how can I make a good impression in phone interviews?

A reader writes:

I’m currently in the middle of a frustrating and fruitless job search after having lost my job when my company shut down its local office. I have more than a decade of professional experience focused on media and marketing, but now that I’m on a job search again, I’m encountering something frustrating: companies are relying much more on phone interviews than they used to, even when the job is local and I’m in the same city as them. Obviously this is very often the case now with the pandemic, but I was finding it to be the case even before the lockdowns happened.

I understand doing an initial call with a person on the talent team just for screening purposes, but I’ve encountered multiple hiring processes where I then have a call with the hiring manager after clearing the screening stage. And I’ve had really good phone calls with hiring managers and it felt like we were on the same page and everything seemed primed to move to the next stage, but nothing has come of them.

I find this process puts the interviewee at a disadvantage because it’s harder to build a rapport with someone over the phone rather than being able to sit across from them in person and make eye contact. It’s much harder to really generate any small talk – the calls tend to move straight into business much faster than they would if we were in person. And there’s no opportunity to even impress them on a sartorial level (like a nicely tailored suit that shows you care). It used to be you would get called in for an interview and often meet with multiple people right off the bat. So, what is the point of these phone interviews and how do you make a good impression when you’re just a voice on the other end of the line?

You can read my answer to this letter at New York Magazine today. Head over there to read it.

{ 114 comments… read them below }

  1. hayling*

    I agree with Alison, I think phone interviews are a great step before the in-person interview. As a hiring manager, I have weeded out a lot of people who seemed good on paper but were clearly not a good fit once we got on the phone. And as a candidate, I don’t want to spend the time and energy for an in person interview until I have talked to the hiring manager on the phone first. Saves everyone a lot of time. I like these tips!

    1. Canadian Yankee*

      It also means that you can cast a wider net and give more applicants a chance – those phone interviews are faster and require a lot less overhead so you can do more of them.

      1. JSPA*

        Exactly; and because more people are being interviewed, the success rate will go down from the point of view of the candidates, but that’s not because they failed the interview, or because the interview went badly, or because they failed to impress. You may repeatedly be person #2 or #3 out of 20, and still remain on their list of people to keep in mind for a future opening, or to call back if their first choice declines the offer.

    2. Artemesia*

      Me too. I used to interview about half a dozen people — sometimes as many as 10 — for the type of position I often hired for. It was surprising how often someone who looked good on paper would be clearly not up to the job in a brief conversation. I remember asking someone who was an expert in X, to talk to me about which of the theorists or leaders in the field he thought were most useful in understanding X. A softball pitch. And one in which someone could grab something out of left field and still run with it. This guy literally couldn’t manage either to identify someone central to the field or grab something offbeat and make a case. His response was sort of ‘I didn’t realize I needed to study up for this.’ Yeah, I expect the ‘expert’ to have expertise.

      And it levels the playing field on trivia like dress and make up and appearance and even gender and race to some extent.

      And the OP should remember that EVERYONE is interviewing under the same constraints, so she is not at a disadvantage with in person interviewees.

    3. NotAnotherManager!*

      Same – I love phone interviews, and they’re a big time-saver on all sides. HR wouldn’t allow them at a prior position because the head felt that, if a candidate didn’t dress up and come in, they didn’t want the job badly enough (so, so glad to have functional HR again), but I think that it’s just more respectful of the candidate’s time to do a phone call first.

      We also use videoconferencing for interviews at later stages because one of my teams hires entry-level folks who may be finishing up school, and we don’t have to limit our candidate pool to people who are local or can afford travel.

      1. Artemesia*

        The jobs I hired for mostly involved flying people in for interviews as we had a national net for employing people in our niche. This is a huge cost and so doing phone interviews allowed us to know that the people who looked good on paper were also apparently competent — We would narrow 10 finalists to 6 phone interviews (maybe all 10 sometimes) and then invite 2 or 3 in for the on site all day interviews and exercises. We always had viable candidates for those final interviews.

    4. Wintergreen*

      It also means you are discriminating against people with various social disadvantages, like me. I suffer from social anxiety, and come across horribly over the phone until I speak with someone a few times. I come across as very cold and angry (which I am not at all) because I am uncomfortable and have to concentrate very hard to follow the conversation. In a one-on-one I can see the persons visual cues and find it easier to focus on the person in front of me and the person I meet can see my visual cues as well and I come across much more likable, if I also appear quite anxious than it is typically met with more empathy than anything else.
      I am generally a good, efficient, flexible and accurate worker who meets or exceeds expectations at any job I’ve had who you would reject outright after a simple phone call because I am not typical in society. I wonder how many good people like me you’ve ruled out as “not a good fit”. I get that you are trying to weed out people as fast and accurately as you can and I don’t blame you. But I get angry when I see such cavalier generalities bandied about! Sometimes what you think is easy and great is not easy or great for everybody.
      “I know that life is unfair. I just wish it would be unfair in my favor” – Bill Watterson, Calvin and Hobbes

      1. JSPA*

        As they can’t legally discriminate on the basis of a disability, it might make sense to say, “I have some auditory processing difficulties that really only come out when I’m dealing with an unfamiliar voice on the phone. It would be so very helpful on my end if we could do a video chat instead of a call, so that I can see you as well as hear you, if that’s an option.”

