8 Phone Interview Tips That Will Land You A Second Interview
To get a second phone interview you need to balance the arts of intrigue, suspense and etiquette during your first phone interview. How? Combine the skills of sales, storytelling and James Bond.
The advice is the same whether you’re on a phone call for a job interview, investor interview, or for a chance to audition for a Broadway play. (The advice also applies to first dates and marketing new businesses.)
Create an adventure story that your mother, best friend, and business partner can get excited about.
Keep it clean, keep it real, keep it relevant.
Your goal is to create an intriguing positive impact.
At the end of the call you need to leave the interviewer wanting more and excited to showcase your potential.
What adventures should you share?
How do you share them?
1. PHONE INTERVIEW TIP: PAUSE LIKE JAMES BOND
James Bond speaks only when relevant. He doesn’t divulge too much information. He doesn’t talk too fast. He does not hesitate. He pauses.
An answer to a question as simple as asking a name exudes confidence. With three words, and one pause, James Bond intrigued the interviewer and suspense floated in the air.
“Bond. James Bond.”
Hear his voice and listen to the pause. Say it out loud, just as James Bond would.
Bond who? Just Bond? Is Bond his first name or last name? I’m intrigued. I’m in suspense. Tell me more!
Now you have all the information. “Bond” is repeated, so you are more likely to remember the name.
Pauses are not hesitations. Agent 007 doesn’t respond to question saying “Bond. Er, James Bond.”
If your mind flows faster than your spoken words, practice pausing.
Psychologists train people to pause while speaking to help with impulsiveness, speech disturbances and speech fluency.
To get that second job interview, you must be concise. When your mind moves fast, spoken words can jumble. To be concise, use a pause.
To get that second interview, you must listen to the interviewer. Pausing before answering a question helps you focus.
How long is a pause?
The tactic of pausing is different for phone interviews than it is for public speaking.
Time is relative.
Five minutes to be on hold during a phone conversation or wait for a fast food order is painfully long. Five minutes to get through security at an airport is cause for celebration.
Seth Godin suggests a ten second pause for a public speech, but if you go without speaking on a phone for ten seconds, the interviewer will think you’ve been disconnected, distracted, or that you’re dumbfounded.
When you’re done reading this article, view the scene from “Dr. No” in which James Bond introduces himself for the first time. In this 1962 movie, the pause between “Bond” and “James” is around two seconds. The impact is profound.
2. Pitch Low. (Not a grenade, your voice.)
Change the Tone of Your Voice
The pitch of your voice is the range from low to high.
Men tend to have larger vocal folds than women, and the size of your vocal fold contributes to the pitch of your voice. Testosterone levels can affect voice levels in men, and estrogen can affect voice pitches in women.
Sinuses, nutrition, sleep and exercise also contribute to voice pitch.
The audio frequency of females is often twice as high as the frequency level of men.
Mean Fundamental Frequency of Men vs. Women:
Source for data: Erwan Pépiot.
It’s no surprise babies and puppies prefer higher pitched sounds and adults equate low-pitched voices with leadership and dominance.
Can you change genetics and centuries of social perceptions before your phone interview? No. But—
You can manage your phone interview impression with voice pitch frequency levels.
When we end a sentence with a declaration, “The name is James Bond,” we end it with a low pitch. When we ask a question “What is your name?” we use a higher pitch. Say those two sentences out loud.
Asking questions is certainly a leadership quality, but filling your interview with more declarative statements than questions will help tame a high voice. If you need to achieve likability and have a tremendously low-pitched voice or an overly-aggressive past, pepper your conversation with more questions.
A 2011 edition of the Journal of Evolution and Human Behavior carried a study that demonstrated low-pitched voices are an advantage during elections.
This is important because you are essentially trying to win an election in your phone interview.
However, the same study also pointed out that lower voices are preferable during wartime environments, and higher pitched voices are preferable during peaceful environments.
An interview for a job running a day care center will be more successful with a higher pitched voice, and an interview for a job to run a private prison will be more successful with a lower pitched voice.
How can you be sure to win that second phone interview if you have a high-pitched voice?
You can do more than just manage your sentence structure. Take professional voice lessons.
Search for “Daily Elocution Exercises” and develop a daily voice exercise routine so you can master the interview.
Simple introductory voice exercise:
- Find your everyday pitch. Say your first name out loud in your standard conversational voice.
- Repeat your name at three higher levels.
- Now go back to your standard conversational level.
- Repeat your name at three lower levels.
- Repeat the exercise with your name in a sentence. “My name is James Bond.”
