with me – given names are arbitrary. They have nothing to do with the person’s profession or hobbies or appearance or anything else that would cue you to remember the name. It’s no wonder so many of us struggle to remember something so arbitrary.

      1. LadyKelvin*

        Yeah, this is my exact problem. I can remember all kinds of details about the person but names just escape me completely.

        1. always in email jail*

          ^YES! I’ll be like “so and so from the teapot factory risk management association. You know… brown hair, 3 kids, his wife works at the hospital, he’s originally from Florida, he has a PhD….” but I can’t remember their name!

    4. Rachel*

      I’m exactly the opposite. I’m really good at remembering names, but I am terrible with faces. I’ve had conversations with people where I’m thinking “Who is this person, I know I know them!” the entire time. But tell me the name of someone I met briefly 30 years ago and I will remember exactly who they are. Go figure!

    5. MillersSpring*

      I wouldn’t want someone to volunteer in an interview that they’re bad with names or bad with faces–don’t shortchange yourself. Just condense Alison’s answer to, “I’m so sorry I got your name wrong. My nerves got the better of me.”

    6. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I am very bad with names but good with faces. I’ve found two things help to mitigate the “how do you not know who I am—we’ve been introduced 8x” awkwardness. The first is that I tell people up front that I’m very bad with names and ask them to help me (i.e., “I’m so sorry, but I’m terrible with names and may ask for your name a few times before it really sinks in.”). I’ll also often ask questions because I am more likely to remember your name if I can attach it to something about you (where you grew up, your last job, if you have kids, your favorite band, etc.).

      The second is to look like I’m making an effort. I’ve found people are much more willing to forgive someone who’s trying than someone who simply announces they aren’t good with names and doesn’t try.

    7. many bells down*

      I’m bad with adults’ names, but for some reason I have no trouble remembering the names of anyone under 16 or so. Teacher habit, maybe? But introduce me to someone my own age, and I will probably forget their name within 5 minutes.

  7. Ruthie*

    Something similar happened to me at an internship interview. The interviewer asked me if I had been asleep when she called. I wasn’t, but it really threw me off. But I ended up getting the internship and it led to my first job in a competitive field.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yeah, tone really matters on phone interviews; the interviewer can’t see you and so tone conveys a lot. I think younger candidates often don’t realize that they need to put energy into their voice and make sure that they sound reasonably upbeat.

      1. LNM*

        One thing that I found really helps with this is doing the whole phone interview while standing. Obviously this isn’t always possible, but the last time I was job-hunting, I did one phone interview while sitting at a coffee shop and another while standing, and the difference was huge. Speaking with energy just came so much more naturally while standing. So if anyone here defaults to a low-energy voice/demeanor like I do, give that a try the next time you do a phone interview!

        1. Emi.*

          I think I would pace distractedly if I were standing. Do you have that problem, or any tips to avoid it?

          1. Jessie*

            See, I like pacing while interviewing on the phone. I walk around, gesture with my hands as if the conversation is happening ‘live’ – just generally stay moving. Helps me deal with nerves and also keeps my voice engaged. Of course, this means I need to be a space where that isn’t weird and in-the-way.

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              I’m the same, Jessie. I do better on phone interviews if I’m standing and have room to pace/gesture.

            2. Fortitude Jones*

              I do this too, and I’ve gotten in-person interviews afterwards because I sound excited about the job as opposed to when I’m sitting and sound more blah.

            3. Not So NewReader*

              I prefer being on my feet and moving. It helps me to stay sharp. The last time I interview Husky was a pup. He talked. A lot. woo, woo, wooooo. My choices were HIDE from the dog or put him on the bed next to me and rub his belly. I rubbed that dog’s belly for over an hour straight. ugh. Got the job though.

            4. So Very Anonymous*

              I do this, too. And it’s why I’d *much* rather do a phone interview than a Skype interview.

          2. Emilia Bedelia*

            I also do phone interviews while standing, and I also pace. I don’t really think it’s that big of an issue- if I weren’t pacing, I would be fidgeting in some other way. In phone interviews that I’ve done while sitting, I just end up doodling all over my note-taking paper.
            The only way I could envision this being a problem is if I weren’t in a private space and were worried about distracting other people/being obtrusive while pacing… but I think being in a private space is beneficial for phone interviews even if you’re not planning on wandering around.

      2. Hermione*

        An ex of mine had the sleepy-sounding voice problem (low former smoker’s voice and slow speaking manner), and had been asked the same in an interview. He began to offer up a (usually fake) excuse “Please excuse my voice; I’m just getting over a cold.” Interviewers seemed to take it in stride after that.

        1. RKB*

          I once got a call to come in for an interview when I was on the silent floor of the library. I didn’t want to abandon my stuff so I had to go hide in the bathroom but the person on the other end wanted to know why I was so quiet. She thought I was sleeping.

    2. Pebbles*

      I actually WAS asleep when my future manager called to tell me I had gotten the internship! I was working nights at the time doing overnight stock, I didn’t know I was going to be getting a phone call, my overnight shifts typically ended around 6-7am, and my mom answered the phone at 11am. “One moment please, I’ll go wake her up.” I was SO embarrassed, but I then explained “overnight shift, no this isn’t an inconvenience, thank you so much, yadda yadda…” It was fine.

      1. SJ*

        That happened to me when I got my most recent job offer! I now know our organization’s office hours are 8:30-5, but HR called me before 8 on that particular morning to offer me the job. I used to live 5 minutes from OldJob and my hours started at 9, so I had my alarm set for 8 and was woken up by the call. It definitely took my brain a few seconds to catch up.

  8. Wacky Teapot*

    Don’t beat yourself up. I had one phone interviewer interview me from a company and didn’t have me back for a face-to-face interview. He said I didn’t sound enthusiastic enough. Fast forward one year later, I’m interview for another position at the same company. I’ve been here for almost a decade. He’s long gone. (Oh, and he tried to sleep with every young woman there.) Douchebag. Bad reputation. All flash and no cash.

  9. AMG*

    When stuff like this happens, I like to use phrasing similar to Alison’s suggestions, but mentally I also like to channel my inner ‘Mariah Carey on New Years’. Shit happens. Forget it and move on. It keeps me from going into the Thrown Off My Game Death Spiral.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      One thing that has helped me is to say to myself, “Thank you for showing me how you treat people now, at the interview stage, rather than later on the job.”

  10. all aboard the anon train*

    Ouch. I feel you, anon. I get constantly told that I sound either busy or like I just woke up when I answer the phone. EVERY SINGLE TIME my parents call me they always ask, “did we wake you? you sound like you just woke up” and most of the interviewers I get for pre-scheduled calls ask, “is this still a good time?” with a handful telling me some variation of “you sounded preoccupied, so I wanted to check”. Same goes for people who call me at work (and once, a coworker did think they’d woken me from a steal nap).

