Phone Interview Skills All Job Seekers Should Have
A phone interview may seem less formal than an in-person meeting, but it’s the first step toward landing that job. Prepare for phone interviews like you would for the face-to-face, and you’ll be in a better position to snag an offer.
Lay the Groundwork
The interviewer may call, anticipating an immediate conversation. If you’re not ready, give yourself a little more time. Thank them for calling and express your interest in talking to them, but excuse yourself as being presently unavailable. Set an appointment with them, even if it’s only a few minutes later. Clarify who will initiate the call.
Now use this extra time to organize yourself physically and mentally. Choose a quiet, private place (with good reception if you’re on your cell phone). You may want some room to move around or sit down during the call. Gather the same materials you’d need on a traditional interview: resume, portfolio, references, accomplishment-related anecdotes, the job description, your research on the company, your questions for them, notepaper and pen, and even some water.
Before you and the interviewer get into the meat of the meeting, ask how long they’re available. Keep this in mind as you talk with them. You want to keep your answers brief and to the point – less than a minute – but without being brusque. Don’t use slang or jargon; both will typecast you. Do use proper grammar, and make sure your vocabulary contains appropriate action verbs and adjectives. Take your time to answer thoroughly and deliberately, and avoid filler words like “um” and “like”.
Listen to the interviewer’s speech patterns and model your responses to reflect their style without sounding like you’re mocking them. The idea is to communicate in the manner in which they are most comfortable. Above all, don’t chew gum, smoke or eat; other noises like typing, music, or running water also give the message you’re not fully present.
While there may be some comfort in talking over the phone, remember that you’re fully relying on your voice and words to make a positive impression. Smile when speaking to convey a good attitude. Sit up or stand so you can breathe easier, or even move around for more energy. Be clear about your interest in the position – the interviewer can’t see you lean forward or receive your hearty handshake. This is a good case for tell rather than show.
Follow the Rules
Many of the same dos and don’ts of face-to-face interviews also apply on the phone. Here’s a refresher:
- Do take notes. You may want these later in the conversation, and definitely when you follow up.
- Don’t get personal. Marital status, age, religion… none of that belongs in your interview.
- Do use the interviewer’s name. Write it down if you have to. Using it is helpful in making a good connection.
- Don’t get into compensation. Even if they bring it up now, the job offer is the appropriate place for negotiating. If they aren’t willing to give you a range, then politely sidestep the topic.
- Do prepare for difficult questions. A quick search will help prepare you for questions such as, “How have you handled working with someone you dislike?”
- Don’t bluff. If they ask a question to which you don’t know the answer, be honest. Tell them you’ll get back with them, then actually do it.
- Do show you’ve done your homework. Use your research on their organization to talk about why, in particular, you want to work for them.
- Don’t be negative. No matter how horrible a prior position was, leave the drama in the past. Every experience is a learning opportunity – focus on that.
Finish (and Follow Up) Strong
As the interview draws to a close, make sure to ask a couple of important questions. Use “who would be the ideal candidate for this position” as a launching pad for a summary of your qualifications. Thank them for their time and interest, and reach for the next rung of the ladder by expressing your desire to personally meet and inquire about their schedule for interviews.
Once you’ve finished the call, start your thank-you email while the conversation is still fresh in your mind. Strengthen the areas you felt were weak, follow up with answers you couldn’t give, and use your notes to specifically reference the interview. And, of course, be sure to thank them again. If you don’t hear from them in the designated time frame, check in by phone.
While you can conduct a phone interview in your pajamas, don’t assume the interaction is truly casual. Give this your best effort, and you’ll likely be on your way to snagging the next interview – and maybe even that job!