Don’t Phone In Your Next Phone Interview

You know that feeling when you walk into a great restaurant and you get the first whiff of intermingling smells coming from the kitchen and from the plates of various satisfied diners? You know how hungry that can make you, how it makes you want to dive into a big plate of whatever even before you’ve seen or tasted the food for yourself? Now switch gears with me and come to a darker place. The greasy spoon that you went into because it was the only thing open at 3 in the morning. That unique and unmistakable mix of smoke, week-old bacon grease, cleaning products and cheap perfume that made you turn right around and walk out even though you hadn’t eaten in days.

In both of these situations you’re making a decision about the food even though you haven’t seen or tasted it. Do you see where I’m going with this? Yes! It’s the same decision that recruiters and hiring managers are making about job candidates after a phone interview. They’re deciding whether you have the right skills and are the right fit for the job, sight unseen. They’ll either be hungry for more, or they’ll be reaching for the Pepto, and it’s all up to you which one it is.

Since the internet has made it ridiculously easy for job seekers to find and apply to jobs, and as job seekers are getting more and more savvy about finding ways to get their resumes seen, companies are increasingly relying on phone interviews to try to shrink the field of qualified candidates into a manageable number. This means that if you’re looking for a job, the likelihood that you’ll have to impress someone over the phone is pretty high. And the last thing you want to do is to not be ready.

Luckily for you, phone interviews offer you, the candidate, some real advantages that in-person interviews don’t. Namely, you get to have your notes, talking points, and cheat sheets out in the open and you can refer to them as much as you want to. It’s like an open-book test in school. You have no excuse not to ace this. Here are the main points you’ll need to make sure you have covered.

  1. Make sure your interview is scheduled for a time that you’ll be able to talk. This means that you won’t have to rush back to work, pick up your aunt, walk the dog, or anything else. If the conversation goes over its allotted time, that’s a good thing. Don’t be the one who has to end the call.
  2. Arrange to be in a good place to take the call. This could be your bedroom, a conference room, your car, or anywhere else that you can be alone and that’s quiet. It should not be the local coffee shop, the bus, or walking down the street. Avoid places with loud people, barking dogs, sirens, or other distractions.
  3. Put together your list of talking points. Do this by going over your resume and writing out the specific accomplishments or highlights that you want to talk about. Write an outline of your story of how you achieved 150% of quota, how you reduced costs by 30%, how you single-handedly saved your company from ruin. Having this cheat sheet will keep you from having to remember details on the spot, and will give you a list of topics that you should be able to use to answer a multitude of interview questions.
  4. Write out your answers to those questions you know you’ll hear: What are your weaknesses? When did you have a challenge at work that you had to overcome? Where do you see yourself in 5 years? When I say to write them out, I mean bullet points or outline form – don’t write a full script or else you’ll find yourself reading from it. You want to be prepared, but you still want to sound fresh, not like you’re reading the words off of a page.
  5. Print out a copy of your resume, so that you can refer to it. If you’re asked about anything specific that’s on it, it’s helpful to be able to actually see what your interviewer is talking about.
  6. CHARGE YOUR CELL PHONE. Of course if you can use a land-line, that’s preferable (much lower chance for dropped calls, bad signal, etc.) but many times mobile is your only option.

And now you’ve prepared. When the time rolls around for your phone interview, treat it like any other interview. Dress nicely (even though nobody will see you), pre-caffeinate if you need to (don’t eat or drinking during the interview – they can hear that), arrive 5 minutes early (so that you can get settled and lay out your materials), and mentally prepare. I’ve always found it helpful to stand during phone interviews – it can help you convey more energy in your voice than if you were relaxing in a chair. And the last thing to remember for your phone interview is to SMILE. Yes, you may feel like an idiot smiling to nobody. But it will come across in your voice – you’ll sound more pleasant and more engaging if you have a smile on your face. It’s a proven fact. I think.

Keep in mind that if you follow these steps you may not move on to an in-person interview or whatever the next round is. No matter how prepared you are you could still let nerves get the best of you, or you could just not be the right person for the job. But the more prepared you are, the easier it will get, and the better you’ll be positioned to really nail it. If you nail the phone interview, you come off smelling great. And the better you smell, the hungrier that potential employer will be to dig in. So be the feast, people. Be the feast.

Bon appetít.


