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How To Nail Your Telephone Interview

The past five years has seen the “phone screen”, where employers interview a large number of candidates over the phone then choose who they’d like to invite for a face-to-face, become an often-used tool.

This is unfortunate because it only allows the candidate a short period of time to convey their skills and strengths and, likewise, it only allows the interviewer to a narrow snapshot of the person with whom they are speaking.

But it looks as though the technology is here to stay so mastering the phone interview is a key skill for the modern-day job hunter.

Your aim in a phone screen interview

Your goal in a phone interview is to get a face-to-face interview, not to get the job. As such, your focus should be communicating enough to get the company to interview you and this often means you have to decide on many, many things to leave out.

So here are our top tips to get you through the phone interview with the best possibility of getting the interview (NOT necessarily getting you the job). Each of these tips comes from our knowledge of how real candidates lost their opportunities. Hopefully by reading these you can make sure that you don’t make the same mistakes!

Tip #1 – Use a land line whenever possible. You will be easier to understand and you eliminate the possibility of a “dropped call”.

Tip #2 – Find a quiet place. Be sure there are no distractions (not distractions to you, distractions to the person on the other end of the phone) including kids, dogs, cars, airplanes, other people, television, radio, etc.

Tip #3 – Be brief and to the point. On the phone you are at a disadvantage and cannot read the body language of the person conducting the interview. You should always answer questions briefly and succinctly and then ask, “Would you like me to elaborate?” or “Would you like me to share an example?”. If you ramble on too long, the interviewer will get bored and start checking their email or, even worse, not get to the critical information and assume you are not qualified. Your job is to convince them you have enough to warrant a face-to-face interview….not get a job offer from a phone call.

Tip #4 – Do not eat or drink while you are talking on the phone. It will be heard, no matter how subtle you think you are being.

Tip #5 – Smile. It shines through the phone when the person on the other end is smiling.

Tip #6 – Do not ask about salary or benefits. That is for the face-to-face interview.

Tip #7 – Plan. Review the company’s web site, have the job description in front of you, know their name and title, have the same resume you sent them in front of you. Inevitably, every phone interview ends with the interviewer asking “Do you have any questions for me?” and the smart answer is ALWAYS “Yes.”. So prepare a couple of questions about the company that reference their web site, their products, where the company has been and where it is going.

Tip #8 – Do not discuss your personal life. If you find the interviewer’s favorite baseball team is your favorite baseball team, great! Make a personal connection, but keep it brief. Do not talk about the party you went to last weekend and how much you drank….your personal life should not be a part of the interview at all.

Tip #9 – Keep it positive. Do not say anything negative about your former employer, boss, co-workers, professors, spouse, parents – no one and nothing. Keep everything positive. “I was really disappointed the company had layoffs, but I am excited about my career prospects and the opportunity to work with firms like yours.”

Tip #10 – Be excited about the job. Even if you are unsure, even if you “know” you do not want the job, stay positive and excited. You may change your mind and want to meet the company, but if you intimate in the slightest way that you are unsure, they will not bring you in for an interview.

Tip #11 – Be confident. Remember, they are calling you for a reason. They need someone with your skills. Be confident in your skills and share examples with them on how you made your most recent firm better by being a part of the team….but don’t be arrogant.

Tip #12 – Ask “Do you have any concerns about my ability to succeed in this position” when you end the interview. 9 out of 10 times a direct question elicits a direct response. They interviewer will either say “no” or they will say “yes” and tell you their concern. Often times, their concerns arise because they are doing a phone interview and they have not asked the right questions to learn the best information about your background. When this happens, simply apologize for not being clear and tell them about your experience that would alleviate their concern. If their concern is accurate, acknowledge that it is accurate, but share with them experiences you have that would lesson the concern or what you would do to address their concern if giving the chance. Either way, it is better to know what you are up against rather than hanging up and not knowing.

If you follow these tips, you will greatly increase your chances of being one of the select few to come in for a face-to-face interview where you can truly complete for the job!

1 Comment

  1. Gregg on September 16, 2009 at 2:38 pm

    Good list here!

    As a veteran of two rounds of phone interviews (both of which resulted in being hired), the best advice I received was to stand! Your voice projects better and I found I tended to get into a pacing pattern which helped me focus on the questions and, more importantly, my answers.

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