Even with the growing popularity of Skype, Google Hangouts and Facetime, the old-fashioned phone interview is here to stay. After all, once your resume’s been flagged for a skill match, it’s a recruiters’ next logical step: phone interviews are efficient, cost-effective and often a great predictor of cultural and behavioral fit.
But for many, it’s just downright hard to have a thorough and relaxed conversation on the phone with a stranger – especially when that stranger’s evaluating you. Is that silence because the interviewer is writing down what you’re saying? Or are they still waiting for you to say something interesting?
The phone interview is your one opportunity to get in the door. You need to take the time to prepare yourself, just as if you were having a real face-to-face interview. As pointed out by learnvest.com, “You might have the best intentions, but what you say and how you say it (tone, pace, inflection, etc.) can easily be misinterpreted.”
So, after you’ve done all your essential pre-interview research and connected with your #standapart self, take some time to review these six essential tips for giving your best phone interview – some of them obvious and some of them definitely not:
1. Make a List, and Check it Twice
Preparation is a given. What might not be so obvious is the importance of creating an “example list” to refer to during the interview. Think of the standard interview questions (strengths, weaknesses, skills, conflict) and create a list of 8 to 10 examples that you can access during the conversation (without the long thinking pauses). Jane @MEC recommends that you choose examples from across your entire work history. Hiring managers are looking for you to showcase your full breadth of experience, not to share accomplishments from your last role.
If your phone interview is scheduled for 10am and the phone rings at 10am, assume it’s the company calling. The best way to answer the phone is “Hello, this is Jaylene speaking.” Don’t make the hiring manager wonder if your roommate picked up. An open-ended “Hello?” creates an awkward beginning to an already uncomfortable situation.
3. Environmental Scan
Take one. Noises? Eliminate them. Bad connection? Fix it. While HR reps are sympathetic to confidentiality issues, trying to hear someone talk from a busy cafe or street corner is frustrating. Jane @MEC says she’s even had people do phone interviews while walking their dogs (major fail). The key? Make it easy for the recruiter to hear you so that he/she can focus more on your answers versus trying to hear them. Come on.. it’s not that hard to find a building lobby to step into for a quick, quieter conversation!
4. Take a Good Look at Y
Body language is still important when you’re on the phone. An enthusiastic stance or smile translates into tonal variety and pitch variance. Many recruiters will suggest looking into a mirror so that you can emulate a face-to-face conversation. But, if that’s too awkward for you, try positioning yourself in front of a softer reflection – a window or a computer screen (turned off, of course).
5. Stay on Course
When you’re asked a question, especially a tough or complex one, quickly jot it down in as few words as possible (i.e. Leadership style?). As you start talking, keep glancing back to this visual guide to help keep your answers concise and on-track. Since phone interviews tend to run much shorter than the face-to-face kind, you’ll want to answer questions in as few words as possible. But above all, make sure you answer the question; lots of people stumble on hard questions and go off on rants without ever closing the loop.
6. Resolve Issues Upfront
If you think you’ve got a red flag against you, be proactive in resolving it. For example, if you have a recent long gap in your resume, address it up front. A candidate whom Jane @MEC recently interviewed explained her missing year of work history right away (I just returned from a year long world travelling sabbatical), sending Jane from confused to impressed.
With a little preparation, phone interviews don’t have to be scary. Or awkward. Don’t forget your own vested interest in this low-committal conversation: use this valuable time to pre-screen your potential employer as well – without ever ironing a suit.
I also really like the words of Paul Bailo, author of “The Essential Phone Interview Handbook.” He reminds us that “the last few words of a conversation are often the most remembered. So before you press “end,” say thank you and express your interest in the role.