    So, I really do get where you’re coming from and your interviewer was a jerk for bringing it up multiple times.

    1. Lily Rowan*

      Honestly, this sounds like something you might want to work on, if you get it so consistently.

      But I generally ask “is this still a good time” regardless of what the person sounds like. I’m not crazy about the phone myself, and it helps ease me into the conversation.

      1. all aboard the anon train*

        I’ve tried, but even when I try to sound energetic, I still get the same question, so I’m really over trying to fix it. It hasn’t ever led to me not receiving a second interview, so I don’t think it’s a huge deal, just something that causes weird moments at the start of an interview.

        1. Lee*

          It sounds silly, but answering the phone with a smile actually helps me add a bit more energy into my voice. It’s hard not to feel ridiculous, but it works! Another tip: try to mimic someone you know who has a great phone demeanor.

        2. Bibliovore*

          I get this if I haven’t spoken for a few hours. Just say, no its just that I hadn’t spoken for a few hours.

          1. Parenthetically*

            Absolutely. Sometimes I forget how to words after I have not wordsed in awhile. Happened a lot more before my husband moved in, but still does happen now and then.

      2. CAA*

        Yeah, I don’t think you should take “is this still a good time” as an indicator of anything other than the interviewer wanting to make sure you’re still available and in a place you can talk. I ask this question at the beginning of every phone interview. Nobody’s ever said no, so maybe I should stop asking, but I just look at it as a way to be respectful of whatever unknown circumstances they’re in that I can’t see.

    2. Turkletina*

      My dad used to say “You sound sad” *every* time we talked on the phone. I don’t know how he didn’t figure out that my phone voice apparently comes across as “sadder” than my normal voice.

  11. Generic Admin*

    Oh if only this article was posted yesterday… Any one else had an interview today that went awry?

    1. synchrojo*

      Not today, but a few years ago I had a horrible phone interview for a position requiring my newly-minted masters degree. It consisted of asking me to regurgitate facts related to the field that are easily google-able but sufficiently obscure that I hadn’t bothered committing them to memory, including, “How many square feet are in an acre?” I stammered something about how I would go about finding information like that and giving an example of my excellent memory for details. However, the interviewer clearly wanted the actual number because he responded “the correct answer is 43,560.” I soldiered on for another painful 10 minutes, but it was all downhill from there. In retrospect I’m thankful it was such a bad interview, because I would have been miserable in the job.

    2. plain_jane*

      I had an interview today that went awry. I totally said the wrong thing on my weakness, and said one thing isn’t important that they clearly think was (I mean, it’s important if it happens, but it’s pretty rare – a common complaint, but not a common issue). And the headhunter had told me that I needed to bring a lot of energy, and so I kept on reminding myself to pump it up. So I fear I came across as inauthentic. And I forgot my go-to follow up question because I was so focused on energy.

      I want the job, but the commute isn’t great. So I’ll apply for two other jobs that I want and the commute is better on.

    3. Lynxa*

      Had a recent interview I didn’t know was an interview with someone I went to law school with. He was looking for a “community manager” and my firm is closing so I thought I’d reach out.

      I thought we were having lunch, but he set us up in his office and started asking me about my resume. He asked me what I envisioned this role being. I said that I had been wanting to ask if he was looking for an internal or external community manager. He said, “Well, just tell me what you think.”

      So I spend about five minutes talking about external customer relationship managing and he says, “Yeah, I was really envisioning more of an internal position.”

      Well, buddy, I had a 50/50 shot there. I unfriended on Facebook.

  12. F.*

    Perhaps the interviewer was deliberately trying to throw you for a loop to see how you would handle the stress.

      1. Dan*

        When interviewers do things that are “rare”, they risk coming across alienating good talent who doesn’t understand what’s going on. So even if it’s a stress interview, the org risks the interviewee not understanding that and writing them off as jerks.

        IOW, they shouldn’t be doing that unless there’s an absolute need. And if there is, they need to warn the candidate.

  13. This is the OP*

    Hi, OP here. When writing in to AAM, I had minimized how terrible this interview was, because I thought it would detract from my main question (what can I do to fix this situation should it arise again) and it would instead focus on how awful the interviewer was (which I can’t control). The actual conversation went like this:
    (me, in my car, prepping for 15 minutes, papers laying all around, my phone sitting on the dashboard)
    Phone rings.
    Me: Hello?
    Him: Hi, this is Eugene from ABC Corp.
    Me: Great, thanks so much for calling.
    Him: … Um, did you forget?
    Me: I’m sorry?
    Him: Did you forget about our appointment?
    Me: No, not at all. I’m here, ready to go!
    Him: … are you SURE you didn’t forget?
    Me: Nope! I’ve been preparing, I’ve got my notes, and I’m ready to get this started!
    Him: Really? Because you sounded like you forgot; you sounded so surprised when you answered.
    Me: (dying on the inside, feeling like I’ve blown it, wondering if I shouldn’t have answered the phone “hello?” and instead answered “Hi Eugene!” or something similar, and hoping that he would JUST EFFING MOVE ON) Nope, I promise I haven’t forgotten about our interview.
    As the interview progressed from there, his behavior proceeded to get … weird – at one point, he asked me to “explain my project management style” by illustrating how I would coordinate a canoeing trip for a group of people in a remote area and insisted I NOT reference any actual job experiences to do this. I’ll also add that the job had nothing to do with canoeing, traveling, or the outdoors (it’s office management work, working with budgets, that kind of thing). This might be easy for some people to do (creative types, etc) but I had been making list of MY job duties, best accomplishments, etc for the last week and I couldn’t mentally switch to the hypothetical, when it wasn’t related to the actual job in any way.
    He also, during the phone interview, told me that unfortunately it didn’t appear that I was what they were looking for. I said that I understood. Two minutes later he was asking me for my salary requirements.
    The interview ended and I was shaken and upset – I really liked the organization and it would’ve been a great transition job for me (I work in a unique branch of government that doesn’t have a lot of opportunities in the private sector, but this was a non-government job that necessitated government experience). I told my husband about it and he stated that it sounded like Eugene was “negging” me, but for an employment opportunity rather than a dating situation. I think he was right. Subtly insult someone enough times to shake their confidence and, for a big segment of the population, subconsciously they’ll work harder to impress you/gain your respect, rather than recognizing that the person is actually a jerk that they don’t want anything to do with.
    Anyways, as a funny aside: two days later I got an email from Eugene asking me to come in for a formal in-person interview with him and other members of the board (and remember, he had ALREADY SAID I was not the right person for the job). I was intrigued but turned him down, sending an email that said “upon careful consideration, I don’t think this job opportunity is the right one for me, nor am I the best fit for your agency. I wish you all the best.”
    His response, via email, was only three words long: “You’re probably right.”

