The Art of the Telephone Interview

telephone interview

In today’s job market, it’s not uncommon to be asked for a telephone interview prior to a traditional, in person interview.  With all the competition out there, it’s sometimes difficult for recruiters to narrow down the search from just the information provided on a resume.  Fortunately for you, a lot of people underestimate the importance of this interview and are much too cavalier in their preparation. By under preparing, they take themselves out of the running from the start.  From having a professional voicemail to timing responses, when it comes to the phone interview, no detail is too small.

Eliminate Distractions

A telephone interview is rarely sprung on you.  Recruiters generally will call or e-mail to set up a phone interview with you at a later time or place.  This should give you plenty of time to select a place to have your interview and eliminate distractions.  Distractions include anything that will cause to you shift focus while on the phone.  From piles of dirty laundry to mail needing to be sorted.  This is not the time to be multi-tasking.  Clear yourself a surface where you will sit or stand and have only the essentials with you. Aside from attire, try to recreate a somewhat professional environment to help you feel more confident and on point.  If you are lying on your couch and having a snack during your interview, you will likely sound unenthusiastic and unfocused. Do whatever you must to stay focused on the interview…even if it means closing your eyes.  For the rare instances where a phone interview is sprung on you, don’t feel obligated to accept.  A good rule of thumb is if you can’t get to a quiet space within 90 seconds, let them know and politely ask when you could call them or have them call you back. As for additional distractions, make sure your phone alarms and push notifications are silenced for the time of the interview and anyone with access to the space you will be interviewing in knows you will need the room exclusively during this time.

Create a Set of Goldilocks Notes

The great advantage of a phone interview is you can use notes. The trick to using notes is to not have too many, nor too few notes.  So, what should you include in your Goldilocks notes? First have a copy of your resume and highlight the key points you want to be sure to touch on.  Also, have some key facts and notes regarding both the company and position for which you are applying.  Use bullet format in large font.  Remember, these are to be used as cues, so you don’t want to create long dead air time lapses, while you read paragraphs.  Also, don’t feel as if you need to get through all the notes you’ve prepared.  Go with the flow and speed of the interview and don’t try to force or cram more than what feels natural into the conversation or it will sound like you are reading off notes.  I like to use a color coded system on index cards.  I have one color for priority points I want to work in. This also includes my questions for the interviewer and a reminder to inquire about the in person interview to follow.  My second set is for cues or notes regarding answers to common questions.  Finally, I have a few note cards for information that I don’t necessarily need to convey, but may come in handy if the call goes longer than expected.

Straight To the Point

Since we just touched on how to maximize on a huge advantage of phone interviews, it’s only fitting that we talk about managing the one big disadvantage of a phone interview.  Not being able to see the person with whom you are conversing can be a huge disadvantage as you lose your ability to pick up on facial cues.  One of the most important things to be weary of is getting off topic.  When you are speaking to someone in person and you begin to ramble or get off topic, you can usually tell you’ve lost the other party by the look on their face. Because you don’t have this advantage during a telephone interview, it’s up to you to keep your responses on topic and succinct.  Just because you can’t see someone nodding in agreement, doesn’t mean your response needs further explanation.  If you’re not sure that you’ve made your point, rather than continuing to give various examples, simply pause and ask if you’ve answered their question.  It’s also a good idea to listen to the tone of their voice and also key words that may indicate they would like to wrap up the interview.

Master Presence

It is often more difficult a task to master presence when you are not present with your interviewer on a telephone interview, but here are a few tricks to help you achieve this.  First off, be sure to smile as you speak.  You will naturally sound more friendly and personable.  Also, practice speaking in your “indoor voice”.  For some unknown reason, especially when on speaker phone, we tend to get louder as we speak on the phone. Also, when you get to the common questions, use stories and specific examples to make you more memorable.  It’s a great way to show your personality and showcase your strengths.  Be sure to speak slowly and clearly, as mumbling or racing through your words will make you seem nervous and require your interviewer to ask you to repeat yourself frequently.

For more insight into telephone interviews and interviews of all types read more of our posts here?

Another resources for telephone interviews:

Forbes article 

LinkedIn YouTube video

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