Five Tips for the Perfect Phone Interview

Five Tips for the Perfect Phone Interview


As one of Social@Ogilvy’s recruiters, I’ve come across a lot of different individuals.  Some of the meetings have been in person; others have been over the phone. For brevity, I’m going to jump right into five tips for the perfect phone interview.

They are:

1)   Do research on the company and the person you’re going to speak with.

You want to come across as “the candidate who goes the extra mile.” This means discuss a few of the clients/campaigns that the company you’re interviewing with has done/is doing that impress you. There is a fine balance of knowing the company’s working ideology and not having anything creative to say when asked, “Why would you like to work here?” The standard, “Because it’s a great company,” no longer has the same ring to it, especially when I hear it 15 times a day.

When a candidate does research on our company/division and says something like, “Oh, the campaign you guys did on client XYZ really impressed me because it showed ABC,” that gets you extra marks on the phone screen. And when interviewing with a hiring manager, you should look them up on Linkedin and peek at their career path—this also sets you up for a few icebreakers at the start of the interview.

2)   Be enthusiastic and energetic.

The best phone screens I’ve done are with candidates who are happy to be on the phone, speaking to me about their experience in social. Think about it, social media isn’t that old, and if you’re burnt out already, it’s not a good idea to keep pursuing a job in the industry. When I jump on a call and hear a monotonous person on the other end, I think three things: 1. Did this person just wake up? 2. Is this my karma for cutting in line at Starbucks?  3. Is this someone I’d put in front of a client?

People don’t realize that a phone screen is to assess the candidate on various levels. If a person isn’t excited about the possibility of a new job with our Social@Ogilvy team, why did they agree to speak with me?

Now, I don’t want to be on the phone with Little Mary Sunshine either, it’s finding that balance of subject matter expertise, professionalism + enthusiasm that gets you to the next level.  And make sure you maintain that level of enthusiasm throughout the entire interviewing process—so many times, I receive feedback from hiring managers on people’s low energy level during an interview. (It’s pretty hard to recover from that first impression)

3)   Take the “we” out of your language. Talk about what YOU accomplished.

I’m not sure when we converted to the “we” way of thinking, maybe in the ninth. grade, when Mrs. Huddleston gave you back your personal essay with all the red marks around the “I’s,” which left you scared to talk in the first person. But when on a phone screen or interview, you want to ignore the rule, this isn’t ninth grade, and Mrs. Huddleston is retired and lives in Boca. I need to know what YOU have accomplished, not the team… and I’ll tell you why. When I get briefed on a new role and start the recruiting process, I’m given a job summary that might include “managing budgets” or “experience in conversation maps.”

When I asked you about your experience and you respond with, “ We did manage the Facebook apps budget and conversation maps for XYZ client,” I need to know what YOU did specifically, because I want to make sure I’m setting you up for success. If you have never managed a budget, and the

role calls for four years managing budgets, it might not be a fit, but by speaking in terms of “I,” you might talk yourself into another role that I may be working on.


Nando: Tell me about your experience managing budgets.

Candidate: Well, that’s something we definitely did and excelled at.

Nando: So you, yourself, were responsible for managing the budget for the client?

Candidate: Well, no, I only included the budget on my weekly reports—but I worked closely with the person who managed the budgets.

The candidate should have said “I myself don’t have budget-managing experience, but I did work closely with the person doing them, and what I did excel in was producing the final reports that included the budget, and I also allocated weekly resources for the team.” At this point, I’d see they’re not a fit for the role I initially contacted them for, but they might be “just right” for another one I’m working on.

The above response incorporates the next tip, which is the “no, but” technique in interviewing—which will always work out for you in the long run!

4)   Use the “No, but” technique. If you haven’t done something,  just say so, but follow up with what you have done.

There are several times when I’m interviewing someone and I ask a specific question like, “Have you worked on a CPG client?” And the candidate responds with a sad “No.” I mean, literally, the person’s demeanor changes and dark clouds appear around my desk. Instead, clearly state that you don’t have that specific piece of experience like “working on a CPG client” or “running blogger influencer projects” but tell me what else you have done in that area.


Nando: Do you have experience working on CPG clients?

Candidate: I don’t, but I have great experience working on “b2b + technology” clients, and I’m excited to learn CPG.

Make the “no, but” technique work to your advantage.

5)   Look at the job description and talk the same language. For example, if the job description uses the phrase “social media,” call it “social media,” not “new media.”

I had a conversation with someone applying for a role who kept mentioning her experience with “new media.” Twenty minutes into the conversation, I asked, “What are you referring to when you say new media?” She responded with, “You know, Twitter, Facebook, and Youtube.”

There’s a saying that comes in handy when interviewing, “When in Rome.” You want to use the same terminology that the company is using.  Again, it shows that you’ve done research, but also that you are ready to jump on the “team” bandwagon.

There isn’t a direct formula for getting a job in todays’ economic times, but you want to have an advantage from the other candidates. Makes sure to keep these tips in mind on your next interview—especially if interviewing with me.


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Nando is the senior social media recruiter for Social@Ogilvy's team. Learn what makes him tick by following him on twitter @NandoRecruit