Tackling Phone Interviews

Good news: you’ve received a call back from a recent application.

Bad news: round 1 is a phone interview.

Most recent grads are unfamiliar with phone interviews, and even seasoned vets are uncomfortable with them.  In addition to the standard interview best practices, what can you do to increases your chance of success over the phone?

Phone interviews are increasingly common steps in the application process.  Typically used to screen candidates before in-person interviews, they’re a great way for companies to separate the wheat from the chaff early on, so they don’t take up as much time with longer, generally more in-depth interviews in the office.  Increased pressure to cut costs, geographically diverse work forces, and the large number of applicants for available positions means phone interviews are here to stay.  A great phone interviewer automatically has a leg up on the competition, and it’s not too hard to learn.

Tip 1: Cheat Sheets

The biggest benefit to the phone interview is that they can’t see you.  Prepare anything and everything possible and have it lying out on your desk during the interview.  Open the company’s website, print out your top experience stories, list the five strengths you want to focus on, and print the name of the interviewer in big bold letters and tape it to your wall.  You’re not using these sheets to read verbatim, but rather as memory joggers.  This way you won’t leave the interview without sharing the best example of your leadership skills, for instance.  You also won’t forget any names, which is a death knell for any opportunity.

Tip 2: Stand Up

It’s an old trick, but it works every time.  Stand up when you’re on the phone and you’ll instantly be 25% more energetic and focused.  This is especially true if you’re taking the interview at your desk, where you have the Internet at your disposal.  When you stand, you won’t get distracted, you’ll project your voice, and you’ll gain energy.

Tip 3: Dress for Success

Dress as you would for an in-person interview, if possible.  If you’re wearing a suit, you’ll speak more professionally and take the interview more seriously.  Remember when Corporate America went to largely casual attire for a few years, and then they went back?  It didn’t take long to learn that casual attire leads to casual attitudes toward work.  Professional attire gives you an instant polish, something we can all benefit from.

Tip 4: Slow Down Even More

Nest time you’re in the room with someone on the phone, listen to their conversation.  Most of the time they talk faster on the phone than they do in person.  Why?  My theory is that they’re more worried about giving up the floor.  If you pause in person, your body language and expressions tell the listener that you’re still making a point, but thinking about how to phrase something.  When you pause on the phone, the other person may assume you’re finished.  To keep the other person from jumping in, people tend to run on.  When you’re in a phone interview, you need to check yourself more frequently than in an in-person interview to make sure you maintain a deliberate, professional pace.  This is doubly true if phone interviews make you nervous.

I may add to this list over time, but I think it’s a good start.  Who has other ideas?


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