Seven telephone interview shockers

Making a fool of yourself during a telephone interview is one of the most mortifying things you can do – especially if the “you” are the interviewer, and not the interviewee.

It’s bad enough in a live face-to-face situation – but then at least you have the chance and the body language to backtrack and make a joke of it.  Much worse is when things go embarrassingly wrong during phone interviews – which are becoming a more frequent for recruiters.

The following cringe-worthy examples are all drawn from the experience of a handful of UK-based recruiters.


1. The slip of the tongue

Little mistakes – calling them Ben rather than Bill or Tim instead of Tom – are easy to make, but also easy to smooth over. But, sometimes you can say the very worst possible thing without realising it. Like the time a bright but naive young interviewer for remote telesales personnel asked a young applicant if she could try harder to “enhance her oral technique”, and then wondered why there was a long silence.


2. Bodily functions

A colleague, who wishes to remain anonymous, rushed back from a very satisfying lunch – a rare occasion these days, we admit, but when the opportunity arises, we take it. The trouble was, this interviewer had indulged a little too much, and had maybe just one wafer too many. He’d got three questions into a 20-minute interview with a very well-qualified and professional young candidate for an accountancy job. He began asking her about team-work skills before putting his hand over his mouth to suppress a hearty belch, which turned into violent hiccoughing. The candidate could not suppress her own amusement. Sensibly, he apologised and asks for a five-minute recess.


3. I can’t believe you said that

A misheard word, mispronounced name or a wrong assumption about a candidate’s ethnicity, gender or age can not only be hideously embarrassing, but is also likely to inflict irreversible damage to the interview outcome.

Interviewer: (a senior partner in a London reinsurance brokers) “So, what special qualities would you bring to this job?”

Candidate: “Well, I think my unflappability will be very useful”.

Interviewer: “Uh? Look, I can assure you that even the most serious misdemeanours here are not punished quite that severely, though sometimes one might be tempted….”

“You what?…” Click.


4. Time and place

We all know how important it is to conduct phone interviews in a quiet room, preferably with a door you can lock to keep the world out, but that’s often a luxury too far. The last thing you want is what happened during a phone interview at a supply teacher agency not far from here. Just as he was bringing a rather difficult interview with a rather quiet candidate to its close, the door bursts open, and a voice booms, “Come on ****-face, it’s after 1, we’re dying for ….oh, oh dear. Sorry…..”


5. Notably foolish

With more and more phone interviews now being conducted over Skype, we have rather dangerously upped the chances of making serious fools of ourselves on the small screen. The interviewer, for example, who left a print-out with all the names of other candidates names in full view of the webcam. That was bad enough, but he added brief notes in red marker pen – “dull”, “chavvy” etc, also legible – as he discovered when the interviewee advised him she would “cover up her cribsheet if she was him”.


6. What’s in a name

It happens to every phone interviewer at some point. You’ve nearly got to the end of the long list of questions, it has gone quite well, and you say, “Well, thanks so much Michael, unless you have any more urgent questions we’ll leave it at that. Thanks again, and you will hear from us soon”. “Did you say Michael?” “Yes, Michael, Michael White, right?” “No. It’s not. I’m Malcolm. Malcolm Wright.” “Oh, of course, sorry, silly old me…. anyway, thanks!”


7. The killer cliché

One of the worst things that can happen in a phone interview is when a highly promising candidate – the best of the bunch by a mile so far – puts the phone down on you. It’s a lot easier than storming out of an interview room – although that in itself is not uncommon. It’s a painful wake-up call for the interviewer, especially when it’s clear that it is your use the most boring interview question of all time – “So where do you see yourself in five years time?” that triggered this diva-like behaviour on the part of the highly-strung candidate.

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