Very common in today’s job market is an initial phone interview. As hiring companies get inundated with applicants, they save a great deal of time by screening out many ‘close fit’ candidates through an initial phone interview rather than having the person come in. Candidates often take these phone conversations lightly, assuming that if the company called, they will certainly bring them in. Phone interviews can be wrought with danger for an unprepared, or too casual a candidate.
Keep in mind, the purpose of the phone interview is to weed out a number of people from the ‘Maybe’ file of applicants so that there might be 3 to 5 candidates left standing to invite for on-site interviews. Since, in phone interviews, you cannot see facial expressions or body language to give you cues as to how an answer is being received, they are often not followed up with a call back. It is critical to view the phone interview just as important as an on-site interview, and be well prepared.
Although you can’t see their reactions to the answers you give over the phone, they also can’t see you, so you can use that to your advantage. You can have all the information you need laid out in front of you!
Here are some ways to prepare:
~ Get in a positive and professional state of mind! Your attitude and professionalism absolutely comes across in your voice and how you respond to questions. The interviewer will create a mental picture of you based on what they hear. Will they hear an upbeat and proactive professional? Or will they hear someone that sounds like they are in their bathrobe and smoking a cigarette? Many people find it very helpful to actually dress the part for phone interviews. Wear a suit, you’ll feel more professional and it will come out in your voice as well. Some people also find it helpful to stand while talking so that they don’t come across as too laid-back.
~ Lay out any supportive material in front of you on a table or desk. Since they can’t see you, there is no reason you can’t have everything available to make yourself ready for anything. Most questions they ask will be based on things they see on your resume, so have your resume in front of you so you both have the same point of reference. Have reminder cards written to jog your memory for answers to most likely to be asked questions. Have company information printed from their website to help you remember key points about the organization when they ask what you know about them. Have lists of key dates, accomplishments, and projects.
~ Keep answers brief! Since you can’t see cues from them as to whether they are growing impatient with your answer, you must be concise with each response. Often people dig a hole for themselves by going on for several minutes answering a question they misunderstood in the first place. Best to speak for no more than 30 to 45 seconds and then ask “Does that answer your question? or would you like more detail?” Give them the chance to stop you, correct you, or give you permission to go on.
~ Ask for next steps. At the end of the conversation, be sure to express your interest in the role, the company, and ask them what the next steps will be. Ask them if there is anything else you might do to provide more information that they may need. Ask for their email address. Ask them for a time frame as to when they will begin scheduling on-site interviews. Also, ask them directly: “Based on our conversation today, do you anticipate you will be calling me back for the next round of interviews?” They may or may not give you a direct answer, but it shows you are direct, and if you do get an answer you now can set your own expectations properly.
~ Follow up! After the call, be sure to send them a brief email. Once again briefly give them 2 points of how you fit their role based on their criteria. Express your continued interest in the position, and let them know you look forward to the next steps.
The phone interview is often a ‘make it or break it’ part of the process. Never take them lightly, and be well prepared for each one.
Harry Urschel has over 20 years experience as a technology recruiter in Minnesota. He currently operates as e-Executives and writes a blog for Job Seekers called The Wise Job Search.
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