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Essential Phone Interview Tips

Updated on January 31, 2010

Would you like some phone interview tips? "But a phone interview is not a "real" interview is it?" Hopefully you are enjoying the job search. You might be staying with it a bit longer than you imagined if that is your attitude about phone interviews. Employers these days are so strapped for time and people to conduct interviews that the phone interview is a prime way to ensure that only the best, most prepared candidates wind up sitting across the desk from them in the face to face interview. As someone hunting down employment, this is a simple fact that needs to be understood to better help bring fruit to your search. Ignore the phone interview, or worse, choke on the answers to the questions, and you will end up at the bottom of the pile or in the "circular file" with little to no chance at working for this company.

My series of hubs on helping people with their job interview preparation includes some frequently asked interview questions and their answers as well as some tips for interview preparation, which should help with the big day where you finally get to meet face to face with your prospective employer and show them what you are made of. The phone interview tips given here, though, are absolutely no less important. As I mentioned in one of the previous articles, the preparation will help you to rise above the crowd, so I consider these tidbits of advice offered here to be no as essential as anything else I've told you.

"This is your future employer calling with some phone interview tips..."
"This is your future employer calling with some phone interview tips..."

Now, I'll tell you, I've conducted at least three phone interviews to every single face-to-face one, so I do have some background. One thing that is a little different now, though, is the intensity of these phone screenings. A simple screening is what I would do. I had a standard list of ten or fifteen questions that would be asked; most of them softball stuff, and I was only looking to exclude the folks who really wouldn't fit doing the type of job I was looking to fill. As for the hard questions, I prefer to see a candidate squirm in person because body language can tell us a lot. For the reasons mentioned above, employers these days do not have a lot of time or luxury to do this, so many candidates are being asked some really tough questions over the phone in addition to being required to expand on qualifications and work histories with the interviewer on the other end of the line. How are you supposed to prepare for a phone interview, then?

Phone Interview Tips to Prepare

Yes, maam, could we do the phone interview at 4:00 PM? I am meeting with someone right now...
Yes, maam, could we do the phone interview at 4:00 PM? I am meeting with someone right now...

Okay, so the phone rings, and on the other end is Ms. Davis at Widget Company wanting to know if you have time for some questions.  If you don't, then be honest and schedule a specific time for her to call you back.  It might help if you ask how long to expect it to take because it can range from ten minutes to over an hour if they are planning to cull out all but the strongest candidates.  It's even better if you had some way of knowing to expect a phone interview on the front end.  If you know anyone who has interviewed with the company you are trying out for, ask them what their process entailed.  Of course, most applicants are going in blind in terms of what to expect, but often a prospective employer may give you an advance notice of a possible phone interview in the event they plan on it being longer and more thorough.

You should already have done the basic preparation steps for interviewing really prior to submitting your first application or resume.  Take a look at my other hubs, especially the job interview advice because much of it can apply over the phone as well.  Once you've reviewed some potential intrview questions, done your homework on the company and any other background info you should know about the industry or product or service, and taken time practicing your responses in front of a mirror or with a friend or family member, you are more than halfway prepared for any interview.  This, of course, includes those conducted by phone.

When the scheduled time for the interview arrives you should make sure that you are not going to be interrupted.  You should be at home, or another quiet, solitary location where you can focus sloely on the task at hand which is trying your level best to show who you are and why the person interviewing you would be a fool not to bring you in for a face-to-face meeting about your future employment relationship.  Never allow yourself to take this call while grocery shopping or at the fast food drive-through window.  Sure, this is what we do as a regular part of our lives, but, for pete's sake, it's an interview.  Professionalism carries the day in these situations, and that includes protecting the one on one conversation you are having with your prospective employer.

That brings me to another small point of mention.  You may have met or talked with someone in a hiring capacity at the company.  You may have even been successful in finding out who will be your interviewer should you be invited to come in, but it's possible that a HR person may conduct your phone interview.  Bear in mind that this person has every bit as much say, if not more, in whether you will get a further chance.  For this reason, treat any person who calls you about a job as your potential boss.  In my company, the nice people in HR were in complete control of the process from start to finish, even if we were the ones actually giving interviews.  Their word was the final one on the matter of a prospective candidate, so politeness and professionalism with everyone you speak to is very important.

Make it a point to have your resume, work experience, and any other documentation in front of you when the time comes for your interview.  This is the only time you get an open book test during the process, so you might as well take advantage of it.  Just make sure that your speech sounds natural.  You don't want to sound as though you are reading off of something because that might hurt your chances.  Ideally, everything on paper is committed to memory.  Having it in front of you just ensures that you do not falter and can pick up the thread easily should you need to.

During the actual phone interview, you will more than likely be doing a major part of the talking.  It is helpful for most people to be standing when on the phone.  This allows your lungs are fully open and receiving all of the oxygen possible, which should have a positive effect on your speech and tone.  Also, you will not get too relaxed and miss something, as it can be easy to do so without the visual cues present in a face-to-face meeting.  If you like, standing in front of a mirror may help you to adjust yourself to the interview.  It may seem weird, this preoccupation of mine with interviewing and mirrors, but I've found it to be an extremely successful tactic for shy or reserved people to gain some confidence when speaking.

The same advice I gave in my other hub regarding not using slang, and no smoking or gum chewing apply here.  These last two things are actually fairly detectable over the phone.  The exchange of pleasantries also should not hurt you.  In other words, thank the speaker for taking the time to chat with you, and use their name at the conclusion of the interview to again thank them for their time.

In the event that you are given a chance to ask questions, remember my advice to refrain from discussing salary or benefit topics unless brought up by the interviewer.  It is never good to ask bluntly how much the job pays.  If you've done proper research on the company and the position you are applying for, then you should have been able to come up with a close ballpark figure on your own.  I do advise asking what the rest of the process looks like before you hang up.  You want to get a sense of, "where do we go from here?"  The interviewer might inform you that they usually conduct the phone interview and then two in-person meetings.  You may want to know when you can expect to hear back, so that is also a valid question.  Most larger employers will notify all candidates even if they are no longer being considered for a position, although, it may be via mail.

I hope that you've found these phone interview tips helpful, and as always; good luck with your job search!

Those phone interview tips were right on!
Those phone interview tips were right on!

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