        If someone’s hiring for a data focused job with very little personal interaction, that’s a really reasonable ask.

        If part of the essential job description is to communicate smoothly and effectively and pleasantly with strangers, mostly or often via the phone, it’s probably not a reasonable ask (but that’s because the job is not a good fit and there’s no reasonable accommodation that makes it a good fit; so it’s fair for the interview to reflect that).

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          Yes, we could easily accommodate a request for a video interview instead of a phone screen, but we need to know that’s the candidate’s preference (just as we’ve sometimes had to switch from video to phone on the fly when someone’s internet connection was chopping up or buffering too badly).

          There’s also no one interview format that’s going to work perfectly for all candidates. A number of people in the comments have reported being discriminated against by video and/or in-person hiring.

      2. Donna Meagle*

        Have you found any strategies that help with this? I have the opposite issue (I just am awful in person, rambling and avoiding eye contact), but I have friends who share your point of view. One of my friends worked with a vocational psychologust and had some success with notes on her monitor and reminders and all that…but of course one size does not fit all.

        Just wondering if you have ideas or suggestions.

        1. Wintergreen*

          No real ideas or suggestions. What typically works best for me is to have a very quiet room with no distractions, like my home office with my laptop open to a blank Word document for notes (a notebook and pencil doesn’t work because doodling even a circle will get me to loose the conversation thread). Sometimes I’ll type SMILE at the top of the page to remind myself that supposedly you can hear a smile over the phone. But I’m skeptical about that. I still come across more cold and humorless than not.
          I’m really not that upset about phone interviews; I accept that it comes along with the times we are living in. But I just wish people would put a little more thought and understanding into what we ask others to do, and not just assume that because what we ask may be easy for us it means it is easy for them.

  2. HoHumDrum*

    “And there’s no opportunity to even impress them on a sartorial level (like a nicely tailored suit that shows you care)”

    I mean this is exactly why phone interviews are a plus for me- I don’t have tailored suit money. I would love to get you invested in me based on my experience and overall demeanor/competence before you get a chance to turn up your nose at my off the rack H&M blazer.

    Also I have to imagine phone interviews can be helpful to candidates who are discriminated against in a variety of ways- race, appearance, weight, visible disability, etc etc.

    1. Faberge Otter*

      Oh, seriously! Me too. I spent $300 on a new wardrobe for a job I was really invested in getting earlier this year.

      I didn’t get the job and now I’m out the $300 because I haven’t worn anything but t-shirts and jeans for the last nine months ;)

      I’ve had several phone interviews since grad school, and while I have a deep phobia of phones, I find the phone interview far more relaxing as well as a time- and money-saver. Not being able to make eye contact is a plus for me; I never understand how eye contact is supposed to work, and there’s a certain joy in being able to conduct an interview eyes-closed! :)

      1. HoHumDrum*

        Yeah, like I get the LW in that I do prefer in-person interviews overall- for me it’s easier to read how what you’re saying is landing and adjust accordingly, plus a variety of other social cues you only get from body language. But everything is pluses and minuses, and in-person has it’s downsides, one of which is it gives people a lot more info about you that could potentially be detrimental.

        1. MissDisplaced*

          Yeah, see I don’t read body language well at all. And I have to force myself to remember the eye contact.
          I often felt I was disqualified much too early in the process because of looks and level of being extroverted.

      2. Donna Meagle*

        Oh, wow, you and I are quite similar. I hate the phone, and eye contact is just weird. I seriously sometimes have to coach myself through what I hope is reasonable eye contact, even with people I love and know well. Like, “one, keep looking…two…now look away, three. Quick–look back! Hold…hold.”

        I probably look like I lost a contact lens.

        But I LOVE phone interviews.

    2. Banana Pancakes*

      As someone who is fat, disabled, and has a buzz cut, I have to say I really prefer phone interviews. I’ve landed every job that’s interviewed me by phone because I’m an affable, well educated professional with a robust portfolio and a great phone voice. Said employers have typically been surprised to meet me, but and they were able to look at me and still acknowledge that I do damn fine work. My in-person interviewers often aren’t.

      My favorite, though, is the employer who rescinded my offer upon receiving the photo of me they had requested. Suddenly, I was no longer “a good fit”. :)

      1. Julia*

        Oh my goodness, that is reprehensible behavior. We all show some unconscious bias, but that’s “I’m conscious of my prejudice and I don’t care”. Grrrrr.

        1. Banana Pancakes*

          Part of me saw it coming when they requested a picture after hours of phone interviews, but I needed to see it to believe that anyone would have the sheer audacity. My industry doesn’t have a reputation for being superficial in the way that, say, Hollywood is, but it’s not exactly known for valuing women either.

      2. Exhausted Trope*

        My goodness! They actually rescinded the offer?! And told you that you weren’t a good fit? I just can’t with that…. The sheer gall!

        1. Banana Pancakes*

          It was unreal. I think I initially just laughed because no one had ever been such a pig to my face before. I was furious for months but ultimately, it was better to find out before I moved across the country rather than after.

