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Don’t Say Hello in a Phone Interview

Chances are, we’ve all been through phone interviews.

These type of interviews are commonplace to pre-screen candidates.

So the duration and expectations are fairly predictable for both parties involved.

How you start the phone conversation the moment you pick up the phone is critical.

My advice… Don’t Say Hello.

Let me share an example to build my case:

I scheduled a phone interview with a candidate at an exact time and date.

So my phone call was to be expected.

And when I placed the call to the number given, I expected the greeting on the other end to be at a minimum professional.

Ideally, it would also be an immediate recognition of the appointment.

Why?

Because it sets the right tone for the rest of this very important conversation.

Instead, I received the unfortunate and awkward “Hello”.

After I paused to shake my head in disappointment, I had no choice but to ask the candidate (in this case, we’ll call her Mary), “Hi, is this Mary?”.

“Yes, it is” Mary replies.

Another pause to shake my head in frustration and wait for her to say something else.

Was the candidate even expecting my call?

Now, I had to really move the conversation forward.

“Hi, this is Brent Peterson from Interview Angel.”

“Oh, hi” Mary responds.

At this point, the critical first impression wasn’t a good one because I had to do the phone call confirmation, and it felt that I was inconveniencing the candidate.

I then spoke up again.

“Uh, hi. I was calling for our phone interview. I am assuming this is a good time to talk.”

“Sure,” Mary concludes.

Agh!

Let’s rewind the tape and walk through how the conversation should have been handled.

I place the call and the candidate picks up the phone:

“Hi, this is Mary Smith.”

“Hi Mary, this is Brent Peterson from Interview Angel.”

“Hi, Mr. Peterson. I was expecting your call. Thank you for taking the time to talk with me today.”

Perfect!

Let me provide some additional clarity on these two simple recommendations (Professional Greeting and Appointment Recognition).

1. Professional Greeting

In an office environment, there is a standard protocol for answering the phone.

Typically, the greeting is something as simple as “Hello, this is Brent Peterson.”

Or it may be something more scripted such as “Thank you for calling the finance department. Brent Peterson speaking.”

The reality is you probably know who is calling on the other end because virtually all phones are equipped with caller ID.

And yet, you would still respond with a professional greeting primarly because you know it is a communication exchange between professionals.

The other reason you would answer professionally because you know a co-worker may be placing a call from someone else’s extension.

I’ll confess I’ve made the false assumption before based on caller ID, and once you have made the mistake, it is a hard lesson.

Let’s just say, picking up the phone and saying “WAAAZZUUUUUUUUP?!?!?” in my best Budweiser imitation to a friend (based on caller ID) didn’t sound so good when it was his boss making the call.

So if you are a job candidate, answer the phone as if you are already in the office.

“Hi, this is Mary Smith.”

2. Appointment Confirmation

If you have a scheduled interview appointment with a recruiter or the hiring manager, be the first to acknowledge it on the phone.

Appointment times can sometimes get mixed up.

Don’t wait for the person calling you to confirm the purpose of the call.

When I call candidates, I expect the person to be expecting my call, and to be prepared for the conversation.

You can simply state, in a friendly but professional tone, you were expecting the person’s call.

Your next step is to immediately thank the person for taking the time to speak with you that day.

“Hi, Mr. Peterson. I was expecting your call. Thank you for taking the time to talk with me today.”

A Note of Chivalry

My general rule of thumb is to address someone formally (e.g. Mr. or Ms.) in any interview setting until given permission to call them by their first name.
Chances are, the person will quickly respond with something like, “Oh you can me Brent”.
Old fashioned chivalry can go a long way in a crowded job market.

By following these two simple steps, you will start the conversation off on the right foot!

The good news for you is that most candidates fail to do so.

Over the past 17 years for multiple organizations, I estimate that 75% of all candidates I have interviewed over the phone initiate that potentially life-changing career phone call just like a personal call from a friend.

WAAAZZUUUUUUUUP with that?!?!

Full Disclosure

I have hired people who started phone conversations off on the wrong foot, as illustrated above.

It is not a deal breaker.

However, in a very crowded job market, little things do matter.

I encourage you to take this advice to heart.

What are your thoughts or experiences with phone interviews?