- Find a pitch that is close to your ideal pitch and comfortable for you.
- Talk to yourself in that pitch, and gradually increase sentences in length and complexity.
- Record yourself on your phone and review the audio to make sure you sound natural.
3. Design Your Phone Interview with a Pitch Pattern
In suspense movies, the action rises and subsides. The same goes for talking. A pitch pattern is also known as intonation. Notice the difference between the following sentences as you read them out loud (put emphasis on the capitalized words):
I caught the bad guy. It was fun.
I CAUGHT the bad guy. It was SO much fun.
I CAUGHT the BAD GUY! It was SOOO much FUN!
It’s easy to tell from the above example who the more enthusiastic person is.
However, you don’t want overkill during the phone interview.
Enthusiasm and self-regulation are required during phone interviews. Jobs requiring an enthusiastic personality still require professionalism, and venture capitalists seeing someone enthusiastic about a business still wants to see someone who can calmly recognize and manage the negative points of the business.
Emphasis on a word implies passion and enthusiasm, but it is also a tool you can use to help compare and contrast.
Emphasizing one name over another gives importance to the name that is emphasized. Emphasizing the words “had” or “past” or “future” can help frame events. Emphasizing feeling words will emphasize emotions. “The clients were THRILLED with my suggestion.”
Emphasize what’s important as it relates to your skills. It’s important you “CAUGHT” the bad guy, because you are trying to prove that you have the skills to perform the job. “Bad guy” does not need to be emphasized, unless the bad guy is a client that your interviewer would kill to have (not literally).
A lawyer might emphasize “I CAUGHT the CHIEF OF POLICE in a lie on the witness stand.” That would not be overkill.
An entrepreneur could safely emphasize to an investor “…then I LANDED the multi-million-dollar account to manage archives for JAMES BOND.”
The skills are important, and the account holder is significant. Emphasis approved (calmly) by England. Don’t get too excited.
Pauses are also used for emphasis. The pause between “Bond” and “James Bond” also occurs after the word “shaken” when Bond orders his vodka martini “…shaken. Not stirred.” Two of the most memorable Bond phrases have a similar pause.
4. Speak at the Speed Limit
James Bond can floor an Aston Martin while dodging bullets, but if you want to drive in your speaking points, keep your speaking speed at an acceptable range.
You don’t want to roll answers off your tongue as fast as an Aston Martin Vulcan or spout them out as slow as a 1950 Mini-Cooper. (In case you’re wondering, the Aston Martin Vulcan can go from 0-60mph in under three seconds, the 1959 Mini-Cooper takes almost 30 seconds to go from 0-60mph.)
A conversational tone of voice runs about 100-125 words per minute. Toastmasters recommends a speaking voice of 120-150 words per minute to establish authority. Ted Talks recommends 190 words per minute for public speaking.
How to test the speed of your conversational voice:
- Find a famous speech to read out loud that is at least 500 words.
- (Try Steve Job’s 2005 Stanford Commencement address. then watch his speech.)
- Make an indicator mark after every 25 words, and a large mark after the first 150.
- Set a stopwatch to run for a minute and start reading out loud.
- Stop after a minute.
- How many words did you read in that minute?
Are you a fast reader or slow speaker?
An Exercise for Fast Readers
If you are a fast reader, use a stopwatch and try saying ONE of the following words in two seconds:
- Now repeat the two second test for each word.
- Notice your rhythm. Can you slow yourself down? Go back and apply it to a speech.
5. Train and Tame Your Tongue
Studies published in the journal Personnel Psychology have shown that when body language is removed, content appropriateness becomes a primary factor in an interviewer’s decision-making process.
Are you talking about your work history, or are you talking about your personal history?
James Bond did not always exhibit appropriate behavior with women, but he would leave a woman, regardless of the position he was in, if he had to do his job and save England.
You may not be saving England, but you are trying to save your future.
Focus, and stay on-topic.
What content will you be discussing when you pick up the phone?
You don’t know. But you better discuss it politely.
One of the clear marks of a sales professional, and one that will lead to greater success, is class. – Zig Ziglar
You don’t have to wear a suit to have class.
You must remain calm and mind your manners during a phone interview.
There are interviewers that interrogate interviewees with accusations to see if they will break under pressure. The interviewer will ask questions to draw out your negative points. Was there a co-worker that really irked you? Why did you lose that client?
Hold back your anger. The interviewer may ask you about your worst client, your biggest loss, your worst boss, and your biggest failure. Be emotionally prepared.
Take a deep, silent breath before you start and get ready to swim with the sharks.
