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Nail Your Next Phone Interview – 20 Tips!

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Don’t Take Phone Interviews Lightly – Be Prepared

May 7, 2019
a consultant talks during a phone interview

Introduction

Why do companies use phone interviews?  The same reason they conduct other interviews – as a means of identifying and recruiting candidates for employment. In the case of phone interviews, they present a fast, cost-effective, and very low committal means of narrowing the candidate pool of applicants who will be invited for in-person interviews or the next round of phone screens…

I can’t say I particularly enjoy phone screens.  Yes, the pressure of showing up in some strange place wearing your best Sunday clothes is removed.  However, the usual pressure of interviewing is present.  In addition, there is the unsettling nature of the phone interview itself – when you’re on a call where you can't see the other person's facial expressions or physical cues, while trying to remind yourself to talk slowly, all while worrying about background noises, then you find out there is another person sitting silently in the background – it goes on.

Unfortunately, phone interviewing is also where every job opportunity starts.  So, let’s be ready with these – the best phone interview tips I've collected from the professionals around the internet.  On occasion, phone interviews are used exclusively to make hiring decisions.

We’ll break up our phone screen tips into three sections:  Phone-Screen Planning; Phone-Screen Etiquette; and Phone-Screen Post Mortem.

Phone-Screen Planning

1. Perform all of the preparation you would for an in-person interview.  Everything you need to do is contained in Axelerate’s blog article titled – ‘Nail the Job Interview - DO these 5 Things.’

2. Understand who you are interviewing with – you may very well not be interacting with a hiring manager on a phone screen, but don’t assume that’s the case or that an HR person will be a pushover.  Whatever the case, this is your first exposure with the company – don’t blow it.

3. Practice Phone Interviewing – If you’re really serious about practicing, have a friend conduct a mock interview and record it.  Work to remove the yah, hmmm, yep, ahh, etc. and strive for a smooth delivery.

iconic representation of phone interview

4. Logistical considerations – Make these arrangements for efficiency and effectiveness

a. Prepare your interview space (according to advice given in this article!)

b. Resume handy and in clear view

c. Ready to take notes

d. Remove potential interruptions – dogs, cats, kids, alarms, etc.  Clear the room!

e. Use a landline if possible – they are still more reliable and clearer

f. Reschedule if necessary – If you find that circumstances are causing you to forego more and more of the advice written here, reschedule!  Use your best judgement here and use this advice as a last resort.  Nobody likes a rescheduled interview and there’s a possibility of not getting another shot.

5. Speak for a few minutes prior to the interview – get your throat cleared.  Reading your resume out loud is a good idea.

6. Be in character – It might be tempting to lay sprawled out on the couch, the TV muted, your favorite cocktail in hand, while suited up in your most comfy pajamas.  It’s a poor plan – you obviously don’t have to be in a suit, but treat everything else as you would an in-person interview.

Phone-Screen Etiquette

In essence, these are the rules of the road while engaged directly in the phone interview.  Depending on the characteristics of the interviewer, these can weigh more or less heavily for or against you.

7. Use proper titles unless otherwise told to.

8. Keep a glass of cold water on hand.

…there is the unsettling nature of the phone interview itself – when you’re on a call where you can't see the other person's facial expressions or physical cues, while trying to remind yourself to talk slowly, all while worrying about background noises, then you find out there is another person sitting silently in the background – and so on.

9. Resist the temptation to have anything (but water) in your mouth.  So, no gum chewing, smoking, eating, guzzling, etc.

10. Stay focused – this is easier said than done in a phone interview.  Practice interviews can help here.

11. Do not interrupt the interviewer.  Again, this may not be as easy as it sounds, you’re not getting facial feedback.  The cues that indicate natural breaks are not present – so pay extra attention.

12. Do not control the interview.  This may go against some advice whereby taking charge during an interview provides a demonstration of some desired attribute.  The phone screen is primarily an information extraction, so let the interviewer run the show.

13. Provide short, complete answers.  If an answer seems to stall the interviewer, simply ask if he/she would like more information.

14. Take notes - items may arise that you would like to address if given time at the end.

15. Take your time.

16. Carefully enunciate – a phone interview can sometimes be ‘easier’ than in-person interviews.  It’s easy to get snappy.  Easy does it.  Take the questions one at a time.

Phone-Screen Post Mortem

17. Just prior to conclusion – Thank the interviewer and get the interviewer’s email.

18. Summarize – as soon as the interview is over write down any thoughts, issues, or questions that you can clarify or get clarity on during the next interview.

19. Send a thank you email – Reiterate your interest in the job and provide any additional qualification information you feel wasn’t provided during the interview.

20. Get organized for your next phone interview.  Congrats!

Conclusion

And there it is.  If you follow the steps outlined above your chances of moving onto the next round in the interview process – whether on the phone or in-person – have dramatically improved.

Written By:
Kerrie Gill, PMP, ITIL

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