          1. NotAnotherManager!*

            I’m really sorry that happened to you. Definitely better to find out about it before moving and it sounds like you dodged a fairly awful bullet, but, wow. What awful people. I hope you’re in a workplace with normal human beings who appreciate your experience and good humor.

    3. Escapee from Corporate Management*

      That’s the key: dressing up for an interview is a minor way to expect someone to show they care. What if the person has few financial resources? What if they come from a background where they weren’t culturally exposed to corporate dressing norms? That last point includes different workplace cultures (for example, tech companies and laboratories).

      There are so many ways for potential employees to show they care that are far more important than what they wear. That’s why I like phone interviews. I can form an opinion of the candidate without the biases caused by dress and appearance.

      1. Artemesia*

        I came from such a background and still shudder at what I wore to the all day interviews for my first big post grad school job. (Thank goodness, the guy behind me getting off the plane, told me the price tag was hanging off the sweater I had purchased thinking it would be an appropriate interview outfit (along with new beige slacks). Without his kindness, I’d have gone full Minnie Pearl.

      2. Liz*

        Agreed. Part of my work involves coaching people who are long term unemployed on how to find work, and the advice on dress is SO disheartening, for me and them. The original material given to me by our contractor included details about exactly how much shirt cuff was supposed to show. I cringed as I read it and there were outbursts of incredulous swearing from around the room because this was so out of reach of my clients it wasn’t even funny. These guys might be borrowing a suit from a friend, or buying one from a second hand shop if they’re lucky. One pointed out that the “before” picture on the Interview Makeover segment was identical to his interview attire and this was the smartest thing he owned. Many live hand to mouth and out of food banks, and interview clothing is just not in their budget. They make do with what they have, and sometimes that means just a shirt and slacks, or even dark jeans.

        I can understand the need to show some kind of awareness around business norms, but some standards really are prohibitive, and there’s little advice outside of those standards. A phone interview helps level the playing field.

        1. TardyTardis*

          We have a local ‘shop’ where women looking for work can get the interview clothes they need.

    4. Wendy Darling*

      Yep. As a fat woman, long live phone interviews. Most of the jobs I’ve been hired for didn’t see me in person before my start date and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. I’ve had people (no one I was trying to get a job from thank goodness) straight up tell me they’d never hire a fat person because fat people are lazy and undisciplined and lack self-control before. I have enough trouble getting taken seriously as a woman in tech without also dealing with THAT nonsense.

      And that’s not even to speak of the joys of trying to find well-fitting interview-appropriate clothing as a fat woman.

      1. Faberge Otter*

        Ugh, what an absurd bunch of nonsense. It’s especially hard for me to get my head around fat-prejudice because not only is the office where I currently work pretty well populated by fat people, my field in general (at least in the area I live) is sort of…dominated by fat women! I’m a heavyset girl myself, but at said interview, I was thinner than the two ladies who interviewed me. My head is exploding from somebody actually saying fat people are lazy and undisciplined. Wow. Well, the company where I work is one of the top in the nation for what it does, so somehow our weight is not dragging us down!

      2. Donna Meagle*

        I’ve had people (no one I was trying to get a job from thank goodness) straight up tell me they’d never hire a fat person because fat people are lazy and undisciplined and lack self-control before.

        I’ve read this as well and while it doesn’t surprise me, it does disappoint me. There’s usually a hige overlap with the people who think that poor = unintelligent.

    5. Diahann Carroll*

      Also I have to imagine phone interviews can be helpful to candidates who are discriminated against in a variety of ways- race, appearance, weight, visible disability, etc etc.

      Yeah, I interviewed for my current position about 17 months ago, and I did my initial HR screen and three subsequent interviews with the hiring team by phone (one interview was 20 minutes long with my dotted line manager turned direct manager, another was over an hour with my former manager, and the last one was about an hour with grandboss turned new manager).

      I was a little concerned about the lack of video for all the same reasons OP was concerned (my company is pretty anti-video in general, and my former manager was interviewing me from her home halfway around the globe, so it was 8pm her time when we spoke); however, it ended up being a wonderful experience. We got straight to business, which meant I didn’t have to expend energy I just didn’t have at the time pretending to be Susie Sunshine, and I was able to just converse with everyone as if I already knew them. That allowed me to ask really intelligent, probing questions that I don’t think I would have thought to ask face-to-face (nerves sometimes make me forget things in the moment), and I felt more confident because I had my notes in front of me and was in the comfort of my own home.

      I also think no one seeing me helped when it was time to negotiate. I truly don’t believe I would have gotten them to give me the $11k increase in base pay if they knew ahead of time that I was black. Unconscious bias is real.

      1. MissDisplaced*

        Good for you in negotiating an extra $11k Diahann! And you are so very right about all of this.
        The age, race and weight biases are all too real.

        1. Diahann Carroll*

          That was a proud moment, I must say, lol. Prior to it, I’d only been successful in negotiating maybe an extra grand or two a year. Looking back on those experiences versus the one I had with my current employer, and taking into an account about how one of my previous employers allegedly negotiated with white candidates and seemingly no one else, I could only surmise that race played a huge factor in my increase requests being rejected (or approved, but only so much).

    6. Smithy*

      Man….this one cuts deep.

