The Phone Interview

As in most of my blogs, I claim no panaceas for interviewing or final incontrovertible wisdom.  All I have is a lot of experience in the war zone.  I do not believe anyone can give another person a foolproof strategy for finding employment.  If my experience helps someone, I am glad of it. I do recommend reading and practicing sample answers and questions readily available on the Internet.

Being invited to a phone interview always pleased me — often more so than a personal, physical meeting.  The phone interview is a warm up for the real thing. The phone opportunity provides anonymity that can be advantageous.  One point is that the interviewer  has limited the evaluation to one of the senses, i.e. hearing.  The interviewee is free to prop her legs up on the footstool and sip a little iced tea.  You’re even free to walk around a little. The interviewer cannot see fidgeting, shuffling feet or drifting, insecure eyes.  However, the voice can also reflect any of these weaknesses too.  I don’t recommend smoking at a phone interview.  Even for a phone interview I did not wear grubbies or skip combing my hair or shaving.  Why?  I felt better. I never, however, wore a tie for a phone interview unless it happened to be during time stolen from my work day.

I liked phone interviews because I have had a lot of experience conducting business on the phone.  The telephone gives me a sense of objectivity, a distance.  I, too, in a positive way was forced to use one medium; then, too, a number of people had complimented me on my telephone manner.  I am like most disc jockeys, rather introverted.  The phone gave me an impersonal situation I could use to my advantage.  The challenge lay in maintaining that confidence and “presence” in a personal interview later.

At the same time I assumed that the phone interview is used when the number of interesting applicants is rather high. Phone interviews are screens, most likely designed to eliminate candidates.  On the phone one interviews for another interview, not a position.  My whole objective was to get a physical interview, but not to be too eager. Sometimes I might answer a question briefly and then add, “This seems to me to be an important question for both of us.  I hope I will have an opportunity to provide more details in person.  I have a written proposal I once gave on the subject. ”

I tried as hard as I could to match voices with names, but rather than address the wrong person, I did not hesitate to say, “I think that was Roger, right?” The interviewer or team will be helpful. I wrote names down during the introduction. If possible. I tried to catch the company name.  No harm in asking, “Now, tell me where youwork again?”

Do not jump to conclusions about anything based on tone of voice.  Do not react negatively to what sounds patronizing or sanctimonious.  That person may not even be on the second interview team.

A telephone is a great medium for being one’s self, for being forthright and candid, but not familiar.

If necessary ask for the question to be repeated for clarity — that buys a little time for thought.

Speak clearly and to the point.  Do not go on and on.  The telephone invites informality and directness — sometimes too much.  Use the medium for what is.  “I could say more on this favorite topic, but I know we haven’t the time.”

If you notice a thread, say  “Well, to you and Roger, I would say . . .”

At some point ask, “Does this position entail significant telephone communication?”  If it is a sales or PR position say, “I know that the position requires excellent telephone skills.  In my past work I . . . ”

On the telephone one can close his eyes even and imagine a receptive person on the other end.  Speak to that positive person you visualize — maybe it is your friend, parent, or favorite uncle you are imaging.

Having a friend or spouse in the room might be a help or a hindrance.  If silent companionship helps, hold hands, but don’t get palsy walsy.  Got a  cat or laid back dog for your lap or at your feet.   A pet may do something to make you smile.  That smile will relax you.  You can do no wrong in the estimation of a pet. Besides, in my experience animals have a way of putting things in perspective.  There will be more interviews.

Steadfast and cautious,

The Tortoise



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On Patience, Etc.

While I chose perseverance as the central theme of this blog, perseverance had a close rival. I suppose I chose the former because it rings more truly as action; and yet what is perseverance without the quality of patience. Both rank high in the Tortoise Philosophy. In thinking about the subject for a blog, I was tempted to make patience something that a person learns with age and experience, that somehow patience is not typical of youth Then I glanced at my muted television screen where the peloton in Le Tour de France lay a ribbon of color and rhythmic motion across the countryside of France. I thought of the years these cyclists, all twenty and thirty-somethings, had doggedly put into maintaining near-perfect physical condition. They have competed in scores of lesser tours and races all over the Western World. Patience? Near-infinite amounts of it — plus courage, perseverance, dedication, hope and faith; so, no, impatience is not specific to age.

I thought then of the patience of accountants, architects and cartographers going daily to work, most of them not managing Microsoft’s billions, designing the Pompidou Center or creating the breakthrough e-atlas. Millions of them manipulate details patiently and keep the books and prepare reports for small businesses, plan and design strip malls and revise fifty state highway maps every year. Life for most of us is a routine broken only by the birth of our children, the sports of our choice and the arts we favor. Occasionally one of us climbs Mt. Everest for the first time or wins the Tour de France or becomes a war hero. And these are our heroes whom we humbly admire and try not to envy.

