Solving, Not Selling, is the Key to Exceptional Phone Interviews

Survival of the fittest isn’t just the big idea underlying evolution. It is also a powerful metaphor for phone interviewing. According to Darwin, the species that survived environmental challenges solved a problem in its environment. It was scientifically primed to solve the problem. The species that did not evolve, was terminated.

What can Darwin teach us about phone interviewing?

Prepare, listen and articulate how you are a tool to solve their toughest problems.

Is this a solution consultant or a problem solver on a phone interview? Any difference?

Nowadays, phone interviewing is the ubiquitous way to winnow a field of candidates. If you don’t know to adapt to this environment, you will find yourself weeded out.

Solving their problem is key to a winning phone interview

Paul Bailo collected hundreds of data points on phone interviewing, and with a sophisticated scoring model, quantified the factors to help you ace the phone interview. Mojo40 presents his key takeaways for performing an exceptional, memorable phone interview:

1. The phone screen is not about selling, it is about solving the most challenging problems faced by that organization. This runs counter to everything you’ve been told. In fact, what you are looking for during the conversation is the open-ended answer to “Tell me about your problem.”

2. Once you’ve learned what challenges keep execs awake at night, set yourself up as the tool they need to solve their problems. Project yourself as the problem-solver on a fundamental level.

3. Keep in mind the two reasons why someone would hire you. Either they see you as the key to making more money. Or the key to saving money. So put the bait on the hook by thinking through in advance how your skills will help them make more money or cut costs. Say, “My expertise allows you to sell something in half the time, for example, when I shortened the sales cycle by two weeks. May I ask a few questions to clarify what your sales cycle looks like?”

4. Ask knockout questions. What’s a knockout question? One that reflects the fact that you think. Questions that show you have studied their business, you understand their positioning, and you are keenly interested in what their next steps are to stay ahead of the competition. The scoring model shows that world class questions are hands-down one of the biggest factors in whether or not you ace the phone interview.

5. Use vivid language. Make yourself clear and memorable. Maybe even poetic. For example, don’t say “As a Marketing Manager, I was responsible for lead generation.” Instead, “I was the key individual for engaging prospects. With hustle and verve, I created a lean, mean lead generation machine that produced 200-250 leads per week.”

6. Say how you feel with emotive words. I am excited… I am passionate… I am energized… Put emphasis behind the words you choose. Exercise your voice muscles so that your voice becomes a call to action.

7. Be in the moment. Really listen, don’t just drift into thinking about your next comment. If you do a good job of listening and thinking, then you will speak with greater mastery.

7 scientifically proven ways to prepare yourself for the phone interview

Research conducted by Phone Interview Pro ( shows that the first 15 seconds will make or break your interview. Here are 7 tips to help you be in a position of strength for those first 15 seconds.

1. Get dressed for success, and wear the clothes and makeup that you’d wear if you were in that role. Just by dressing up, you will gain a 17% greater advantage.

2. Have the job description in front of you.

3. Clear the clutter on your desk, so you can focus on what is being said.

4. Turn off call waiting, so you can speak ad hoc, without distraction.

5. Have your stories at hand to support any claims you make.

6. Talk to a photo of the person on the other end of the line. Act as if the person is in the room with you.

7. Do nice things for other people even before you start the interview. Those who do nice things for others close to the time of the phone interview, rate better.

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons, nznationalparty

Note: Mojo40 does not receive any compensation or advantage by recommending the services of Phone Interview Pro, but Paul Bailo has kindly offered to award one free evaluation to a Mojo40 blog commenter. Who would like the freebie? Tell us why you merit a phone interview skills evaluation below, and we will announce the winner in next week’s post.

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Did you enjoy this post?
  • debola

    I love the final point re: prepping for a phone interview. In a face to face interview I am truly energized by the interactions I have with people on the way in to an office – greeting people at security desk, chatting with the receptionist, etc. It’s important to somehow replicate that energy without the face-to-face contact. I see the correlation between interview success and doing something nice for someone. You’re putting yourself in problem “solved” mode just before launching into a pitch on how you’ll solve your potential employer’s challenges.

  • Ellen R.

    For Phone Interviews, use a land line (not cell) for clarity; stand up during the Interview to give yourself more presence and confidence; and keep a list of your special skills in front of you, to repeat.

  • Sara D

    Great post! Problem solving is the key to selling yourself, and research is critical for understanding the challenges that a company faces within their evolving industry.

    • Diane Dolinsky-Pickar

      Exactly. Research is the twin brother of problem solving!

  • Lenore Neier

    What I particularly liked about the post is that it elevates the phone interview to a more significant part of the process. I think that because we are in our homes, we are more relaxed and that extra adrenalin rush can make a difference in how we come across. I will say that I am in the nonprofit communications sector, and it’s a lot harder for me to quantify my accomplishments. That’s been a challenge overall.

  • Elke R

    I very much enjoyed reading this post. Its content has extremely helpful points how to survive the phone interview process from home (I agree using a land line and clear the “clutter” around your workdesk). Keep up the valuable postings!

  • Paul O’Connor

    Paul Bailo shares great content as reflected in his advice above. I had the pleasure of hearing him in person and must say that his “manner of speaking” was very impressive. My aspiration is to hone that skill that he so effectively demonstrates.

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