10/20/2014 05:08 pm ET Updated Dec 20, 2014

The 5 Biggest Phone Interview Blunders and How to Avoid Them

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It goes without saying that a large number of recruiters use phone interviews to determine which applicants are qualified enough to bring in for an in-person interview. As a Millennial Career Consultant, I work with organizations and applicants each week and can tell you, there are many opportunities for a miss-step in a phone interview. I would even dare to say there are more opportunities to majorly screw up your chances of scoring the position in a phone interview than with an in-person conversation.

Here are five of the biggest blunders I witness on a regular basis on phone interviews.

This is the most frustrating element of a phone interview for recruiters: when an applicant gets on the line and it's clear they have not read the job description. Now, don't get me wrong, some job descriptions are as confusing as trying to follow every character arc of Game of Thrones, but you should at least try to understand the basics of the position and know what the day-to-day responsibilities are going to be. I once interviewed a woman, who lived in Nashville, who had no idea that the position we were discussing was in New York (it was on the very top of the job listing).

The same idea goes for researching the company before the call. I can almost guarantee the question "So what do you know about the company?" will come up. Answer with "I don't know" and there's a chance you'll get the dreaded "It's not me, it's you" e-mail from a company. I'll admit, there have been times when I didn't quite understand exactly what the company did when I interviewed with them, but a simple Google search gave me a general idea. When in doubt, I would go to LinkedIn, find someone who worked there, and shoot them a message asking more about the organization. When all else fails, e-mail the recruiter before the interview with something like:

"Hi [Recruiter Name],
I am so excited and honored that I will have opportunity to discuss the _____ position with you on Friday. While preparing for this conversation, I was hoping to gain more insight to the company and its culture. Could you direct me where to locate detailed background on the company? "

It's humbling to admit that you applied for a position with a company with which you are unfamiliar, but it's better than getting all the way to the phone interview to find out the company owns cattle farms and you're a die-hard vegan.

Here's a checklist to make sure you're prepared for the phone interview:
  • Print a copy of the Job Description
  • Do you understand the basics of this position?
  • Are you qualified to do this job- be very honest with yourself here
  • Know the location of the position
  • Are you cool with relocating?
  • If so, will you need relo-assistance?
  • Dig deep into the company history
  • What do they do? Who do they have ties with? (I once unknowingly applied to a company owned by an ex-boyfriend's father---AWWWKWWAAARD!)
  • Be prepared with questions you may have regarding the position

Often people don't associate a phone interview as being as important as an in-person one, so they schedule it for a time that truly isn't conducive for them to discuss the position. And guess what? Your recruiter can hear it in the background noise and in the sound of your distracted voice. I've heard it all- dogs barking, driving in the car, ballet recitals (seriously, the guy was stepping away from his kid's recital to take the call), sitting in the dentist's waiting room, even someone who took the call from their cubicle and had to pause anytime management walked by.

When the recruiter calls/e-mails you to schedule the call, give them a time when you are completely free of distractions, when you can seclude yourself in a quiet space and focus solely on the call. The reason? Outside of the fact that it's plain rude to be distracted or have a ton of background noise on a call, it's also for your protection. The call may involve the need for you to discuss things such as your rate of pay, why you were terminated from a prior position, or other sensitive topics you may not want the lady sitting next you at the dentist office to hear -- unless you're one of those TMI people, in that case, share away!

Just...Don't! Yes, I can hear you typing in the topic when I ask you a question. I can hear the pause in your voice and when you ask me to repeat the question 5 times in an effort to stall. Believe me, I'm on to you. It's better to simply say "I'm not sure of the answer" or "I'm not familiar with the topic" rather than to click on the ever-knowing search engine for guidance.

You're not expected to be an oracle, if you simply need a refresher on certain topics, research them before the call. Remember, there's a good chance the topic will come back up in the in-person interview and you surely wouldn't break out your phone and start searching away!

I witness it more than ever, especially in us Millennials -- the applicant asks the recruiter a specific question about the position that the recruiter doesn't have the answer to. Cue the applicant writing off the whole conversation. Saying things such as "You probably won't know the answer to this..." or "I know you're just the recruiter, but..." will not help your chances in moving forward. In many organizations, the recruiter is the first line of candidate decision-making, that means they are the ones who determine who the hiring manager will even see. While they may not be a subject matter expert in your specific field, their job is to determine if your skill-set matches the hiring manager's preferences and often, to see if you're a "right-fit" for the company culture.

Even if the recruiter can't answer a specific question for you on the phone interview, they can interpret how you respond to that as a reason to not move you forward. If the question is so pertinent that you can't continue living without the answer, then ask the recruiter what you could do to obtain the answer. Remember, the recruiter is not just recruiting for this particular position, but usually up to 20-30 others, so cut them some slack.

Think of it this way -- have you ever been on a date where you weren't sure how the other person felt, then an hour later -- PING! You get a text saying what a great time they had? Thank you e-mails are pretty much the same thing. An interview isn't just the company interviewing you, but also you interviewing them, and a Thank You note lets the company know you're all in. Phone interviews are no different, but people often forget to send a note afterwards. So get a leg up on your competition and send a quick note to say you're still interested in the position and look forward to hearing from the recruiter soon. This is the cherry on top of an awesome interview sundae!

So there you have it, the five biggest mistakes candidates make on phone interviews. Have any others you'd like to add? Drop them in the comments below -- I'd love to hear from you!