Things not to say on a Phone Interview

Many companies and managers will use a phone interview to vet a prospective employee ahead of an actual in-person meeting. It’s very affective and saves everyone a lot of time.

This is particularly true of jobs in selling over the phone. In this instance, it is not merely an initial formality; it’s also a test that is used to gauge an individual’s phone presence.

It surprises me how often people flub this stage. My impression is that many interviewees see the phone call as a meaningless formality, mainly because they see it as a “call” and not an “interview”. But, make no mistake about it however chatty the banter may be, the pressure is on.

There are really only two rules for passing your phone interview:

  1. Never say anything that could come across as negative, controversial or offensive. 
  2. Resist going into tangents or coming across as long-winded.

Nonetheless, many people do!

Here is a list of actual examples I have encountered over time, with comments:

  • “…not to sound racist…”

Interpretation: Tactless and a bigot. If you’re not sophisticated enough to avoid discussing the most unenviable of all human character traits…then you’re not worth meeting.

  • “…I left because I’m just tired of dealing with stupid and immature people…”

Interpretation: Negative and poorly expressed. This statement actually makes people think that there is something immature about you, and that you might just have trouble getting along with other people.

  • “…I wouldn’t talk to secretaries because they’re just…ugh…”

Interpretation: Rude and poor charter. Don’t demean other people to the interviewer when trying to make your first impression. It signals tactlessness and bad character.

  • “…It wouldn’t be very smart if you didn’t bring me in…”

Interpretation: Clueless and argumentative. If it’s gone badly, don’t try arguing with the interviewer. Just accept it, be thankful and move on.

  • “…I’ll play it low key for a while, but then I want to take more charge of things…”

Interpretation: Unfocused and unmanageable. This is a way of communicating that you plan on becoming difficult to manage.

  • “…I’m the kind of person that likes to examine all the things that aren’t working in the business…and I’ll be vocal about it…”

Interpretation: Not dedicated and problematic. This signals that you’re difficult to manage, and lacks commitment to the job you’re being paid to do.

  • “…if a manager doesn’t know more than me then it can be a problem…”

Interpretation: Tactless and unmanageable. Insubordinate, unfocused, un-trainable.

  • “…well, I’m not very interested in the role, but I’ll hear what you have to say…”

Interpretation: Foolish. No reason to continue talking.

  • “…I would be interested but the role has to be very high paying…”

Interpretation: Tactless. There is a place, time and way to say things. This isn’t it.

  • “…I want to be involved in everything…sales, marketing…I want to be able to be involved in everything…”

Interpretation: Again, this raises a red flag as to your determination to succeed at the role we’re talking about.

Why would anyone say these things?

The real question actually is: This person is clearly wrong for us, why am I talking to this person to begin with?

I find that there are two reasons why:

1. The applicant has over inflated their experience (or level of professional sophistication) on their resume. Thus, they did a great job of getting themselves to that first stage, but couldn’t deliver when they got there.

Lesson for applicants: Make sure your resume is a clear reflection of who you are and what you know and not a document you use to convince people that you’re someone you’re not.

2. The interviewer hasn’t defined the exact profile they’re looking to hire clearly enough. So, when it comes to sorting through the resumes some of the less qualified people will automatically get through because you’re not clear enough about what you really want in a candidate.

Lesson for the interviewer: Know exactly who you want to hire! Define the profile you want with precision! Be exact about the skill-set you want and don’t compromise.


Ultimately, the success of the phone interview depends on both the interviewer and the interviewee. The level to which both take responsibility over who they are, what they’re looking for and what they want will determine the ultimate success of the endeavor.

But Applicants please remember, when you do get the call keep it simple!

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1 Response to Things not to say on a Phone Interview

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