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How to Handle the Unexpected Phone Interview

If you are in the midst of an active job search, at any point in the day you could receive a call from a prospective employer. Are you ready to take the call? Can you answer a few screening questions on the fly, or will you be caught flat-footed? Follow these tips to make an excellent impression even when you are caught unawares.

Unexpected Phone Interview (Photo: Chaloner Woods/Getty Images)

Your Digits
Give thought to the number you provide on your resume. If you have an irresponsible roommate or young kids who have not mastered phone etiquette, do not provide your home phone number. It’s unprofessional to give your work phone number. In most cases your cell phone number is the best.

Have you seen those ads on where impersonators will create a voicemail for you in the voice of Darth Vader or Bart Simpson?  That’s an example of what not to use as an outgoing message. Create a pleasant message that clearly identifies you. Speak in an upbeat cadence, but slow enough to be understood.

Hello? Can You Hear me?
If you are in a location with poor reception, it is better to let the call go to voicemail than to play the game of “Can you hear me now?” The same advice applies if you are in a place with distracting background noise.

Give Me a Second
The phone rings just as you take a huge bite of pizza. “Hang on a sec….chomp, chomp, gulp.” Or, the first sound the person hears is your music blasting. We all like the Biebs (maybe?); but it’s better to mute the music and swallow your food before you answer the call.

Ah, Sure, I Remember You
Even if you don’t remember applying to Vandelay Industries, fake it. Give the impression that you have been waiting for the call. In the impromptu call, the purpose is to quickly screen you and invite you to an interview. Therefore, you don’t need to have extensive talking points in a flash. You just need to be poised and articulate enough to show you meet the minimal requirements and are interested.

Taking a call with background noise or using poor connection is a major turn-off. It points to carelessness and lack of courtesy. On the other hand, taking a call when you have little or no distractions and can make a positive impression will likely land you an initial interview. So, when the phone rings, will you be ready?

Debra Wheatman is a certified writer and career coach who has guided the professional development of thousands of clients globally. She is reachable at

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