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Eugene is just an asshole. I don’t think there’s any strategy to it (like that he’s deliberately trying to lower your confidence so that you work harder to impress him — which would be a terrible strategy); he’s just a jerk. It’s okay to just write him off as a jerk.

      1. This is the OP*

        True, definitely a jerk. But something positive came from the whole thing: I got my first phone interview under my belt, I now know how to properly answer the phone for business calls on my personal cell (“This is Anne”), and I reaffirmed, for myself, that I’m looking for employment with a company in which I’d be a good fit. I already have a job (10 years) that pays me okay, has great benefits, but has some poor management problems that I can no longer overlook. I can take my time to find a new job – I don’t need to jump at the first one that comes along.

        1. orchidsandtea*

          FWIW, you sound pretty awesome and like someone I’d love to work with. You’re organized and prepared, you know what you want, you value working with not-jerks, and you know how to find the useful kernel of good in a crummy situation.

          Also I really want to step on Eugene’s foot. What a cad.

          1. AnonAnalyst*

            Seconded! OP, this really reflects on Eugene, not you. It sounds like you handled yourself really well in the situation and Eugene is just an ass.

            Good luck with the search! I hope you find something better soon.

        2. Paige Turner*

          Oh man, my mouth literally fell open when I got to his response! Good for you and good luck with your search!

          1. Fortitude Jones*

            Right? WTH? Why did he even bother if he knew he was never going to hire OP in the first place? So dumb.

            Good for you, OP, shutting him down like that. This guy was just going to waste everybody’s time with his nonsense.

        3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          You are so wonderful to find a silver lining in the situation. This guy is such a jerk/poor communicator/idiot, and I’m glad you dodged a bullet with him.

    2. Jessie*

      Wow. He’s a jerk.

      I think rather than beat yourself up over not recovering from a rocky start, you should thank all that is good and green that you saved yourself from working for him!

    3. Murphy*

      WOW. I think Alison was on point. This guy was just an ass. Super unprofessional, especially that email.

    4. Lemon Zinger*

      Okay, not only is Eugene an asshole, but he sounds like a truly terrible manager. You dodged a bullet!

    5. Slow Gin Lizz*

      Wow, what a total jerk. Seems that you really really (really!) dodged a bullet on that one to not be working for him. Too bad the company seems like a good one. Maybe another opportunity there will present itself where you are not working for Eugene.

      Also, to Alison: “rice sculpting.” <3

    6. Tangerina Warbleworth*

      Mentally switch your last email from your very polite, considerate, professional response to, “Well YOU’RE quite the douche, aintcha?” and keep his response. And then chalk it up to a bad experience that strengthens you.

      “Are you SURE I’m a douche?” “Yes.” “But are you SURE sure?” “Yes.” “But, like, are you sure?” “Yes.” Literally ad nauseam.

      1. SystemsLady*

        Yes, I take great pride in my ability to write a calm, comprehensive, helpful, and polite email to a jerk, personally interpreting it as meaning “screw you [insert long rant]”, and it never being noticeable.

        It’s very useful to be able to redirect anger toward jerks to efforts to get the right thing done. And depending on context, the jerk may be forced into at least pretending to respect you!

        OP comes off to me a master of this art, judging from the fact that they got a callback, that they gave such a perfect response, and Eugene’s known negging habit.

        Even “I wish you all the best” can be internally rewritten as an insult, for the record, as a letter writer the other day accidentally pointed out.

    7. kbeers0su*

      “You’re probably right.”

      I get such a sore loser vibe from this statement. Like he had to have the last word (and dig) with you. Ick!

      1. Jadelyn*

        Yes, this. Thank you for spelling that out, I couldn’t figure out exactly why it came off so rude to me, but that’s it exactly. Like a guy getting turned down by a woman, then calling her ugly to like…reassert his control over the situation or whatever it is that’s supposed to do for guys who do it.

        1. Temperance*

          This is exactly the same vibe I’m getting, too. Like how DARE she not be interested after talking to his dumb ass.

          1. Elsajeni*

            Strictly speaking, “negging” is insulting someone at the start of the conversation — insulting them to get the last word after they’ve turned you down is just regular ol’ being a jerk, I think.

      2. Blossom*

        Yes – Eugene is taking it very personally, and behaving spitefully. Very ego-driven. Not very grown-up.

    8. Sadsack*

      Good for you, you had the best response and he just had to have the last word. Imagine working for him! I thought your phone conversation seemed completely fine, good luck next time.

    9. Marvel*

      Holy crap, what an ass.

      I actually had almost this EXACT SAME THING happen to me one time–getting interrogated, upon answering the phone, about whether I’d forgotten the interview. I was the same as you at the time, just answering with “hello” because I didn’t know I was supposed to do anything else. In this case, it was an interview for an internship, so you would think they’d be expecting people to be somewhat inexperienced! I do kind of wonder if it’s some kind of negging technique, as you said.

      Funnily enough, I was asked for a follow-up interview, for which they did not call. I emailed them 15 minutes the appointed time asking if everything was still good on their end. Their response was very flat and accusatory, claiming that they’d called and I hadn’t picked up. I replied with an apology, explained that I hadn’t received a call, and reiterated my phone number just in case there’d been a mistake. No reply. The next day I sent a follow-up email saying I wasn’t sure what had happened and asked to reschedule. Never heard back. In retrospect, I think they probably just called the wrong number or something and then didn’t want to admit their mistake, which tells me all I need to know about their professionalism. My phone is very reliable–even if I’m in an area with an extremely weak signal, which I wasn’t, it will always tell me later that I had a missed call. Never got one in this case.

    10. Sabine the Very Mean*

      OMG! I honestly wonder if at that point I wouldn’t ask, “is there a reason you seem increasingly vitriolic?”. Okay, I wouldn’t ask that but would really want to!

    11. Hermione*

      His response, via email, was only three words long: “You’re probably right.”

      UGH WHAT A JERK. I’m so offended on your behalf. I’m glad you avoided this douchecanoe.

    12. Lora*

      What the…?

      Nope, dude is just an a-hole. Bless his heart. Eugene is lucky you stayed on the phone for two whole minutes after he said you weren’t what they were looking for – lots of people would have been like, OK have a nice day byebye.

