How to Nail the Interview: Phone Interviews (3 of 9)

November 4, 2013

How to Nail the Interview: Phone Interviews + Skype Interviews (3 of 9)

Here’s our latest installment of Argentus’ series: How to Nail the Interview. In the series, we discuss different types of interviews to help prepare you as a candidate. Why have you ended up in this format of interview? What are some common pitfalls to avoid? And what are some potential advantages to this type of interview that you can exploit? Read on to find out!

What is it?

A phone interview is typically conducted early in the process of a candidate’s application, after the Hiring Manager has indicated interest in a candidate. Sometimes it’s also logistical necessity, for roles where the candidate is geographically distant from the company. Phone interviews happen especially often when the company is doing a country-wide search and is willing to cover relocation costs for senior level managers or directors. Phone (and Skype) interviews are happening more and more, so it’s important to be prepared.

It’s sometimes referred to as a “Phone Screen,” which suggests that it’s a mere formality. But that’s rarely the case. A phone interview is no less important than a face-to-face! It’s still an interview, and needs to be treated seriously. Candidates who treat a phone interview as a formality threaten to lose the opportunity.  It’s especially important because it tends to fall early in the selection process, so if you leave a bad impression in a phone interview, you don’t already have stakeholders in the organization pulling for your candidacy like you might after a few interviews.


According to Bronwen Hann, Argentus’ President, “a phone interview is the hardest interview format of them all.” Unlike an in-person interview, you don’t have as much ability to develop a rapport. All the classic rapport-building interview tips about a firm handshake, maintaining eye contact, etc. don’t apply.

The biggest pitfall with a phone interview, similarly to a meal-based interview, is to assume that it’s more casual than an in-office interview. You’re interviewing from your home after-all. You don’t need to dress up or even get out of bed to conduct the interview. Right?

Nope. This kind of thinking is a huge pitfall because your situation and surroundings come across over the phone. So the biggest piece of advice that Argentus’ recruiters offer for phone interviews is to prepare yourself as if you were going to an in-person interview. That means you should get dressed nicely, sit at an area of your house where you’re upright (a desk, dining room table, etc.), “arrive” early and take the time to prepare yourself mentally. Recreate an interview setting in your own environment. It sounds a bit unnecessary, but these kinds of preparations put you in the psychological mindset that you need to be in to take the interview seriously.

With interviews in unconventional settings, it’s all about eliminating extra variables. Some tips for this:

  • Don’t do the interview on your cell phone. Feedback, bad reception, and getting cut off are all technical issues where you aren’t to blame. But it’s still worth avoiding because you want to look as professional as possible.
  • Avoid distracting noises. Try to do the interview indoors if possible. Similarly, if you have kids or pets, make sure they’re not in the room.
  • These sound outlandish, but they’re worth mentioning because we’ve heard of them happening: Don’t eat, drink, smoke, or chew gum. Don’t pick up another line if you get another call.


The unique area of opportunity in a phone-based interview is that it’s essentially an open-book test. The interviewer can’t see if you’re consulting other materials for information. You can put materials in front of you that will help you jog your memory. You can use your resume, information about the company, a prewritten list of questions, etc. For example, if you’re a Procurement professional, you can bring case studies such as examples of Supplier negotiations or RFPs as reference.

Make sure not to read off of any materials you have – they should be a reference, not a script. And don’t let them distract you from listening to the interviewer. And even if you bring materials to the table, it’s still important to prepare. Sit down the night before and go through your resume and make sure you can speak concisely and quantifiably about your accomplishments.

To sum up, the phone interview has a lot of risk, but also a lot of opportunity for you to come across as an organized and effective personality.

BONUS: Skype Interviews.

As we’ve blogged about before, video conferencing is becoming more and more important in Supply Chain and in Procurement negotiations, and this has had some bleed-over into the interview space as well. The biggest piece of advice about a Skype interview is to treat it exactly like an in-person interview. Dress well. Make sure you’re sitting in front of a neutral background that won’t be distracting for the interviewer. If you’re inexperienced using Skype, set up some practice calls with family and friends to become acquainted with the medium. It can be tough to establish a rapport with someone through a screen, but make sure to emphasize positive body language and good posture anyway.

Thank you to our own Sam White for this posting

Over and Out for Now



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