Heads Up! The Telephone Interview is Usually a ‘Trap’!


Skip Freeman

Skip Freeman

Great news! All your prospecting and presenting activities have paid off and you’ve landed a telephone interview with a prospective employer. This is an opportunity, correct? Well, yes and no. Actually, you’ve simply made it to “step one” in the hiring process. The more important “step two” is landing the all important face-to-face interview, which really is the principal goal of the telephone interview, i.e., getting before a hiring manager.

While it’s certainly understandable that you will be excited about getting the telephone interview, heads up! Oftentimes, though certainly not always, the telephone interview is actually a trap. Let me explain.

Despite what many of today’s job seekers think and believe, the hiring process is not one of inclusion. Rather, it is one of exclusion. That is, hiring managers and companies are not looking for candidates to include in the hiring pool; they are looking for ways to eliminate as many candidates as possible from that pool, up front, so that they can sooner get to the candidate(s) they ultimately will hire.

This is especially true if you are applying for a position with a large company. Normally, with these companies, the initial telephone interview will be conducted by a professional “screener,” not the actual hiring manager. Sometimes a third party may be hired by the company to screen candidates, or the screener may simply be someone from the company’s Human Resources Department. Virtually all of these screeners are trained to sound upbeat, enthusiastic and friendly, all attitudes designed to immediately put candidates at ease. That way, candidates will be more likely to accidentally “spill the beans” with various faux pas, thereby making it easier—and quicker!—for the screener to eliminate them.

After participating in one of these telephone interviews, rare indeed is the candidate who is not absolutely convinced that he or she nailed the interview. They think that the job is practically theirs! Nothing could be further from the truth. Remember, no one is ever hired as the result of a telephone interview.

So, how should you prepare for a telephone interview to keep from falling into this trap? Below are some recommendations for properly preparing for and conducting a telephone interview:

Research the company and the position. Learn the company’s “hot buttons” and then sell them on what you know they need, i.e., tell the how you can either “make ‘em money” or “save ‘em money,” or ideally, how to do both of these things.

Review news release and other public information about the company, as well as quarterly and annual reports. Pay particular attention to such communications as the CEO letter to stockholders. Learn about any new product releases, facilities expansions, etc.

Learn in advance who will be conducting the telephone interview, if you can. Check for that person’s LinkedIn profile and/or ZoomInfo profile. “Google” the person to learn as much about them as you can.

Do NOT, under any circumstances, bring up compensation, benefits or vacation! If you are asked your current salary or the salary you expect from the position being applied for, state something along these lines: “Susan, the most important goal is the opportunity. If I am the right person for this job from your perspective, and indeed, if the company is the right company for me, then I am confident that the salary will be more than fair.” And leave it at that!

Write down any questions you plan to ask during the telephone interview.

Use positive phrasing during the interview, such as “I know” rather than “I think.”

Never, never, never speak negatively of anyone or anything—a former boss, co-worker or company.

Always emphasize why you want to go to work for the company, NOT why you desire to leave your present company.

Do not try to evade any question. If you don’t know the answer to any particular question, simply say so, and then say you’ll get the answer and call back.

If things sound good to you, then say so! Don’t try to play “poker.” Remember, the interviewer can’t see you, so verbalize your reactions/feelings.

If something doesn’t sound good to you, do NOT confront (and therefore alienate) the interviewer.

“Close” at the end of the interview, using a statement such as this: “Jim, I really appreciate your time today, and I am genuinely excited about and interested in this opportunity. Based upon our conversation, is there anything else that will keep us from moving on to the next step?”

Avoid mention of anything personal, such as marital status, sexual orientation, state of your (or your family’s) health, etc.

If you will keep these telephone interview “do’s” and “don’t’s” in mind, you will be in far better position to indeed “nail” the telephone interview than 90 percent of your “competition,” i.e., other job seekers. Most of them will continue to “wing it” during the telephone interview and increase the chances of making major faux pas, and as a result, the majority of them will be excluded from further consideration, quickly and finally. Believe that.


Skip Freeman, “headhunter” and author of “Headhunter” Hiring Secrets: The Rules of the Hiring Game Have Changed . . . Forever!, has successfully completed more than 300 executive search assignments in just seven years. Specializing in the placement of sales, engineering, manufacturing and R&D professionals in industry, he has developed powerful techniques that help companies hire the best and help the best get hired.

A distinguished graduate of the United States Military Academy, West Point, he is a lifelong student of leadership, people and the principles of success. While serving in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Chemical Corps, he also earned a Master of Science degree in Organic Chemistry from The Georgia Institute of Technology and a Master of Business Administration degree in Marketing from Long Island University.

Visit or contact Skip at his book website, http://www.headhunterhiringsecrets.com

Comments (3)

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  1. I have been examinating out a few of your posts and i must say clever stuff. I will surely bookmark your blog.

  2. Kiara Borrow says:

    Wow! Thank you! I continually wanted to write on my site something like that. Can I implement a portion of your post to my website?

  3. Skip Freeman says:


    Yes, you may use a portion on your website if you will kindly refer back to the source, http://www.headhunterhiringsecrets.com


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