    13. Jesmlet*

      I once interviewed somewhere where the first interview consisted of 6 hours of group interviews asking us how we would set up a BLT lunch for clients, digging deep into our faults and getting yelled at by an incredibly arrogant German dude while his coworkers sat around and watched because we didn’t understand his stupid instructions for a very irrelevant to the job exercise they do. A couple months later articles came out about this very well known company alleging abuse and sexual harassment on top of a lot of other strange stuff.

      Moral of the story, there is no level of desperation high enough for me to tolerate bizarre interviews because most of the time it’s only the tip of the weird and inappropriate iceberg as far as the company goes.

    14. INFJ*

      “You’re probably right”


      Then why the invite for the in-person interview? This person has NO idea how to search for candidates! (and is a complete douchecanoe)

      1. Dzhymm, BfD*

        Don’t you remember the letter writer sometime back where the interview request was, in fact, a pretext to ask for a date? I’m getting that vibe here. Eugene’s MO has PUA written all over it…

    15. always in email jail*

      I want to hear more about this hypothetical canoe question. i’m strangely intrigued. I would have such a hard time with that and probably make an deliverance reference or something.

      Also-“you’re probably right”?!?! EW! Why was he asking you to come in, then?

    16. spocklady*

      Agreed with everyone re: jerk. 1000%

      I also think the way you answered the phone is totally fine! I’m sure I’ve done exactly that for interviews. EVEN IF the interviewer thought maybe you’d forgotten AND decided to mention it, I actually think the part that would have saved it is where you asked “I’m sorry?” If you had forgotten the call, you would have maybe answered differently, but the fact that the question made you go, “wait, what?” should have been a tipoff to a reasonable human that you didn’t.

      Anyway, hopefully your next phone interview will go much more smoothly! Good luck :)

    17. Rahera*

      Serious sympathies, OP, and kudos for that polite reply to the interview letter. Eugene sounds like a real jerk. I hope a much better opportunity comes along soon :).

    18. Boss Cat Meme*

      It’s so great to see you have a positive attitude about it all. You have also learned something about interviews too, that sometimes questions will be asked that may have nothing to do with your skill set, or if you may be a creative person or not. I do think Eugene was a jerk but I think the canoe trip question is a good one, actually. It really speaks to how you might go about planning and organizing, or if you would delegate tasks, or if you would be too overwhelmed to develop a simple plan with steps. I think I would rather be asked a question like that, where I could show my critical thinking and planning strengths instead of some of the annoying, “tell me about the time you had a great personal “eagle” story ,and then a great personal “turkey” story.” where you first have to brag about yourself and then humiliate yourself in about two minutes. “Hey, I’m brilliant AND I’m an idiot.”

      1. Pebbles*

        I have never heard of them put like that “eagle” and “turkey”. I would have asked “Eagle story? Like when I was in Alaska and saw a bunch of bald eagles?” :D

  14. AndersonDarling*

    Ugh. Sometimes I think hiring managers aren’t looking for the best candidates, instead they are looking for excuses to remove candidates from the applicant pool. It makes the difference between an inviting interview and a jerky interview experience.

    1. College Career Counselor*

      Well, yes, on some level, they’re looking to reduce the applicant pool. And it’s easier to rule people out than justify keeping them in (which is one of the things I tell students all the time). That said, being an asshole that no one would ever want to work for is not the strategy for removing candidates, unless you’re looking to rule out people who won’t take crap from you.

    2. Oldgrouchylady*

      Sometimes they have an internal candidate they want, but the higher ups want an external one. Very easy to weed out the external ones if no one is watching.

  15. Some2*

    I once missed a call at an interview time because my phone simply didn’t ring. My house was very close to the cell tower but that was a frequent occurrence. I called back immediately when I got the VM they left. I apologized profusely and explained what happened, but they sounded skeptical. I worried about my chances, but was ultimately selected for an in-person interview. I ultimately didn’t get the job, but it was nice to know that they presumably didn’t hold the missed call against me.

    1. Dan*

      I had that happen. I was staring at my phone for about 5 minutes, waiting for it to ring or otherwise flash that a call was coming. Nothing. Then “beep beep, voicemail”. I was mortified. I call the guy straight back, and he was cool with it. I ultimately got at offer but turned it down.

      1. Some2*

        Yeah I too felt mortified. Interviews are so funny- I’ve seen people tossed from consideration for the tiniest things.

      2. many bells down*

        This happens a lot more with cell phones, I think. For some reason my dad’s phone would never play nice with mine. Nearly every time he’d call me it would not ring and then go to voicemail.

  16. Callalily*

    I feel this was a bit unfair – answering hello with an inflection has no relation to forgetting the interview. I could see if OP had to say ‘I’m sorry, who is this?’ or said it was a bad time or was flushing the toilet while answering or even missed the call all together!

    I once was waiting for a call from an interviewer and a couple minutes after the scheduled time my phone rings with an unknown number… it was a darn telemarketer! So of course when the phone rang again a few minutes after that I could not be 100% sure who it was as caller ID again showed an unknown number. He didn’t say a word about me sounding confused or anything though. It would’ve been an excellent explanation though.

    A good excuse on the spot could always be that you had just gotten a call from a telemarketer and wasn’t sure who was calling – or even that you didn’t recognize the number or that the call was blocked.

    1. fposte*

      Yes, Eugene is absolutely an asshole. But sounding confident and assured in an interview matters, and it matters from the start. Most people won’t mention it, but that doesn’t mean they won’t notice it or that it won’t factor in.

      You don’t lose anything by saying “Hello” firmly to a telemarketer. You can lose something by saying “Hello?” questioningly to a prospective employer.

      1. This is the OP*

        I agree with this. And the most frustrating thing was that I was so, SO prepared for the interview – I had written out typical questions with my responses, I had made a list of my most challenging projects with what was successful and what I would fix – I just hadn’t thought out how to answer the phone! So to be called out as sounding unprepared when I was ultra-prepared was just mortifying.

        1. CM*

          But this is such a tiny, dumb thing… it sounds like he would have found something else to “neg” you about if it wasn’t that. “Hello?” is a perfectly normal way to answer the phone even if “Hello, this is OP,” is better. If I were you, I wouldn’t be mortified, just annoyed.

          1. fposte*

            My thought is that this was a good way to learn this lesson, because ultimately you don’t care what Eugene thinks of you and you could have had to learn it with somebody whose opinion mattered.

