Telephone interviews, references and repercussions of being fired

Dear Joan,

What advice can you give me on telephone interviews? This is a process I’m going through soon with a company I want to work for, and they want to do a 20-30 minute telephone inquiry, to see if there is a need to meet person to person and continue the interview process. 

I feel confident in answering any type of question. I have also made some visual signs; for example, “no um’s,” “smile,” and a big letter’d “RELAX!” If there is any advice you can give me, it would be appreciated. 


Your preparation is well-intentioned but may not help you. The interviewer won’t be particularly concerned with a few “um’s” but he or she will be very interested in the answer to a few screening questions. 

You may be very confident about answering job-related questions but are you equally prepared to answer the questions: “How much money are you looking for?” or “Why are you leaving your current job?” These are two of the questions you can expect. 

The purpose of a phone interview is:

  • Do you meet the basic qualifications of the job?
  • Are your pay requirements within the company’s ability to pay?
  • Do you sound as if you have a personality that fits the job environment?
  • Do you have a checkered work record? 

You are not going to have a comprehensive interview. Your signs are fine but I’d rather see you put some notes on paper that can be a guide for tough questions. The beauty of a phone interview is that you can refer to your notes as much as you want.  

For each of the items above, write down some key bullet points you want to make. Don’t read word for word from your notes, since you don’t want to sound scripted. Don’t forget to ask a few questions of your own, so if you do get an interview, you’ll be able to use this “research” to prepare your notes for the second round. 

Dear Joan,

I’ve been working in R&D for the past two years. Previously, I was working in two biomedical devise companies. I’ve contacted one of my former QC [Quality Control] supervisors, who says he can give me a good reference in my job hunting. I’m working on getting the QC supervisor from the other biotech company to be my reference. In the past both supervisors were my references. 

My question pertains to my current supervisor at the R&D biotech company. She has been my supervisor for 1.5 years. It has not been a smooth road with her. Previous to this job, she has never been a supervisor. Consequently, I’ve had unpleasant experiences with her managing style and the way she interacts with me. I don’t feel comfortable asking her to be my reference.  

Would it be a red flag if my reference for the R&D job is one of the Research Assistants in my group, rather than my immediate supervisor? Secondly, if I don’t want my current employer to know I’m job hunting, is it acceptable and reasonable to request that my current employer not be contacted? Thirdly, how do I get around not having to put my current supervisor’s name on the application? 


Your past two supervisors must have given you a good reference in the past, because you got the job you currently have based on their recommendations. You’re smart to tap them again, since your relationship with your current boss isn’t very positive.  

On the application, where it asks for your current supervisor’s name, write, “Please don’t contact my current employer—unaware I’m job hunting.” Other employers honor that request.  

As long as you have two former supervisors as references, using a Research Associate shouldn’t raise any red flags. In fact, you can position it like this, “Here are my references…As you can see, the first two are my former supervisors and the last one is a current Research Associate, so you can also get a picture of how I interact with those who work with me. It’s okay to contact her but not my boss, who doesn’t know I’m looking.” 

Dear Joan,

I’m pursuing a job opportunity at an organization that works with my previous employer. How do I make a smooth transition from one to the next? The process of the position is in its initial stages and I would want to actively decide if this is the right fit without outside interference. I was let go from the previous organization, and I want to make sure that any information transferred between the two organizations is fair and balanced. What do you suggest I do? 


You can’t control this one and I’m afraid the news may not be good. The fact that you worked for a partner/supplier/customer of theirs will give them easy access to informal information about you. They will be very leery of you, since you were fired and they won’t want to deal with the baggage that could bring.  

If you are in sales and have a great record of results, they might make an exception but for the most part, if you would be working with anyone from your former employer in a more corporate job, they probably won’t want to deal with the speculation about why their partner hired someone they fired.  

Your best bet is to say nothing and look for another opportunity. If you do get this job, outperform all expectations and prove your former company wrong.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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