Mastering Those Uncomfortable Phone Interviews

By Steve Frederick, Frederick Career Services

Be Knowledgeable
Postpone if their (unscheduled) call catches you by surprise
Be Prepared
Convey Enthusiasm
Keep our Answers Short--and Probe
Smile and Relax
Ask the Names of All Interviewers
Keep Track of What You Have Discussed
Find Out Follow Up Procedures
Send a Thank You

Angela was devastated when a disastrous phone interview crashed her hopes of landing her dream job. The boss called just as she stepped out of the shower. Wrapped in her towel, dripping wet, and shivering, she struggled to be composed. The phone cord didn't stretch far enough to reach her notes, so she improvised. Then, her dog started barking, her toddler woke up screaming, and Angela came unglued.

Don't let this happen to you! Since many employers are screening candidates using telephone interviews, it pays to prepare for them. Some points apply to all interviews; others are specific to phone interviews. Here's a few suggestions for surviving the phone interview.

Be knowledgeable
Make sure you know about the company, its products and services, and how you could help them.

Postpone if their (unscheduled) call catches you by surprise
Angela could easily have said, "It's not a good time to talk. How about this afternoon?” Likewise, if you haven't done your company research, you can stall for time: "I'm excited about talking to you, but could we talk tomorrow instead?"

Be prepared
Make sure you are in a quiet room, and won't be disturbed. Have a quality phone available. We all know how annoying it can be to try to talk when someone's cell phone keeps cutting out.

Part of your preparation should include having your resume, important points of your company research, your talking points, and questions you want to ask. Have several stories prepared to illustrate times you were most effective. Take advantage of the positive side of phone interviews-they can't see your notes.

Convey enthusiasm
In person, you communicate with the way you're dressed, your handshake, smile, gestures, and other body language. Over the phone, your voice alone will make the impression. Make sure you sound upbeat. Practice interviewing over the phone with a friend or spouse to get comfortable with it. Some people find tape recorders helpful.

Keep Your Answers Short--and probe
You've probably heard the adage, "You've got two ears and only one mouth for a reason." Don't drone on and on. Answer the question and have probing questions of your own. Find out what the boss wants, why he/she is hiring and what problems the boss hopes you'll be able to solve.

Smile and relax
Take a tip from successful telemarketers who put a mirror in front of them to remind themselves to smile. Although they can't see you, the smile is conveyed in your voice. Take deep breaths and speak distinctly.

Ask the names of all interviewers
If there is more than one interviewer, carefully write the names and titles of all the interviewers and occasionally use their names when responding to their questions: "Nancy, the first thing I would do in such a situation..." Make sure you have the correct spellings so you can send each one a thank you note.

Keep track of what you have discussed
Go into the interview with an agenda: these are the points I want to convey during the interview. As you make each point, cross it off so that you won't repeat it, and you can see clearly what else is on your list.

Find out follow up procedures
Find out how to follow up with the interviewers, what the next step in the process will be, and ask if they would like you to provide any additional information.

Send a thank you
Promptly send a thank you letter to all the interviewers. This often-overlooked courtesy can make a big difference. One employer recently said that although he’d been impressed with a woman he’d interviewed, he was disappointed that she hadn't sent a thank you note. She didn't get the job.

As with any interview, preparation and follow through are the keys to success.

Steve Frederick, Frederick Career Services