What I've Learned From My Last 3 Phone Interviews

How to Have a Great Phone Interview
by Ryan Burch
Photos Lauren Kallen | November 15, 2016
You know what really grinds my gears? Phone interviews.
I’m the sort of person who likes to look my interviewer in the eye, read their body language, and forge a solid connection. This is really hard to do when you’re given 10 to 15 minutes to sell yourself over the phone!

In order to confront this challenge, I always make sure to research the company I’ll be interviewing with, formulate insightful questions for my interviewer and time myself answering common interview questions. Although this technique usually works well, my last three phone interviews still did not go as planned. Here’s how they went down, along with the positive lessons I’ve gleaned from each experience.

PHONE INTERVIEW #1: TECH STARTUP

Last week I had a phone interview with a small tech startup (with only male employees). From the moment our interview began, the man interviewing me sounded bored and almost annoyed to be talking to me. You know when you can tell someone is reading or thinking about something else while you’re talking? Well, he did that the entire time we interviewed.
At the end of the call, he said he had several more people to interview, but that he would get back to me in a few weeks. Instead, I got an email just a few hours later: “I regret to inform you that we have decided not to progress further with your application.” Even though I was well qualified for that position, it felt like he was uninterested in hiring me from the second I answered the phone! Since I applied through Indeed.com (with no link to a photo), I can’t help but wonder if he was expecting a male Ryan to pick up his call. Wouldn’t surprise me from an all-male tech company.

All assumptions aside, I tried to take the “rejection” in stride by reminding myself that hey, I wouldn’t want to work with him either. He was totally boring and uninspiring!

His loss, not mine.
I suddenly blurted out that although I would love to jump at any opportunity to work for Netflix, I didn’t think my skills or interests were a good match for the position, and I didn’t want to waste her time.

PHONE INTERVIEW #2: NETFLIX

A photographer friend of mine passed my resume along for a “photo asset coordinator” position at Netflix. I was thrilled when asked for a phone interview a few weeks later. The HR rep was smart and personable, and I felt great about my answers to the “Tell us about yourself” and “Why do you want to work for Netflix?” questions. Unfortunately, I began having an internal crisis halfway through the “Do you have any questions for me?” portion of the interview. After asking my job search questions and hearing more details about the position, it hit me that this was definitely not the right role for me. The coordinator’s responsibility would be to categorize photo and video files, with little room for creativity.

Although Netflix is one of my favorite brands, I couldn’t fake my enthusiasm for the position. I suddenly blurted out that although I would love to jump at any opportunity to work for Netflix, I didn’t think my skills or interests were a good match for the position, and I didn’t want to waste her time. I thanked her for considering me for the position and explained that I’d recently quit my job and was trying to be really particular about my next move. Although it felt scary to redirect the interview in that way, she thanked me for my honesty. She even passed my resume along to the HR person responsible for two other marketing positions that I’d applied for and was much more excited about. The new HR rep reached out a week later, saying that her team didn’t think my experience was a good match for those positions—but she was impressed by my experience and would stay in touch.

No matter what happens, I’m still happy that I was honest from the start. I didn’t waste time chasing down the wrong job, and I now have more connections because of it.

PHONE INTERVIEW #3: RED BULL

The strangest first interview I’ve had was with Red Bull. Instead of a phone interview, Red Bull has you log into an online platform where you are asked to record yourself answering interview questions. Picture Skyping yourself while answering timed interview questions on your screen. You have the opportunity to film yourself answering practice questions as many times as you want, but you must complete the real interview within three days of receiving it.

Once you are ready to officially start, you press “begin” and the first question pops up on the screen (these are new questions you haven’t seen before). You are given 30 seconds to think about your answer before the video recording begins. There is no way to retract or edit your answers once you’ve started the interview. When answering the questions, you are instructed to look into the webcam on your computer, not at your face on the screen itself. You are then given two minutes to answer in full.

I found the entire process to be incredibly uncomfortable and distracting. Although it may sound easy to record yourself answering questions, it’s actually very difficult, especially when there’s a huge timer on the screen. As humans, we are accustomed to answering interview questions by talking to another individual—not talking to ourselves or looking into a webcam!

Although this format was not easy for me, it’s likely that Red Bull is ahead of the curve. The process saves the company time and money, and I can imagine other companies following suit. It’s actually great practice to record yourself answering interview questions, and it helped me pinpoint my own strange mannerisms and cut down on rambling.

* * *

Even through my last three interviews were a bit unorthodox or uncomfortable, they’ve helped me grow. I’ve learned that honesty and transparency are appreciated and that it’s best to be flexible and open-minded when forced outside of my comfort zone.

I will continue to seek positives in light of “rejection,” and remember that I am interviewing my interviewer just as much as they are interviewing me!
Have you had any recent phone interviews? What were those like?