The Art of the Tele-interview – 20 Hints

September 7, 2012
Ok, you have to talk with someone you do not know about what you are working on. What do you do?
1. Do not just call! Prepare first. Who is this? What are you trying to learn from her: data, where to get a report, a lead to someone else?
2. Figure out where to contact this person. Where is her office? Just because she works for MegaGlobe Corp does not mean she necessarily works at the HQ. Use LinkedIn to figure out where she is.
3. Look him up in LinkedIn, or any other social network, and see if, just possibly, you are linked to him. If so, consider using that link. Also, review his background. Know to whom you are speaking. Anything in common can be used to make the conversation more casual and more productive.
4. When you call, be prepared to tell a gatekeeper who you are and why you are calling. And keep it short.
5. When you call, be prepared to talk immediately. If perchance you get her right away, start. That means you do not start calling when you cannot complete your call/interview without interruption. Trust me – if you try and reschedule it after you have gotten started, your chances of completing it fall substantially.
6. If your interviewee is not available at that very moment, ask for a time when you can call back – and keep that appointment (BTW, your odds are about 50-50 that you will be able to talk on that second call.)
7. If he is not interested in talking with you about your topic, ask if there is someone else he can direct you to. If so, get the name – and direct dial – and ask if you can say that he referred you. If so, that raises the odds you will be able to get through and complete the interview.
8. Do not lie about who you are. You do not have to give your resume, but you are not a “student” calling for help with a paper (BTW – if you do that, not only is it unethical – if you actually get something, it will be the kind of junk she should give to a student).
9. Move quickly into your conversation. This is not about you. It is about him. Be clear about why you are calling.
10. Mention where and how you got her name. Was it from an article, an interview, from an industry contact? Doing that puts you closer to the person you are speaking to.
11. Visualize speaking to him when you are in the same room. Do not call him “Bill” if he answered the phone “William”.
12. If he has a title (Professor, etc.), us it until you are told you can skip it.
13. Use open-ended questions, unless you are seeking to confirm a couple of very specific facts. Even so, be friendly – this is a conversation, not an interrogation.
14. Do not read from a list of questions. You voice will communicate that. And the interview will quickly end.
15. If you asked for 5 minutes, keep it to 5 minutes. When the time is up, thank her. If she wants to keep chatting, let her.
16. Smile while you are on the phone. Your voice will reflect that. Be casual, relaxed and listen to what he says. Respond with open-ended questions and positive comments to keep it moving.
17. Always say thanks. He did not have to talk with you.
18. If appropriate, offer to return the favor. And, if called on, do so.
19. Consider adding her to your contact network. Don’t have one? Start one.
20. As soon as you are done, type your notes. Allow as much time to do that as you spent on the phone. Oh, in case you were thinking — do not record any of these conversations. Why? We do not need to get into that mare’s nest right now.

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