      I work in a field where – at least pre-COVID – interview “suits” or similar were expected, but then could easily end up in the closet until your next interview. That moment when you get excited about having an interview next week, only to be crushed putting on your “interview suit” and finding it’s too small, has a weird stain/smell, or no longer matches the skirt/pants/dress you planned to wear it with. Or all of the above.

      Or worse – being in the midst of what ends up being your third or fourth in-person interview, and being unsure if anyone might see you again so you have to panic buy another interview outfit. The flood of awful memories at the Nordstrom Rack clearance section looking for any blazer I could put on top of my sleeveless outfit as cheaply as possible. Or finding a huge hole in tights en route to an interview and figuring out if I indeed did have enough time for the CVS/change in the toilet stop and still being there on time.

  3. Amyjoy*

    Could you please print the body of the article here? There is a paywall when following the link. Thank you.

    1. Environmental Compliance*

      The paid subscription is how companies can get the revenue to pay people like Alison for articles which pays their bills. You’re asking her to make a 95% free website even more free, in breach of the contract that Alison likely has with them for that content.

    2. HoHumDrum*

      She can’t do that- she has an article she’s written for another site that uses a paywall. If she printed the article here for free she would be violating her contract with the other site. Most of Allison’s work is free for us to consume, but if she writes for other media sites she’s obligated to follow their rules.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yes — I can’t print it here because I wrote it for them and that would violate my agreement with them.

        I’ve also removed some comments instructing people on how to get around the pay wall of a site that relies on it to pay its writers. I hope the ethos of this commenting section is that we want people to get paid for their work.

        I know it’s frustrating to encounter a paywall when you want to read something. (They do give you a certain # of free articles per month first though.) There’s a ton of other free content here though if that happens.

    3. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      That’s because the article was paid for by the magazine in question and reprinting it elsewhere to get around the fact that the magazine charges for their content would violate our host’s agreement with the magazine.

    4. That Girl from Quinn's House*

      Many publications that are behind a paywall are available for free through your local library’s online resources. Either you can log in, and read the magazine’s website for free, or you can check out a digital version of the print magazine for your e-reader app.

      A lot of library networks added digital resources due to the pandemic shutdown, so if you know your library’s resources were not great previously, it is worth checking again.

    5. Esmeralda*

      The Cut allows a few free articles/month. Probably you’ve reached your max for the month.

      1. Safely Retired*

        When I reach my monthly limit, as I had when I tried to read this article, I switch to a different browser. That allowed me to read it just now.
        (I do pay for various things online where there are similar limits I might work around, just not that one.)

    6. Mel_05*

      It’s only $2 a month. I typically just use my free articles (I think you get 5 a month), but I’ve been thinking of subscribing since I read more during this pandemic.

      1. Reba*

        I’ve read the Cut for a while, and Alison’s column was actually what finally nudged me to subscribe!

  4. Wordnerd*

    My absolute favorite bit of advice for phone interviews is to pick up the phone with, “Hello, this is Wordnerd!” It sets the tone so so much better than just, “Hello!” (regardless of the tone). Not having to ask, “Is this Wordnerd?” on the interviewer’s part makes moving into the conversation so much easier and feels so much more natural.

        1. irene adler*

          It did!
          I answered with my name and seemed to put the interviewer at ease. It took away that ‘may I speak to Irene Adler please?’ formality.

          We chatted for 30 minutes. The interview was supposed to be 15 minutes.

    1. RobotWithHumanHair*

      I actually had this happen today, but I may have said it too early in the call’s connection (you know, that dead gap between answering the call and actually being able to speak on the call) and they had to ask, “Is this Robot?” even after I said, “Hello, this is Robot.” Dumb technology!

  5. Bex*

    Thank you! I’ve always had more luck with positions where the first interview was a phone interview. I could talk about my skills, engage the interviewer(s) with my answers and easy nature, and similar. I’m an overweight woman with a rather humdrum wardrobe and zero skill with makeup (I wear makeup once a year on average), and a simple approach to my hair. I always feel like all of these factors are taken into account when my interviews are all in person. But on the phone they can hear how I respond to inquiries, they can hear my customer service skills – and it’s not disrupted by the fact that my blouse is boring, or that I am larger, or have a plain face.

  6. Heidi*

    I’m not sure that it’s safe for OP to assume that the eye-contact and suits would have made that big of a difference. The OP mentioned that the phone interviews have gone well. It’s totally possible that with there being tons of people job-seeking, they just got edged out despite doing really well. I recognize that it’s not a particularly comforting thought, but I’d rather believe I was one of many qualified applicants than an unqualified applicant.

    1. Katrinka*

      Yes, I thought that too. OP could have just as easily been saying, “I had a face-to-face interview and I thought we had a good rapport, but I didn’t get the job.” Especially these days – most jobs have a lot of qualified candidates.

    2. Willis*

      Yeah, I agree with this. OP may have been runner up even with an in-person interview. Also, wouldn’t all the other candidates be interviewing by phone as well, especially during covid? I could see if OP was out of state and interviewing by phone while local candidates were meeting in person. But if the company is using phone only interviews for everyone, no one is having small talk opportunities, showing off their suits, etc.

