With hundreds if not thousands of applicants often vying for a single job these days, recruiters and hiring managers are increasingly doing their initial job interviews on the telephone. Phone interviews are often used to screen candidates in order to narrow the pool of applicants who will be invited for in-person interviews. They are also used as a way to minimize the expenses involved in interviewing out-of-town candidates. Phone interviews can be nerve-racking, but you have to get through them if you want to get to the next level. Since the interviewer can’t actually see you, they are judging you solely on your voice, answers and any other sounds that come through during the conversation.
The following are some tips for what you want to do and what you want to avoid during interviews conducted via phone or in person:
1. Be Prepared to Interview
Prepare for a phone interview just as you would for a regular interview. Compile a list of your strengths and weaknesses, as well as a list of answers to typical phone interview questions. In addition, plan on being prepared for a phone conversation about your background and skills. Have a physical copy of your resume and the job description in front of you during the call. Type up a bulleted list of items you want to cover during the conversation. As each one gets satisfied, cross it off the list. Printouts are necessary in case your Internet access fails.
2. Control Your Environment
Always arrange to be in a quiet, well-lit room, free from distractions. Sit in a chair with relevant materials easily in front of you. Give your sole, focused attention to your interviewer, and whenever possible make sure you are on a landline rather than shaky cell connection. The more controlled the space you’re calling from, the less room for distractions and other unanticipated events.
3. Stand Up and Smile
Standing knocks your energy level up a notch. When you smile, it affects your tone of voice and can make a more favorable impression. Some people find it useful to dress nicely, to put them in a professional state of mind. Imagine standing, dressed in a suit, as opposed to slouching over your desk wearing pajamas.
4. Practice Interviewing
Talking on the phone isn’t as easy as it seems. I’ve always found it’s helpful to practice. Have a friend or family member conduct a mock interview and tape record it so you can see how you sound over the phone. Any cassette recorder will work. You’ll be able to hear your “ums” and “uhs” and “okays” and you can practice reducing them from your conversational speech.
5. Don’t Talk Too Much
Some people think that if they talk more during interviews, it’ll help them. The less you talk, the more you listen and the better you’ll do. The best method to use is to wait three seconds before answering questions. Be sure to listen to what the interviewer has to say, and think before responding. Take a few seconds to understand the question, and then prepare a quality answer before simply blurting out something less intelligent.
6. No Pets Allowed
If you conduct the phone interview from home, do it in a pet-free room. Make sure your cat, dog or bird is occupied and safe in another room, so barking and meowing is out of earshot. As cuddly as they might be, don’t give a pet the opportunity to be a distraction during this important phone call.
7. Don’t Talk About Money
Career coaches always say to hold off on discussing salary until the end of the process. But in reality, the interviewer knows you might attempt to do this and may try to force the issue. After all, determining an employee’s desired salary is part of the filtering process, which is why they are conducting a phone interview in the first place. Try to keep your answer vague by telling the employer that you need a better understanding of the total compensation package until you can state your desired salary.
8. Understand Your Red Flags and Be Able to Address Them
While you may be reticent to have to deal with issues like age, employment gaps or frequent job-hopping, you should understand that you can do a great deal to mitigate these issues when you address them head on. Just answer the question in a non-defensive, factual way, pivot the conversation to something else and move on.
9. Be Honest
If a major distraction occurs during the phone interview, mention it. Your honesty will likely be appreciated; after all, the person on the other line is human too and has likely encountered a similar situation. The worst thing you can do is attempt to cover up something that takes you out of the moment, because it could make you look like you weren’t paying attention.
10. Follow Up
Treat the follow-up for a phone interview the same way you would an in-person interview. Email a thank-you note that refers to details in the interview. Include several concrete, specific ways you would contribute to the company if you got the job. This helps you close the loop and reiterate your interest in wanting to meet the interviewer in person.