Preparing for the Phone Interview

It has become commonplace for companies to conduct phone interviews before bringing candidates in for a full screen. This has become a good way to identify unsuitable candidates and avoid wasting time. Many of my clients have asked me to help them prep for a phone interview.

Under normal circumstances you are sitting in front of someone; you have an opportunity to engage them – really let your personality shine through. Of course your body language, smile, and ability to connect with someone on a personal level gives you the upper hand when sitting in the same room. What do you do on the phone? The interviewer can’t see you – there is not opportunity to gauge body language or make the same kind of connection.

Despite the limitations associated with a phone screen you can still make a powerful impression – powerful enough to get the real deal – an invite to the office.

Contact Details: Don’t make it difficult for someone to reach you. Referenced on your resume and your cover letter should be the best number(s) to reach you. This is probably going to be your home and cell phone. Make sure if you answer your cell phone you are prepared to take the call – otherwise let it go to voicemail. Answering your cell to simply tell someone you are not available does not make a good impression. If you were unavailable, why did you pick up in the first place? If you are presently employed, I do not suggest referencing your work number. You wouldn’t want a potential employer to think you are pursuing opportunities at the expense of your present employer. If you are doing that they will make the assumption that you would do the same thing should you choose to move on from their employ. During your search, check your messages frequently so you can call back at an appropriate time.

What’s on your answering machine: Some people have their young children leave the message on home answering machines. I have heard other messages with music, the automated “Please leave a message at the tone,” and no message with a beep. How is the caller to know that he has reached the correct number? The music can be a bit annoying (depending how long you have to listen to Metallica for), and the kids are cute; but it doesn’t send a very professional message to the caller. Either reference “You have reached the Smith residence,” or “Thank you for calling 555.555.5555 there is nobody available to take your call at this time.”

The Call: When you do your phone interview make sure that you are in a quiet place with good phone reception. The minute you do your phone interview from your cell is the minute that technology fails you. I strongly recommend that you accept phone interviews via a land line. You should be ready to talk; this means that your resume should be in front of you. Have a glass of water available, and make sure there are no distractions. Your full attention is needed to ensure that you can establish a rapport with the caller and give all of your energy to ensuring that you make your points clearly. You are selling your skills and accomplishments during the call. Keep a professional yet friendly tone. You want to maintain a relaxed, yet confident manner so the interviewer gets the sense that you are pleased to have the opportunity to discuss your qualifications and background during the phone interview process.

The follow-up: Here is your opportunity to make a lasting impression. You have not yet made it to the in-person interview. Your follow-up needs to be the same. Draft a nice hand-written note and MAIL it to the interviewer. Thank the person for her time and reiterate some of the key points you discussed that would make you a unique and valuable addition to the team. Indicate that you will follow-up again in the coming week to discuss next steps. Make sure you put this on your calendar so that you don’t forget to follow-up. Your diligence is very important; you must make sure that you do what you say you are going to do.

What not to do:
Under no circumstances should you be wandering around your home or office during the phone interview. Distractions can prevent you from focusing your efforts on providing compelling answers to the interviewers questions. Do not flush the toilet, have the TV on, or running the water. I know you are probably thinking – Who would do such things? Well, a lot of people, which is why I am referencing it here! I know people who have lost an in-person interview because of this type of behavior.

Your every effort – professional attention, and focus should be employed during the phone screen. Just because you are at home with your fuzzy slippers and coffee mug is not a reason to slack off. In fact, I would recommend getting dressed in a business casual outfit. Ultimately you need to treat this just as you would an in-person interview. Let your professional skills and personality shine through to get you the face-to-face meeting.