Mastering the Phone Interview

Q: How does a phone interview differ from a face-to-face interview?

A phone interview is often the first step in the candidate screening process.  The purpose is to weed out a large number of possible candidates, narrowing down the list of individuals selected for an on-site interview.

Specific distinctions between phone and on-site interviews:

  • The focus of the phone interview is on identifying red flags, such as gaps in employment, poor communication/interpersonal skills or personality traits inconsistent with the corporate culture, which would serve to disqualify the candidate from further consideration.
  • At home, there are numerous potential distractions that threaten to take your attention away from the conversation.
  • The atmosphere is more casual, often causing candidates to feel and act more laid back than is appropriate during an interview.

Q: What can I do to ensure a successful phone interview?

The key to any successful interview, whether on the phone or in-person, is preparation.  Practice answering interview questions with someone who will provide constructive criticism.  The mirror is also a great source of unbiased feedback and will give you a clear view of how you come across in an interview.

  • Put yourself in the right frame of mind by preparing for the call the same way you would for a face-to-face interview.  Beyond perfecting your interviewing skills, here are several additional suggestions that will boost your likelihood of success.
  • Take the call in a quiet room where you can sit behind a desk, as if speaking to the interviewer on the other side.
  • Ensure that there will be no distractions.
  • Eliminate sources of peripheral noise, such as cell phones, alarms, toys, kids, etc.
  • Dress and attend to your presentation with the same level of professionalism as you would if meeting with the hiring manager on-site.
  • Don’t risk getting disconnected during the call.  Use a landline, charge your phone in advance and disable call waiting.  Consider using a headset – you’ll feel less restricted and be free to use hand gestures, communicating as you would naturally.
  • Have your resume ready for reference and prepare a notepad and pen.
  • Have in front of you a list of relevant discussion points: strengths, reason for interest in the position, key facts about the company/industry.  Caution: do not read your answers, as this will be quite obvious.  Instead, practice answering these questions in advance; use the notes only as reminders.
  • Smile — although the interviewer can’t see you, your voice will convey enthusiasm and set a positive tone.
  • Be prepared for the most likely phone interview questions (e.g.: “Explain your reasons for leaving each job”; “Explain any gaps in employment”; “Name your 3 key strengths/weaknesses”; “Why are you interested in this job?”)
  • As you would during a regular interview, remember to ask a few well-chosen questions and express your interest in further discussing the opportunity in-person.
  • Follow up with a thank you note.

Although this last suggestion is not specific to phone interviews, please also consider the following:  your voice-mail message may be the first impression you make on a recruiter.  When conducting a job search, be sure to override the generic message with a personal greeting that sounds professional and positive.

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