July / August 2017

Acing the Photo Interview

David G. Smith

Hi David, I've had a few phone interviews recently, but I never go any further in the process. What am I doing wrong?

For most candidates, a phone interview is the first real point of contact with the company, and should be taken as seriously as an on-site interview. The casual nature of a phone call, however, can lead to some traps. Let’s explore some tips and tactics.


Take time to research the organization and ensure you have a good grasp of the job description. Know what is on your résumé; it will be the basis for many of the questions you receive. Be ready to explain your work history and to discuss specific experiences and skills. (Note: For more detailed interviewing recommendations, read my column in the May-June 2017 issue of Pharmaceutical Engineering.)

Conduct the interview in a location where you won’t be distracted or interrupted. Choose a place in which you would typically work, such as a home office—a professional setting will help you rise to the occasion. Try to avoid a casual environment like your car or a park bench. Use a land line if possible. If you must use a mobile phone, make triple sure that you are in an area with good signal strength.

Prepare questions that you want to ask and prioritize them based on their importance to you. Stay away from any discussion of benefits, starting salary, and the like. If the process progresses, there will be time to address these.

Do a dry run with a friend to see if your setup works. Get feedback on the quality of the connection, cadence of your voice, and energy level. Ask if there were any background noises or other distractions—phone microphones can pick up sounds you might not notice. It is also a good idea to practice referencing your résumé and other documents.

“A phone interview should be taken as seriously as an onsite interview”

The Interview

Your interview will probably last about 30 minutes, so be concise with your answers on basic questions about schedule requirements, travel, relocation, the reason for leaving your current position, and how quickly you could transition into the new role. The faster you can move through these, the more time you’ll have to discuss your qualifications. Have examples ready to showcase your transferable skills and explain how you work through challenges.

Perhaps the most difficult question to ask yourself is how well you communicate. Do you sound excited about the opportunity? Have you done your homework? Are you authentic? Are you easy to speak with? Your recruiter will evaluate these qualities closely.

Here are some additional tips:

  • Dress professionally. This can help you elevate the conversation and feel confident.
  • Don’t rely on a calendar invitation. Dates and time zones in email systems often fail to function properly. Confirm the date, time, duration, and phone number via email. Trust me—this one is important.
  • If a hiring manager or recruiter calls you at an unplanned time for an impromptu phone interview, don’t wing it. It is perfectly reasonable to say that you are not able speak freely and would like to schedule a time to connect. This will allow you to prepare appropriately and be at your best.
  • If you have trouble projecting your voice on the phone, print the interviewer’s LinkedIn picture and fix it at eye level to simulate speaking to a person.
  • Sitting too long in one place can lower your energy level, which might be reflected in your voice. Try taking a brisk walk before your call to raise your energy.
  • Take notes. Capture the questions you are asked. Mark your résumé to indicate areas of concern or value; you will need this information when preparing for future interviews. If the conversation touches on topics you want to discuss further, write them down.
  • Use a headset. This will allow you to take notes and reference documents more easily.

Before the call ends, ask about next steps, timing, and who will contact you. If all goes well, an onsite meeting might be scheduled while you’re still on the phone, so be prepared to talk about your availability—especially if travel would be required.

After The Interview

After you hang up, reflect on the conversation. What did you do well? Did you miss something in one of your responses? Did you feel comfortable in your environment? Assessing the interview can help you to understand how to improve your strategy next time.

Send a thank you note. Not only is this a great opportunity to thank the interviewer for taking the time to consider you, it is also a chance to reaffirm your interest in the position, add an important follow-up that you may have missed in an answer, attach a letter of recommendation, and emphasize your value statement. Keep it concise to ensure it is read.

Have another career question? Send me a note at, and I will try to answer it in a future column.