And since I have you thinking about that commercial now, here are my favorites on YouTube:
1. The Original Wazzup Budweiser Commerical
2. The Wasabi Budweiser Commercial
3. The What are YOU Doing? Budweiser Commercial (and yes, I take extreme humor in the fact that the first guy is named Brent :)

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About the Author

Brent Peterson, PMP, MS, MBA, is the founder of Interview Angel Inc, a company that offers a comprehensive guide and toolkit for job seekers to use in interviews.

Brent’s first customer was a father who purchased Interview Angel as a graduation gift for his daughter.  Since then, clients have included government workforce centers, university programs, and Goodwill Industries.  The product has also been used as an affordable outplacement solution for businesses going through layoffs.

The full Interview Angel toolkit is available for $59.95 and shipped nationwide. A digital version is also available for immediate download for $19.95.

Stay connected with Brent via LinkedIn, subscription to this Interview Angel professional blog, and through his personal blog on faith and living.

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  • Jana

    I am afraid to say Hello is a must. Anyone who works with etiquette and protocol will tell you that even when you know who is calling you and why, you have to follow the rules of good behaviour and say hello. Otherwise it is perceived as having no manners and immediately puts the person in a wrong light. Sorry to disappoint you…………..

  • http://www.interviewangel.com Brent Peterson

    Hi Jana. Thanks for the note.  I concur it is critical to say hello.  My argument is that a simple “Hello” when picking up the phone for a scheduled appointment is not the best way to start a phone interview.  Instead, I recommend a full professional greeting, such as “Hello, this is Brent Peterson” followed by a confirmation of the appointment.

    • rlj

      Hello and identification is fine, but talking on to confirm interview could sometimes sound too mechanical – after the “Hello, this is …” I would let the other person identify himself and let the coversation flow naturally. If you are professional and enthusiastic, it will show – no need to script the conversation so much.

  • Guest

    I totally agree. I go a step further every time I answer my personal cell phone the only number I give out for job hunting I answer Hello, this is Mary speaking. If it is a personal call they either know I am looking for a job or the odd answering opens up the conversation. I have had several recruiters call me out of the blue and I figure why not start off on the right foot. 

    • http://www.interviewangel.com Brent Peterson

      Good suggestion on using a dedicated phone line for job hunting.  Thanks. 

  • http://twitter.com/InHISNameHR Mark A. Griffin

    I totally agree.  It is amazing what candidates will do when they are on a phone interview!  I actually had to tell someone to stop eating!  They complained they had no time to eat because they took the phone interview over their lunch hour.  After the chomping did not stop, I ended the interview.  

    • http://www.interviewangel.com Brent Peterson

      Thanks for sharing Mark.  That is quite a story! Eating on the phone is definitely unprofessional.

  • Bob

    Very good article on phone interview etiquette.  I would also add that you should be standing up when taking that phone call.  Standing and perhaps even walking around a bit will deliver a higher energy voice than if you are sitting down.  Think of it this way.  Would you take a phone interview call lying on the couch?  Take it to the next step and stand up.  And smile.

    • http://www.interviewangel.com Brent Peterson

      Thanks for the feedback Bob.  Great recommendation. I like do the same and walk around a little bit on the phone (a headset helps!). It keeps me focused on the conversation too.

  • Anonymous

    Brent, people also write casually just as much as they casually carry on conversations. Candidates use slang and colloquiums as if he or she talked to a friend. Interviews are formal, no matter the phase of the hiring process. The approach should reflect formal behavior.

  • Rwsmetth2

    I’ve had phone interviews when I didn’t know I was going to have one so what else can you do other than say ‘Hello”?

  • http://Staffing-Solutions.biz/ Helping You Hire

    Brent, I couldn’t agree with you more. As a Staffing Solutions expert, I perform numerous phone interviews a day. There is nothing that makes a worst first impression than bad phone interview etiquette. The TV on in the background or dogs barking, picking up the phone as if you weren’t aware of the appointment and or just being too casual in general can almost be considered deal breakers for some positions. These tips are spot on and will really help a candidate make a favorable impression. Thank you for sharing Brent. 

