Phone Interviews

Many job seekers breathe a huge sigh of relief when they learn they have been invited to participate in a phone interview.  They assume that will be a much easier interview and easier preparation since they can have notes in front of them.  In reality, phone interviews can be more challenging than face-to-face interviews because you lose all the visual cues.  You can’t tell how someone is reacting to what you are saying.  They also can’t see your facial expressions or gestures so you have to rely on your voice to deliver the entire message.  There is a tendency to take phone interviews less seriously but that can be a costly mistake.  You have to ace the phone interview to advance to the next steps in the process.  Some tips for success with phone interviews:


  • Preparation – Prepare as if it were a face to face interview.  Think about the questions you may be asked and how you want to respond.  Research the company.  Talk to you networking contacts with knowledge of the company.  Prepare questions in advance that you want to ask your interviewer.  Become knowledgeable about their products, services and competitors.  Be as prepared as possible to put your best foot forward.


  • Engagement – Without visual contact, it can be harder to stay engaged.  Be sure you are somewhere you can minimize distractions.  Do not have a TV or music playing in the background.  Be sure you will not be interrupted.  Tell yourself this is the best use of your next hour and give it your 100% attention.  Listen carefully and respond thoughtfully.


  • Stand Up – You have only your voice to make an impact so use it to its fullest advantage.  Standing up expands the diaphragm and can make you sound more confident.  It is ok to move around a bit but don’t walk so far that it impacts the volume of your voice for your listener.  Be strong and confident in your communications.


  • Smile – Why smile if they can’t see you?  People can hear the smile in your voice.  You do sound different if you are smiling.  Remember to smile to demonstrate your interest and enthusiasm.


  • Mirror – Put a small mirror near the phone.  Use it to remind yourself to smile while you are speaking.    Use it to check your engagement during the interview.


  • Listen carefully – Be sure you understand the question before you jump to answer.  Be sure you don’t cut off the interviewer before the full question is asked.  If you hear them trying to jump in, take the cue that your answer is too long.  Ask clarifying questions if needed to be sure you are addressing what they are asking.


  • Next Steps – Before the call ends, be sure to ask about next steps and timeframe.


  • Summarize – Thank the interviewer for his/her time and offer a brief summary of why you are interested and qualified for this position.  End the interview with reinforcement of your key points.  It is what they are most likely to remember.


  • Thank You – Just because the interview is by phone doesn’t eliminate the need for a handwritten thank you note.  Differentiate yourself by sending a handwritten thank you note within 24 hours.  If they are on a tight deadline also send an email but don’t eliminate the handwritten thank you note.  It makes a difference in the process.

Learn more great interviewing tips!


Distinguish Yourself in a Cover Letter

You see the perfect job posted online and you can’t wait to attach your resume and hit send.  Resist the urge.  Take the time to create a customized cover letter and it will increase the odds of the hiring manager reviewing your resume.  A resume is a historical look at what you have done in the past.  The cover letter is an opportunity to focus on the specific position of interest while highlighting your historical and transferable skills to meet their needs.  Do not assume that the hiring manager will take the time to “connect the dots” between your experience and their needs.  Writing a customized cover letter does that for them.

Focus on Their Needs – the hiring manager has a business need to meet so focus on how you can meet their specific needs.  They really don’t care about what you need and want.  Be very specific in addressing their needs outlined in the job description and show them how you can address their specific needs.

Highlight Transferable Skills – You may not meet every requirement in the job description but you bring valuable transferable skills to the position.  Focus on what you bring and the value it has to them.  Maybe you never worked in that industry before but if you have successfully transitioned to a new industry before, leverage that.  If you never used the particular software they use but have learned new systems quickly in the past, highlight that.

Be Careful with the use of “I” – The cover is letter is about meeting their needs so be very careful not to overuse “I”.  Do not start every paragraph or multiple sentences with “I”.  Think about different ways to get your message across.  Keep it focused on them.

