Stories of the Job Hunt: On phone interviews and Skype

If anything is more stressful than an in-person interview, it’s an interview that doesn’t take place in person.

Phone interviews aren’t too bad, as I can talk with my hands all I want and no one will be there to give me weird looks. But if I can talk with my hands, I can’t really articulate what I’m saying, and I can’t react to the interviewer’s questions or facial expressions. I can’t read a person of I can just hear their voice. The flip side of being able to talk with my hands is that I can’t see the person and have a conversation with them; it’s really just two people talking, who happen to be on the same phone connection.

The other side of the spectrum is the Skype/video interview. That is a whole different ball of wax. Trying to find a few books to prop up my computer, the right lighting. Should I make my bed? Can I get away with wearing sweats–WHAT IF I HAVE TO STAND UP? What if my internet connection goes bad? What if I show up and the other person doesn’t? Should I join the call early and then just wait, or should I be a few minutes late so I can join the already existing meeting?

Phone and video interviews are supposed to be “more relaxed” and more conversational than actual in person interviews. But somehow, all the overthinking makes them much much worse than in-person interviews. And that is really sort of backwards, when I stop and think about it.

Luckily for all of us, I am quite the expert at both of these types of interviews. Well, when I say expert, I mean I’ve had my fair share of both. Don’t you worry, I have stories to share.

Wanna hear some? Good. First some commentary.

Phone interviews are so awkward. They are like standing in line at the grocery store. You know should make small talk with the cashier, because they are also a human being and you feel you should be nice. But you have nothing to talk about. You are forced into a conversation that has a beginning, an end (even though the end might be a little fuzzy), and will last only a short time. The same with phone interviews. You don’t know the person on the other end. You are trying to make a good impression. You are trying to convey that you are a good fit for their position and trying to explain what you have done in the past that will help you with the position they are offering. Okay, so my grocery store comparison might be falling apart a little bit, but some of it is still the same. You don’t have anything to talk about to the interviewer, but you feel you should make small talk. You are both forced into the conversation, and you know it will have a beginning and an end (even though the end might be a little fuzzy). But you don’t know how to make it from beginning to end. Should I mention that I looked the interviewer up on LinkedIn? Do I treat this as an in person interview and ask them all my questions about the position, do I just keep it short and sweet and more high level? Most other phone interactions are so comfortable–I can talk on the phone to my best friend for hours on end, mostly talking about nothing, but always having something to say. I can talk to my mom on the phone for hours, always having something to say and listen to. But the moment I don’t know the person on the other end, it’s like I’ve never held a phone in my hand before that day. Should I speak loudly? Should I use headphones or not go hands free at all? (The answer to that one, by the way, is never go with the headphones. Always use your hands for a phone interview, even if it means juggling a few more things.) Phone interviews, like standing in line at the grocery store, are a complete necessity for anyone and any job, but that doesn’t mean they are always sought after experiences. They will be awkward, they will be short, and there will be silence, be it awkward silence or paused silence.

And yet they must be done.

Skype interviews, from the interviewee’s point of view, are much better. It’s so much easier to talk to a person when you can see them. They are so much harder because if you can see a person, it means you are more likely to ramble, and that doesn’t leave a good impression. Skype interviews are harder from the interviewer’s point of view. On the one hand, you can put a face to a name. On the other hand, you always have to look pleasant and cannot talk to the person you are interviewing with about the person you are interviewing. You can’t pull faces about how poorly/well the interview is going, and you can’t put the video on mute and start talking about something completely irrelevant because the person can see you. (If you are wondering, yes, I have put a phone call, not a video call, on mute and asked a completely irrelevant question to the people with me. It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen.) Because you can see the person, Skype interviews open up a whole new world of things that can go wrong. What if my internet cuts out? What if they can’t hear me? What if I can’t hear them…what if they can’t hear me?? Where should I look? Why don’t I ever sit up straight? How am I supposed to focus when all I can see is myself?

See? A whole different, and much bigger, can of worms!

I suppose Skype interviews do also open up a whole different world of things that can go right. I can actually see and react (partially) to the people interviewing me.

But anyway. Same end goal, completely different ball games.