James Bond wouldn’t give out a password after being whipped in a chair. You can refrain from exhaling the evils of your nemesis co-worker or ex-partner during a phone interview.
The interviewer won’t tie you up to a chair and torture you, but they may make you feel like you’re being tortured. Don’t lash out. Don’t vent.
Bond kept his wits and stayed calm. He didn’t clam up, he gave relevant answers, and moved on.
Okay, so you’re not James Bond and you hate phones.
Quiet Ways to Reduce Anxiety During a Phone Interview:
- Walk while you’re talking
- Fake Smile while you’re talking
- Quietly breath in some lavender
- When the interviewer is talking, breathe through your nose and hold your breath for a few seconds. Keep the phone on your ear, move the mouthpiece away from your face, and exhale slowly—then answer.
- Have a vodka martini, shaken, not stirred
Use your manners.
Manners are an essential part of your impression management.
Manners are essential to sales, respect, and professionalism.
Even if the company is young and casual and the “F” word flows fluently, the first phone interview requires professionalism.
Quite often, the first phone interviewer works outside the company and screens the first group of potential applicants.
The interviewer—quite possibly a human resource management professional well versed in all the reasons a company could get sued—is the person you need to impress.
Timely Phone Etiquette
Is it a good time to talk? Some phone interviews are scheduled and some are not.
Expert interviewers use the element of surprise to see if you can think on your feet.
As soon as you know you are on the phone with an interviewer, shush everyone around you with your hands and simultaneously move to a quiet place.
If the interview is scheduled, make arrangements for a quiet place ahead of time.
If the interview is unscheduled and you’re stuck with noise, explain the situation to the interviewer, but do your best to keep the surroundings quiet. You do want to prove you can manage spontaneous situations.
If you have an unexpected phone interview:
- Tell the interviewer you are happy they called.
- Tell them how much time you have to talk.
- If you only have a few minutes to talk, tell them you wish you had more time, and make concrete arrangements for a date and time to continue the interview.
- If you’re on a cell phone and worried about the battery, explain the situation and get a name and contact number to call the interviewer back.
Once the discussion starts, communication becomes paramount. Interview content traditionally revolves around your character, skills, problem-solving abilities, and professional relationships.
6. Create Your Character with Sentences
Desired Character Traits for Phone Interviews
Be modest, not arrogant.
Say: “I topped our region’s expectations with $5.5 million in sales.”
Not: “The people I work with are lazy, and I beat everyone’s record with $5.5 million in sales.”
Your statement should be about the company and should not belittle others.
Be confident, not insecure.
Say: “I’m confident my snowboarding knowledge can be applied to the situation.” Give example.
Not: “I think my snowboarding skills will help? What do you think?”
Make your sentences declarative and stay away from vague phrases like “kind of” or “possibly” when you’re describing your skills.
Be inquisitive, not annoying.
Say: “What types of projects are the most challenging at the company?”
Not: “I have a specific project in mind using my favorite software that will help me in my career.”
Keep your interest and focus on the company, not your professional and personal advancement.
Be honest, not an exaggerator.
Say: “I didn’t finish my college degree because I was raising a family and working two jobs.”
Not: “I graduated,” when you didn’t.
The interviewer may have already completed an informal background check. Be authentic.
Be accountable, not a blamer.
Say: “The business went bankrupt, and I now know what I would have done differently.” (List things you would have done differently.)
Not: “The business went bankrupt because my partner made stupid decisions.”
If the interviewer sees you place blame on others, you can blame yourself for not getting called back for a second interview. (Even if your partner was stupid.)
Be motivated, not a robot.
Say: “Business was slow, so I created a new sales pitch.”
Not: “Business was slow and I had nothing to do.”
Interviewers want to know that you can take initiative.
7. Spend Time on Storytelling
Interviews aren’t all one-sentence answers.
You’ll need to answer some questions about your skills, problem-solving abilities, and professional relationships. Stories are your tools.
Be prepared for “Tell me about a time…” and be prepared to make yourself the main character of an intriguing story.
To find your story, channel some Zig Ziglar and apply it to your storytelling:
Ask yourself what the interviewer wants.
The Interviewer wants to know that I can ___________________.
Example: The interviewer wants to know that I can manage a team effectively.
Think of times when you’ve done that thing the interviewer wants to know.
Now think of times you’ve done that thing when times were tough.
Imagine your story.
What was the root problem in your story?
The problem happened because _____________________.
Example: Our competitors played dirty. One day, they threw a grenade into the office.
How did you solve the root problem?