  7. Ann O'Nemity*

    As a hiring manager, I love doing phone interviews before in person, as a time saver. As an applicant, I love skipping straight to in person interviews, because I’m better at building rapport in person. (Yes, I know these two things are in conflict!)

    1. Paulina*

      Well, there’s no guarantee that a candidate who does a phone interview first would be in the (often smaller) group interviewed in-person if there weren’t phone interviews.

  8. AndersonDarling*

    Phone and Zoom interviews are so important now because that is how we are conducting business. And it may be the norm for a long while. I don’t want to sound harsh, but if the OP isn’t great at communicating in those formats then the job won’t work out because we won’t be back to face-to-face communication for a while.
    I started a new job 2 months ago and I haven’t had more than 30 seconds of small talk with my co-workers. Everyone is incredibly nice, but conversation is around work stuff and not about clothes, vacation, pets and the other chatter topics. We are connecting by working collaboratively.

    1. AnotherAlison*

      This. We were very in-office focused before and would not hesitate to put people on a plane for a 1-hour meeting if that’s what we thought we needed to do. Now we’re all phone and Teams. I was transitioning projects at the time Covid hit, and I don’t know most of my team members. You’re right–we talk mostly about business on calls. I’ll talk to people I have worked with longer about personal stuff, but not as much with new people.

    2. Katrinka*

      To be fair, OP may not be going for a job that requires much phone or video conferencing, even now.

      1. Jennifer*

        Yeah, I check in with my boss occasionally but I mostly work solo. And that’s how I prefer it.

    3. MissDisplaced*

      If the OP’s interviews are by phone-only, perhaps they could request a Zoom or video call instead. At least you can interact a bit more than phone alone. Of course the interviewer usually sets this, but you can ask.

  9. Bex*

    (Off topic … sorry for the workaround comment. I didn’t realize it would be out of bounds, but I should have. Mea culpa!)

  10. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    Yes to everything Alison said. You can build a rapport over the phone – you just have to do it with the tone of your voice instead of eye contact. For those of us who get really nervous and anxious for in person interviews, being able to have one over the phone would make me much more relaxed and give a better impression. And judgment occurs with the interviewers, whether intentional or not. Just because you aren’t wearing a nicely tailored suit, doesn’t mean you don’t care.

  11. Anja*

    These are all great tips. I’ve been with my current employer for six years (and had two promotions within that time) after a phone screen interview and then a phone interview while I was in vacation (did it from my hotel room in Siófok, Hungary). I came back to an offer, took it, and drove to the city of my new employer (over 1,000km) with two suitcases and my dog.

    I would really like to stress the smiling tip. Smiling for many people will immediately make them sound more warm – it is quite noticeable – and for me at least takes less conscious thought that trying to actively sound upbeat. Also, the treating it as a real interview. I had already traveled by train, plane, and automobile by the time I had this interview and carried my resume and notes along with me (the interview was scheduled before I left on vacation) through all of it. It both kept me on track in the interview and also just allowed me to read everything over and get in the right head space knowing I was going to be interviewing in a non-standard environment. Was admittedly a bit of a relief to be able to throw those out after the call.

    1. Smithy*

      Here to second the smiling. I’m not sure if there’s a true biological connection, but I find when I focus on smiling – I also breath more evenly and focus more on stopping a complete thought.

      I can fall victim to stream of consciousness chatterbox talking, and like many things in life when I’m stressed or nervous this can be heightened. In phone interviews, the worry was not having any body language cues that I’d adequately answered a question – so I’d keep talking and then awkwardly trail off. Focusing on smiling also helped me focus on tips like “answer the question and stop, they’ll ask a follow-up if you didn’t say enough.”

      1. nona*

        I think there is a physiological connection? Smiling engages muscles in the face that (i think) can affect the muscles in the throat and around the vocal cords. Or it can affect the shape of your mouth. Or something.

    2. Diahann Carroll*

      I would really like to stress the smiling tip. Smiling for many people will immediately make them sound more warm

      It absolutely does for me. I smiled a lot during my phone interviews with my current employer because I was really intrigued by what they were saying they envisioned for my (new-to-the-company) role – I was told by the internal recruiter that everyone LOVED me. They said I sounded so excited and enthusiastic about joining the team.

      1. virago*

        I need to remember this. Unless I make a conscious effort, my demeanor on work calls is often very “OK, let’s get this over with.” Any small thing I can do to add some warmth to the proceedings is welcome.

    3. Nonprofit Nancy*

      My other tip is to stand up, perhaps walk around (another advantage of the phone interview!). I find this keeps my energy up more than if I’m sitting and can’t see the people I’m talking to.

      1. Anja*

        I definitely paced during my phone interview. Not hectic and fast paced. But just a regular back and forth across the room.

      2. KaciHall*

        I once had a phone interview the day after I twisted my knee. I am by nature someone who paces while I’m on the phone (Mom had to buy a cordless phone for me when I was younger, because I broke the cord a free times on long calls with my dad.) I spent the first half of that interview horribly awkward, then decided to limp around, one hand on the wall, and added the second half of the interview once I was able to move.

        I didn’t get the job, but I felt like that was probably a good thing given how unorganized the recruiter was (someone who can’t tell time zones apart or understand the difference should NOT be setting appointments! And knowing who you’re calling without having to search for my resume after I start answering questions would be good too.)

