How to Get Past the Phone Interview

Dear, Anita,

It seems like more HR departments are starting with phone interviews these days, which is tricky because I am currently employed. I’ve had a few phone interviews recently that haven’t led to an invitation for an in-person interview. How can I make a better impression on the telephone?

Woman_Cell_Phone_iStock_000000292386_SmallDear, Can You Hear Me Now?,

Phone screening of candidates is definitely becoming more common. With so many applications submitted for each position, hiring managers don’t have the time to meet every applicant in person.

First things first. While you are job hunting, be sure to answer your cell phone professionally at all times. Check out Careerealism’s blog What To Say When An Interviewer Calls You At A Bad Time. It is a delicate undertaking to convene a phone interview while you are on the clock at your current employer. Try to schedule the pre-interview during your usual lunch time. If the hiring manager is unavailable in the middle of the day, you may need to ask your boss for time off for a vague “appointment” (you’ll want to save other personal days for on-site interviews).

Right before the scheduled time, close your office door, if you have one. If you’re part of a cubicle farm, find a private place with five-bar cell phone reception. You may have to take the call in your vehicle. Don’t just go outside and interview on the sidewalk; background street noise can be very distracting. Side note to unemployed job seekers: do not conduct a phone interview in your pajamas while lying on the sofa. Get up, get dressed, and sit up straight! (How’s that for tough love?) It’s amazing how attitude can be subtly transmitted through a telephone call.

Some people may shine during phone interviews, feeling less nervous than they would in person. (After all, the hiring manager can’t see that you are sweating through your jacket!) However, not everyone has great phone charisma. Just like actors in live theater have to over-emote to reach the audience in the balcony, you may have to pump up the enthusiasm in your voice when the interviewer can’t see your forward-leaning body language and the energetic gleam in your eye.

The interviewer may ask some basic pre-screening questions, or he or she may jump into the deep end with the “big” questions. Ready yourself for a phone interview just as you would for a face-to-face meeting – be prepared for anything.

Businessman on the beachIf you are asked to interview via Skype or video conference, additional groundwork is required. You’ll want to dress exactly as if you were going to a “real” interview, so make sure your outfit is pressed and ready. Find the best vantage point to set up your web cam, tablet, or phone to have the least distracting background possible. You don’t want the interviewer to see your messy desk or a stack of unwashed dishes in your kitchen sink. Get opinions from friends or trusted colleagues on your backdrop, and ask them for feedback on your posture, facial expression, and speech patterns.

At the end of the phone interview, or an in-person interview for that matter, be sure you understand what to expect next and the timeframe you may hear back from the company.  Just like you send a thank you for a face-to-face interview, you should follow up with this same courtesy for a virtual interview.

Readers: How often are you asked for phone pre-interviews? Have you ever had an embarrassing interruption while on a phone interview?

Do you have a job-related question? Ask Anita.

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Creating a Recognition Culture

Dear, Anita,

Do you have any new ideas on how our office can celebrate Administrative Professionals Day?Admin_Professional_Day_iStock_000001586762_Small

Dear, No More Flowers,

Administrative Professionals Week® (Wait, what?! There’s a whole week?) is generally celebrated the last full week of April, according to it founder, the International  Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP), with Administrative Professionals Day® celebrated on Wednesday of that week – April  22 this year. The commemoration exists to honor admins’ positive contributions to offices around the world.

11 Things You Didn't Know About Employee RecognitionWhile it’s a great idea to set aside a special time to focus on these individuals and perhaps treat them to free lunch, a better modus operandi is to create a recognition culture in your workplace. It not only helps morale, but it impacts the bottom line. How? Increased productivity/better customer service from engaged workers, and lower costs related to turnover, as the infographic from Officevibe shows.

David Novak, author of Taking People With You: The Only Way to Make Big Things Happen, tells how he realized recognition needed to be a priority. On a routine visit to canvass salespeople about display and merchandising, everyone raved about an employee named Bob and what a great job he did. This brought Bob to tears because in his 47 years with the company, he never got this kind of positive feedback.

Don’t make your subordinates wait that long for an “Atta Boy.”  We human beings crave a sense of significance and one measure is esteem from others. It’s important to feel important!

Kim Harrison of Cutting Edge PR defines employee recognition as “timely, informal or formal acknowledgement of a person’s or team’s behavior, effort or business result that supports the organization’s goals and values.”

