A few years ago, if I had a phone interview, it meant I was looking for a job. Then I published my first book, and as part of the publicity tour, I’ve been doing phone interviews with radio stations all around the U.S. The whole concept of “phone interview” changed dramatically, and I started to learn new lessons.
Here are the six lessons I’ve learned that are applicable to job interviews.
1. Do Recon.
As soon as I am booked to do an interview, I listen to other interviews by the radio host. I get a sense of his or her style and typical questions. Job interviewers don’t publish or stream their interviews, but you can still do recon on them. They may have a blog or other content on places like LinkedIn that give you clues to what they will ask you. Spending five minutes on Google is the best way you can prepare for your 30 minutes in a job interview.
2. Keep It on Track.
I had an interview with a radio talk show host who obviously had not read anything about me or my book. I could tell from my recon that his style was to ask general questions and trawl until he heard a keyword that was trending in the news that he wanted to run with. I had prepared and brought every answer to his generic questions back to my book. That is, until he asked me where I got my MBA. As soon as “Wharton” came out of my mouth, he pivoted to ask about a fellow Wharton alum named Trump who is running for president. At that point, I had to switch from playing offense (redirecting everything back to my book) to playing defense (avoiding talking about politics). After I deflected a few loaded questions, he thanked me and moved on. But by keeping it on track, I had kept eight of my 10 minutes in front of his audience as a pitch for my book. I have experienced similar situations in job interviews where interviewers got us far off track. By doing radio, I have learned to view interview airtime as a precious, fixed resource that I need to keep focused on my goal (e.g., getting hired or selling books).
3. Be the Straight Guy/Gal.
I did an interview with a radio show that covers business with a comedy bent. (Mental note: Any time I see two host names in an interview, I now suspect a comedy format.) I knew from my recon they would be smart and edgy funny. They started asking how they could apply the Leadership Matrix (the heart of my book) to other areas outside of leading teams at work—to their family, their friends and even past romantic partners. I have a sense of humor, so a few joke ideas popped into my head. But I knew that as soon as I offered my own joke, I would be making my content part of the joke instead of just serving as a springboard for them to introduce funny stories they wanted to tell. Besides, they are professional comedians and I would be an amateur stepping into an arena far out of my league. So I played the serious, but not-too-serious, content expert role they wanted, and that let me promote my book to their audience as much as possible. Looking back at job interviews I have had, I have seen similar situations where my interviewers cracked jokes that tempted me to break character. Maybe they did it on purpose to get a sense of my “at ease” personality. Maybe not. Either way, I’ve learned to be thoughtful with how I respond.
4. Answer in Empanada Style.
Most cuisines seem to have a variation of a food format that has a bit of meat in the middle of a bunch of dough packaged up in an easy-to-handle pocket form. Empanadas. Pierogies. Turnovers. Dumplings. Calzones. There must be a reason for the universal appeal. One key to good interviewing is to form your answers in the same way. When asked a question, set the boundaries of your answer (e.g., lay out the dough); make your point (e.g., put the meat in the middle); and sew it up in a short, easy to digest answer (e.g., fold and seal). Radio talk show hosts are trained to cut people off when they ramble because they know their audiences will tune out. If your answer doesn’t suggest a destination within several seconds, you may get cut off. If your answer rambles on for more than 30 seconds, you will get cut off. But if you answer the question by setting the context, making a point, and wrapping it up, you will give the host confidence that you aren’t rambling. The same holds for job interviews. Form your answers in easy to digest packages and you will control the interview and make your points.
5. Have Examples.
I wrote a book on leadership, so I should have been ready for a radio talk show host to ask me to name a leader I respected. But when asked live on the air, I drew a blank and was quite embarrassed. Maybe it was the worry about my Trump question in the interview the day before, but I deflected major damage with a, “We see leaders every day” answer. It was not my best radio moment, but it could have been if I just went back to my message—my book. I have been lucky enough to work with several leaders that made such an impact on me that I named them in the acknowledgments of my book. I could have filled that whole radio show with examples of great leadership from them. Going forward in job or book interviews, I will go back to my resume to recall examples I can use.
6. Have Your Elevator Speech.
When a radio interviewer says, “Tell me about yourself,” it probably means they haven’t read anything about you yet and they want to buy time to scan the information they have in front of them. Instead of being an awkward warm-up, you should view that as your chance to set the agenda, build rapport and spark interest for the rest of your interview. When your interviewer ends with “any parting thoughts you want to share,” it means they are done with the interview but want to give you a chance to end on a high note (radio hosts) or maybe reveal weaknesses (job interviewers) . Either way, you should seize this as your chance to pitch what you want them, or their audience, to take away from your interaction with them. Make sure you are ready to do it—succinctly and suddenly.
The original version of this post appeared on LinkedIn on Aug. 13, 2015.