How To Ask For a Raise – And How Not To

I shall now tell you your desire. Wait, don’t say it… I can get this…

You want a raise!

Know how I knew that? Because everyone wants a raise. You’re about as unique in this desire as you are in liking cake. So now that the cat’s out of the bag and we all know that I’m no psychic, what shall we do about getting you this raise that you seek? When it comes to milking more money out of your employer, there’s sadly no magic bullet. We’re at the mercy of budgets, emotions, parity, revenue forecasts, the economy, and a host of other factors.

Mostly, there are three things that are going to influence whether you get a raise. Before I get into what those things are, let’s take a minute to talk about what will NOT be factors. Just to be clear – this list is of things not to bring up when you’re asking for more money. Ever.

  1. What you need. Honestly, as much as I care from a human perspective about your kids’ college fund, your sick parents, your student loans and the new home you just moved into, from a management perspective I couldn’t care less. You’re not going to see more money because you have more outside obligations, distractions, and questionable spending choices. Your ability to get a raise is about how much your employer needs you, not how much you need money.
  2. How much your co-worker makes. If your co-worker makes more money than you do for the same job, chances are that at least one of two things is true. Either s/he is a better negotiator than you, or s/he adds more perceived value to the company than you do. Either way, don’t bring it up. It may in fact be true that you’re underpaid compared to cubicle-dweller next door, but if you use that as a bargaining tactic it will fail. The only thing you’ll succeed in doing is making yourself look like a child.
  3. How long you’ve been there. Because in case you’re not doing an amazing job, the last thing you want to do is to remind your boss just how long you’ve been scraping by. And besides, we’re not paid for loyalty. We’re paid to produce.

So that’s what not to talk about when asking for a raise. But with that in mind what, exactly, should that conversation be about? Well I’m here to tell you. I’ve been involved in this conversation from every vantage point – I’ve asked for raises, I’ve been asked for raises, I’ve coached people on how to ask for raises, I’ve coached managers on how to respond to people asking for raises – so I’ve seen this work and I’ve seen it fail disastrously. The difference is usually preparation.

  • First, think about your timing. Is the company experiencing layoffs? Is your boss stressed about his/her budget? Are share values in your company dropping faster than really fast-dropping things? If so, do everyone a favor and hold off. You’ll do yourself more harm than good by asking.
  • Second, make an appointment to speak to your boss. Don’t try to catch him/her on the fly; don’t grab him/her coming out of the bathroom or the elevator. Get on the calendar. This is a serious conversation with serious potential outcomes. Treat it with respect.
  • Third, know your case before you start. Just like in a job interview or a presidential debate, you need to have your talking points in order. Trying to do this on the fly is not your ideal strategy.
  • Fourth, know what you’re asking for – have that number in mind that you think is a fair compensation for what you bring to the table.
  • Last, know what you’re prepared to do if the answer comes back negative. Are you making a request or an ultimatum? Are you prepared to stay and continue to give 100% if you don’t get what you’re asking for, or are you prepared to start looking for your next job?

As we’ve gone over, when asking for a raise there is a multitude of things not to talk about (I only listed three, but the list can easily be expanded to include such topics as your new haircut, Coke vs. Pepsi, and what you dug out from between your teeth last night), but there is only one thing that you should in fact talk about. That thing is simply why you deserve more money. Not why do you want it, but why should you get it. What have you done to earn it? Have you taken on additional responsibilities outside the scope of your job description? Have you had some great wins that resulted in the company making and/or saving money? Have you consistently been recognized for outstanding performance? Have you become the resident expert in your field? Is the company truly better off for having you there?

That’s it. There’s nothing else to discuss. It’s easy to sell what you’re going to do, what you plan on over the next year. But you’re not being paid for the future – you’re being paid for what you’ve done, not what you may or may not do later. Highlight your successes, the ways in which you’re irreplaceable, the ways and times that you’ve made your boss’ life easier. Can’t think of any? Then you might want to think twice about asking for a raise. Because at the end of the day, all of us employees are products, and we’re all subject to the same principles of supply and demand. Would you pay more for the same quality product or service if you don’t have to? Neither would your employer. Keep that in mind when you’re building your case.

If you follow these guidelines, you are absolutely, positively 100% NOT guaranteed to get a raise. But if you’ve done a good job of requesting one, you’re very likely to have at least gained some additional respect in the eyes of your boss and to have started the wheels turning for the next time there’s money to spend.