5 Phone Interview Mistakes You Must Avoid

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This article is part of our Video Game Job Hunt Guide. Read the full guide to learn how to write a strong resume, build a winning portfolio, ace your job interviews and more.

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The phone interview is your “movie trailer” to make them hungry for the feature film.

The phone interview is your first and best chance to make a strong personal impression. Think of it as a “movie trailer” for your career, rather than the feature film: You want to mention the coolest things you’ve done, but only at a very high level. And you want to build a ton of interest and excitement in the short time you have.

Unfortunately, because they’re so short – usually only 20 to 30 minutes – there’s no time to recover if you stumble. Avoid these top 5 mistakes that will cause hiring managers to give you two thumbs down during your phone interview.

Mistake #1: Poor, uhh, Communication Skills. And Stuff.

One of the key things a hiring manager looks for is good communication skills. Can you explain yourself clearly? Can you make your points effectively? Can you speak concisely?

Good verbal communication is super important in team-based, highly-collaborative game studios. If you can’t communicate well in person, it’s hard to work efficiently with a team. During your phone interview, you can demonstrate good communication skills by keeping these things in mind:

  • Speak clearly. Make sure you’re speaking directly into the phone. Speak confidently. It will help if you sit up straight in your chair, and take a nice big lung-full of air before answering each question. Some people find that it helps to do the interview standing up instead of sitting down.
  • Pace yourself. Interviews are stressful, and stress causes you to talk too quickly. Fight the urge by remembering to sloooow doooown. Try recording your phone interview and listening to it afterward, to see whether you’re talking too fast.
  • Don’t “um”, “like”. A lot of people are uncomfortable with silence, so we’ve developed a habit of saying things like “um” while we’re thinking about what to say next. Don’t! It’s okay to be silent for a couple of seconds while you’re thinking. Silence is better than mumbling. For some people, this is a hard habit to break. The best strategy is to eliminate “um” and “like” from your vocabulary completely, in all of your conversations. Then you won’t be tempted when you’re in an interview.
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Mistake #2: Drowning Them in Detail

You’ve done a lot of things in your schooling or your career that you’re proud of, and you want to share every exciting detail with your interviewer, right? Wrong. You only have 20-30 minutes, so if you go into too much detail then you’ll run out of time. Not a good first impression.

Remember to think of the phone screen as the “movie trailer” for your career, rather than the feature film. As tempting as it may be, do not go into detail unless the interviewer specifically asks you to do so. Save the exciting details for the feature film: the on-site interview.

Mistake #3: Poor Attentio… Squirrel!

During the years that I’ve been giving phone interviews, I’ve been shocked at how distracted people can get. I’ve had people stop in the middle of interviews to let their cats in, tend to their crying babies, and even put their phones down while they merged onto the freeway!

Your brief time on the interview is too precious to waste. Focus your attention by making sure your environment is 100% distraction-free:

  • Tend to your pets before the call, and get them out of the room.
  • Make arrangements to have somebody watch your children while you’re on the call.
  • Let your roommates know that you’re on a call so they won’t make noise or distract you. Better yet, do it when they’re not around.
  • Make the call from somewhere quiet, safe and distraction-free. Definitely not while driving!

Mistake #4: Missing or Unfocused Sales Pitch

Any interview is your chance to give your sales pitch to a potential employer, and the phone interview is no exception. The last thing you want is to hang up the phone with a sense that you didn’t convince them you’re amazing and would be a great fit for their company!

  • Write down, on paper, the 3 major points of your sales pitch and have them in front of you during the call
  • At the start of the call, mention to the interviewer that there are 3 major points that you’d like to discuss
  • Have a clock in front of you so you can keep an eye on the time
  • Halfway through the call, if it doesn’t seem like you’ll get through all the points, then re-focus and try to move things along so you can get through everything
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You may not get through all of your points, especially if the hiring manager isn’t a great interviewer and ends up doing most of the talking. But do your best to keep the conversation moving forward, and you’ll do a lot better than if you were just winging it.

Mistake #5: Clueless About the Company

Fact: Companies want to hire people who are fans. Not just people who want a job or who are passionate about making games – people who want a job at this company and are passionate about making games at this company.

You must convey your deep interest in their company in particular. So you have to prepare. Do your research. Know a lot about their company. Care about their games. Know what makes them special, and how you can personally contribute to make them even more special.

  • Google the company. Read about any recent news or exciting announcements. This might give you an opportunity to congratulate them on a recent release, or ask informed questions about their business activities.
  • Google the interviewer. If you can find out who’s interviewing you, find out a little bit more about them. What other companies have they worked for? What games have they personally made? This will help you tailor your message.
  • Play their games! Not only will it help you decide whether you want to work there in the first place. It will also save your bacon if they ask you interview questions like “Which of our games are your favorite and why,” or “In our game XYZ, what feature would you add to make it more fun?”

Sound hard? It’s a lot of work, but you can do it. You’ll get better with practice. Nothing will guarantee two thumbs up like a well-produced and well-acted “movie trailer for You”.

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Image: ponsulak/freedigitalphotos.net

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2 comments on “5 Phone Interview Mistakes You Must Avoid
  1. Denise says:

    I have a mild hearing problem that I can normally work around in real life, but makes phone calls really bad. Even family members will have to repeat themselves 3-5 times sometimes.

    What advice would you give if someone wishes to have a phone interview with me? I can warn them about the problem in advance, but what if they still want to do it?

    • Jason W. Bay says:

      Hi Denise, yes just let them know that you have a hearing problem so please speak loudly and expect that you might ask them to repeat themselves occasionally. It shouldn’t be a problem. Also, if you don’t already have a phone that is loud enough then you might want to get some hardware that will boost the audio so you can hear it better.

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