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You Had Me at Hello:

Seven Mistakes to Avoid During Your Next Phone Interview

A relaxed smiling businessman seated in front of his desk, wearing headphones and looking at his monitor

With 35-plus years in executive search, I've had the opportunity to conduct hundreds of phone interviews with talented candidates. In many ways, presence and the right cultural fit are just as important—if not more important—than a strong resume with the right skillset. The phone interview is my first opportunity to gauge a candidate's presence, authority and personality.

Some candidates are prepared and set the right tone for the interview. Others may be good, quality candidates, but lack of preparation or planning trip them up. Here are a few "types" to avoid when considering your next phone interview.

1. The time cruncher.

Select a time when you will be relaxed and able to focus your full attention on the discussion... not in a time crunch! Be ready to take the call and allow a cushion of time in case the call runs over-don't do as one candidate did and schedule the call just before a major meeting. The candidate was distracted and obviously stressed about their next meeting during our call. The impression they conveyed was less impressive than might have been the case otherwise.

2. The serial rescheduler.

Things can come up outside your control—I understand that, as would any interviewer. Reschedule the call if necessary. But, at the same time, beware of becoming a serial rescheduler. Having to reschedule multiple times comes across as either poor time management or a lack of interest, neither of which are characteristics of a great candidate.

3. Jack from Mr. Mom.

Do you remember this scene from Mr. Mom: The house is full of repair people, the baby is eating chili, the washing machine is spraying water and Kenny is wrestling his woobie from the vacuum cleaner? This scene resonates because life can feel this way sometimes. It's just not the right setting for an interview. Rather, be thoughtful about the environment in which you will take the call. Hire a babysitter, post a "do not ring bell" sign on the door, and put the dog outside.

4. The multi-tasker.

This is not the time to show me how well you multi-task. For safety reasons alone, I prefer that you do not schedule a call while you are driving or even as one candidate did, while you huff and puff your way around the park, complete with the added background sounds of traffic, chirping birds and fellow joggers. My colleague tells a story of one candidate call a few years ago: "It sounded like he was outside and a few minutes into the call I hear someone yelling at him, 'hey, you're up'. Turns out he was on the golf course, 12th hole I believe."

5. The crowd dis-pleaser.

For similar reasons, I am always amazed at people who want to schedule interview calls while they are on the train, in the airport or other public places. I treat these calls as highly confidential and question the judgement of any candidate who chooses to share their personal information with a crowd of strangers. Do you really think no one is listening?

6. The rambler.

Answer questions concisely. I do not want to spend our valuable time on the call with a 20-minute soliloquy on why you moved from one position to another and what you didn't like about the previous company. One of my colleagues refers to this as the Golden Rule of Silence: answer the question and stop. If more information or clarification is needed, I will ask you to elaborate.

7. The BFF.

Keep in mind that this is still a business conversation no matter how well you may feel you hit it off with the recruiter. Another colleague had a candidate ask if he was married at the end of their interview. Needless to say, the question effectively excluded that candidate from further consideration.

The phone interview is the recruiter's chance to get more information about the candidate's demeanor and experience to help determine whether they are a good fit for our client's needs. Review the position description in advance. Be prepared to give examples that demonstrate skills sets specified in the position description. This is especially important if the skill sets are not readily apparent from your resume.

Lastly, think about tone. Our clients expect candidates who are excited about the opportunity and want to join their organization. It you come across as lacking interest and enthusiasm on the phone interview, I will not want to waste my client's time by advancing you to the next step in the process.

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Jean Lenzner

Jean P. Lenzner

Managing Director