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Sep 03

Category: Interview tips

Employers are increasingly pre-screening candidates via phone interviews before face-to-face meetings. What are the secrets to making the right impression on the phone?

More and more businesses are using telephone interviews to pre-screen candidates before scheduling a face-to-face interview.

At this stage, you’re on a long list of perhaps 10-15 candidates, which the hiring manager is trying to whittle down to perhaps four or five for in-person interviews. Whether you make the cut will depend on how you perform during the interview, and how you respond in terms of follow-up afterwards.

If you’re not used to interviewing over the phone, these might be even more nerve-inducing that the real thing. Fear not, though, here are our five tips to help you to be prepared ahead of you call and to ensure that you ace the phone interview.

#1     Prepare, prepare, prepare!

Don’t be fooled into thinking that because it is over the phone the interview will be any simpler than a face-to-face meeting. The same preparation rules apply for telephone interviews as apply to an in-person interview.

Of course, the nice thing about not having the interviewer physically in front of you is that you can ‘cheat’. Ahead of the interview prepare a list of likely questions and jot down bullet point answers as reminders – you want to avoid long and awkward silences while you rack your brains for the details of that recent big project, for example.

In particular prepare one or two page answers (no more – you don’t want to be rustling papers while you’re on the phone) to the most common phone interview questions, such as:

  • Can you tell me a bit about yourself? Remember, the interviewer is looking to know precisely what about your past makes you qualified for the role. Focus on relevant work accomplishments.
  • So, what do you know about Company X? Try to sound broadly familiar with the company’s main products or services and mention any recent headline news, such as an acquisition or particularly successful results.
  • What are your main strengths and weaknesses? Keep your strengths as relevant to the job description as possible. When it comes to weaknesses, try to avoid the positive presented as a weakness (‘sometimes I work too hard’), and opt instead for something non-mission-critical that was a weakness, but which you have worked on.

#2     Dress professionally and create a comfortable environment

You could, of course, do the phone interviewer in your pyjamas from your bed if you wished. I don’t recommend that if you want to be successful, however. Just as you wouldn’t attend a face-to-face interviewer without dressing the part, you shouldn’t go into phone interviewer half-arsed, just because no one can see you. The psychological benefits of looking and feeling professional are substantial, and shouldn’t be neglected just because you’re at home.

Similarly, try to create as professional and peaceful environment in which to take the call as possible. Shut out distractions (like children and pets), turn off electronics that might interrupt you with bleaps or buzzes, and close the window if you’re likely to be affected by loud traffic or passersby. Remember also that a tidy environment can help you to feel more relaxed.

Prepare at least 10-minutes before the scheduled call by sitting with your notes, a copy of your CV, and a glass of water. You’ll also want a pen and paper handy — you’ll want to take some notes of course, but also having to scramble about if your interviewer asks you to note an email address or phone number reflects badly.

#3     Stand up and strike a pose

You might think that since your interviewer cannot see you, that your body language is irrelevant. Well, not quite.

Of course, you won’t be sending any visual clues, but that doesn’t mean how you hold yourself isn’t affecting your performance. We’ve blogged before about how posture can make a real physical difference to your state of mind, and ultimately your interview performance. In particular you should avoid slumped or cradling type posture in favour of a broad, straight and open-armed posture.

Believe or not, standing during the interview could also boost your performance. This might seem strange, but on the phone you want to adopt a clear and somewhat declarative tone. Standing, as you would to deliver a presentation, will put you in the right frame of mind. It is also easier to breath steadily while standing, which will keep you calm and focused.

#4     Listen carefully

Usually, the interviewer will begin the call by setting the scene, describing the role and perhaps some background to the organisation. Let them speak and listen carefully. While you listen, take down a few notes so that you’re able to respond later when it is your turn to talk.

Remember, just as in a face-to-face interview, you should be aiming to build rapport with the interviewer. One way to do this over the phone is to look out for shared problems or experiences and to flag these verbally. Listen out for the interviewer to express some challenges and new issues they are facing and, if applicable, respond by saying: ‘that sounds familiar: we faced the same challenge at our previous firm, and this is how we overcame it…’.

#5     Follow up

Let a few hours pass by and then send a short (one or two paragraphs) thank you note to the interviewer. This should thank them for their time, confirm your interest in the job, reiterate that you have the skills and experience to make a big positive contribution to the company, and finish with a statement of your desire to take things to the next stage.

You’ll need to be patient — often companies screen quite a large number of candidates over the phone and may not respond until they have spoken to their entire ‘long list’. You should receive a response at this stage, however, whatever the decision, so don’t be afraid to send a further follow-up email if you haven’t heard anything within two weeks.

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