Ask Carla: Getting Past Phone Interviews

Dear Ask Carla,

I have submitted tons of applications and I get calls, but never in person interviews. I am not sure where the breakdown is. Can you offer advice on getting from the phone to the office? I feel like if I could just get an in-person interview then I could really sell myself and seal the deal on my next position.


The phone screening is a crucial part of the hiring process. Your voice and attitude are the ONLY things on display and negative examples and rude behavior are only amplified over the phone.

In my business, we conduct hundreds of phone screenings per week. Below are a few quick tips, some of which seem obvious, but I will include them just in case.

1. ANSWER THE PHONE!!   I don’t want to leave a message.  If you have caller ID and don’t recognize a number, PICK IT UP!!!!  That could be your next employer calling.

2. Make sure your voicemail outgoing message is “job hunting appropriate”. If I get a voice mail message, I want it to be a message that would be appropriate within our business setting.  I don’t want to hear your favorite song, your sexy voice, an automated message that gives only your phone number or some cutesy message where you are saying “Hello?  Hello?  I can’t hear you”.

3. Your message should confirm who I called (your full name please), and should be polite, energetic, and brief.

I understand that if you are currently working or going to school, you are probably not going to pick up the phone between 9 am and 5 pm, however, please do everything you can to call me at your break or your lunch. The initial call can be really brief, I just want to know that you are a real person and are still looking for new opportunities.  We can schedule a time to talk in greater detail at a later time.

When I do speak with you, I want to hear something that would be business appropriate and pleasant.  I want to hear a smile come through the phone. I want to hear energy, and would love to hear you announce your first name.  “Hello” followed by silence is not business appropriate.

This is my very first impression of you, and I am trying to figure out if you are who I am looking for to fill the opening. Typically, I will announce myself by saying something like:  “Good Afternoon, this is Carla Lane with LaneStaffing. You applied for a position with our firm, are you still looking for new opportunities?  I realize I am calling unannounced. Is this a good time?”

Even with all the disclaimers and “hints” dropped in my introduction.  I often hear:

  • “Huh?”
  • “Yeah”
  • “Uh Huh”
  • “What did you say?”

All of which are wrong. You are in the market for employment. Answer the phone like you are. I want people who answer every phone call like it is a customer on the line.  We shouldn’t have to train someone on how to answer a phone.

Great answers sound like:

  • “Thank you for calling, I have been really excited about this opportunity since I first heard about it.”
  • “Yes, this is a great time.  I have heard so many great things about your company!”
  • “Thanks for calling, can you give me one minute, I want to move to a quieter place.”
  • “Thank you for calling.  I am at a restaurant; I am in a meeting. Can I call you right back in 15 minutes?  I am really excited to talk about the opportunity.”

Sounds corny, I know, but this works and it sets the tone. It conveys your excitement about the opportunity and professionalism. Of course, I will have a few standard questions. You should know these are coming and be prepared:

  • Can you tell me what you know about the company?  (This is a test which will prove how interested you are in our company. If you can’t tell me anything, that is an indication there was no interest.)
  • What are you looking for in a new position?
  • How much are you looking for?  ( I want to know if we are in the same ballpark financially)
  • When can you come in to talk?  (If you are really interested, you will make yourself available)

Questions to ask during the phone interview:

  • What do you like about the company?
  • What attracted you to the company?
  • Any advice for me?  (You will be surprised how easy this is; remember, you represent me.)
  • How did this position become open?  Is it a new position?  (Don’t ask if someone got fired)

Don’t:

  • Ask about benefits
  • Ask about pay (the recruiter will ask about this)
  • Ask about vacation, parking, time off

This phone call isn’t about you “yet”. At this point you are selling your interest in the position vs. your interest in the benefits.  After the phone interview, send a thank you email. Send it postal mail to the attention of the recruiter if you didn’t get the email address.

If you are asked to come in to interview in person (congratulations!), send a thank you email and be sure to:

  • Reinforce that you are excited about the opportunity
  • Confirm the time and date of your interview
  • Keep it short

A phone screening is to confirm what is already suspected and to confirm that your skill set and personality fall within the parameters so I can bring you in for an in-person interview. Don’t be intimidated. Approach the phone screening with professionalism and poise and I am sure you will soon find your next great opportunity.

Good Luck!

Carla Lane is President and Chief Executive Officer of LaneStaffing, Inc. a multimillion dollar employment solution provider headquartered in Houston, TEXAS. She is also founder of This Woman’s Work, Inc. a non-profit organization that empowers women and girls by giving them access to career opportunities, programs and long-lasting mentoring relationships. Send your questions to carla@askcarla.net.

The statements in the preceding article are for informational purposes only and are the opinions of the author they are not for the purpose of providing legal advice. You should contact your attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or problem.