I had __________________ skill/quality/ability/character trait.
Because of this, I was able to __________________________.
Example: I don’t wait for others to act. I quickly yelled “Grenade! Get under the desks!” and nobody questioned me.
The grenade exploded with fragments of our product. We were scared, but not hurt, and we cleaned up the mess together.
I felt the team had confidence in me, and it was heartwarming that we all stuck together even after the disaster. I suggested to the CEO we take legal action, and our competitors haven’t bothered us since.
Take time to find your stories before your phone interview.
Ask yourself why you want the job, or why you are interested in this specific group of investors.
Spend some introspective time evaluating the strengths and weaknesses that that were common themes in your life—personally and professionally.
Define the unique “you” and the skills and quirks you bring to the table. Don’t deceive yourself. Ask others how they perceive you.
James Bond was a spy. (Stay with me.)
Bond had communication skills, people skills, analytical skills, and athletic skills—he can prove it.
He was not the Head of the Secret Intelligence Service. He did not make all his weapons personally. Bond’s boss “M” was skilled in project management.
Agency workers were skilled in data analytics.
Gadgets makers were skilled in innovation, engineering and mechanics.
It wasn’t just James Bond saving England.
Everyone gave their unique contributions.
What are yours?
They key to a successful interview is to identify your stories ahead of time. Spend time rehearsing them. See if you can recreate them without notes. The glory of a phone interview is that you can have all the notes you want. If you drop them on the floor, no one will see.
Write down the bullet points of your stories. Include approximate dates in case you’re asked questions to confirm your employment. Look into your past for odd moments and memorable moments.
Then look at your past as a woven thread of events. What always happens? How do you always act in certain circumstances?
Start writing notes on these stories now:
- Three stories that demonstrate your skills.
- Three stories that demonstrate problem-solving.
- A story involving a boss.
- A story involving a coworker.
- A story involving a client.
- Make one version emphasizing your strengths, make another version which identifies your weakness.
- For each story, make sure you can identify the who, what, where, when, why and how.
You can mix and match, but have at least six stories you can pull from.
For every weakness you have, write a sentence that turns it into a positive.
For instance, James Bond could say, “I’m not an expert at project management like “M,” but I can manage to catch a criminal in a tank full of sharks.” (Of course, he’d never say that because he doesn’t have to prove himself. But you do.)
Find a supporting character in your story that complements your weakness. Showcase the complementary teamwork.
I’m not an expert at __________________ like ________________, but I can _____________ and produce ________________________.
Having trouble writing a story? Even Ian Fleming uses the basics:
- A beginning. (A great place to set the scene. Ian Fleming starts with an action scene.)
- A middle. (What happened and why?)
- An end. (How did you save the day?)
Do not go into intricate details that aren’t relevant unless there is an irrelevant fact that makes the story interesting, odd or intriguing. Do include some intelligent data and promote the gifts you have to offer. Make sure you pause.
Use real life experiences. Ian Fleming called his authoritative mother “M” in real life. It’s no coincidence Bond references his boss at M16 by the name of “M.”
The middle of your story should include a plot twist or something unusual. Look back at everyday events. Do you remember a day when things didn’t go as planned?
Corporate Bond on phone interview:
“I was dancing with my partner to get some information when she was shot in the back. Nobody noticed. I made sure to remove her from the dance floor carefully so as not to disturb the party.”
I was: ____________________ (List traditional event that happened.)
Then this happened: _________________ (List the unexpected or unusual.)
Everyone: _________________ (List shared reaction.)
This is what I did: ________________________ (Tell what skill you used and how you used it.)
If you have a story with a funny scene, tell that one. Laughter helps release endorphins, and endorphins may promote togetherness. If your interviewer connects with you, you’re one step closer to getting to that second phone interview.
Good storytellers ask questions and make the audience think.
You can lead into a question to the interviewer asking if there’s one trait that is common in most hires. If you’re interviewing with a venture capitalist, you can ask what traits portfolio companies share, or how the company handles disasters.
Asking a question after a story also gives the interview a shorter opportunity to pick apart your story, because their mind will switch focus to your question.
8. Dash through the Disaster
Handling Disasters During Phone Interviews
A phone disaster can hang up your chance to get a second interview.
To increase your chances of being called back for a second interview, expect the unexpected. James Bond acted swiftly to unexpected events, but he was prepared.
Disaster prevention for phone interviews:
- Always line up a private place and time for a scheduled phone interview.
- Always get the phone interviewer’s name and phone Number at the beginning of a conversation.
- Always have your phone fully charged before the interview. Have a charger and outlet nearby.
