I recently started the interviewing process to hire a new employee for my company. We received dozens of applications. I decided to conduct phone screens first to narrow down who would come in for in-person interviews. One thing I noticed about all the candidates was how anxious and nervous they were on the phone. As a career coach, my heart ached for a few who just couldn't get out of their own ways. I almost wanted to say, "Calm down, it's going to be okay." I did my best to let my voice help them relax. I was upbeat, gave them compliments, and tried to share a laugh or two with them so they felt they could be themselves. Of all the people I phone screened, only one knew how to make the initial interactions feel less awkward. It went like this:

ME: Thanks for taking the time to speak with me. Can you tell me what made you decide to apply for the position?

CANDIDATE: Yes, I was very excited about the job description. Social media is my passion and the idea of getting to do it every day would be a dream come true. In fact, I'm not normally nervous, but my excitement has me feeling that way a little bit on this call.

This candidate shared with me right out of the gate that he feared his enthusiasm might impact his performance in the interview. Without realizing it, he helped to manage my expectations so that if/when he said something that I might find a little off, I'd have a frame of reference as to why.

Phone Screens Are Harder Thank In-person Interviews, Here's Why...

Even for people who are naturally gifted at small talk with strangers, phone screens can make them feel uneasy because the process lacks a key component to good communication - being able to see the interviewer's non-verbal queues. When we can see a person's facial expressions, hand gestures, posture, and eye contact, etc., we're able to better read his or her personality. It's much easier to get to know people when you can see them. All that is lost when we do phone screens. No wonder they feel so intense!

P.S. - On Your Next Phone Screen, Pay Attention to Voice Tone & Speed

One way to try to get a sense of the personality of the hiring manager is to listen not just to what they say, but how they say it. Understanding their interaction style can shed some light on the type of person they are. At Work It Daily, we tell job seekers there are four interaction styles: Commander, Energizer, Contemplator or Empathizer. Each speaks in a tone and pace that can help you determine how to answer back. For example:

Commander - direct, fast-paced and serious in tone.

Energizer - upbeat, makes jokes, speaks with energy.

Contemplator - tactful, slower paced, calm tone.

Empathizer - thoughtful, likes to share personal details, speaks with empathy.

By identifying the style of the interviewer, you can focus your answers to connect better with them. For example, for a:

  • Commander - keep it short, factual and get to the point.
  • Contemplator - speak slowly and logically, don't jump around. 
  • Energizer - share your enthusiasm and passion.
  • Empathizer - show humility and how you like to support others.

With practice, you'll be able to assess and adapt your interaction style on the phone to connect with the hiring manager and put both of you at ease. But, until you do, don't be shy about managing their expectations and admitting to the nerves. It's more than likely they've got some too - most hiring managers don't enjoy interviewing either!