A phone interview is primarily used as a screening tool when either party is not local. For example, perhaps a company based in Ohio is looking for a sales representative in Texas. Or, you are in Florida and planning to relocate to California.
The majority of the time, these will be initial interviews. The executive will eventually meet you but they are not going to dedicate time and resources to flying you in before they feel relatively certain you are the one. So, the usual job interview rules apply, along with the added challenge of portraying your enthusiasm and personality without the benefit of nonverbal communication.
How to Prepare for the Phone Interview
Prepare for this interview the same way you would any other:
- Research the company and interviewer so you have a clear idea of what they do and how you can help.
- Be prepared to align your strengths and experience with the job requirements.
- Prepare a short answer to basic questions you are sure to be asked, such as “Tell me about yourself.“, “What can you bring to this job?” and “How does your past experience make you a good fit?”
In addition, consider likely questions that will relate to your probable geographic differences.
If you are planning to relocate they might ask:
- Why do you want to leave your current location?
- Why do you want to relocate here?
- What is your plan for moving? How quickly could you get here? Do you expect moving assistance?
There really aren’t any right or wrong answers; it’s more a way for an interviewer to assess your commitment level and the ease with which you can relocate.
How to Ace the Phone Interview
Because of the nature of the phone interview there are some special circumstances to keep in mind.
Have a glass of water ready in case your throat gets dry.
If they are calling you, answer the phone on the first ring, with a professional greeting. Yes, obviously you have caller ID and you know who’s calling. Still, take the time to say “Good morning, this is xx.”
If you are calling them, dial in right on time. Too early and you risk catching them off guard when they weren’t really prepared yet. Too late and you don’t look punctual.
Be cognizant that any noise you make will be amplified on their end. If you have to cough, make sure to hold the phone away from you or press mute.
Once you’ve taken care of your “own” noises, don’t forget the background! Make sure there are no audible distractions. No one wants to hear your email binging, your text blinging, your other phone ringing or your dog barking. The UPS guy is bound to come at the most inopportune moment, so be sure to put a note on your door, “No knocking or doorbell ringing.” If there is an unforeseen distraction, laugh it off. “See, I’m used to working in a chaotic environment!” In addition, if you are taking notes, don’t do it on the computer. The clack of the keys is distracting and could make the interviewer wonder if you are multi-tasking.
On that note, I am an insane multi-tasker. I literally cannot talk on the phone without having something else going at the same time… but resist the urge! It’s too easy to get distracted or accidentally make noise. If you feel like you must do something with your hands to keep them busy, take notes.
And speaking of notes, it’s perfectly ok to have them in front of you for a phone interview. I go old school with index cards. Jot down key ideas you want to play up, whether it’s sales figures, qualities you want to make sure to emphasize or even questions you want to ask so you aren’t caught unprepared.
Put a smile in your voice. This sounds dumb but it really works. Same for hand gestures. They can’t see you but if you are usually a non-verbal communicator your body language will transfer over the phone.
To avoid undue silence or interrupting the other person, try to pace the conversation so that you are anticipating him or her. Let them finish the entire question even if you think you know what they are going to ask. And if there is silence and you have finished answering the question, let it go. Probably the interviewer was distracted. With a phone interview it’s more important than ever not to ramble. You can’t see if they are bored or tuned out. Keep your answers punchy and succinct.
Most of the other elements of a phone interview are the same as a regular interviewer. Make sure you have a couple of smart questions at the end, when the conversation wraps up.
After the interview, follow-up with your thank you note as you normally would but mention the fact that you look forward to meeting them in person. Hopefully that will be the next step!
In today’s transient world, a phone interview is a logical way for many companies to screen the first round of applicants. By taking care to address the differences inherent in this type of interview, you can make sure your experience and drive will come through loud and clear.
by Cathie Ericson