Do not use a generic letter – Most recruiters and hiring managers can easily recognize a template cover letter.  It typically does not relate to the specific job or even the specific  company.  Don’t waste the hiring managers’ time by sending generic letters.  Worse still, avoid the cut and paste errors of referencing the wrong company or position.  That is a guaranteed trip to the “no” pile.

Attention to Detail Matters – Be sure your letter has been proofread for spelling and grammar.  Most employers will consider it a sample of your business writing.  Worse still, don’t cite your attention to detail as an attribute and then have glaring spelling or grammatical errors in the letter.  That is a quick route to the “no” pile.

A successful job search is the result of strategic effort.  It is not about how many positions you can apply to online.  A successful candidate is one who identifies the right positions and then submits a flawless resume and customized cover letter.  Further success comes to those who have also networked at the company in advance.  Don’t let the lack of a cover letter or a poorly written cover letter prevent you from advancing in the process.  If the job is worth applying to, it is worth the time to create a customized cover letter.

Sample Interview Questions and Worst Answers

Preparation is key to a successful interview.  Thinking about how you want to answer commonly asked questions in advance can help you avoid these “worst answer” blunders by job seekers.

So, tell me a little about yourself.

  • “there really isn’t much to tell.”
  • “I’m really not all that interesting.”
  • “I haven’t done much yet.”
  • “Well, I was born in xx and went to elementary school…..  5 minutes later the candidate is still babbling and the interviewer has completely glazed over.”
  • “My life really started going downhill when my parents got divorced when I was a teenager.  They really ruined my life.”
  • “once I joined AA my life started getting better”
  • “After I beat cancer for the second time…”
  • “I’m married, I have three kids ages 3, 5 and 7…”

Why do you want to leave your current job?

  • “they don’t pay me enough”
  • “they expect me to work too many hours”
  • “my boss is a jerk (idiot, etc.)”
  • “my colleagues are all idiots”
  • “they don’t know what they are doing there”
  • “the company is on the brink of bankruptcy”
  • “I think they are probably doing some illegal things”
  • “I’m bored out of my mind”
  • “they don’t give me things that I like to do”
  • “After six months of doing the same thing every day, I’m ready for a change”
  • “I need more flexibility to handle my kids activities after school”

What interests you about this company?

  • “I don’t know anything about the company but figured why not apply since I really need a job.”
  • “My friend works here”
  • “I heard you pay well”
  • “I need the benefits”
  • “It is close to home”
  • “it is a recognizable name so it would look good on my resume”
  • “I really like your product.”

What are your biggest strengths and weaknesses?

  • “I don’t have any weaknesses”
  • “I really don’t know.”
  • “I get things done.”
  • “I was a star student (athlete)”
  • “I can make other people get things done.”
  • “I’m the best candidate you are going to see so we could save time by moving the process forward.”

How would your current or former colleagues describe you?

  • “the best employee they ever had”
  • “the only employee who did things right”
  • “someone who worked hard even though they were given the boring jobs”
  • “their best friend”
  • “A great guy to hang out with after work.”

What is your goal for the short term?

  • “I need to get a job as soon as possible.  I have bills to pay.”
  • “ I need the health/dental insurance right away so I can have some problems taken care of”
  • “Get a new job that isn’t so boring”
  • “Get a new job that doesn’t require any nights or weekends”
  • “Get a job working with people who have more realistic expectations”
  • “Get a job so I can move forward with a divorce”

Do you prefer to work independently or in a team?

  • “working with teams is such a waste of time since half the people don’t do anything anyway.  Just give the work to the person who can get it done.”
  • “Other people think they know it all and they don’t so teams are a waste of time”
  • “I can get everything done on my own without needing help from anyone else”
  • “I always get everything done that is assigned to me on my own”
  • “I just put my head down and plow through the work. “
  • “working with a team makes things take longer”
  • “I only like working with a team if there is someone on the team who really knows how to do all the work”

Are there certain tasks or types of people you find difficult to work with?