  12. employment lawyah*

    Here are some specifics.

    1) Record yourself on the phone. Are you articulate? Are you clear? Are you audible? Etc. It’s painful to hear yourself, but VERY informative. You may benefit from a class, many folks do.

    2) Do everything you can TECHNICALLY to make yourself clear. Borrow a landline if you need to. Make sure your connection is good and your background is quiet. If you get a bad connection, don’t be afraid to say “this is a horrible connection and I want to be sure we can hear each other. Would you mind if we disconnected and I called you right back?”

    3) Work the angles. Yes, a phone interview closes some doors for connections, but it opens others. For example, you can be pretty sure that you’ll be asked certain questions. Have you prewritten the answers? Have you edited them? Have you practiced them? If you need to spell something, do you know how or do you switch from “hotel” to “hospital” when trying to say “H”?

    4) WRITE IT DOWN!!!! If you want to fill time or make small talk, you can decide *in advance* to discuss some things, and you can even practice it.. or write it down. Comedians do! You can even have notecards (they can’t see) and a checklist of questions (they can’t see.)

    TL/DR: First, think of everything which has ever annoyed you when someone else did it on the phone, whether it’s pauses, idiocy, unintelligibility, distraction, etc. Then, reverse it.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      Speaking too quickly!
      In-person, I think speaking rapidly is excused as it makes the person appear more excited or interested (i.e. Extroverted) but on the phone, it sounds like fast-talking.

    2. Grey Coder*

      My top tip: leave gaps when you are talking to ensure the other side can respond. The nature of the technology will sometimes make it impossible for you to hear the other person trying to get a word in — it’s better now than it used to be, but still happens regularly. As an interviewer, I’ve been on the receiving end of 5 minute monologues when I was looking for two sentences, and it’s better for everyone if we can cut that short.

      If you don’t know if a short answer is enough, just ask, or say “I can elaborate if you’d like more detail.”

  13. juliebulie*

    What Alison said about the interview being as much for OP to size the job up as it is for the employer to size OP up rang a bell for me. I think I’ve interviewed better (both on the phone and in person) when I showed enough interest to ask the right kinds of questions. (Like, not “what is the dress code and can I work at home” but instead, “what is your doc control platform” and “how do you feel about the Oxford comma.”) The “right” questions do help to build rapport, and they are a thousand miles away from being able to impress with wardrobe.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      I had 2 phone interviews with a hiring manager (didn’t get the job–they went with an internal candidate) but I had a great conversation about outsourcing creative work verses doing most of the work in-house and how this was why I was looking to make a move. We were just on the same page about it, and I could tell I would have been a fit because most of their work was done in-house.

    2. Diahann Carroll*

      I said the same thing above. When you’re on the phone and relaxed, you ask way better questions. People notice.

  14. I Love Llamas*

    OP, try standing up during your phone interview calls and smile. You might feel silly, but trust me, this WORKS! It’s an old sales cold calling trick. For some reason when you stand, you have more energy and you project better than when you are sitting. When I have important calls or ones where I need to be really strong, I stand and even pace (not so that I am panting, but moving helps on occasion.) Good luck and hang in there!

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      Smiling does make your voice sound better. One of former Help Desk supervisors came from a call center and trained the team with some of the more useful tips from that. I have even trained my kids on this for their Zoom classes – my emo kid hates it but acknowledged that it works and is more okay with smiling when no one can see them.

    2. Diahann Carroll*

      I walked around during my phone interviews with my current company. I think that absolutely helped to keep me engaged in the call (the woman who would be my manager almost wouldn’t let me off the call!).

  15. Jennifer*

    I think one phone screen is a good thing. People don’t want to block off an hour or longer to interview someone if the hiring manager could have figured out in 15 minutes that they aren’t a good fit for the role. Plus I may not want to put in the effort of preparing for a formal interview either if I’m turned off by something that happens in the phone screen.

    But the multiple phone interviews with everyone and their great-grandma before you get to the “real” interview do get annoying. I do better over video just because I can see people’s faces and body language so it’s easier to get a read on them. But when phone interviews are unavoidable, these are some great tips.

  16. Katrinka*

    I just had an initial phone interview yesterday afternoon. They said it was to tell me about the company and the job and see if I was still interested. However, they did ask some typical interview questions – what are you great at, what is a challenge, what would your co-workers say about you, etc. Since the job will be in person and not remote, I suspect the next step will be an in-person interview with the hiring manager.

  17. MissDisplaced*

    I have always felt I did better on phone interviews (and on paper) than in person. Heck, I even did one while shopping in TJX one afternoon (beware those international time zones!) and still got hired.
    a) I am very introverted, and feel more comfortable and professional sounding on the phone
    b) I am an older job seeker, and phone is not based on things like looks, weight, age
    c) I get much less nervous on the phone and can modulate my voice and tone better
    d) I don’t have to worry about making eye contact, but work with a picture of the person in my mind
    e) I can have my resume and the job description in front of me for reference with notes
    f) Follow up after the call – especially if the call replaced the in-personal interview
    and finally
    g) Phone call interviews are a way to see if you are on the same page with salary, job duties and the overall nature of the hiring manager without investing a whole lot of time taking off work, getting dressed up, etc. I feel I can have a good conversation and tell within 30 minutes if I’d even want to work with them. In fact, I much prefer this before I come in!

