Phone Interview Rule #2: Avoid the Police

Last week in my blog, I shared my Phone Interview Rule #1: Don’t Say Hello.

Overall, the feedback I received via the blog and LinkedIn was consistent with my recommendation. A couple of the responses made me (and some other people) think about things differently or simply scratch our head. I welcome the debate. Thank you for your continued feedback, stories, and recommendations.

On Tue 8/25, I am giving a presentation to the Virginia Career Network on How to Ace a Phone Interview, and I planning to share the feedback I am receiving on this topic. Afterwards, I will also share the recommendations from the audience on this blog. (As a side note, the Virginia Career Network is the largest MeetUp job networking group in the country, and if you are looking for a successful networking model to benchmark for your community, please let me know. I am happy to introduce you to the great professionals behind VCN).

Phone interviews are conducted to pre-screen candidates, and are often conducted by recruiters (internal and external to the hiring organization). Sometimes, phone interviews are conducted by the hiring managers themselves, even in large corporations as I can attest to on both sides of the conversation. So take the preparation for phone interviews seriously.

So what is my next recommendations for acing the very important phone interview?

Phone Interview Rule #2: Avoid the Police

A former boss shared with me a phone interview story I never forget. Years ago, he was negotiating the salary for the position he had just been offered. He was following the conversation closely knowing you only get one shot to negotiate your starting salary. The phone conversation was moving along well until he noticed the police sirens behind him. Granted, my boss was driving his car during this conversation.

So he abruptly ended the critical phone call with his new employer. He pulled over to the side of the road, searched for his license and registration, and rolled down the window.

“Sir, do you know why I pulled you over?”, the police officer asked.

My boss replied, “To be honest officer, I have no idea. I’m very sure I was not exceeding the speed limit.”

“You are correct sir. You were not speeding.”

The officer concluded, “I pulled you over sir because you just drove through a red light.”

It was at that moment that my boss said he started to shake because he had no recollection of what he had just done. He had become so engrossed in the phone interview, he essentially forgot he was driving an automobile.

A dangerous lesson learned for him and for all of us.

So what is the best way to avoid the police during a phone interview?

Don’t even consider conducting a phone interview (or any serious phone call) while operating a moving vehicle. You are putting your life and the lives of other drivers and passengers at risk. It is the conversation itself that is distracting, not the fact that you may be holding a phone in one hand. In my boss’ case, as I recall, he was using hands free bluetooth.

Just for the facts…driving while using a cell phone is the fourth leading voluntary risk factor for automobile fatalities (The top 3 are: 1. Driving without a seat belt; 2. Driving with a blood alcohol level at the legal limit for 30 min; and 3. Driving a small car).

Back to job interviews.

Here are some other smart ways you can establish the right environment for your call:

1. Locate yourself in a quiet area to answer the phone.

I will never forget a phone interview I conducted with a candidate who had a dog barking in the background the entire time. Eventually I had to ask, “Is that your dog?” The candidate responded, “Yes, it is. He barks a lot when I close the door.” So I immediately started to think about all the quiet places he could have gone for 30 minutes. Simply outside would have been better than inside with the dog. Granted, I did not rule out the candidate because of the dog, but the memory did stick with me.

2. Turn off call waiting on your phone.

I made that mistake once before interviewing for a job even though I did not dare pick up the other line. It was the fact that the annoying little tone you hear that there is another call coming in, is often audible to the person on the other line. And it does interrupt your thought process and discussion.

3. Invest in a hands free phone headset.

You need to have both hands free for the phone interview so that you can take notes and quickly reference the right documents (more on that in this blog series).

4. Test the hands free headset.

I remember one time I was on vacation and a phone interview opportunity opened up. I had my cell phone with me but no hands free device. I found a nearby Walmart and purchased a $10 headset. I then tested the headset by calling a friend. The friend notified me it was hard to hear the conversation. I then returned the headset to Walmart and purchased a $20 headset. Problem solved.

I look forward to your comments.

Stay tuned for my next blog entry in this series:

Phone Interview Rule #3: The Truth is Out There


Brent Peterson is the founder of Interview Angel (, a comprehensive guide and toolkit to executing near flawless job interviews. The goal of the Interview Angel Team is to bring out the very best in every job seeker. Discover customer testimonials, upcoming events, and media interviews at

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