          2. AD*

            I agree, we shouldn’t overthink the intonation of “Hello?” is a deal-breaker. If an employer is going to be THAT particular or fastidious, then chances are there are loads of other things they’ll be ready to pick on as well.
            I think what Callalilly said is right. If you have a scheduled call or phone interview and answer with “Who is this?” or something, that’s an issue.
            But “Hello?”? That’s not really a faux pas.

            1. fposte*

              I’m still not on board with this. It’s not about it being a deal-breaker, it’s about mustering your data points in your favor. If you sound tentative when you pick up the phone, that’s then an impression of inexperience you have to surmount. It’s not that hard to surmount, if you’re a good candidate and interview well, but you want the presumption to be for you from the start. It’s so not hard to answer the phone professionally, and you will be competing with people who do.

              1. Emilia Bedelia*

                I agree with you. I feel like it’s similar to writing a follow up note after an interview- if you don’t do it, then it’s not that big of a deal, but if you do, it’s points in your favor. Why not do something relatively minor, in an effort to present yourself as well as possible?

              2. AD*

                Totally agreed to answering the phone professionally, but the “Hello” thing is troubling me.
                If your tone is off (surprised, dazed, sleepy-sounding, whatever) that is an issue. Or if you clearly are caught off-guard and sounding like you’re unprepared or busy/occupied, that’s an issue.
                But if an applicant answered the phone by saying “Hello?” I’m probably not going to ding them for that. It sounds like a small thing, but I’d be more focused on other stuff when evaluating a candidate.

                1. fposte*

                  Would I consciously ding somebody? Probably not. Would I unconsciously view them as tentative? Can’t swear to you I wouldn’t, and I can be pretty sure somebody would. The other problem is that if you’re then seeming tentative about something later in the interview it risks looking like a pattern–you’ve lost your one-off presumption. It’s better to preserve that, and it’s not much of a burden to answer the phone more directly to do so.

        2. SystemsLady*

          He was clearly out to nitpick, and you got the satisfaction of turning down a much more serious interview from him.

          Don’t dwell on it too much – it’s a small mistake, and by being a huge nitpicker, this guy unknowingly gave you free interview coach services. That’s a subconscious impression you won’t be giving out in the future!

          1. Not So NewReader*

            Part of the problem is that we don’t want to think about landing a job as being sheer luck. But when stuff like this happens we can question ourselves.”oh, if i had just said ‘hello’ correctly, then I probably would have gotten this job!” Yeah, but would you actually want this job knowing what you know now?

            Getting a job is part good effort and part luck, OP and that is reality often times. However, in this case you STILL had luck. Based on your original letter, Alison saw red flags all over the place. And your follow up only confirmed it. Sometimes NOT getting a job is a lucky thing indeed.

  17. Purest Green*

    I agree that your interview was being an ass because it wouldn’t have otherwise been an interview flub. I’ll give you one that was, though. In college I applied for a part-time position at a bookstore. I had also been getting A LOT of scammy telemarketer calls on my cell. One day someone called from a number I didn’t recognize, asked for me and started saying who they were, that they were with… I cut them off stating, “This is my personal cell phone. Please do not call it again.” And hung up. It occurred to me later that person was from the bookstore. >_<

  18. Scully*

    I had a boyfriend that did that to me all the time and it was infuriating! How else does one answer a phone (unless you’re playing a G-Man on TV and answer with your last name)? Isn’t “hello?” the standard phone answer? I mean, even Adele is on Team Hello.

    1. Emi.*

      Your boyfriend gave you flak for saying “hello” when you picked up the phone? That’s so terrible.

  19. Franzia Spritzer*

    Timely! I have a (second) video interview in an hour and a half and I’m a nervous wreck. Mostly, I’m at home, my husband is home, both cats are wandering around yelling at the walls, and our furnace is out and it’s cold in here, and I do not have another private place to take an hour+ video call on short notice. AHHH!

    Trying to keep it together.

    1. Brandy in TN*

      I once had a non scheduled phone interview, the hiring manager called after I submitted my resume, wasn’t planned. I had 3 dogs barking because someone was knocking at the front door and my house phone was ringing as well as whoever called my home, hung up and called my cell, so it kept beeping in. I kept apologizing and shut myself in the office as best I could and ignored the door and phones. Didn’t get the job, applied monthes later when another position opened. Had a phone interview and got it then.

  20. nnn*

    Regarding sounding surprised when you answer the phone, when I first got call display I started answering the phone as though I know who’s calling and why, and I found that it kind of creeped people out. So I reverted to answering with the same tone and delivery that I used when all we had was a dial phone on the wall.

    1. Elizabeth H.*

      Yeah, I forgot to say in my comment below that I do feel like it can be mildly creepy to answer with everyone’s name, it feels kind of, HELLO CLARICE.

      1. Emi.*

        Yeah, this always throws me, even though I’m used to the idea of normal people having caller ID by now.

          1. Elsajeni*

            I answer my mom’s calls “Hello!” (rather than “Hello?” or “Hello, Elsajeni speaking” or anything like that), and she usually just launches right into the conversation without identifying herself (“Hi! So I ordered this shirt from Lands’ End…”), but even so, she’s thrown off if I pick up and immediately say “Hi, Mom!” There’s just something about it that’s Too Weird.

      2. Vakl*

        You killed me with that.

        I always feel a bit put off if we don’t do the pleasantries of “Hello?”, “Hello, its me”, “Oh, hello!” in a phonecall, even when the person being called knows who is calling them.

        I’m almost wondering if that is what the interviewer was expecting (unless OP sounded completely bewildered her phone rang) and wanted “Hello Eugene!”

  21. Elizabeth H.*

    At work and for an interview I would answer the phone “Hi, this is Ellie” in a calm but energetic way (not really up-inflected). We have caller ID that works pretty well inside our organization and spottily outside it so if it’s someone I work with pretty frequently or talk to a lot I will answer “Hi Patrick” or whatever occasionally.
    However, I have to say that on my cell phone I sometimes (maybe often?) answer the phone “Hello?” in the curious tone you would use when you don’t know who it is because when it’s someone you don’t talk to a lot, I feel like it’s an important part of the interaction to do the ‘Hey Ellie, it’s Ben!’ as it’s a nice start in to the conversation, just kind of a familiar social ritual you are both participating in by way of greeting. It really depends though on mood etc but it doesn’t strike me as bizarre. I answer unknown calls with my name though like at work.

  22. Kate*

    Well, it’s important to factor into your thinking here that your interviewer was an ass.

