How to phone interview like a BSD

Looks like I took part in roughly 80 phone interviews during b-school, plus probably more that didn't make it to my calendar. Lot of practice. A little over 40 hours straight of the old smile-and-dial. Since we're headed into recruiting season now, thought I'd share what I learned.

Standard setup for phone interviews:

  • Be at home. Be alone. Be dressed, but shoes off.
  • Set up beforehand: beverage, Kleenex. Laptop open with something simple-minded and funny on it.
  • Here's something weird and possibly douchy: I set up a small mirror beside the laptop because I sound better and smoother when I'm watching my mouth move. Helps me remember to slow down and smile. If you want to try this, test-drive it before you do it on a live call to make sure it doesn't distract you.
  • Cut class if you need to in order to get home and get prepped. School is cool but never forget that you're here to get a job. Do not push back too much on scheduling with the interviewer based on classes, regardless of what your school tells you about not cutting class to interview. Until you've signed an offer, going to class is a luxury, not a necessity.
  • Bonus points: use a good headset to keep your hands free and your neck/shoulders comfortable. Wired headsets are interference-free, while wireless lets you pace if you need to. The choice is yours. Either way, no speakerphone. Ever. Speakerphone is a privilege reserved for interviewers, not interviewees.
  • Oh, and obviously: if you're on a cell, make sure ahead of time that the reception is going to be good.

Beforehand:

  • I check weather and local news in their location (you'll see later why I do this).
  • I apply Blistex to keep my lips moist (lip-licking comes across as nervous over the phone).
  • I spend ten minutes watching something funny or reading something light like Failblog. (I also leave Failblog up throughout the call in case of emergencies.)
  • I don't have a calculator or Excel up and running. Fuck that. This is a phone interview, not final rounds, and it needs to stay high-level and chill in order to be successful. If we're doing some kind of case-style shit and we need to work with numbers, we're going to work with nice round numbers that I pick, and if they want someone who can multiply 19 by 31 within 4.5 seconds, they'll hire an analyst, not me.

During:

  • Sit up straight and breathe using your diaphragm. Radiate warmth, competence, and goodwill.
  • Smile when you talk. Smile before every answer.
  • Smile when you sip your drink.
  • If you need to stand up and pace, do it... and smile.
  • Mirror their pace and tone if it's comfortable for you and they're not nuts.
  • If your natural accent is similar to theirs, subtly mirror it. If not, keep it as accentless as possible. (Military kids, biculturals, and those who've traveled a lot will know what I mean.)

Small talk:
You do need small talk. This should be very laid-back, almost lazy. The person who starts the small talk on a call is sending a subtle signal as to who is going to own and run the call, so you may want to give them the chance to start it first. If not, that's why you already checked their weather and local news.

  • If they're likely to know anything about your town or area: "Pretty standard [your city] weather around here. How is it in your neck of the woods?"
  • If they're alumni of your school, they'll probably ask about classes. "Yep, classes are just kicking off. Do you get back here much?" Subtext here is: You and I may meet in person someday, so give me a chance and don't blow me off.
  • If you follow any sports or teams they're likely to follow: "Did you catch such-and-such game?" Or, "Were you watching that game last week? Glad we won. Yeah, I think it's pretty clear we're not firing on all cylinders yet. I hope we pull it together before [X]."

Stressful interviews:
If it's fit, if it's stress, if it's worth going the extra mile, I do two things differently.

  • First, I open a beer. I don't know about you guys, and maybe this is just the Pavlovian effect of hundreds of social events where beer is provided to ease networking, but holding an open bottle of beer sends signals deep into my reptilian M7-trained brain that it's time to relax and enjoy a conversation. So I hold an open bottle of beer regardless of what time of day it is. I have a few sips. If it's towards the end of the day I'll actually drink it slowly on the call. If I have a ton of work to do and can't afford to be tipsy, I throw it away after the call is over. It's not a beer, see: it's a $1.50 behavioral guide. Cheap at twice the price.
  • Second thing I do: I switch to the sofa, lean back, feet up. You sacrifice some vibrance and depth from lack of diaphragm support (try it and you'll see what I mean), but you gain a chiller vibe.

With the help of these two things, my mind is saying ,"Great -- the workday's done, let's enjoy the afternoon, have some fun, talk with a friend."

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