Telephone Torture: a mug knocked over with drink spill on table

Telephone Torture

There have been a few times in my life where I have needed to do some telephone interviews. Once, for an article I was writing and another because I was responsible for hiring a new staff member to fill an open position. 

I knew in advance that these would be happening, and being an overachieving perfectionist, on both occasions I went into overdrive to make sure I was fully prepared to deliver the most professional interview possible.

Interview 1 – The article. 

Step 1: Selected the kitchen as my chosen location to conduct the interview.

Step 2: The washing machine was off, as was the kitchen radio.

Step 3: Made sure my phone was charged

Step 4: Had a cup of tea ready, and my notebook and pen set up in perfect alignment on the kitchen counter.

I dialed the number and immediately upon answer I launched into my practiced introduction. I got to the end of my intro and there is just silence. I tentatively say “hello” and in return I hear “hello”. This bit is confusing, I am not sure if that was a “hello, yes I can hear you” or a “hello, can you hear me”, so, we spent an awkward few seconds just saying “Hello, can you hear me” Hello? 

Feeling like someone had to make a move I launched into my introduction again. I was less nervous this time, but I was in such a rush to get it out that I forgot to breathe. I ran out of air part way through and tailed off in a weird strangled kind of way at the end. This made it appear as though we were experiencing signal issues again which began a whole new round of ‘hello, can you hear me’ being exchanged. Awkward!

Ten minutes in and things are finally going okay, I am on a roll with my questions, the interviewee is chatty, and responsive. I was actually starting to enjoy myself.I settled into the interview and relaxed, which is good, but I dropped my guard, which is very bad. I reached for my cup of tea, completely over extended, knocked over the mug sending tea all over my notebook, spilling off the table and onto my lap.

In this situation I am embarrassed to say, that by default, my brain positions itself firmly into the gutter, and instantly lets out a stream of profanities that would make a sailor blush.I can’t help it, I involuntarily blurt out a swear word, then I do that weird swear/apologise thing, then I apologise again for that swear word closely followed by another mumbled profanity to reprimand myself. In the end I lose track of which one I have and have not apologised for so just end up stopping mid-way through. This interview was not going well. 

I gather myself and in my most composed voice, tell them to continue with what they were saying while I commence the notebook wafting ritual to get rid of the excess tea. 

We were just getting back into the swing of things when I glance up and see the postman walking down my path, I know instantly that just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, this has turned into a disaster. 

Our family pet is an overly paranoid pooch who could hear a sparrow fart from five doors down. Upon hearing footsteps outside the door, he immediately begins a frenzy of barks and an overly dramatic sequence of body slams against the letterbox. 

Rather than try to quiet him down, I know from experience this is a waste of effort, I simply shut the kitchen door to muffle the sound, thinking he will quieten down as soon as the postman leaves. 

I re-commence the interview, apologizing yet again. A few minutes in and paranoid pooch is still attacking the door. I look outside the window to see that the postman was still stood on my path, chatting away on his phone completely oblivious to the total carnage that is going on in my house. I started knocking on the window and gesturing for him to go away, or at least move away from the door. He thinks I am trying to get his attention and so walks back towards me! Noooooooo.

You know what, I am going to stop here because this is actually mortifying re-living this one so, let’s move onto the second interview, the job interview.

This time I was prepared for the paranoid pooch, he was in the garden chasing flies and birds he could never catch, I had even kicked the disgruntled cat out to be on the safe side. I opted to do without the tea, just in case, and I was ready to make a great impression. 

This time everything went smoothly for me, no noise, no unexpected visitors and no spilled liquids. From my side the interview could not have gone any better. This time however, the problem was the interviewee. I swear they had all of the charisma of a stool.

No matter what I asked it felt as though they were only half listening to me while also watching the footie. No matter how many times I tried to draw out some kind of information they just remained utterly passive and disinterested. The replies were a series of grunts and barely intelligible sentences not helped by whatever they seemed to be eating while talking. I have a sneaky suspicion they were laid out on the sofa, feet up, remote in one hand and phone in the other with a precariously balanced bowl of cheese puffs on their chest. 

Needless to say, they didn’t make it past the telephone interview round, which was so frustrating as they were more than qualified for the position, if only they had taken the chance to show me that they would be a good fit for the role.

Since then I have harboured this passion for helping people to set themselves up to sit the very best telephone interview possible. Here are my hints and tips:

1. Set up in a quiet location. - Yes, I know this is a little ironic coming from me after my first interview, but I did learn my lesson. Plan for every eventuality then, also plan for everything else to go wrong too.

2.  Sit at a desk or table. - Believe it or not, this does make a difference, if you slouch on the sofa it will come through in your voice, it will make you… slouchy! Really!

3. Smile when you talk. A smile is recognisable, even over the phone. First of all, a smile releases endorphins, these hormones make you feel all warm, fuzzy and perky which will come through in your voice. Additionally, a smile changes the shape of your mouth and therefore the sound of your words. Go ahead, try it, strange but true. 

4. Take notes. For a stationery lover this one is a no brainer but if you are less biro orientated, then I do recommend that you keep some sort of writing implement close to hand just in case you need to write down a follow-up interview date or something equally important. 

5. Ask questions when prompted. Asking questions shows that you are interested in the person conducting the interview but also the company that you are potentially going to be employed by (don’t forget to have done your research).

6. Rounding. At the end be sure to ask the interviewer if there is anything else he or she needs to know. This shows that you are open to further questions and are more than happy to help. 

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