- Always have your notes, pencil, pen, and paper nearby.
- Use a landline if you have one available.
- Keep a glass of water nearby in case you get the awkward cough that doesn’t go away.
- Have this question written down on a sheet of paper in front of you: “May I have a moment to collect my thoughts?” Use it if your mind goes blank.
Afraid of freezing on the phone? Afraid you’ll scramble your story?
Reach for your life jacket.
Keep notes on the facts you’re likely to forget, practice your story, and be prepared to go with the flow. With the right presentation, even mediocre stories can sound great.
With all due respect to Harvey Mackay and Swim with the Sharks, the 1965 movie Thunderball demonstrates what to do when you’re drowning in a phone interview. In Thunderball, Bond is trapped underwater in a neighborly backyard shark tank. A shark swims inches from Bond. (He survives.)
The real story: The scene was filmed with a presumably dead shark being pulled by a wire and several drugged sharks. James Bond was nervous swimming with the sharks.
Impression: An Academy Award winning scene. (Remember, this was 1965.)
The real story continued: The “dead” shark had a revival towards the end of the scene.
The point: James Bond was nervous. Movie viewers did not see the wire. The movie won an award. Your interviewer will not see you looking at notes and they won’t see you drowning in sweat from nervousness. Focus on the impression you want to make.
Do whatever it takes to finish the scene. Pull the dead shark. When your mind goes blank, use your notes. If you can’t use your notes and you forgot your stories, pause, and ask a question.
Alternatively, if your mind does go blank, pause, breathe in, and ask “May I have a moment to collect my thoughts?” then wait for the answer yes. If you can’t get back on your feet in time, keep pulling that dead shark and ask the interviewer if they could please repeat the question. The shark might come alive, and you’ll be back in the game.
Fill your mind, and notes, before the interview. Don’t drown in fear, drown in preparation.
Always research a company before the interview.
James Bond knew his targets.
- Spy Things to Do Before a Phone Interview:
- Visit and read the company website.
- Scroll through the company’s social media streams.
- Research the history of the company and mentions in news and other periodicals.
- Get a feel for the company culture being portrayed.
- Find the names of executives, human resource managers, your new boss, and the person that will be interviewing you.
- See what their significant others and family members are posting.
- Take note of any familiar names or common connections.
- Do some spy-worthy social media snooping and Googling to see what’s valued. Be sure to check out LinkedIn profiles.
- If it’s a U.S. public corporation, look at the most recent 10-K report on the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) government website.
- Review stock market history.
- Make sure you’re familiar with the product line and services offered.
- Identify the company’s competitive advantage.
- Review investor relations and sponsors.
- If applicable, look at public agency records for health and safety.
- Do a search for the company name using Google Scholar’s case law feature.
- Review the employment reviews of the company on Glassdoor and industry websites.
- Review company reviews on Google, Yelp and other review websites.
Studies in personnel psychology that have carried through decades show that to have a successful interview, interviewees must:
Respond concisely. (Have speaking skills.)
Answer questions fully. (Have storytelling skills.)
Stay Relevant. (Communicate appropriately with the interviewer.)
If you use the eight tips we gave you, you’re sure to have a successful interview.
Ending the call and getting the second interview
Ending a phone interview is a bit like ending a sales call. You can’t be too pushy, but you can get some more information.
Whether you or the interviewer end the phone call, be sure to do these five things:
1. Thank the interviewer in a complimentary manner and use their name.
(“Thank you “M” for an intriguing discussion.”)
2. Ask if you can have their email address for follow-up.
(“May I have your email address for follow-up on our discussion?”)
3. Ask if there’s a reason you wouldn’t get a second interview. If they give you a reason, address it.
(“Through our discussion, do you think there’s a specific reason I won’t get called for a second interview?” [Interviewer mentions she saw the 1960s movies and how he treated women.]
“Oh, my attitude towards women? I’ve since taken classes on sexual harassment in the workplace and have stellar behavior. My boss, also named“M,” will be happy to speak with you. Would you like me to make arrangements for her to contact you?”)
4. Ask who will be conducting the second interview.
(“Do you have any insight on the person who will be conducting the second interview?”)
5. Thank the interviewer again by name, mention you’ll look forward to hearing from them, and inquire about the response time frame.
(“Thank you, again, “M” for an enlightening interview. I’ll look forward to hearing from you in a few weeks. Is that a reasonable time frame?”)
James Bond has the talent to save England and you have the talent to get a second interview.
Follow our tips and you’ll be writing the script for your new life adventure.
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