Tips for Giving a Good Phone Interview

I don’t need to be psychic to tell you that a telephone interview is in your future. It’s pretty hard to avoid really. Telephone interviews save a lot of time—and therefore money—as a first step in a hiring process. Phone interviews help recruiters, agencies and companies screen candidates for skills and experience requirements, and are invaluable when hiring people in other parts of the country or the world.

The bad part about a phone interview is that you can’t see the other person, so you can’t read body language to get a sense of what the interviewer is thinking. On the flip side of that, though, the best part about a phone interview is that they can’t see you, so you can use notes and references that would never fly at an in-person meeting.

Don’t underestimate the importance of the call. A poor performance on the phone will mean you’re out of the running. Whether it’s a scheduled appointment, or the phone rings out of the blue with someone who’d like to talk to you right then and there, extra preparation and awareness can make all the difference.

A few important tips:

• If it’s a scheduled call, don’t be late or miss the call. Punctuality is imperative. If it’s not scheduled and you miss the call, don’t have a silly voicemail message and make sure to return the call pronto.

• Don’t be in a noisy place. Background noise, especially if it’s kids or traffic, is very distracting to you and the person on the other end of the phone. Find a quiet place, even it it’s inside your parked car.

• Don’t forget to keep your phone fully charged.

• Don’t say anything that contradicts your resume. Nothing says BS more than saying you worked somewhere five years when your resume says you were there for three.

• Don’t be at your computer trying to multi-task. A good interview requires all of your attention. And we can hear you typing.

Keep in mind that you are not likely to actually be hired from a phone interview, but it’s possible to get them to like you enough they’re already picturing it. The goal of the call is to be invited to an in-person meeting where you can continue the conversations, and get an offer. Your job is to present your background and situation so you are very clearly the kind of person they’re looking for. A successful phone interview results in an invitation to meet in person.

Always have near your phone:

• A copy of your master resume for easy reference.

• A notebook and pens. Nothing says unprepared more than saying “hold on while I find a pen and paper.”

• A list or file of all of the jobs you’ve applied to, with the content of the posting or job description. Not all jobs are the same, and what the interviewer is looking for won’t be either. Have the posting so you know their priorities and can address them; if you can, make notes in advance.

• Your research on the company. If you have advance notice, check out the company’s website and print any key pages. Google to find out what others say about the company.

• A copy of your cover note so you can remember and reiterate what you told them about why you are a fit for that job.

To prepare for the call:

• Write the interviewers name, phone number and the time and date of the call at the top of your notes (Do this in advance for scheduled calls.) Then you can use their name with confidence during the call.

• Have a list of thoughtful relevant questions to ask – about the job, the company, the reason the job is open. Questions should be appropriate to your level; a senior executive and an entry level person should have entirely different questions. Even if you never get to ask them, planning them in advance makes a difference.

• Make a list of questions you expect them to ask you, and make some notes about your answers so you can answer with clarity. Don’t use canned responses, but know what you want to say.

• Be ready and waiting for the call at least five minutes before time. Rushing into an interview is never a good idea.

• Have something to do in case the caller is running late. A book, email to check, anything that keeps you busy.

• Be alone in a quiet private place, so you can speak freely about without interruption.

• Plan for the call to last at least 30 minutes, but leave at least an hour in case it takes longer. Good interviews, in person or on the phone, often last longer than expected.

How to “look” good on the phone:

Remember, they are visualizing you based on your phone persona, so:

• Smile when you talk, even you’re alone or it makes you self-conscious. A smile comes through in your voice.

• Imagine the person on the other end is smiling, too. It will make you like them more, and that will show.

• To sound more energetic, stand up and walk around during the conversation.

• Be polite and warm in your tone and the words you choose. Talk like you’re chatting with someone you already know who you really like and respect.

• Remember to breathe. Breathing relaxes your body, keeps your mind sharp and makes your voice sound better.

• Avoid profanity, even if the interviewer uses it. It rarely will make anyone think better of you.

• Listen as much as you talk, and listen with intention. Tune in to your intuition as you listen, rather than listening with half your brain while the other half is thinking about how to reply.

• Don’t chew gum, eat or drink, even if it’s lunchtime. If you’re hungry, have a snack beforehand so you are clearheaded and not distracted by thinking about food.

• Don’t talk too little or too much. Without body language signals to let you know how the other person is reacting to what you’re saying, you will have to monitor yourself.

• Answer questions directly and succinctly, with a few sentences, and then pause so the interviewer can respond. Can’t-get-a-word-in-edgewise interviews never make a good impression, nor do cryptic short replies.

• Be genuine and honest. Phoniness is a turn-off on the phone as well as in person.

• Take notes of what the interviewer shares. These will be invaluable as you prepare for the next steps.

• Let them know you’re interested in the job and the next step. Honest enthusiasm works.

• Ask them where they are in their hiring process, and what that process is going to be.

• Follow up with a brief, friendly thank-you note that tells them you hope to get to meet them in person.

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