During my 9 month job search, I encountered my fair share of both phone and Skype interviews. They ranged from good, to okay, to bad, to ugly. I was lying in bed one morning at about 7 am, when my phone rang. A woman, who was way too angry for 9 am eastern time, explained that she was calling from a long shot job I had applied for in Boston. She could tell that I was still 3/4 asleep, and that she had woken me up (as much as I tried to hide that I was still in bed). She then spat out at me that they only did in person interviews, and that if I couldn’t be in Boston that week, I should just forget it. Now, on the one hand, she was completely right to be annoyed that I was half asleep because where she was, it was 9 am, but on the other hand, I was the one to be annoyed because did she look at my resume and see that I live in Utah? Maybe she did, but I’m telling myself she didn’t.

I had countless phone interviews that were weirdly half conversational. This was probably on purpose, because the interviewer was probably trying to get know my personality and whether or not I would be a good fit at the company in question.

For one position in particular, I had multiple phone interviews. I had to complete trainings, online assessments, send over a slew of documents, and had to endure a recorded video interview. All of that work, and all of that time, only to be told that the position was just out of my skill set, but “we will keep your resume on file and keep you in mind for any position that comes up in the future”. Apparently they aren’t hiring anymore, or they lost their files, because I haven’t heard back at all.

Joke. That was a joke, people.

It is an acceptable practice to call in to a business to which you have sent a resume and get a status update on that resume. I called to get such a followup on a resume I had sent over, and was met by the most rude man I had encountered up to that point. He told me that the person who was in charge of resumes might still be in the office, and that he would patch me through, then promptly hung up on me. I sat and waited for a minute, for I thought I was still on hold, then realized the call had been terminated. I called back, only to get the same man, the same answer to my question, and almost the same hang up. He said to me, though, “No, I know I hung up on you. The hiring manager is gone, I’ll let him know. I was supposed to hang up.”

Oh. Right. Ok. I don’t want your job, and you should not be so rude.

(If I recall correctly, the same man called me back the next day and apologized for his shortness. But, and I hate to sound hypocritical, but the first impression had already been made. Too late bud. Don’t snap at people with simple questions. Ever.)

My list of Skype interviews isn’t as exhaustive, mostly because video interviews are reserved for those that have passed the test of the phone interview(s). The most memorable (not a positive memory) experience was the experience that completely destroyed me in the end.

Ok. That was dramatic. But I think you all remember it. I had applied for a job at an ad agency in North Dakota. It was a weird place to apply for a job, but I have family who live there and I was confident that it would be a good change of pace for me.

I went through two video interviews. The first went really, really well. I was interviewed by two women, one of which had a can of Diet Coke in the interview. That’s just how casual it was, and I really didn’t mind that, I actually preferred that. It put me at ease. Another thing that put me at ease was the fact that both of the women seemed so excited about me, and seemed to genuinely think that I was a good fit for their company. The interview went well enough that I was called for a second video interview. The second interview did not go so well. I messed it up from the beginning. I hadn’t ever used the software they were using for the interview, and didn’t realize I had to call in with my phone to make myself heard. The man conducting the interview had to message me and tell me to call in. That completely threw me off, because I thought it had, well, for lack of a better term, damned me. To this day, I think I might be right on that one. The second interview had essentially the entire company sitting in on it. It was my understanding that the ad agency was incredibly small, but the people on the second interview would be the team that I would be joining. Included were the entire North Dakota office, including the two women who interviewed me previously, and a person who was in their Minnesota office. After I resolved the snafu with the audio, people kept coming and going from the interview. Multiple people popped in and told me, “Oh, hello! Just wanted to say hello and put a face to a name! So great to meet you!” They would then proceed to sit down and join the interview. Now, I don’t know if it was the number of people coming in and out of the interview that threw off the team I would be joining (of which there were 3: a man and a woman in North Dakota, and the woman in Minnesota), but it became more and more obvious towards the end of the interview that the man on the team I was interviewing for was just so over it all. I thought the interview went well, I thought I had presented myself well enough. They really just asked questions about projects I had completed and more culture questions to check if I would fit in. I thought I had, I honestly thought I had.

But, as we know the end of that story, I didn’t get that job, and it ended up being one of the most trying experiences of my entire life. (I guess if you don’t know the story, check it out.)

Phone and video interviews are a weird enigma of the process of getting a job. They are completely necessary, and completely and totally weird. End of. If anyone is truly an expert, and can give me non-condescending (please) advice on how to overcome the awkward, please let me know. If anyone has any advice on how to navigate the grocery store checkout without making that a whole debacle, either, please let me know too. And no, using the self-check doesn’t count. 🙂


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