How To Ace A Job Interview On The Phone

By Susan Adams for 

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. Though the practice may soon shift to video conferencing or Skype, recruiters and coaches say that at this point, the phone is still the most common way for a first interview to take place. They estimate that more than half of first screens take place on the phone.

The biggest drawback for job seekers is that interviewers feel less of a sense of obligation if they haven’t met candidates in person. Hiring managers frequently don’t bother to let applicants know they’ve been dropped from consideration.  But for candidates, there can be pluses to phone interviews. On the phone, interviewers focus on the substance of applicants’ answers, as opposed to distractions related to appearance.  Applicants can also refer to preparation materials and checklists, and they can take notes, which can be useful when it’s time to check back in.

With diligent follow-up, job seekers can swing phone interviews in their favor, sometimes more so than meetings in person. Here are some tips:

1. Prepare as though it’s an in-person interview. Despite the fact that phone interviews are commonplace nowadays, some applicants fail to treat them as an essential part of the search process. Devote as much time to prepping for a phone meeting as you would for an initial meeting in person. Los Angeles executive and career coach David Couper, author of Outsiders on the Inside: How to Create a Winning Career… Even When You Don’t Fit In!, recommends having a written list of 5-10 stories about yourself that illustrate your accomplishments. “If you say you managed a department with five people, you need to have a story about that,” advises Couper, who used to work in human resources at now-defunct consulting giant Arthur Andersen. “You can say, there was one person working for me, and I put forth a proposal for more staff, which was granted and we increased sales by X amount.” The stories should have a beginning, middle and end, says Couper.

2. If the call comes out of the blue, say you’re in the middle of something and set a time to talk. If you get a call without a warning in advance, say you’re delighted to talk to the interviewer, but could you speak later, and suggest a time. Even if it’s just 15 minutes later, you need to gather your résumé, your notes and your thoughts.

3. Make sure you’re in a quiet place with a good connection where you won’t be interrupted. Use a land line if possible. If you’re talking on a cell phone, let the interviewer know. and apologize in advance for any service interruption. Make sure children, pets and other possible interruptions are out of the room. Get yourself a glass of water.

4. Ask how much time the interviewer has to talk. This will help you pace yourself and cover the ground you’re planning in the interview.

5. 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.

6. Early in the conversation, ask the interviewer what she’s looking for. Say something like, “I’ve read the position description, but I’d love to hear in your words what you’re looking for in this role.” Though most phone interviewers have a list of questions they want to ask, they won’t be put off by this question.

7. Don’t over-talk. When you’re on the phone, it’s impossible to read the nonverbal cues that interviewers send in person, like averting their gaze or adjusting their posture as though they want to speak. Watch the clock and don’t talk for more than one minute at a stretch. Then pause and ask whether more detail would be useful.

8. Listen closely. Take notes of the questions the interviewer is asking. This can help you write a great thank-you note after you’re done.

9. Ask about the next step in the process. Before signing off, say that you’re excited about the opportunity and ask what the next step in the process will be.

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. Roy Cohen, a New York career coach who used to handle outplacement for Goldman Sachs and is the author of The Wall Street Professional’s Survival Guide, says that if you don’t get a response to your email, you should leave more than one phone message.  You can say,” I want to make sure there wasn’t any information you need from me to move forward.” If it’s your second or third message, try, “I want to make sure everything is OK.”  “I like to refer to this as the Jewish guilt approach,” says Cohen. Either you’re out of the running, in which case you have nothing to lose, or the interviewer has been busy and distracted, and will appreciate the reminder.


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