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The last time I searched for a job, I was unemployed, and I had half a dozen phone interviews as well as a few in person before I settled on an offer. Now, however, I'm currently employed. What is the proper etiquette for phone interviews? Should I schedule them for a time when I can be not working, for example, after hours? But will that even be possible, given most interviewers work similar hours as my current job? Schedule them for lunchtime and take the call from my car or similar private spot? What ends up being feasible in these situations?

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God, i remember a question very much like this...but i can't find it. I think it dealt with recruiters calling while the individual was at work. –  acolyte Aug 21 '12 at 18:34
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@mhoran_psprep The question isn't really a dup, but the answers on that one extend beyond the scope of the question into this one. –  Yamikuronue Aug 21 '12 at 18:37
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@acolyte - There is a slight difference between talking to a recruiter and doing a phone interview. In particular for a contractor (former is acceptable if kept short, latter is certainly not). –  Oded Aug 21 '12 at 18:38
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Are you trying to hide this job-seeking behavior from your current employer? That matters a bit... –  Rachel Keslensky Nov 29 '12 at 2:54
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7 Answers

up vote 18 down vote accepted

My process:

1 - don't be afraid to push. They'll push back if it's an issue, and you need to consider that this may not be the job for you. The phone screen is just a first contact most of the time, and you'll probably go through many of them. A quick 15 is no big deal, doing that 5 times in a week will have some serious impact on your work life.

2 - Gauge your regular job. Are you eager to get out? How dire are the circumstances that make you interview? What's the morale like in your company? Balance the tradeoff of work interruptions accordingly.

3 - Book off the time and obey your calendar - if you have to take a call over lunch, on break, or ad hoc during the day, block off your calendar with personal time, set your IM to "away" or "in a meeting" - make it clear you are having a do not disturb moment so people aren't desperately searching for you or overbooking you.

4 - Consider the privacy - in a perfect world, we'd all have offices with doors that close - but in reality, a massive amount of corporate workers are in cube farms with visual but not auditory privacy. Some environments are casual enough that interviewing at work is no big deal - but for most, hearing the guy in the next cube over do a phone interview will be distracting if not disheartening.

5 - Be aware of the net impact - don't let it drag down your work schedule - or if it does, make your boss aware that this is happening and take vacation time. You can tell him as much or as little as you please ("I need to take some personal time in small clumps for the next few weeks" or even "you can't give me the job opportunities I want, so I'm looking, I won't let it impact big stuff, and I'll take vacation as the need arises").

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Should I schedule them for a time when I can be not working, for example, after hours?

Schedule them for lunchtime and take the call from my car or similar private spot?

Yes to both points.

You should not be interviewing for a new job while doing your current one. If you must, take some time off for this.

This should be done off the clock.

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Everyone takes phone calls at work. This is just another phone call. Nothing wrong with talking to a potential employer during normal work hours as long as it is not a ridiculous and distracting amount of time. –  Angelo Aug 21 '12 at 18:54
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@Angelo - I would think that a phone interview would be both distracting and take a good amount of time. It is also not ethical to interview on your employers time and time. –  Oded Aug 21 '12 at 19:04
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I've had employers call me while on vacation and after hours, so they have blurred the lines between mine and their time. –  JeffO Aug 21 '12 at 19:10
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@Angelo - This entirely depends on the employer. Some employers are not so lenient and some do not have flexible working hours. –  Oded Aug 21 '12 at 19:32
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From my experience, if you're dealing with recruiters, they would usually go out of the way to make time with their potential recruits. So if your work day ends at 5 it's possible for them to stay a while longer if you can schedule a call after that time. –  Chris C Aug 21 '12 at 19:33
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I would schedule for evenings or after hours. Employers understand this and in my field, they're usually willing to make evenings available for phone screens.

I always tell people to avoid using mobile phones, but if there's no other option, take the call offsite in a quiet area. I've gone as far as to use a desk phone at another friend's office, or do it from my car.

From the employer's side, I've been asked to search phone records to determine if departed staff used company resources to conduct their job search. Not worth the risk.

