Preparing for the Phone Interview

Telephone interviews are often used in the selection process as a result of a résumé you have submitted.  They are usually done to speed up the selection process and are usually conducted by one person.  Your preparation should be just as thorough as for a face-to-face interview, but with the advantage that you can use notes.

When conducting a telephone interview, it helps to remember that the other person cannot see your personality or body language.  Instead, you will be relying on your voice to convey your qualities.

Talking on the phone isn’t as easy as it seems.  It’s helpful to practice. Have a friend or family member conduct a mock interview and record the conversation so you can see how you sound over the phone. You’ll be able to hear your “ums” and “uhs” and “okays” and you can practice reducing them from your conversational speech. Also, rehearse answers to those typical questions you’ll be asked.  Once again, you will be relying on your voice to convey your qualities.

In preparing for your phone interview, there are several things you can do to be ready.

  • Tape your résumé to a wall in view of the phone.  It will be there for the call and will be a constant reminder for your job search.
  • Use a real phone.  It’s harder for some people to hear on a cell phone, and this is one occasion where you want to be heard as clearly as possible and you certainly don’t want to have the call dropped.  If you MUST use a cell phone, make sure there’s no wind blowing (that’s really noisy on the other end), and don’t ever conduct a phone interview while driving.  It makes it look like you don’t care enough about the job to even pull over (not to mention the whole safety thing).
  • Make sure you know something about what the company does.  Prepare some questions of your own. The depth of your questions should be proportional to the length of the interview.  For a 20 minute screen, just a couple of questions should do it, unless they’ve been really cryptic about the job or something.  If you’ve spent an hour on the phone, they should spend some time answering more questions for you.  Keep in mind that the screener is usually an HR person, not the hiring manager, so you’ll want to save your deepest and best questions for the person who is actually doing the hiring.  Your last question should always be about what’s going to happen next:  What’s the next step in this process?  When should I expect to hear back?  When should I follow up if I haven’t heard anything?  You’ll be glad you asked these things during the long wait after the call ends.
  • Keep all of your employer research materials within easy reach of the phone.
  • Have a notepad handy to take notes.  
  • Place a “Do Not Disturb” note on your door.
  • Turn off your stereo, TV, and any other potential distraction.
  • Warm up your voice while waiting for the call.  
  • If your phone interview is at a set time, make sure you answer nature’s call first.
  • Disable the call waiting.  If the interviewer is calling you, and the call waiting beeps, don’t even THINK of answering it.  You’re in a job interview, and you don’t interrupt a job interview to take a more important call.

During the phone interview

  • Don’t smoke, chew gum, eat, or drink.  When you smoke on the phone, your breathing sounds funny.  It’s weird.  It also make you seem very nervous.  Wait until it’s over.
  • Do keep a glass of water handy, in case you need to wet your mouth.
  • Smile. Smiling will project a positive image to the listener and will change the tone of your voice.
  • Speak slowly and enunciate clearly.
  • Use the person’s title (Mr. or Ms. and their last name) Only use a first name if they ask you to.
  • Don’t interrupt the interviewer.
  • Take your time – it’s perfectly acceptable to take a moment or two to collect your thoughts.
  • Give short answers.
  • Remember your goal is to set up a face-to-face interview. After you thank the interviewer take the initiative for moving the interview from the telephone to a commitment to meet.  You could say:  This opportunity sounds very interesting, and I know I could use my (mention either skills or background).  When can we get together?
  • Write down the interviewer’s name, telephone number and e-mail.  Ask permission to call them back if you have any additional questions.  Don’t forget to follow-up and thank them for their time.

Relax. It’s just a phone screen.  This is hard to remember when you really, really need a job.  Phone screens are just that, though:  screens.  Truly, they’re just making sure you’re not a freak, a jerk, or completely unaware of what the job entails.  Don’t get overly excited, and don’t put too much stock into it.  Consider it a good practice run for your next real interview.

The Stand and Deliver Technique

Here is a simple technique to increase the enthusiasm and positive image that you project over the telephone: stand up. Whenever you are talking with a potential employer on the phone, stand up. It gets your blood flowing, improves your posture, and improves your response time.

The Vanity Technique

In preparation for a telephone interview (or any telephone contact), try having a mirror within view.  Why?  Because you will want to look into that mirror consistently throughout the phone call and smile.  You will improve your telephone presence 110 percent just by using this simple technique. You will find yourself coming across much friendlier, more interested, and more alert.  If you are at all self-conscious about seeing yourself in the mirror, you can use the mirror as an occasional checkpoint.  But for most of us, seeing oneself reflected back gives us the kind of feedback necessary to make instant modification toward a more positive presence.

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