  • “People who think they know it all aren’t fun to work with”
  • “I don’t like working with people who are obsessed with following the process.  Rules are meant to be broken.”
  • “Demanding people stress me out.  They set deadlines and expect everything to get done by their deadline just because they said so.  They probably don’t really need it then.”
  • “I hate having to do the same thing every day.”
  • “Repetitive tasks are too boring.  Once I know how to do things they should make someone else do the boring stuff.
  • “I don’t like people who keep checking to see if my work is done or if I’m making progress.  I’ll get to it.

Let’s talk about salary.  What are you expectations?

  • “I know I’m worth a lot more than what I’m making now.”
  • “I just finished an MBA so I’m worth at least $25K more than I was making before.”
  • “My rent just went up and I have car payments to cover so I need more than I was making before.”
  • “I’m a hard worker so I deserve to be at the top of your range.”

Do you have any questions?

  • “no.”
  • “not really”
  • “you already answered them all”
  • “Do I get the job?”
  • “how much does the job pay?
  • “How much vacation and sick time would I get?
  • “Can I still take my planned trip next month?
  • When can I start?
  • Is the drug testing really required?

Find more interview advice from Lynne in these Tips for a Successful Interview!

Job Search in a New Location

While job searching is a full-time job and often very stressful, some candidates make it even more challenging by deciding to look for work in a new location.  This brings additional challenges.

If you are not physically in the new location while you are searching, consider identifying a local address you can use for your search so you don’t jump out as an out of state candidate.  Use a friend’s address with their permission or rent a post office box.

Research your options in advance so you know how to make last minute plans should you receive an invitation to interview in person.

You make your initial impression on paper.  The goal of that is to gain an opportunity for you to sell yourself in person – the interview.

Read More on Job Searches in New Locations!

Courtesy of Google

Working 24/7

Technology has created an expectation that employees and consultants are “on” 24/7.  It is an unrealistic and dangerous expectation.  It is unhealthy to work 24/7.  You lose your competitive edge, your clear insights and your ability to focus if you do not have adequate sleep and downtime.  While it is important to be responsive to customers and coworkers, it is also important to maintain a healthy work life balance.

  • Just because you are able to check messages doesn’t always mean you should.  General rule of thumb, don’t check if you aren’t going to do anything about it.  Then it just weighs heavy on your mind.
  • If you are checking off hours, forward it to someone who can help, respond it if is a quick answer or give them a timeframe of when you will be able to respond.
  • Set limits.  Check only at certain times of the day and limit the number of times you check.
  • If you need to schedule a virtual meeting to accommodate time differences, schedule it in advance and honor the appointment.  Don’t let them think you are constantly available.
  • Use your out of office setting to manage expectations about how quickly you will be able to respond.  Let them know if you are tied up in meetings or travelling so they know your response won’t be immediate.
  • Include an emergency contact in your email or phone message so they can contact someone else if you are not available.
  • On vacation, take a break.  Give yourself the benefit of vacation.  Set one time a day to check messages and forward anything urgent to a team member for coverage.
  • Clients and co-workers don’t really want to reach you when you are tired and grouchy.  Give them parameters for when you can be available.  Make special arrangements if they need something outside those parameters.
  • It is not necessary to answer every message as soon as it is received.
  • Technology should be enabling you to do your job with more flexibility it should not make you a slave to your job.

How to Turn Around a Bad Interview

Image Courtesy of GoogleOf course everyone wants to put their best foot forward in an interview.  The goal is to make the best possible impression.  Unfortunately things happen.  The true test of a candidate is not whether they can do things perfectly but more how they respond when things don’t go as planned.