    Practice with a friend if you need to before your call. I’m not sure what else to add, other than do things that make you feel at ease. If that means standing up for the call, by all means do so (I sit at my desk and look at the blank computer screen). A lot of sales professionals tell me this helps them loosen up. If you can look up the hiring manager on LinkedIn, maybe it will give you a sense of who they are as a person, what they look like, and you can always print out their profile photo and have it in front of you to feel as though you are talking to them. I’d also suggest letting them “lead” the initial conversation, and to watch the length of your answers (be short and succinct) and don’t let yourself ramble on, but those hold true on phone or onsite.

    Other than that, I’m sure this is also just a really bad time with LOTS AND LOTS of people job searching. So, you know, it probably isn’t anything you’re actually doing wrong that’s keeping you from moving to the next stage. All you can do is to keep presenting the best way you can.

  18. Remove the bias*

    The phone interview is a great way to start to help make hiring more fair. It removes so much bias as they are not making snap judgements based on gender, age, etc. I know as a woman with a gender neutral name I have shocked people who assumed I was male. Also I have a baby face and appear much younger than I really am. Employers make a judgment on my age and that I can’t have skills or experience. I actually had a client once insist after two days of me visiting their office to know my age because they couldn’t reconcile in their head the age they assumed I was based on how I look and the knowledge that I had. There was an implied bias based on my appearance that I couldn’t possible know what I was talking about.

  19. TiffIf*

    One piece of advice–I find filler language (um, uh, etc.) a lot more noticeable on phone calls than in an in-person/video conversation. For phone interviews, try to eliminate your filler words. One of the best ways I found of doing this was from advice in a public speaking class–pause and take a breath instead of using a filler word–most people won’t notice the slight pause and you end up using far fewer filler words.

  20. lapgiraffe*

    I love love love a phone interview, not only for all the reasons Alison mentioned but also because my brain is sharper when I’m not having to focus on performing. I find I actually can jot down some notes and refer back to things in real time and also have something to go back to when I’m following up, something I’d never feel comfortable doing in person even though it’s tremendously helpful for me.

    What I don’t love, though, is not being able to see the office, get a vibe of the place. In current remote times that’s obviously moot since the office is a zoom meeting, but it’s still nice to pick up the energy of a space. Perhaps I’m too woo woo or too much of an empath but that kind of thing can make it or break it for me. Getting the sense that people are overly stressed or fearful or unfriendly, those are important cues to pick up on that I’m definitely missing interviewing remotely.

    1. lapgiraffe*

      Oh was also going to say, maybe now is the best time for the OP to catch up with old friends via traditional phone. It’s like any other muscle that needs to be exercised, being comfortable on the phone in general will only help on your interviewing.

    2. MissDisplaced*

      Well, you do still have to “perform,” but vocally. And that is so much easier and just less than being in-person.

      Zoom and video have a bit of both, but I still find it somewhat difficult to concentrate on video calls if there are multiple interviewers on the call and you see everybody. I find it hard to “look” at all of them honestly, and try to follow all the body language. This can be a challenge in-person too, but somehow less so. Person-to-person video is ok for me though. I just have to make more effort not to look stupid on screen and tamper my mannerisms.

  21. Ellie May*

    The opportunity to have notes in front of you is the HUGEST value of phone interviews. These can be great for ‘how would you tackle XYZ?’ kinds of questions where models or frameworks are important to outline. Take advantage of this great opportunity to make a great first impression, especially with the hiring manager.

  22. Sarra N. Dipity*

    I think more companies should actually start doing phone-only interviews to start… as a way of actively trying to counter hiring bias.

  23. Person from the Resume*

    LW, you are at exactly the same advantage/disadvantage as every single other person being interviewed by phone which is presumably every applicant, except maybe an internal candidate. You say it puts advantage to the hiring company, but they want to hire the best qualified applicant so that doesn’t really make sense. The hiring company is not your competition.

    Your letter really makes it sound like you know you’re not the most qualified and are relying on other things (building rapport through friendly small talk and non-verbal communication and impressing people by being well-dressed), and that really rubs me the wrong way. As someone else pointed out that rapport/commonalities generally favor people who are like the hiring manager in gender, race, and age. It perpetuates the old boys club and discriminates against those who don’t fit into it.

    You don’t even say that you think you have poor phone skills, but if that is what you meant by your letter (I come across much better in person than over the phone) you brush up on those phone skills as Alison suggested.

  24. Elizabeth West*

    I just want interviewers to get back to me if they decide I’m not a good fit. Even for a phone interview. If I took the time to prepare and talk to you, even just for twenty minutes, then at least email me.

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      I think this is entirely reasonable. My HR director is very anti-ghosting, thankfully, and everyone gets a notice of some sort, even if it’s just a rejection through the ATS. If you actually spoke with someone, it’s an email from the recruiter. I wish everyone would extend that courtesy; I think it’s pretty rude to just never follow up at all.

  25. AP*

    Ugh. I hated phone interviews when I was looking for a job.

