Tips to Acing Phone Interviews

Posted by Jeff Pelliccio on Jun 28, 2012 8:33:00 AM

In Interview Tips

While every part of the interview process is a critical step towards your dream job, for many, the phone interview is the most important one. It helps employers deluged with applications quickly determine if a candidate is worth their time and, if you impress, you will be a strong candidate for the position. Conversely, if you falter, it is an opportunity missed, and your resume will be placed in the reject pile. Unfortunately, there are a lot of bad habits and minor missteps that can sabotage your chances. You will ace your phone interviews with ease, however, if you combine the proper preparation and environment with a handful of helpful tips.

Phone interviews are either formal interactions with a standard list of questions that all candidates are asked or a warmer, more genuine conversation. If it is a large corporation, typically, you will speak with someone in Human Resources, who may come across as cold or indifferent. Do not let that deter you and understand you are most likely talking to someone who asks the same set of questions daily, several times a day. On the other hand, you may speak with a friendly person who is easy to talk to and seems truly interested in what you have to say. That can certainly make things more pleasant, but ultimately, it should not make a difference. Bring your A-game and be an engaged, personable candidate who answers questions thoughtfully but succinctly. Smaller businesses may not have an HR department and you may even speak with the person who will make the final decision. You should know this ahead of time and, when you make the appointment, do not be afraid to ask the name, position, and contact information of the person who will call you. Knowing what to expect enables you to focus and take the interviewer’s manner in stride.

The biggest mistake candidates make is not taking phone interviews as seriously as in-person meetings. Professionalism and preparation are the underlying themes of all phone interview advice, and if you know how to prep for an interview, the phone conversation should be a breeze. Do your research on the company, the position, and the interviewer. Even if it is an HR person you may never meet, knowing that will provide important context and, if you can find a photograph, you will put a face to the name. Some experts recommend having a picture of the person in front of you during the call because it makes it easier to relate. It is not something worth stressing over, but it can help. Have hard copies of your resume and the job description in front of you for easy reference. Compose answers to the most common interview questions beforehand and jot down some notes to remind you of them. It does not need to be verbatim, and you do not want to come across as rehearsed, but those notes will keep you on track and serve as an anchor if your nerves are getting the best of you. Most importantly, dress like you are going to work. That means showering, grooming, and dressing professionally but comfortably. You do not need to be in a suit or your actual interview outfit, but a professional outfit will cultivate a certain mindset that wearing pajamas or sweats do not. It also provides you an opportunity to wake up if the call is the first task of your day. You want to sound awake and energized, not sleepy and apathetic.

The one major advantage to a phone interview is that you have complete control over your environment. Pick a quiet space without distractions, preferably with a door if other people are in the vicinity. That means no children, pets, partners, roommates, or colleagues around. Close windows, turn off any appliances, and even hang a “do not disturb” sign. Ideally, you will be at home, but if that is not possible, find a conference room or a similarly secluded area. If you have access to a landline phone, that is your best option and do not forget to turn off your cell phone. If you are stuck using a cell, make sure you have excellent reception and a clear signal for both you and the caller. Regardless of the type of phone you are using, turn off any special features, such as call waiting and notifications. You want to eliminate anything that will detract from your conversation.

Also, make sure you have water (no ice) as well as pen and paper handy. While you do not want to force your interviewer to listen to you slurping a drink, a quick sip while a question is being asked will prevent you from becoming parched. Having pen and paper at the ready in case you need to write down important information or a few notes means you will not need to scramble and come across as unprepared while also wasting the interviewer’s time. There are two schools of thought about using a computer during your interview, but, generally speaking, you are better off without it. If it causes you to split focus, even for a brief moment, you could miss a critical part of a question. Also, when we hear someone tapping away at a keyboard, we usually assume that person is doing something else and not paying attention. Even if that is inaccurate, it is not an impression you want to give during an interview.