Saturday, October 21st, 2017

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Ace the Interview: In Person or On the Phone

This article is part of our 52 week journey through Bill’s latest book, “The Graduate’s Guide to Life and Money.” Each week, a full excerpt from his book will be presented from beginning to end. To get your copy of his book, visit www.TheGraduatesGuide.com.

We just completed our discussion on getting noticed by a hiring company. Now we’ll make sure you do everything right before, during and after the interview. This week we will look at what to do so you are prepared for your interview, whether it is in person or on the phone.

Thanks to your excellent resume, you are now getting calls by the dozens from companies that really want to interview you. Maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but you should be getting at least a few phone calls by now.

When you answer your phone, be polite and somewhat professional. In the event someone calls to set up an interview, you don’t want to answer your phone, “This is Bob, wussup?” If you have listed a landline phone shared by family members or roommates, let them know you may be receiving professional phone calls. It may be best to list your cell phone first on your application materials. The same professionalism applies to your voicemail. One of my college friends had a crazy voicemail message that greeted callers with, “Welcome to Bob’s house of torture.” Great for laughs from your friends, (well, at least from his friends) but not so great when a prospective employer calls. This is also important after you have your interview, and are waiting for that inevitable job offer. Again, you could use your cell phone as your primary contact number, and use a decent voicemail greeting.


Use the notebook you created while researching the companies you are applying to. It should be close to your telephone or nightstand, with a calendar and pen. That way you can easily recall to whom you are speaking, and when would be a good time to setup an interview. Get directions and confirm the date and time. If possible, ask who will be doing the interview, and get the proper spelling of his or her name.

In some instances, an employer may conduct a telephone interview. Usually this is nothing more than a pre-screening. They want to know if they are interested in you enough to have a face-to-face interview. If you receive a phone call and the person says they would like to conduct a telephone interview, use a stalling technique to catch your breath and find the company in your notebook. Just say, “Yes, that would be fine. If you don’t mind, I need to switch telephones,” or “Now would be a great time. I just need to set the groceries down so I can talk.”

The point is, you want to be as relaxed as possible, which is difficult when you are caught off guard. In the event you are having a telephone interview, remember these key points:

  • Do not chew gum, smoke, or chew your fingernails.
  • Remove yourself from distractions such as the television, radio, Chihuahua, etc.
  • If you tend to talk fast when you get excited, make a conscious effort to slow down. It is a little more difficult to understand someone over the telephone.
  • Sit down. It will make you less nervous.
  • Write down the contact information from the interviewer, including their name, title, telephone number, and email address (if necessary). Make sure you get the proper spelling of their name.
  • Get the name and number of their secretary/assistant if possible. Call him or her after the interview to confirm all spellings, etc. are correct.
  • Ignore call waiting.

If you are not having a telephone interview, or you had one and were asked to come in for a one-on-one, you need to be prepared. Have extra copies of your resume and your cover letter. You only need two copies of your cover letter. The first will be for your reference, and the second will be available to the interviewer in the event your original cover letter was lost.


You should have at least two copies of your resume for every interviewer, or a minimum of five (another reason to ask who will be interviewing you when you receive that first phone call, as you may be told there will be three or four interviewers). If you are told a committee of three will interview you, make six copies of your resume. This will allow you to distribute one copy to each member, in case they do not already have a copy, and have extras if they are needed.

You should arrive at the interview with a nice folder (such as one of those leather ones, or vinyl, but only if it is not cracked). Inside the folder have a notepad, two pens, and several copies of your resume. You should also have a list of questions prepared that you will ask the interviewer, as well as any relevant company data you may find useful during the interview. If you are traveling further away from home or from your hotel, you may want to bring a briefcase. Bring a soft briefcase, black, brown, or burgundy. Women should not carry a purse if they bring a briefcase. Choose one or the other. You are just there for an interview; you don’t want to look like you’re moving in.

I’m sure you are anxious to know what to wear to the interview, but first make sure you are presentable. Be clean and showered, but don’t go in smelling like you’re marinated in a bottle of cologne or perfume. You should smell nice, but your aroma should not be detectable from two blocks away. Some people are allergic to perfumes, and your interviewer may be one of them. Make sure your fingernails are clean and trimmed. Women should have their hair neatly styled and men should be cleanly shaven or have their facial hair neatly trimmed. (Women, if you need to neatly trim your facial hair, just close this book now. My advice will be of no use to you.)

Obviously, you don’t want to wear shorts and a t-shirt. To play it safe, think conservative. If you look into the mirror and think, “Wow, I am hot!” change your clothes. You aren’t going on a date, you’re interviewing for a job. Khakis and a button up won’t do the job, even if that’s what everyone at the office wears. You need to look professional, not office casual.

Men need to wear a suit. Dark colors such as black, navy blue, and charcoal gray work best. I prefer charcoal gray, but anything dark will do. You should use a white or light color shirt. Don’t use pastels, and don’t wear anything with stripes, if possible. Make sure your tie matches, but is not too flashy. Do not wear a tie with cartoons, wildlife, or words. Your socks should match your suit (black with black, blue with blue, etc.). Your shoes should be either black or brown, and should match your belt.

For women, a business suit is perfectly acceptable as well as a professional looking dress, or a skirt that is about knee length or longer. Whether a man or woman does the interview, you will make them feel uncomfortable if you show too much skin. Women should also wear dark colors such as black, gray, or navy blue. A dark brown suit is also perfectly acceptable. Avoid any jewelry that dangles, and avoid wearing too much makeup. A good rule of thumb is less is better (except for the skirt).

Next week we will look at how to begin your interview and ensure you arrive on time.

Bill Pratt is a former credit card executive turned student-advocate. He is the author of Extra Credit: The 7 Things Every College Student Needs to Know About Credit Debt & Ca$h and The Graduate’s Guide to Life and Money. Bill speaks at colleges to educate and entertain students about real-life issues in money, leadership, and success. His goal is to help students succeed personally and financially so they can improve the lives of those around them. You can learn more at www.ExtraCreditBook.com or www.TheGraduatesGuide.com.

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