How do you deal when you know the phone interview isn’t your strong suit? One reader asks, and our career therapist weighs in.

Dear Pat, I have a dilemma, and I’m hoping you have some advice.

I’m an accomplished writer and PR professional who just happens to be in between jobs right now. I’ve never had a job search last this long, actually, and I believe the thing that’s killing me is the dreaded phone-screener interview, either from an HR department or, in the case of yesterday, the manager who supervises the position.

I have a slight speech impediment that slurs my S’s—sort of like a slurry lisp. I saw speech therapists as a child and learned a few techniques to deal with it, but I’ve pretty much stopped agonizing over it and have just learned to live with it now. It’s really not that big a deal, but unfortunately I’m afraid when potential employers are interviewing me by phone, it’s translating as drunk or under the influence of something. One woman actually said to me, “You sound awfully slurry,” which gave me an opportunity to explain. (I still never heard from that company again, though.)

I always knock ’em dead in in-person interviews. But these days, with so many applicants out there, the phone-screener is becoming increasingly common.

I’m reluctant to start a phone interview by explaining this problem because it’s such a downer way to start a conversation. And I do think it becomes more pronounced when I’m nervous. I’m extremely dynamic when I’m on the job, my resume is full of awards, and I have a great track record, so it’s not anything that affects job performance. Just phone interviews.

Is there any hope, or do I just need to keep sending out resumes and praying someone will eventually give me a shot and let me in the door for some face time?

—Phone Phobic



Dear Phobic,

Phone screeners and initial phone interviews can be awkward and hard to overcome for anyone, let alone for people who particularly value how well they are in-person (and fear their phone presence). That said, they are often a necessary part of the process.

Typically at The Cheyenne Group, we start every candidate off with a phone interview. The purpose is to assess the candidate’s skills and qualifications as it relates to the job at hand, and to get a sense of how enthusiastic they are about the opportunity. Put simply, we want to make sure you check the boxes before wasting anyone’s time. Resumes only allow you to get a sense of a person’s work history; but speaking with them helps you get a sense for how they would be in the job—whether a candidate is articulate, has relevant skills, and so on. We’re getting a sense for the level of intelligence you possess, whether you understand the job, and if you can be enthusiastic about it without sounding overly hyped.

In other words, you’re right that the phone interview is the norm and that it isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. That’s the bad news. The good is that explaining your situation is in no way a downer, especially if you approach it the right way. In fact, it actually makes you come across as knowledgeable, like you “get it.” But only if you approach the conversation confidently.

Here’s my advice: Start right off by saying: “Before we begin, you might detect a slight speech impediment. I was actually born with it, but it in no way impacts my ability to get the job done—in fact…” Then launch into your elevator pitch. Sum up, in a few sentences, why you are the perfect fit for the job. Sound genuine and offer up why you could do the job in a compelling way. Give the topline first few sentences that really capture who you are as an executive. This serves to ease people’s tensions—nipping it in the bud at their first thought will help transition the entire call into a more comfortable one.

Most importantly, though, is to get rid of the nerves! Try your best to practice your attack so that you don’t feel nervous. It’s possible that nerves and a perceived lack of confidence is what people are reacting to. When I conduct phone interviews and sense nervousness, it’s an automatic clue that this person doesn’t feel prepared enough for the job. You should sound like you’re able to handle whatever comes your way—hiring managers should hear, “I know I can do this job! I am going to let you in on the secret of why I’m so great,” in your voice! This is especially important in PR. Cold-calling and being on the phone is a huge part of the job, so the more comfortable you are during the phone call, the more confident people will be about your candidacy.

And lastly, instead of assuming why phone-screeners eliminated you from the running, be sure to ask for pointed feedback. Hopefully, they can be honest with you.

Best of luck to you!

Pat



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