Is It “Getting Serious” If They Want to Do a Phone Interview?

By Brian Sullivan


We all have a rough idea of what the interview is supposed to look like. We are sitting in an office a few floors above street level with a large desk and prominent window behind overseeing the downtown hustle and bustle, or maybe we’re in an impressive conference room with a table big enough to seat a whole baseball team. Our interviewer is probably well-dressed, and so are we. The interviewer asks a couple questions in a row that, based on body language, are meant to stump the average candidate, but we deliver articulate and impactful responses because we aptly prepared. After shaking hands, and the interviewer admits that they don’t often share so much information about the selection process with most candidates, but that we can expect a call back from human resources early next week to discuss next steps – and that call comes before the end of the same business day to humbly extend us, the ideal candidate, an offer for the position of our dreams. Success!


Obviously, not every interview ends in a happily ever after outcome, and our imaginations can quickly think of scenarios where we’ve arrived late, spilt the morning coffee on our shirt, or torn our slacks, souring what could have otherwise been a decent first impression. We can also envision the interviewer gearing up to ask a question, and we come up with nothing in response, and that awkward silence goes on until security escorts us from the building. All hyperbole aside, while it is just as easy for us to imagine an interview going well or poorly, almost every scenario we can muster has one thing in common: they’re all in person.


It is true that when we play out a hypothetical interview in our minds, a phone interview isn’t normally the first arrangement we conjure up. In the modern world though, this idyllic face-to-face interview in a beautiful office we’ve seen in a million TV shows, commercials, stock photos, or even in our own lives is no longer the only typical format. Phone interviews are very common, especially for a first-round screening sort of step, but they honestly can occur in any part of the process. The answer to the question posed in the title is Yes – Things are getting serious if they want to schedule a phone interview. From here, R&W Group Blog will share some ideas about things to consider and problems to avoid when it comes to the phone interview.



Why Would an Employer Want a Phone Interview?

From an employer or recruiter’s perspective, interviews serve several secondary purposes, from seeing what a candidate looks like, how they present themselves (both in terms of fashion and demeanor), whether or not they’re punctual, and many others. However, the main purpose is to talk with the candidate – getting to know their goals, hearing about their background and experience, and understanding what they might bring to the organization. While many of the potential goals of an interview do require in-person interviewing (or potentially a virtual arrangement: more about those here), the most critical ones can certainly be handled via phone. Whether it’s working with a quick turnaround to get the opening filled or a packed calendar of a busy executive, connecting over the phone can sometimes be an appealing alternative to a more time-intensive and logistical-laden in-person interview setup.


As previously mentioned, phone interviews are very common for a first step in the selection process, vetting many applicants before narrowing down the candidate pool to a handful of prospects. That being said, even though it’s not the game-deciding play, a poor showing may lead to you getting benched, or even cut from tryouts. For this reason, it is important to treat a phone interview like an interview by any other name.


Having an interview over the phone at any phase in the interview process is not outside the realm of possibility; they’re not just for those perceived “weeding-out” stages. While we often handle social and casual affairs over the phone, an interview is always a business interaction, regardless if it’s in-person, over the internet, or on the phone – so don’t phone it in (pun intended).


Depending on the job, a phone interview may actually be more applicable than an in-person interview. Roles where client and stakeholder interactions are more likely to be over the phone instead of face-to-face can benefit from phone interviews, not just from a data-gathering perspective, but also in terms of demonstrating job-specific skills. In these situations, a phone interview isn’t just as important as any other interview – it’s basically an audition, so it’s best to be well-prepared.


What NOT To Do

To illustrate a good phone interview and how that might go, sometimes it’s easier to emphasize the value of different best practices, and what happens when we don’t follow them. Most of these examples are composites of real occurrences we’ve either seen when conducting interviews as recruiters, or we’ve heard about from other interviewers.


The first best practice is to include the phone interview on your calendar. Most people’s electronic devices have calendar applications on them that allow reminder notifications to be set as the time of the interview approaches. I’m sure I’m not only speaking for myself when I say that this is a really great feature to leverage. Doing nothing else but this will still limit the likelihood of other downstream mess-ups that we’ll outline momentarily.


As recruiters, we sometimes run into situations where we contact an applicant at a mutually agreed upon time to have them answer with “…Hello?”, as though they’re receiving an unscheduled call from a telemarketer. If I was expecting a phone call about a potential job at 10:00 AM, and I received a call at that time, I could reasonably assume the person on the other end of the line is the person with whom I scheduled the call. From there, I could answer with “Hello. This is [INSERT MY NAME HERE] speaking” or “Hello. Is this [INSERT NAME OF EXPECTED CALLER]?”. Both of those are better than the half cautious and half conscious “…Hello?” or worse, “… Hello? Who’s calling?”.


When we don’t block off the time in our calendar, other things can go awry. For starters, phone interviews can be an amazing opportunity for you as the interviewee to have the autonomy of choosing your own quiet, calm, and distraction-free environment in which to have this meeting. Candidates should think about locations such as a quiet room in their home, a private table in a coffeeshop, or even in their car (provided they are parked at the time), and they should test out phone reception in that chosen location before committing to it, at least an hour (if not a day or two) before the scheduled call. If a candidate doesn’t remember the interview is happening though, it’s anyone’s guess as to whether the location they’re in at that very moment is going to be any good. We’ve had phone interviews with candidates in noisy grocery stores, driving in stressful traffic conditions, boarding a plane, raking leaves in their yards, or even at their current employer where their manager or coworkers could potentially overhear. We aren’t sure if it’s harder to make a first impression over the phone in a setting with tons of background disruptions, or when you’re having to whisper or speak in cryptic vagueness so nobody else around knows you’re on an interview, but our advice would be to avoid both scenarios.


Peripherally related to this, when writing down this important commitment in your datebook, include the other relevant information that might come up. For example, write down the interviewer’s name, the name of their company, whether the interviewer works for the employer or are a third-party recruiter, and the title of the position you’re discussing with them. Most of us, unless we only applied to that one-in-a-million dream job, are likely applying to dozens of job ads if we’re conducting a full-scale job search, and it might be tough to keep all those details straight. This is why keeping good records and maintaining effective organization skills can be very helpful. Don’t stress about committing it all to memory; leverage resources that can help – that’s why they exist! If the interviewer has their phone number in their signature block, include that in the calendar hold too. This helps you cross-reference the incoming Caller ID information with your records, and you can be even more assured the call you’re about to answer is the phone interview, and not a fishy notification about your car’s extended warranty.


So... What Now?

The main takeaways here are to take your phone interview seriously. Simply by making reminders for yourself, you won’t forget it’s coming up soon. From there, you will be better able to manage things like finding an ideal location, giving yourself time to get to that quiet spot, and include lots of notes to yourself about who will be contacting you, what phone number they’ll likely be using, and anything else that might be helpful to recall. Also, many of us let calls from numbers we don’t recognize go to voicemail. If we’re expecting a recruiter to be calling us for an interview though, even if the number isn’t familiar, just answer; should it end up being a spam call, you can always hang up, but calling an interviewer back after missing them might be too little too late, especially if the two of you had already decided on speaking at this time.


Beyond the phone-interview-specific pointers, prepare for this interview like you would any other. Take time to draft responses to common interview questions (especially “Tell me about yourself”), come up with stellar examples of times you’ve been an exemplary employee, and list a few questions you might have for the interviewer too. If you would like some more tips on how to nail your next interview, or helps on your job search to secure a phone interview in the first place, please contact us at info@r-wgroup.com. We look forward to hearing from you.

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