  • provenprofessional

    I think this is utterly ridiculous. No offense intended. I am a fifteen year executive who has taken and conducted phone interviews. I do not immediately disqualify a candidate just because they say “hello”, my decisions are based on their skill set and ability. Also, if a candidate knows how to establish rapport over the phone, this definitely speaks well to their abilities in person. I personally have answered my phone “This is (name)” when anticipating a call for an interview, and then after the person identitifies themself, I always say “hello”. Now regarding the point of automatically knowing that the person calling you is the interviewer, this is not a substantiated assumption. Many times I recieve business calls via cellular phone and I do not have caller ID available, so I will not automatically know it is a recruiter calling. Well, I do hope as someone who has been on both sides of the call that the recruiters reading this article will take my post in consideration the next time an interviewee answers with the greeting of “hello”.

    • http://interviewangel.com/home-blog/ Brent Peterson

      Thanks for your input. I do concur that a candidate should never be disqualified over the phone greeting. That’s never been the case in my experience. But I do feel that there is no harm in starting off a phone conversation on a professional high note.

  • Self Employed in NYC

    Hey Brent, get the stick out of your ass. This is ABSOLUTELY ridiculous. You come off like an egotistical elitist with this bull crap. In today’s day and age with robo-calling, telemarketing, phone scamming and identity theft all fishing for information. It is the callers responsibility to identify themselves if you’re calling me. To assume the caller is unprofessional or unprepared is a value judgement on your part. Thank God I don’t have to use your services, otherwise you’d have to do as I say and check your ego at the door. Get with the times before the times get you.

    • http://interviewangel.com/home-blog/ Brent Peterson

      You are certainly entitled to your opinion. It was a just simple example and suggestion that some other people agree with me as reflected in the blog comments. Would it make or break a job interview? I can’t imagine that would be the case. I despise telemarketers too, but if I am expecting a call at any exact day and time, I will make an assumption it is the call I’m expecting. That being the case, I answer the phone just like I would when I’m on the job. And that is, my identifying myself when I pick up the phone. Hope that helps clarifies my advice.

    • Joe Havajob

      Yep, Poor stick up ass elitist having to put up with those lowly people begging him for a job! Maybe they should just pull themselves up by their bootstraps and leave you alone!

    • Mufasa McFurry

      I use a Google Voice number specifically for all of my job applications, and the Voice number forwards to my cell phone. I see that number calling and I know it’s for something job-related. I also do not pick up the phone when they call. For the reason above with scammers and identity theft, I let them leave a message and I call them back. It deters scammers (who won’t leave message) and it’s worked for me because it allows me to prepare- I can find a quiet place to talk, refer to the job listing before I call, and just mentally prepare for the conversation.

  • ture

    I think that answering your personal cell phone like you’re at work is bullshit. Many agents treat candidates like merchandise, like disposable items.

    And expecting someone in the first minute to say “Hi, Mr. Peterson. …… Thank you for taking the time to talk with me today.” it’s just expecting someone to kiss my bottom. It is your job to find your customer the right person. You should thank the candidates that they help you have a job. Also, the benefits are mutual.. you find the right person, the candidate will have ( perhaps ) a better workplace, you will get the commission. So I do not see why the candidates should be at your feet.
    I think you guys in the HR industry have your nose too high..

    True

  • Joe Havajob

    Maybe you need a new profession where you do not have to put up with people that do not exactly comply to your rules.

    • http://standandinspire.com/ Brent Peterson

      This was two years ago and I actually did hire the person. As pointed out in the post, it’s a general suggestion and not a deal breaker.

  • From the other side of fence

    Are you searching for a talent? It looks like you think of yourself as being Roman Emperor – blessing yokels, giving them jobs. Do not mix snobbish etiquette with being professional. Perhaps the positions you have to hire people for are PR only – have you ever had a chance to find an rocket engineer?

  • Senthil

    Thanks for sharing this valuable information….

  • Really?!?

    I was just called and had a phone interview I did not know anything about. The recruiter just called and asked if I had a few minutes. It is the day after 4th of July, we had family over for the celebration and of course, stayed up late! The recruiter called at 9 am!! I was woken up. Is this proper etiquette for a phone interviewer? A recruiter from another company emailed me and asked when and what time I would be available for an interview. The recruiter today, just randomly called. Needless to say, I was unprepared but answered and asked questions the best that I could in the situation. What is your opinion?