    I just wanted to reiterate this fact because a similar thing happened to me where my interviewer was not an ass. I was scheduled to have my second phone interview with a company: the first with my would-be boss and the second with a higher up. I also did not want to disturb anyone in the office at my current job, so I drove home giving myself about a half hour to settle down and review any last minute notes before the call. Welp, Higher-Up called a half hour before our agreed upon time. I heard the phone ringing as I unlocked the door, ran in and answered, “Hello?” completely out of breath. He said, “Hi, this is [Name]. Is this an OK time?” I said, “Yes, of course! How are you?” And then we moved on to having the interview as normal. He did NOT say, “Well you seem really out of breath. Did you forget about our call?” Or harp on this issue after the fact. Had he done that, I’m sure my confidence would have been shaken too, but instead he allowed us both to settle into interview mode, and I ended up getting the job.

    Long story to short, don’t beat yourself up because your interviewer sounds like a jerk.

  23. Christian Troy*

    I’ve had a lot of phone and video interviews. Sometimes technology sucks and I miss a call because my phone doesn’t ring or cuts out or I sound surprised or strange or whatever. I would say most people get over the initial awkwardness, but there are also people who get weird and angry and decide that I’m unprofessional/not getting the job and there isn’t much I can do to fix it.

  24. memyselfandi*

    I had a friend whose father was British and would answer the phone “Wilson (last name), here! ” I always wished I had the nerve to answer the phone in the same manner.

  25. shep*

    I had a similar phone interview several years ago when applying for graduate school. The program director was incredibly condescending and essentially lectured me for forty-five minutes about why I probably wasn’t going to get in because I hadn’t taken a specific course in undergrad. I was young and very mortified and just let her talk. I never bothered to complete my application.

    I ended up being accepted by their biggest rival school–and one with a much more prestigious reputation among circles I’m most interested in. I also met a student doing a post-graduate semester at my school who had gone to the other program for her MA. I told her about my experience, and the sheer amount of commiseration on her end made me feel much better. She essentially said that egos ran rampant at the other program, if she could do it all over again, she’d have gone to my school instead in a heartbeat.

    TL;DR, if you don’t get this position, OP, you’ve probably dodged a bullet.

  26. Chickaletta*

    Yep, sometimes interviewers are just an ass. Or maybe they’re having a bad day and they let it seep into the interview. I remember one particularly bad interview I had where the manager had asked me everyone’s favorite question: what is your greatest weakness. I responded with the true, yet typical, “I worry too much about making sure other people are happy with the job I’m doing” or something along those lines. The interviewer replied snakily, “Everyone has that concern”. Then she sighed heavily. The rest of the interview she acted like she couldn’t wait for it be over and get on with the rest of her day. I was actually glad I didn’t get the job, I can’t imagine having to work with her every day if that was her personality, or even just when she was in a bad mood. Whichever it was, it was clear that she had communication issues and had no qualms acting coldly toward me.

    1. Venus Supreme*

      That reminds me of one interviewer I had a few years ago. She was very pregnant and mentioned in the interview that she was about to go on her maternity leave. She constantly sighed during our interview and even rolled her eyes a couple times. Her attitude made me nervous; I had to pull out my one-page notes for reference at one point.

      Another girl, closer to my age, was also interviewing me and WOULD NOT make eye contact with me during the interview! So I have one uncomfortable, irritated, pregnant interviewer on one side of me and a silent, nervous nelly interviewer on the other side of me. I later figured out that organization was severely dysfunctional and the pregnant interviewer ended up screwing the company once she got back from maternity leave!

    2. Pebbles*

      The snark in me would have wanted to tell that interviewer “Then why do you keep asking the question if you already know what the answer is going to be?” Thankfully I would have not been brave(foolish?) enough to let the snark out.

    3. Anony-mouse*

      Oh my god THE HEAVY SIGH! grates on my nerves! Worse phone interview I ever had was with a prestigious, huge company. I really wanted to work there. So I secure a phone interview, its going so-so with the hiring manager, and then he asks me: “If you have a research question you want an answer to, how would you go about scoping out the question and finding an answer?” So, I answer using all the best practices for my field, and do like a hypothetical, think-out-loud exercise type response.

      I get silence, then, this HEAVY SIGH on the other end of the line. Then “I asked, HOW WOULD YOU GO ABOUT FINDING AN ANSWER?” very deliberate and slow, like I’m a complete moron. Gee, I thought I had been answering that question for the last 2 minutes, but apparently I was really giving you a recipe for banana cake for glucose intolerant aliens!

      I ddnt another interview, and even though that was like 3 years ago, I wonder very often what answer he was looking for, because I answered using best practices for our field, coupled with allowing for budget and reality constraints (I mentioned this). On good days I like to think he was just a humongous asshole.

  27. stelmselms*

    I once had a phone interview for which I confirmed with the search chair of the committee in writing that they would be calling my cell phone number (so I could sit in my car and not have to go home to use the landline). I waited about 10 minutes for the call. I took a chance and checked home messages and sure enough, that’s the number they called. They left a pretty annoyed sounding message as well. Even though it was not my fault at all, somehow I ended up apologizing and thanking them for reconvening for the interview which was of course shortened considerably because they had interviews after mine. Needless to say, I could tell they thought I was not the responsible, attention to detail person they were looking for and I did not get any further in the process. Now that I’m older and a bit wiser, I would find a way to let them know we had agreed on using the other phone number even though they likely already have their mind made up by that point.

  28. Berated For Being Young Once*

    I like to answer with “Marjorie Warblesmith.” when I know I’m expecting a call from someone professional, if I don’t recognize the number, or it might be a work-related call. The most annoying thing is the number of people saying “Hello, this is Wakeem from ABC Teapots, is Marjorie Warblesmith there?”

    No, of course not. This is her younger sister, answering her cell phone with her name. :|

    1. shep*

      I could see myself doing this while returning voice messages in the office, because a lot of people will rattle off nebulous mumbled or jumbledtogetherlikethis salutations, and it’s clear THEY know what they’re saying because it’s rote answer they’re used to rattling off, but it’s morphed into something slightly different because they say it all the time, and sometimes I have no idea of they’re saying hello or their name or some variant thereof. (Not to say you do this, but I’ve found it’s pretty common!)

      Fortunately, I only introduce MYSELF and then launch into their inquiry, i.e., “Hi, this is Shep with Teapots, Inc. You had a question about XYZ?” and usually they say, “Oh, yes!” and we go on with the conversation. (I wouldn’t be so cavalier with more classified inquiries, of course, and would make sure I was speaking to the right person.)