Now, Mrs. Tortoise, extremely patient, is proud and loyal to her astrological sign. She doesn’t try to predict the future or plan her day with one eye on the daily horoscope, but the mythology amuses her. She’s pleased to be in the company of fellow Scorpions. Why not? Astrology bemused Carl Jung.  It bemuses Mrs. Tortoise. While she values the brains and pluck of Hillary Clinton, she also likes Hillary’s being a Scorpio. And I am bemused by my fellow Pisceans like Hamlet. I mean I have always been pre-occupied with being and not being — more than the average bloke I think. Hamlet was not noted for patience while Hillary Clinton remains a testimony to it. We have to give her kudos for tolerance and forgiveness as well. Mrs. Tortoise says the water signs are the oldest in the Zodiac, Scorpios being the most venerable, then comes Pisces and Cancers. Pisces strike her as deep thinkers while Cancers are shallow and lighter-brained. Well, all I know is that I have a great deal in common with fish, especially twins swimming first one way and then the other.

I certainly would not bet my last dollar on astrological predictions of specific outcomes in my daily life, however, often I cannot dismiss the general drift. But then, I have always believed that today’s science was yesterday’s myth. Being born of sea foam somehow seems as plausible as Immaculate Conception. I mean babies are born of “virgins” every day. But I’m getting away from the subject of patience — or am I. Hamlet had little of it. As I say, I drift.

Patience is the subject, not Hamlet, who had no patience; or Mrs. Tortoise who has lots of it. People are born with varying degrees of patience. My father and two brothers have far more than I. Dad had the engineer’s patience where respect for detail is paramount as it is for the lawyer.

Patience has grown on me with age. I made a decision the other day regarding a novel I am reading.

Belen Gopegui’s The Scale of Maps is an account of the love relationship between two geographers — speaking of detailed callings. At first I found Gopegui’s fiction baffling. I almost quit the effort, but no, I resolved to push on and at least reach a conclusion. Was I confused by the writer’s shifting point of view, the nature of contemporary Spanish fiction or just impatient? I have answers now to these questions and others. Pushing on rewarded me with discovery and pleasure in this fine work, but I had to push on. Books have often been like that for me. But I will return to this in a subsequent blog.

I have tried your patience enough today so I push off.

Steadfast, cautious et à bientôt,

The Tortoise


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INTERVIEW QUESTION: How Are You Selecting Companies?

Well, sir, without any facetious intent whatsoever, I can tell you, it’s a jungle out there.  In a perfect world I assume that employers like you would like to feel that an applicant like me has done a lot of research and narrowed his search through the sights of a rifle and not a shotgun.  I have done my utmost to match what I want and what I know about myself to carefully select employers.  At the same time I’ve tried to be realistic.   I may not find exactly what I would prefer, but I am a resourceful person with a variety of skills and abilities.  I might even discover an opportunity I had not anticipated — so there are some good things about the tight market.  It requires me to be open to the unexpected.  I want to be productively employed. I never thought of working in your industry until very recently and I think I have found something challenging here at APEX, LLC.  What I would find challenging is . . .

Comment.  In this answer the applicant is acknowledging what everyone knows.  The job market is for the seller these days and he/she is banking on the idea that the kind of employer sought knows this and further, wants commitment and attitude over perfect match of experience and skill.  After I had mentioned the challenge of APEX, I would cease in the hope that the next question would be related to a subject I had anticipated.  The ball would be in my court.  If not I have only been realistic about an employment market that sucks.  What is important is that a significant portion of target companies have been researched in detail. One must use a shotgun in the interest of survival and chance.

The risk here as with all honesty is that it may be too honest.  The employer may fear that this applicant is dishing bull and that he will always be looking for what he really wants.  This, of course, may be what the employer does in his own interest, but he really may want to hear only that APEX represents the be all and the end all of the applicant’s dreams.  If this is the case the employer is naive.

If the employer is sensitive to to the market, it doesn’t matter.  The situation affects all concerned so the employer may as well be as exacting and demanding as he wishes.  Again, the rule is the interviewer is looking for reasons not to hire rather why to hire.  He’s got a pile to work through.

Here’s another possible answer if you’re a data person.  “I look at a company first for the challenge it offers and the opportunities to grow as a professional.  Uni-Ply has had at least 3 three to 4 per cent growth in the last ten years. That is respectable in these times.  Your bond rating is above average and from what I’ve read you really research your markets before you enter them.  I like that kind of thoughtful conservatism.  Bottom line, a company that is not breaking new territory is not for me.  I want the opportunities which growth brings like the chance to head up a new division or at least be part of new division startup team.  It all takes time.  I know that.”

Steadfast and cautious,


The Tortoise


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