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How to Prepare for a Phone Interview

Updated on April 1, 2017
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Michelle is a marketing professional with experience in B2C/B2B. She volunteers for a non-profit to help create awareness about veterans.

Take notes during the call

Write down bullet points of the conversation as a way to follow up, after the phone interview.
Write down bullet points of the conversation as a way to follow up, after the phone interview. | Source

Employers Use Phone Interviews as a Screening Tool

Most companies today begin the hiring process with phone interviews. These interviews may be conducted by a team lead, a hiring manager, an onsite recruiter, or a third-party agency. The purpose is to identify potential candidates, and to screen out candidates that don't have the right experience. If you make the right impression on a phone interview, you might get a face-to-face interview. I have had many phone interviews, and I prepare for each one as if it is my last opportunity.

The problem with phone interviews is that you don’t always know exactly what the company is looking for in that moment. They may be simply collecting resumes and screening people out of the process. It is possible that they plan to terminate someone in that role, and need to have a backup.

Find out if the role is being recruited through an agency, or from within a company. An agency will typically schedule a phone interview as part of their screening process. If they think you are a good fit, they will ask your permission to submit your resume to the unidentified company. Be careful about the type of information you provide to an agency. I am frequently contacted by staffing agencies that are just trying to submit candidates, in order to generate revenue. An agency that works like that is not invested in you. This is your opportunity to screen in or screen out particular staffing agencies, and you can tell them not to submit your resume.

Ask questions based on the job description

Take notes about leadership changes, partnerships, new product or service offering.
Take notes about leadership changes, partnerships, new product or service offering. | Source

You Must Sound Knowledgeable About the Company

If you want the job, you truly must prepare for the phone interview. One of the things I always do is use the Job Description as my basis for asking questions. Quite often companies will insert a wish list of qualifications and required experience, but they don’t always hold fast to those 'requirements'.

Whether your phone interview is with a third-party recruiter, company recruiter or a manager, you should completely prepare as if you were having an onsite interview. One of the first questions I am always asked is “What do you know about our company”? This is a valid question and is a quick way to knock you out of the competition. It is critical that you understand what the company does, what their product or service proposition is, as well as who they partner with, what contracts they scored lately and whether or not they have any new executives. You should prepare a 30-60 second elevator speech about the company, and be able to repeat it as though you already work there, and understand the business.

I prepared for a recent phone interview with an oil and gas company in Houston. However, as I was researching the company I discovered that it is not truly an oil and gas company, but instead is a company that uses software as a service (SAAS) to help oil companies use predictive technology for purchasing fuel and managing the inventory. This information proved to be critical in the first minute of the conversation. It is imperative that you know enough about the company that you can summarize what they do in 30-60 seconds. That will leave an impression with the other person and they will take you more seriously throughout the rest of the interview.

Reduce distractions and eliminate noise

Have the call in your car instead of a high-traffic area.
Have the call in your car instead of a high-traffic area. | Source

Poll

How Important is Your Knowledge of the Company

See results

Treat a phone interview the same as a face-to-face interview

Read all recent news and PR to demonstrate your knowledge about the company.
Read all recent news and PR to demonstrate your knowledge about the company. | Source

Research the Website and Social Media to Learn More About the Company

Do some research on the person that will interview you. Also, check out the company website and research the management team. Review the departments and learn how the company is structured internally. If your interview is with senior management they will probably have a profile on the company website, Linkedin or can be found by conducting a Google search for their name.

You may find something in common that you can squeeze into the conversation. At the very least, you should be familiar with the company's latest press releases and news updates. If the company has a blog, read it so that you can speak about this during the interview. Search through the last 12 months of the company's social media channels. This is a great way to learn more about their products and services. You will also become familiar with the brand, and the 'voice' of the company.

Additional research can be on on glassdoor.com and salary.com. Former employees frequently add company reviews on these sites, along with salary information. If the salary is not posted as part of the job description, you may be able to find that information on one of these websites. This will help you determine if the salary range you desire is within the company's parameters.

Several years ago I had a phone interview, and found out in my research that the interviewer is the author of the company blog. I read through some of his recent articles to find out how he thinks, what he sees as valuable, and I developed questions based on this information. As the interview rounded up, he asked me if I had any other questions. I mentioned that I read his blog, which of course flattered him. But then I asked a serious political question regarding the gas tax. I discovered that he did support a new federal tax on mileage, and I was prepared with follow-up questions.

Recruiter Advice

How to Respond: Do You Have Any Questions For Me?

As part of your research and preparation, you need to have a defined set of questions that relate to the job. The interviewer wants to know a couple of things about you, such as; your knowledge about the company, your understanding of the job requirements, your education and your level of interest. If they get the impression that you didn't do your homework, and are poorly prepared then you risk moving forward in the interview process.

I tend to work with a digital copy of the job description. I'll go through one section at a time and develop a set of questions based on the requirements. If the job description contains information about managing email marketing or Customer Relation Management (CRM), then I'll ask about the platforms they are using, the frequency that they send email, the health of their database, and I want to know if they are following best practices such as CAN SPAM compliance.

It's easy enough to create these questions, and you may find that the 30-minute interview that was scheduled stretches into an hour or more. In 2004, I was scheduled for a one-hour interview on a Friday afternoon that literally stretched into five hours. Those five hours led to a full week of salary negotiations which started the following Monday.

I will also ask the interviewer unrelated questions, such as;

  • Is this a new position?
  • What pain points are you experiencing until this role is filled?
  • What do you feel are the requirements to be successful in this role?
  • How quickly do you want to fill this position?

If you pass the first round of interviews, and are called back to meet with someone else, it will typically be a senior-level executive. The second interview is just as critical as the first, so the preparation should be taken seriously. Don't assume that all your questions were answered in the first interview, because second interviews tend to me more important than the first.

© 2012 Michelle Orelup

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    • TINA V profile image

      TINA V 5 years ago

      This is a very good advice in handling a phone interview. I agree with you; applicants must treat it as if they are going to an onsite or face-to-face interview with the hiring managers. Rated up!

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