It is normal to be nervous prior to or during an interview.  You can reduce and manage your nervousness to your advantage.  Be well prepared.  Do your research on the company, the position and the people you are interviewing with in advance.  Prepare questions you want to ask them. Confirm the details of time and place.  Be sure you know how to get there, do a test run if necessary.  Give yourself plenty of time to get there.  Think about how you want to answer typical questions.  Have examples ready to answer behavioral questions.  Think about the most important things you want them to remember about you.  Preparation in advance helps reduce nervousness in the moment.  Do some deep breathing before you start.  Go wash your hands just prior to your interview if you tend to get clammy.  Remind yourself that this is the best place for you to be and the best use of your time right now.  Be in the moment and focus on the interviewers.  Establish and maintain strong eye contact.  If in spite of all your preparation, you do something that makes your nervousness obvious, let them know it is because you are so excited about the position and move on.  Don’t draw more attention to it.

Arriving Late

Best strategy is to give yourself plenty of time.  Check out the route in advance if you don’t know where you are going.  Identify where you will be able to park.  Have a contingency plan if needed.  When the universe conspires against you and everything possible goes wrong and it appears that you will be late, immediately call the employer.  Apologize and let them know you will be few minutes late.  They don’t need all the gory details.  Apologize again when you arrive and then move past it.


You see the job description and know it is the job you’ve been waiting for.  You think the interview is going well but suddenly the interviewer starts talking about your great experience but thinks you are over-qualified for the position.  Do some probing?  Why do they think that?  Are you over-qualified or are they worried that you are overpriced?  Show the value of the experience you bring to the position and how you can help solve their business problems.  Talk about their needs and how you can address them.  Let them know you are still very interested.


If the interviewer instead indicates that you do not have enough experience in general or in their specific industry, focus on what you do offer.  Maybe you’ve already transitioned to a different industry and can show that you learn quickly and bring a fresh perspective.  Focus on the relevant experience and skills that you do bring to the table.  Focus on the business needs you can address.  If you really do not have the necessary experience, use it as a learning experience.  Ask what additional experience would prepare you for this role in the future.  What skills are most important to them?  Is there a more appropriate entry point within the company and will they keep you in mind?  Even if you don’t get the job, build a relationship for the future.

Tough Question

They ask the question and you draw a blank.  You have no idea where to start.  You can always buy a little time by asking them to repeat the question.  You can also rephrase the question to be sure you have it right.  If it is a mini-case question focus on the thought process of what you need to make a decision rather than trying to come up with a “right” answer.  If it is a crazy question, give an answer that you can explain.  Otherwise take a deep breath, answer honestly.  Some answer is better than deafening silence.  Often once you get started, the rest of the answer flows.

Thank You

Even if you think the interview didn’t go well, still send a handwritten, customized thank you note.  You don’t know when something else may come up and you want them to think of you.

If you are able to keep your cool and handle the rough spots in the interview it will help differentiate you among the pool of applicants.  Preparation is key so you can focus your energy on things that happen during the course of the interview itself.

Distinguishing Yourself After an Interview

While it is important to distinguish yourself in the interview, it is often what happens after the interview the ultimately determines the employers decisions.

A simple thank you is the most overlooked step in the process.  Not only does it convey your appreciation, it also clearly demonstrates your professionalism and your interest in the job.  I have employers tell me all the time what a difference a handwritten thank you note makes in the process.  Those are the candidates they remember and if they are having trouble deciding between two candidates, the thank you note can tip the scale.

After an interview, you should ALWAYS send a handwritten thank you note to every person who interviewed you. Customize each note with a reference to something you discussed.  Thank them for their time and convey your enthusiasm for the opportunity.  Get your thank you note in the mail within 24 hours of your interview, sooner is better.  If you know the timeframe is very tight, it is ok to send a quick email thank you note but it does not replace the handwritten note.

Remember, grammar and spelling matter.  They will consider your thank you note a sample of business writing.  Use professional looking note cards (no kitties or teddy bears).

If you call to follow-up after an interview, be professional and courteous to everyone you speak to at the organization.  Be sure frustration in any delay does not show in your voicemail message.

Ensure that all your follow-up supports the positive impression you made in the interview.

Find more advice in Your Job Search: When to Follow Up featuring Lynne!

Image Courtesy of Google