Pop quiz: When you answer questions in a phone interview, which answer would hurt you the most?
(A) “Um…I’m not sure…”
(B) “I hated to leave that job. My boss was my BFF.”
(C) “That customer was a pain in the @$$, but I won him over.”
(D) All of the above.
The correct answer is (D).
In job interviews, the language you use can make or break your chances—and that’s even more true in a telephone interview, where your voice is all they have to focus on. Your conversation must be professional. That means:
FREE Training - How to Answer Interview Questions
- No using “um”, “uh,” or other speech fillers. If you need to stop and think before you answer, then stop and think. A pause is fine. Nervously filling that pause with “umm….” Is not. It’s distracting and
etracts from the professional image you’re trying to project. Most people use speech fillers like “um,” “uh,” “you know” and “like” even more than they realize—especially in high-pressure situations like interviews. Record yourself answering interview questions so you can determine if you need to work on eliminating those very annoying speech fillers.
- No weak language. Weak words and phrases will kill your offer because they cast doubt on your ability to do the job well. I coach candidates all the time to avoid saying things like, “I think,” “I hope,” “with luck,” or “if it goes well.” Some people qualify their statements with phrases like these because they don’t want to seem cocky. But what they’re really doing is making themselves seem weak and not up to the job. Practice saying, “I can,” “I will,” and “I do.” That shows confidence. Confidence is appealing.
- No slang. Avoid using any kind of slang words or expressions. It doesn’t make you look young or hip; it just makes you look unprofessional. You should be putting your best foot forward in the interview, and that includes your language.
- No questionable language. Never, ever use swear words in an interview, even mild ones. I once had a candidate (because she was nervous) say “crap” 3 times in her interview—and she lost the job. Use your best manners.
- No sarcasm. Avoid sarcasm or even jokes in phone interviews. Even if it seems awkward and you feel that you must break the ice, don’t do it with a joke. They can’t see your facial expression or body language, so you can’t be sure that what you mean is what they hear. Play it safe.
It can be more difficult than you think to watch your language in an interview. A lot of these things just roll right off our tongues without us even thinking about it. And when we’re in a high-pressure situation like an interview, it happens even more.
Your best bet to avoid these issues is to practice answering interview questions, or role-play your interview with a friend or an interview coach. The practice will help you be more aware of what you do so you can fix it, and it will help you be more comfortable so you don’t slip up.
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