Phone Etiquette: Pinkies Up and Don’t Slurp

With the advent of texting and chatting, something’s been lost: the phone conversation. Don’t believe me? Check out this month’s issue of Wired ( to read Clive Thompson’s riveting article about this phenomenon.

‘So?’ you ask. ‘Who cares?’

So along with the death of the phone conversation, comes the death of phone etiquette. If you don’t practice the art of the phone conversation in the first place, why would it matter?

I’ll tell you why: phone screens and phone interviews.

While calling your friends is no longer the hip cool thing (who cares when there’s Skype and iChat?), it’s become an upward trend in the interview process. Employers don’t want to carve hours out of their day and bring in some sod based off of their resume, just to have them blow the interview in the first ten minutes. So it’s much easier just to give ’em a ring and have a chat.

Let me tell you a story (because I know how you love my stories.)

When it became apparent that it was time for me to evolve in my career, I started sending out my resume to several agencies. I admit, I have a pretty resume, and it bagged interviews with about 70% of the places I sent it (not bad, considering the economic state at the time.) Almost every single one started off with a phone interview.

One lasted five minutes and resulted in a ‘Thank you for your interest’ email. Another lasted an hour and resulted in three more interviews and a job offer. So how did I screw one up so badly, but do well the with other one?

The five minute talk was for a Project Management position. This was not a job I wanted, but it was something I had experience with. It was apparent that I was uninterested. I was sitting at my desk at my other job, clicking through e-mails, giving vague answers, and filing my nails. I was not being very attentive or articulate. It showed.

It took five minutes for my interviewer to realize this. Then it was over. That’s it: a measly five minutes for a decision to be made about a career.

Admittedly, I wasn’t too disappointed with that one. But let’s take a look at how the hour long interview resulted in total success, and how you can set yourself up for success with your phone interview, as well.

1. Find your quiet, happy place. Go to a room where there’s no ambient noise or echoes, no kids tugging at your shirttails, no toilets flushing, no reception interference and no crowds watching baseball (go Cubs!) The last thing you want is a distraction, or the interviewer to think that you’re in a wind-tunnel. You want to be understood as clearly as possible, and you don’t want to interrupt the flow of conversation with a, ‘What’d you say?’ or ‘Huh?’ I blocked out time in a conference room with a closed door for my chat.

2. Use your suave voice. You know, the one that you use when you want to attract that cutie at the bus stop. Try to be aware of your volume and tone. Pleasant, upbeat and articulate are all important facets to have, and you want to be clear and concise. Super loud, super fast, and super slurred are all super bad.

3. Answer the stinking phone. I can’t count how many times I’ve scheduled a call through an e-mail, just to have the person not pick up. That’s an immediate turn-off. Make sure to prepare five minutes before the expected call, and when you pick up, use a proper greeting. ‘What?’, ‘Yes?’, ‘What’s up?’ and ‘What do you want?’ are not acceptable. Try out a, ‘Hello?’ or a ‘This is (insert your name here)’ for maximum pleasantries. And if you are calling your prospective employer, ALWAYS be sure to ask, ‘Hello, this is (insert name here.) May I please speak with (insert name here)?’ Be nice to whomever picks up the phone. You can’t tell if it’s an intern, receptionist, or the CEO and founder. Better safe than sorry! And if they have been tied up in a meeting or are unable to come to the phone for any reason, all that is required is, ‘Is there a time I can expect their call, or is there at time that will be more convenient for me to call? Thank you very much for your help.’

4. Have your props. Meaning make sure to have a working pen, a notebook to take notes with, and the resume and cover letter you sent them. You want to be sure to have exactly what they’re looking at when you talk, so when they reference certain points, you can address them quickly and easily. Also, you want to be sure you have a place to write down the details of the job, as well as times, dates, addresses and names if they extend an invitation for a second interview. Thank goodness I had a pen and paper, ’cause there was a fast talker on the other line and I had to scribble down information quickly. Also, it’s not rude to ask if they could please send a confirmation e-mail so you can double-check the correct information.

5. Be a boy scout. And by that, I mean be prepared. Don’t have gum in your mouth, don’t be eating, and don’t blow your nose. Have a glass of water nearby. Make sure you went potty beforehand. And be prepared to answer serious questions. This is an interview. Expect to talk about your job history, your goals, your expectations, and anything that would traditionally  be discussed in a first in-person interview. That also means that you should have a list of questions you have come up with in advance, so you can get information from them. Good things to ask?

  • What’s a typical day like in the office?
  • What is the most important qualification you want this person to have?
  • What’s the work environment like?
  • What are your goals in hiring this position?
  • Where do you see the company going in the next five years?

6. Seal the deal. When the interview is over, ALWAYS say something to the effect of, ‘Thank you so much for your time. It was great talking with you, and I hope to have the opportunity to speak again in the near future.’ End on a positive note, even if you don’t think it went well. Keeping a positive attitude not only leaves potential employers with a good impression, it helps you keep a good attitude about your job search. And lastly: make sure you hung up the phone properly. The last thing you want is for the person on the other line to hear you moaning and groaning to your hubby about how horribly that just went, or how screechy their voice was.

So, there are some helpful hints in how to have a successful phone interview. Best of luck!