    Ironically, as a volunteer I now do mock phone interviews for people looking for work.

    I would suggest practicing as much as you can. Have a friend or two call you and do a mock interview with them. Go through the whole rigamarole exactly if it was a real interview, and when you’re done hang up and then call them back for feedback.

  26. Helen J*

    I think phone calls are good for screening or perhaps as a starting point. For example, my husband is not good on phone calls. He doesn’t really like talking on the phone at all. His resume and work experience are solid, he has won multiple awards, gets excellent reviews each year and he is one of the hardest workers I’ve ever seen. If a hiring manager talked to him on the phone they might think he’s not as good as his resume.

    So while I understand phone interviews for the situation we are currently in and a screening tool, some people just don’t do well on the phone.

  27. LF*

    While I also find phone interviews to be awkward, another benefit of phone interviews is that it’s a lot easier to leave your desk unnoticed for a 30-minute phone interview than it is to commute to the interview, do the interview and then commute back. And if you’re in the midst of multiple job interview processes at the same time – the less disruptive and obvious it is that you’re interviewing, the better!

  28. voluptuousfire*

    I found I had a higher level of engagement on phone screens when I decided to try using index cards for my research vs. Google docs. Writing stuff down when researching engages my brain more and makes me think about my answers in comparison reading things from a Google doc. I felt less engaged when I just copied and pasted stuff instead of writing stuff down.

    I just have to make sure I print vs. write in script because my script is pretty much hieroglyphics at this point.

  29. Lola*

    I was once called in for an interview that totally could have been a phone interview. I had to take the bus there and thought I would be meeting the hiring manager. Nope. Talked to the overall director for less than 30 mins, didn’t even get a tour of the place. What a waste of time.

    1. Jennifer*

      I mean technically couldn’t most interviews have been done over the phone or on zoom? It’s usually just sitting in a room and talking to people. I haven’t really gotten a tour of the building unless I was very close to getting an offer or had already been offered the job.

  30. Not So NewReader*

    Since so many jobs do involve phone work, I just assumed that the phone interview was a way to find out how I might sound to their clients/customers.
    This actually helped me in my early years because it was much easier to talk to a customer than a potential boss. By picturing something I could do, I pulled myself through the difficulty with phone interviews.

    I wasn’t always good about the phone, though. At first I hated answering the phone at work. I finally narrowed it down to being worried about not having an answer for the question. I do remember a few years of talking myself into not being afraid of the phone. It seemed like a real effort at the time and I wondered why I was struggling so much, so I suspect it was actually more than one concern going on.

    One thing that might help redirect focus is to listen to the caller. How do they sound? Are they friendly? Do they seem happy about their work and their company? Do they seem knowledgeable about their company? Do they seem comfortable in their job?
    I tend to think that companies try to send the person to the phone who presents well on the phone. If the employee is not very good on the phone trying to interview me, I have to wonder what else is going on with that company.

    I interviewed for a job where the woman contradicted herself, seemed indecisive and had a slew of other problems. We played a lot of telephone tag. It was the second time in my life that I withdrew my application. People are on their best behavior initially. If this was her best, I knew I did not want to work there.

    1. voluptuousfire*

      I remember years ago an interviewer left me a voicemail to come up for an initial interview. She sounded fairly harassed in the message, but I didn’t put too much stock into it. I ended up traveling 90 mins by public transportation to meet with her and she was distracted and not very pleasant. She said my experience didn’t sound like it was correct and walked me to the elevator after 8 minutes. The office was also eerily quiet and the copy room was right next to the elevator. The interviewer had gone to the copy room while I was waiting for the elevator and I heard her rip up my resume, which was very loud due to the office being as quiet as it was.

      All of this would have been solved by a half hour phone screen. I remember thinking this but proceeded with the interview anyway.

      1. virago*

        I’m cringing on your behalf. A three-hour round trip by public transit for an interview that could have been conducted by an algorithm does not reflect well on the company with which you were interviewing.

        A friend of mine was in the middle of a similarly pointless interview when she said to the interviewer, “I don’t like you, and I don’t think that you like me, so why don’t we wrap this up?” Which they did.

        (If the above makes her sound entitled, she’s not. She was brought up in a home where the message to the children was that they wouldn’t amount to much, so my friend learned to fend for herself.)

  31. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    Maybe it’s because I have a different professional and educational background (engineering), but the thing about “no smalltalk, move right into business” is a positive factor for me, not a negative. I’m not being hired because of my witty repartee around the water cooler, I’m being hired because of … you guessed it, business. The more time I have to talk about my skills and accomplishments, the better.

  32. Some Lady*

    When hiring, I’ve often found that using in-person interviews for the last-step-only is seen as a kindness to the prospective employee; multiple in-person interviews are reserved for only the most senior positions. Getting dressed up, coming in, managing traffic and parking and navigating our building (we are complicated in all these ways), etc., is a lot of effort as well as being time-consuming and often nerve-wracking, even when it goes really well. We don’t want to put you through that if we’re not considering you as a top candidate. A phone interview has its own stressors, but I think many view it as less of an ordeal than in-person interviews. So, OP, they may be doing this out of respect for your time and energy, even if you’d rather they didn’t!

Comments are closed.