Hey! This isn’t exactly about rowing but I was hoping you could help. So I have been emailing with a college coach a little bit and I am supposed to call him this week. The only thing is I get really nervous when I talk on the phone so I am really nervous about calling him. Do you have any advice about talking to college coaches on the phone? Thanks!
Trust me, I completely understand how you feel. I hate talking on the phone. It just makes me so uncomfortable. I’m always afraid that I’m not going to hear or understand what the other person says and I’ll have to ask them repeat to themselves or something and I’ll end up sounding really stupid. Since the majority of my rowing-related phone calls are for interviews, most of the tips below will probably have some kind of tie-in to that. For the most part job interviews and recruiting phone calls are pretty similar; the only things that would likely be different is the wording of some of the questions you ask.
Determine how much privacy you need to feel comfortable before, during, and after your call and schedule accordingly so that privacy is maximized and distractions are minimized.
When I schedule a phone call, the most important thing for me is making sure it’s at a time when I’ll be the only person home. Not only does this minimize the likelihood of being interrupted or having the person I’m talking to hear someone yelling across the house to someone else, it also ensures that I won’t have anyone bugging me afterwards about who I was talking to, what we were talking about, how’d it go, etc. Few things piss me off more than other people thinking they’re entitled to details just because you’re in the same area as them or they overheard part of your conversation. (Spoiler alert, you’re not.) I’m uncomfortable enough talking on the phone, I don’t want to finish it and immediately have someone question me on everything that was discussed or critique the responses they heard me give.
The other reason why I like to be totally alone is so that I can guarantee myself absolute silence. It helps a lot with the whole “being nervous about not being able to hear what they’re saying” thing. One time last summer I had a phone interview with someone and they unexpectedly called two hours before we were supposed to talk. Something had come up and they wanted to know if talking now was a possibility. I didn’t feel like I could say no so I said sure, now’s totally fine. Except it wasn’t – I was standing in the middle of a crowded street in Brooklyn where both privacy and silence were nonexistent. I had to walk a couple blocks before I was finally somewhere semi-quiet (or as semi-quiet as Brooklyn can get in the middle of the afternoon) but because I was still straining to hear what he was saying, I spent the entire phone call distracted and nervous. When I hung up a police officer that was standing nearby actually asked me if everything was OK because I was so visibly uncomfortable. Talk about awkward…
Make a list of 2-3 questions, plus any follow ups you know you’ll have.
You know they’re gonna ask you if you have any questions at the end and you know they’re gonna expect you to have at least one or two so you might as well write them down ahead of time. This makes the segue from conversation to Q&A much smoother since having it all right in front of you allows you to just read it out loud instead of fumbling with the wording in your head or spending half the conversation trying to come up with something to ask (been there, done both).
Whenever we get to that point in the conversation and the other person asks if I have any questions I usually say something like “I do actually, I’ve got a list of three that I put together last night. Two of them are important ones regarding _______ and _______ and the third is just a general question about _______.” The first two questions are always the same and the third is something that is unique to the program I’m interviewing with. The reason the first two are always the same is because I want to have some way of comparing all the programs I talk with so I can narrow down whether they’d potentially be a good fit or not. The reason I tell them that I have a list of questions that I put together last night, this morning, or whenever is because it shows I put time, effort, and thought into preparing for the phone call. Preparation is key and in situations like this it’s a great way to communicate how serious you are about whatever it is you’re interviewing for (be it a job, recruiting slot, etc.).
If you had some questions but they were all answered throughout your conversation, don’t freak out and think you have to scramble to come up with something just for the sake of asking a question. Usually if this happens to me I’ll respond to “do you have any questions” with “I did have a couple but you actually answered both of them when you were talking about _______ and _______.” If you have any follow-ups that you thought of while you were talking, feel free to bring those up but don’t be afraid to say that they already answered your questions. The biggest no-no though is not having any questions, period. If they ask you if you have any questions and you say “nope … *crickets*” then it can/will give them the impression that you weren’t that interested to begin with or you weren’t paying attention to anything they were saying during the 10, 15, 20+ minutes you were on the phone. I used to think it was so dumb that you had to ask questions at the end of a phone call like this but it actually does make sense when you think about it. They’re trying to learn more about you, you’re trying to learn more about them … how else can you do that than by asking questions?
Oh, one more pro tip … write your questions on a sheet of computer paper or something similarly sized in black permanent marker. Don’t use a fine-tip marker on a notebook-sized piece of paper or write your stuff in pencil on a hot pink Post-it – use something you’ll be able to see from across the room if necessary. Make sure it’s legible too. There’s nothing more embarrassing than scribbling down a question and then not being able to read it when it comes time to actually ask it. The reason I write my questions on a large sheet of paper is so that while we’re talking I can make notations on what’s being said, either in response to the question(s) I asked or just in general.
Go to the bathroom.
Don’t laugh, I’m totally serious. Last summer I had a phone interview scheduled for pretty much immediately after we were supposed to get off the water at Penn AC. It was hot as hell that day and I’d drank a ton of water that morning so naturally, I had to pee really, really bad. I got off the launch and started walking up to the the boathouse when my phone rang. Pretty sure I wasn’t even a step off the dock yet. For about half a second I struggled with “do I let it go to voicemail (and seem unprofessional/unprepared), go pee, and call him back” or “do I answer it and potentially not be able to pee for another 20 minutes”. I answered it and spent at least 3/4 of the phone call mentally cursing the hot temperatures, 32oz Nalgenes, and the fact that this was the ONLY coach who actually called right at the time he said he would. You wanna know what being nervous does to you when you have to pee? It makes you have to pee even more. Longest 20 minutes of my life.
Moral of the story: if you’re the one being called, don’t schedule phone interviews that coincide immediately with the end of practice and don’t drink anything 30 minutes or so beforehand if you have a small bladder. If you’re the one making the call, go to the bathroom right before, even if you feel like you don’t have to go. Trust me, some day you’ll remember this advice and you’ll thank me for it.
Spend a minute or two before you make the call (or five-ish minutes if you’re the one being called) to get prepared.
I usually give myself an extra few minutes if I’m the one expecting the call because very rarely do people ever call when they say they will and you never know if they’re going to be a few minutes early or late. I have a routine that I like to go through to relax and get myself focused that’s actually kinda similar to what I do on race day. I stretch (all I do is stand up and reach my hands up towards the ceiling and then roll out my shoulders to shake off some of the tension), sit on my couch, go through the questions I have, take a couple deep breaths, and remind myself that it’s just a phone call … I’m not launching rockets or anything so there’s really no reason to be nervous.
Give off an air of confidence, even if you’re nervous.
Fake it ’til you make it, right? Speak clearly with good diction and appropriate volume, ask direct questions, and actually engage in conversation. Don’t give one word responses or let the person you’re talking to control the conversation. During one of my in-person interviews the coach I was meeting with commented on how he could tell I was a coxswain over the phone because of how I spoke (clearly, concisely, with confidence, etc.) and it made me laugh because I admitted to him how uncomfortable talking on the phone makes me. He said he never would have guessed which actually helped a lot with future interviews because I recalled him saying that and that alone made me feel more sure of myself and less nervous overall.