  • Veronika

    Thank you for your post about the greeting in phone interview. It helped me to open professional call and I felt more confident than during my previous phone interviews when I didn’t know what to say. :)

  • Elina

    Thank you for your advice! I find it very helpful.

  • Mufasa McFurry

    One tip I’d like to add is to use a separate phone number/service such as Google Voice for the callback number on your resume. Just have this phone number forwarded to your cell phone. I found it helpful to have this separate number since when I see the phone number pop up, I know for sure it’s someone calling regarding a job application. It has worked for me during my time of being laid off so that I can differentiate between personal calls and professional calls.

  • jess

    Thank you! I do that all the time and I’ve always wondered the right way to greet employers in a phone interview.

    Ps. I see why that was pretty awkward but if you don’t hire people based on how they answer the phone, you are definitely missing out on great candidates.

    • http://standandinspire.com/ Brent Peterson

      I agree with you completely. I would never not hire someone because of how they answer the phone. I just hope people start the conversation off professionally.

  • rlj

    About the Mr./Mrs. part – usually there’s been some email exchange before the phone call – wouldn’t you follow the addressing there in that case?

    • http://standandinspire.com/ Brent Peterson

      Yes, if an exchange had set the tone for the phone conversation. Good question.

  • nilesh

    Hi , I totally agree with you… we are already expecting a call and interviewer calls at right time then its no rocket science to guess its interviewer who is calling.. and the interviewer must be greeted in a very well way as you said…Hi I am Nilesh, and then proactively tell that i was expecting your call..

    I totally agree with you.. after all they are calling to pay to us… or hire us.. or life changing call thats what i mean…

    But i have one question my phone interview happened and it came before 1.5hrs of schedule time.. and i said hello and he introduced me and then i said oh ok it was scheduled at 6pm , but then he asked whether he should call back.. i said this is the good time we can talk now.. he said due to lot of interviews schedule he got confused i said no issues… he then started the interview and (FYI it was 3rd/last round of interview i already have given 2 rounds F2F and this was client interview) and after 18 mins… he said at the end I am quiet done from my side do you have any questions and i said no not now..(slip of tongue.. i wanted to say just no.)

    So i have one question what you think will i get selected what does he mean by I am quiet done from my side…(why quiet, why not, done..) this is the question i am worried of.. can you please help me with this answer now.. actually i was going to greet him with I was expecting your call.. but u know he called early and so all this happened and i was searching for what does it mean by quiet done.. and i got your really beautiful and sensible post… my interview was fine i gave 6 out of 10 answers i can say..

    and also i said at last Thank you for your time..

    so brent what are your thoughts will i get selected..

    i respected his call and continued with call even called early u know.. :)

    • http://standandinspire.com/ Brent Peterson

      Hi Nilesh. Please acccept my apology for not responding sooner. I am in the process of moving this job interview resource and conversation into a new website. To answer your question, I’m not that familiar with the phrase “quite done”. I think it’s a personal style, but means the same thing as “I’m done.” Did you end up getting selected? It sounds like you handled it very well.

  • Casitas

    I know the blog is a few years old, but it has a lot of merit. Especially if you have a difficult name. I can not tell you how many times people have called me and butchered my name. I have been on both sides of the phone, and I am grateful for a candidate who gives me the correct pronunciation of their name before I have to ask. The only thing I would do slightly differently is say “Hello, this is “name”” instead of Hi. Just my 2 cents. The second phone line is a great idea.

  • Megan

    I’ve got a phone interview on Friday for the “dream job”… I HATE phone interviews– thanks for the great advice- I am confident I will get this started on the right foot. Thanks for the confidence boost! This seems like a “no-brainer”, I’m not sure why I’ve missed this!

    • http://standandinspire.com/ Brent Peterson

      My pleasure Megan. You’ll do great in your phone interview!

  • topcommenter

    Please give me a break and remove your head from your ass. What’s the problem with a candidate saying “Hello?” just because your call is scheduled doesn’t mean “Hello” isn’t still common etiquette for answering a phone.

    I know HR is supposed to be “fickle” but sometimes you guys just throw me for a loop. Absolutely ridiculous.