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Evenings might be 5:30pm though. (I've done interviews at 8:30am for candidates as well as lunchtime.) Keep in mind that the people conducting the interviews are also employees and aren't going to want to disrupt their evening/time off for a phone screen. –  Jeanne Boyarsky Aug 22 '12 at 1:06
    
I've taken phone calls as late as 9:30pm (as an interviewee), as the interviewer was trying to be considerate of my daytime schedule. –  ewwhite Aug 22 '12 at 1:10
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I do phone interviews for work and we understand the practicalities of trying to look for a job while employed. We try to accommodate them as best as we can by offering lunchtime and after work interviews. There's no point discarding a potentially good candidate for something like this. In a sense, they are already a step up as the fact that they are employed shows they are employable. –  Burhan Ali Aug 22 '12 at 5:14
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@DavidNavarre Oh, it's just old-school interviewing technique. A land line sounds better and is less sensitive to dropped calls/interference. –  ewwhite Aug 22 '12 at 15:55
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The last time I had a phone screen on the sly while at the office, I did it in my car using my cell phone and a headset. The headset was essential; not only did it improve the sound in both directions, but it left my hands free to take notes. (Speaker phones are terrible; don't do that.) –  Monica Cellio Aug 26 '12 at 1:55
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You can start by asking if evening/weekend (or lunch-time) calls are possible. If so, great -- you're done.

If not, treat it the same way you would treat a doctor's appointment or any other personal matter. Some employers are fine with a certain amount of that; others expect you to use PTO or work late to make up the time. Follow your company's rules. Of course, you'll also want to find a private place to take the call, preferably off company property to avoid being interrupted or overheard.

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When I was looking for a new job I scheduled all my phone interviews between 8am and 9am. I took the calls at a little coffee shop around the corner from my work. I was always in the office before 9:30am, which was about when I showed up normally anyway.

When I couldn't get an interview for that time, I tried for during lunch hour. And if that didn't work, tried for after work.

If the new employer wants you, they will work something out with you. But always make sure you're not on your company's time when you do it. It shows the company you are interviewing with that you are professional even when looking for a new job.

Don't take the call at your work place even if it's outside of hours. All it takes is one rumor to make your work life that much less satisfying. If it is public knowledge that you are looking, then you live dangerously imho. You might find yourself without a job before you find a new one.

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As an employer, who is often on interview panels for telephone interviews, I would strongly suggest taking them just as seriously as a face-to-face meeting, if not more so.

A telephone interview is much more difficult than face-to-face; if any candidates are meeting face-to-face you will need to work extremely hard to build the same raport with the interview panel.

To maximise your chances of sucess, I would suggest minimising the risks.

While it is possible you might pop out from work at lunchtime for a physical interview, realistically, you'd take the afternoon (at least) off, to prepare and focus.

Similarly, you might be able to schedule a physical interview after hours, and its worth asking, but in practice if a panel is involved this might be challenging.

Trying to find a quiet spot, and using your cell (mobile) phone is also a problematic; I've lost count of the interviews we have terminated because of poor reception, background noise issues, or (most commonly) the applicants phone going flat. It creates a bad impression that is very hard to recover from.

So - I would strongly advise you to take the time off, be prepared, and call from home on a landline, as being the most risk-free strategy.

In addition, I would say that if you can use Skype, then do so, as the impact of being able to see each other is significant. However, make sure that you dress for the interview and have a landline and the contact number handy in case of dropped calls.

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One thing you need to do is avoid being seen/heard in a phone screening by your coworkers and supervisors. While many employers these days understand that workers move around more than in the past, some employers have been known to terminate "disloyal" employees who have been found to be job hunting. In other situations, management can make your life uncomfortable (I experienced this once when I was much younger and naive enough to be honest with my boss about what I was doing). Furthermore, if you use your employer's equipment (such as the telephone) for a phone screening, you run the risk of being charged for the call, or even terminated, for personal use of the organization's equipment.

If the distance between your home and work isn't too great, I recommend scheduling a firm time and taking the telephone interview from home. You might even be able to get a video conference interview this way, which will facilitate the communications. An intervew from home will (hopefully) allow you quiet and privacy and protect you at your current work. Furthermore, if you have a landline telephone at home, you should have a better quality connection. When I had a phone screening a few months ago I was on my home landline, but the other party was on a cell phone. He had a poor connection and a lot of background noise, so I had to ask him to repeat what he'd said several times - sometimes multiple times for the same question/statement (and sometimes I never could understand him).

If scheduling the phone screening for home isn't feasible, then I would recommend one of the options from one of the other answers, such as using your cell phone from a park or your car or some other place you can find that will be quiet and private.

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