  29. Venus Supreme*

    Ugh, OP, you’re not alone in something rather small throwing off your whole interview game. A couple years ago when I was in the thick of interviewing, I decided to wear glue-on nails. They were the French manicure-style. No bling, no crazy colors, no crazy shapes, and they were short enough that I was able to perform usual tasks without any issues. At one in-person interview, it was four people on one side of the table and me on the other side. The one interviewer lady would not stop staring at my nails and gave me a couple side-eye glances, which make me feel INCREDIBLY insecure. Her judgement was laid on thick. Maybe I shouldn’t have worn the glue-ons? They weren’t an issue in any of my other in-person interviews. I was so thrown off and I feel like I would have had a significantly different interview had I done something different in my appearance.

    1. shep*

      I totally sympathize. I had a coworker who would CONSTANTLY glance at my neckline with an odd, borderline judgmental expression. Fortunately, she was a coworker and not an interviewer, and I eventually just chalked it up to it being a personal tick of hers, but it was always REALLY disconcerting; is my shirt too low? Did I get food on myself? Is she just judging my outfit?? WHAT?? She was very nice otherwise, but man that drove me nuts.

      If she had been an interviewer, it would’ve thrown me off TERRIBLY.

      1. Venus Supreme*

        Oh my goodness, how uncomfortable!! What the heck is she looking at?! I’m a large-chested girl and I’d be incredibly self-conscious if she did that to me… Maybe you have really nice collarbones and she’s jealous? Haha

    2. Callalily*

      Once an interviewer continuously stared at my right ear… to this day I do not know why!

      It made me SO uncomfortable that I kept on touching my hair to tuck it behind my ear even though I could feel that there was nothing wrong with my hair where she was staring.

      A friend even checked my ear and it was very ordinary looking…

      1. Venus Supreme*

        That’s so weird… I went to school with a girl who had two different shaped ear lobes. One was a detached ear lobe and the other wasn’t. She’d get a few stares here and there but nothing insane. Did you wear nice earrings? Does your interviewer like the feel of a smooth ear lobe? Hahahahah

    3. Crylo Ren*

      I had a similar experience just yesterday, except I was the interviewer in this case. One of my thumb nails is permanently messed up due to an injury from childhood – it doesn’t hurt, but it is pretty obvious (discolored and ridged). I usually cover it up with nail polish but this week I didn’t. The interviewee was really obvious about staring at it whenever I gestured, and I eventually got so self-conscious that I ended up holding my hands under the table most of the time. I’ve done enough interviews that I usually have a good script going but I just felt…off and almost nervous for the entire interview, and continued to feel unnerved even after I left. Coupled with other concerns I had about her demeanor, I was really not that enthusiastic to recommend her for hire.

      1. Venus Supreme*

        I’m sorry she made you feel uncomfortable- I’m super self-conscious about my hands (nothing wrong with them per se, I just think fingers and toes are weird), PLUS I talk with my hands, so it was tough to get through that interview with the finger-starer. I’m sure you know how that felt.

  30. RebeccaJobSeeker*

    I notice that no matter how cheerily I answer the phone for a phone interview, and whether I say “hello?” Or “this is Rebecca”, the interviewer ALWAYS asks “is now still a good time”, when I have done nothing to insinuate that the scheduled agreed-upon time would not be convenient/expected. I don’t know why but the question always annoys me.

    1. Dan*

      After getting that from several interviewers on the phone, I finally just flat out asked why everyone asks that, because, you know, when I’m interviewing for jobs I stick to my scheduled appointments. I think I might have insinuated that it was a dumb question.

      The response was that I’d be surprised how many people schedule interviews and forget, or how it would otherwise NOT be a good time for many people.

    2. Elsajeni*

      I’m sure people who do a lot of phone interviews do run into a lot of folks who’ve forgotten the appointment or lost track of time or something, but also I think it’s just a convenient lead-in to the conversation — like, it would be weird just to launch into interview questions, you need something to transition from “Hi, is this Elsajeni?” to “Tell me about your background,” and “Is this still a good time to talk?” is a reasonably inoffensive way to get there.

  31. Manager in CA*

    This same thing happens all the time with us when we do phone interviews for interns for the summer. Every single one answers the phone “hello?” in a very surprised way. Maybe it’s just the way the younger generation is communicating, but as everyone else has said, answering the phone with “this is Fergus” is the better way to go.

    And I totally agree that this interviewer was being an ass hat. Since the agreement was for him to call her, and she answered at the scheduled time, even if she sounded surprised, I don’t understand the logic of saying she forgot because she clearly didn’t. And then to say she forgot, and then to say it a second time, is just a jerk move.

    1. Whats In A Name*

      I commented a longer answer below but sometimes I think when new at doing phone interviews you just struggle with what the right approach is and it can come off in the wrong way. I am 37 and sometimes still practice my “hello” before a major phone pitch.

    2. Chelsea*

      You can really just pick up the phone and say your own name “Fergus Schmidt”? I’m not sure why but that sounds strange to me.

      1. CM*

        You have to say it in an authoritative voice: “Fergus Schmidt.” Definitely not “Fergus Schmidt?” And you can either say it in a very businesslike manner, without smiling, as if you are too busy to simply say “hello,” or in a friendly way, as if your next sentence would be, “What can I help you with?”

    3. SystemsLady*

      If they would’ve already received a call from a different number, or the person they e-mail to schedule the interview with is somebody other than you (and has a number in their signature), it could be a “of course some random number decided to call me right before this important interview!” reflex. Understandable unfamiliarity with how the number you get contacted from can vary a lot, in other words, and less of a generational thing.

      (I agree at the very least a neutral or accommodating effect on the hello is a good thing to adopt, but again, that’s more being young and inexperienced than “younger generation”)

    4. Venus Supreme*

      I’ll be completely honest, I’m 25 years old, I’ve held some form of an office job since 18, and I’ve actually never put thought as to how to answer the phone for an interview until today’s post. I’m more used to Skype/video interviews or in-person interviews. I can’t speak for my generation, but I know I’m not used to professional phone calls on my cell phone, so my etiquette hasn’t quite evolved– I mean, I know to speak concisely and clearly, don’t say “um” or “like,” etc. but the phone greeting never crossed my mind.

  32. Whats In A Name*

    Lots of good advice here for OP to follow and I couldn’t even get to it all. I think going forward you can be more prepared, but I also think the interviewer was just being an ass bringing it up a 2nd time. “Still a good time?” is a fine way to figure that out and he should have taken you at your word, especially if you didn’t have to pull a “Sure, just let me step outside” move.

    But I also get very caught up in “Hello?” vs. “This is Whats In a Name” when answering scheduled business calls, especially for the first time. Once hired, though, it changes. I answer calls from my current contact with “Hellloooooo…”

    I have done quite a few phone interviews – for jobs, for articles/magazines, for general business advice and I still get nervous answering. I want my “hello” to sound polite and welcoming to the person I am dealing with. Is that “hello?”, “hello.”, “hi, this is Whats In a Name”, “He, Whats In a Name Speaking”. I don’t want to sound unapproachable, but I want to sound businesslike.

