Surviving your first phone interview

As if it isn’t hard enough to read through the employer’s poker face during a face to face job interview, a phone interview can be quite daunting and throw you off your “A-game”. Not being able to read the non-verbal cues can definitely change the dynamic of an interview. For this reason, a phone interview can be intimidating especially knowing that it most commonly used as a screening technique by many employers.  The goal of the phone interview is to get to the next phase and score an in person interview. Many of my clients, who have never experienced a phone interview, have asked me to coach them on ways to impress the employer within the confinement of a phone conversation. I always reassure job seekers that this does not have to be a nerve-racking experience if they see the advantages of a phone interview and incorporate some of the following techniques.

First things first

Although it is preferable to use a landline, for many of today’s job seekers a smart phone may be the only option.  For this reason, it is extremely important that when using a cell phone you find a location with good reception –the last thing you want is a dropped or static call. Also, don’t forget to charge your phone! Be sure to find a quiet space with no distractions. You do not want to divert the employer’s attention to background noise such as a barking dog, chirping bird, mid-day soap opera, or any other ruckus. Find a suitable and appropriate location for your phone interview – avoid a phone interview at your current place of employment. Hiding and whispering can negatively impact your performance. Although this is a phone interview, it should be treated as a formal interview; all interview etiquette applies!

Preparation is a must

Prepare just as you would for a face- to- face interview. Review your resume and assess your skills as they relate to the job posting and the mission of the organization. The advantage of a phone interview is the ability to spread your notes across your desk. You can highlight some quick reference points, jot down some notes on your resume and prepare questions ahead of time. Be prepared with information about the company as well as a copy of the job description. By no means should you read off your responses from your notes. You do not want to sound rehearsed or appear that you are reading off a script! Avoid shuffling papers as this can also be undesirable background noise.

Communication skills

This is where confidence and preparation come in. When people are underprepared or lack confidence in their skills, they tend to get extremely nervous which leads to rambling, speaking too quickly, and using a low monotone voice- all which can be a complete turn-off. The employer may not ask you to repeat your response because that can be too time consuming. Remember that this is a screening interview and they will be going off how well you can communicate and market your strengths and qualifications. Speak clearly, project your voice and articulate your responses. Do not eat or chew gum! Most importantly, show your personality. Our tone of voice can send a plethora of messages. Smile, be positive and make an effort to project energy, enthusiasm and interest for the position.

Show off your assets

This is your opportunity to toot your own horn. Although modesty is admirable, it can only go so far in a job interview. The employer is not only seeking a qualified candidate, but someone who is a good fit, will go above and beyond and make their company look good.   Think back and draw from examples where you made an impact in your previous roles. What positive contributions have you made to other organizations? Provide tangible examples where you have proven your value. Practice answering questions – not only will this help calm your nerves, but your responses will be refined and succinct.

Final thoughts

Be attentive, listen and never interrupt the interviewer. Be confident in your skills, practice answering questions, be pleasant and professional and showcase why you are the ideal candidate for the position. Lastly, be sure to ask thoughtful questions and ask about the next steps. Be prepared when the employer invites you for the in-person interview. If they ask you for a time and date, do not leave it open ended— “Anytime, whenever”. Offer alternate choices “I am available on Tuesday between 10:00am – 1:00pm and Wednesday anytime before noon”. Once the employer has selected a time frame, you have made it to the next phase and have survived the phone interview.

As always…say “thank-you”

This can be a deal breaker for many employers. Be sure to thank the recruiter after the phone interview, reiterate your interest in the position and send a “thank you” e-mail as soon as possible.


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