    When getting a call from a number I don’t recognize I always default to: “This is….” in a lighter tone.

    Some of my personal stress at the proper way to answer that 1st call might the nature of my business, but I say all of the above to say I get it.

  33. Dealtwiththis*

    If I’m expecting a call, especially a business call, I would answer with “This is Dealtwishthis” in a pleasant tone rather than hello. This lets them know immediately that they have reached the correct person and it sounds more professional than hello.

    1. Erin*

      I always answer the phone hello, except when it’s my husband. I have experience working in a call center and working at a pizza place when I was a teenager.
      I even answer my work phone “Hello, business name” it sounds more pleasant than “business name” nobody has ever said anything negative about it. I’ve even been asked by managers to train people on how to make and answer Business calls.( I train a lot of teenagers. )

  34. Chelsea*

    As a less-than-30-something, I wonder if I do this. I do tend to say “hello?” with a question mark even when I am quite sure of who it is, as would be the case in an interview. This seems like an odd thing for an interviewer to pick up on, much less factor in to the overall candidate’s chances. Shouldn’t the level of preparation in the interview itself speak to the preparedness of the candidate, rather than how much of a question mark there was in her initial “hello”? As in, does she ask intelligent questions, is she prepared to list how she meets every qualification for the job? Surely that matters more?

    I guess what I’m saying is that I don’t really vary my phone greeting. And to be honest I think it sounds strange that I should have to, for the reasons above.

    Disclaimer: I do understand the need to avoid answering the phone sounding anything like “Hello?!?!?! Sorry I’m just stepping out of the shower, who is this?”

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Again, issue isn’t “hello”; the issue is the tone. If the “hello” sounds hesitant/surprised, that’s weird. If it doesn’t, then cool.

      But yes, if it sounds like you weren’t expecting the call, that is a data point that goes toward the overall impression you create.

      But “This is Alison” tends to avoid the whole problem.

  35. LoiraSafada*

    I had a founder/CEO legitimately forget we had an interview scheduled. I even gave her 20 minutes before contacting the office. Should have seen that as the major red flag that it was…

  36. DatSci*

    I would have approached this pretty directly with the interviewer right when he said I sounded surprised. Just be straightforward and say “I’m not at all surprised to hear from you Eugene, we have our phone interview scheduled for today at precisely 3:15PM.”
    Being direct often diffuses these sort of jerks by ensuring they have no “material” to work with and puts the focus back on him subtly (as in he made a mistake in thinking you were surprised to hear from him, not you made a mistake by answering the phone in the wrong tone – which is ridiculous.)

    1. Not So NewReader*

      It sounds like OP did regroup nicely and Eugene was being a jackass. OP, regular people do not ask the same question several times. In an average conversation that would be rude. He asked several times because his intention was to berate/throw you off/whatever.

      Picture a boss saying, “Did you do x?”, “Did you do x?”, “Did you do x?”

      ugh. Get me away from this person.

  37. emma2*

    Although I think the hiring manager is the one with the problem here, I always answer phone calls with “Hello this is [my name]” when I’m waiting to do a phone interview. It sounds more definite and doesn’t end with a question mark. It also saves the unnecessary exchange of the interviewer confirming “Is this so and so?” and so on.

  38. Sunshine Brite*

    Eugene’s a jerk for sure but there’s no one right way. I tend to smile when I answer and say hello or hello this is sunshine Brite. I either get oh did you not know it’s me (like caller ID shows unprogramned numbers easily) or I was waiting for the rest of the message thinking it was my voicemail. This is Sunshine Brite and then it’s implied I’m uninterested. It feels like a no win and just another way to over think an interview.

  39. ..Kat..*

    If I get a stress interview treatment, I call the interviewer out on it. As a pediatric ICU nurse, the work I do can be very stressful (sometimes, children and babies die. Or they only recover partially, and will live the rest of their lives with a disability). So I address the crappy treatment head on, as in: As an experienced PICU nurse, I know the work can be stressful at times. As such, I prefer to work in a collegial environment with supportive coworkers and management. Are you being disagreeable to see how I react to stress, or do you just normally treat people poorly?

    When I was first starting out, I would not have had the courage to do this however.

  40. Hiring Mgr*

    My technique is to answer in a slightly different voice : “Hiring Mgr’s office, this is his assistant Jane speaking, how may I help you?”

    This is helpful because 1) it makes me seem very important and busy so the interviewer is impressed right off the bat, and 2) gives me a minute to compose myself if I’ve been asleep or drinking

  41. Kat A*

    Did we interview with the same person? The exact same thing happened to me years ago and the guy just wouldn’t take my word that I did not forget the interview and that I was not caught off guard.

    I don’t even think I sounded surprised when I answered. I simply answered with my usual “Hello?” in a gentle, upbeat tone.

  42. SadieMae*

    The interviewer was being weird regardless, but I’m also wondering if there’s a generational thing at work here. My daughter (age 20) answers her phone when I call her by saying, “Hi, Mom!” She automatically looks at Caller ID and knows that it’s me. When I (age 46) answer my phone, I glance at the Caller ID, but even though I know who it is, I answer, “Hello?” Just because that’s how I was taught to answer the phone – and also because I’ve noticed that people my age and older tend to be thrown if you answer by saying, “Hi, Janet!” They’re expecting you to say “Hello?” and are ready to say, “Hello, Sue, this is Janet speaking.” So answering by acknowledging who they are throws them off the conversational path for a moment.

    I’m guessing the interviewer was expecting the letter writer to say, “Hello, Jim, thanks for calling,” and when she didn’t do that, he thought she’d forgotten he was calling. But when she set him straight, he should have left it there! For heaven’s sake.

    1. boop the first*

      Yes! The first time my aunt answered with “Hello ______!” it completely threw off the conversation as I thought she’d developed some kind of wacky magic power. Turns out it was caller ID (displayed on the television, no less).

  43. boop the first*

    There are already so many things I worry about but now I have to worry about saying “hello?” when I pick up the phone??? That’s the most normal thing to say when answering a phone I’m just flabbergasted that there’s some kind of secret code I didn’t know about that can actually determine whether or not you get a job, and ultimately, survive.

    Sure, in the previous example the next response was “oh… hi,” and I can see how THAT might be translated as surprise. But OP’s response looks like a satisfied confirmation, so why is OP now held as an equivalent example of how to answer poorly? Very few personal numbers show up as anything other than a random number on caller ID.

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