Formal recognition includes things like:

  • Milestone awards given at annual conventions
  • Employee of the Month

Informal recognition ideas:

  • “Thank You Thursdays”
  • Traveling trophies
  • On-the-spot award gift cards
  • Celebrating birthdays
  • Day-to-day positive interactions with managers and peers

What do employees want? According to Quantum Workplace’s 2014 Recognition Trends Report, 60 percent said a pay increase was an important form of recognition. (Not surprising, but compensation is really different from recognition.) What I found interesting was that #2 on the list was access to new learning/training opportunities, beating out a spontaneous cash bonus or time off. For the third year on the row, a personalized gift like a plaque ranked last. In the spirit of fun, Novak, now CEO of Yum Brands Inc., has given out hundreds of unconventional Rubber Chicken Awards to his KFC employees. The award has morphed into a set of plastic teeth with legs denoting they “walk the talk.” I don’t know about you, but I’d rather get one of these goofy awards than another Lucite dust collector.

Points recognition programs (similar to frequent flyer miles or brand loyalty awards) allow employees to accumulate points for achieving benchmarks (or peers can even grant points for a job well done). The points may be accumulated and redeemed for rewards from a gift catalog. Choose a program carefully, as some catalogs offer off-brand, cheap goods; is that any way to express appreciation to an employee?

Honestly, sometimes the simplest things done regularly can have an amazing effect. A personal thank you note or email after a job well done can do wonders for employee satisfaction.

Need more ammunition to convince higher-ups to create a recognition culture? Blackhawk Engagement Solutions put together 23 Employment Motivation Statistics to Silence Naysayers.

Readers: How does your company appreciate white and pink collar workers on Administrative Professionals Day – or all year long?

Do you have a job-related question? Ask Anita.

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Reverse Snooping on Potential Employers

Dear, Anita,

Once I land an interview, I check out the company website and LinkedIn. But if I don’t have any LinkedIn contacts that work there, how can I get the “inside story” about the culture?

Dear, Curious Kat,

Human Resource professionals often perform Google searches and check social media sites to see if a candidate is a good fit for their company culture. Job seekers desperately looking for work don’t often think to turn the tables. But the time spent on researching a company and its culture may prevent a disruptive blip in your career path.

The company website is a great place to start. Most businesses have an “About” tab at the top or link at the bottom of website. Read through it all, including the history and the bios of the management. Even for a business that doesn’t spell out the mission or core principles of its company culture, you’ll get a sense about the company’s personality based on the tone, photo style, and other subtle cues. This research will also pay off when your interviewer asks, “What do you know about our company?” and “Why do you want to work here?”

Next, Google the company name for which you are interviewing. Pass over the company sites you just reviewed and look for third-party sites. Wikipedia may contain additional information (some companies, however, are contributors to their own Wiki listing). On the Google search page, switch from “Web” and click “News” under the search field. While some of this news content may be derived from press releases provided by the business itself, you may be able to glean some insight into the company character or discover some potential red flags.

Glassdoor.com is a website that allows real employees to anonymously review current or former employers, giving the pros and cons of working at the company. You may even get a sneak peak at questions that could be asked during your interview.

Look at other business review sites, such as Yelp.com, YellowPages.com, or MerchantCircle.com. While businesses are reviewed by customers rather than employees, you may be able to intuit company values and business practices. Take these reviews with a grain of salt, however, as there are trolls on the Internet who take perverse pleasure in spreading negativity.

As you’ve found, LinkedIn is a great resource. I’m sure you’ve noticed the “How You’re Connected” sidebar whenever you check out a LinkedIn company profile. But have you ever clicked on “Advanced” to the right of the search box on the Home page bar? There, you can expand the relationships from 1st or 2nd to 3rd + Everyone Else. Under company, leave “Current or past” highlighted for the most hits. Once you perform your advanced search, check out the longer list of shared connections and message or connect with the individuals to see if they are willing to chat with you about their experience working at the company.

A little cyber sleuthing before accepting a position can prevent the whole frying pan/fire scenario.

Readers: How has researching a company affected your interview, or your decision to take a position offered?

Do you have a job-related question? Ask Anita.

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100,000 Subscribers and Counting!

Celebrate colorful background with balloons.Dear, Readers,

I’m so excited, I just had to share this milestone: Job Talk with Anita Clew has reached over 100,000 subscribers! I started the blog when unemployment was a 9.8%, doling out advice to do my part to help the slow recovery from the Great Recession.

Why not take a moment to check out some of the most-read posts of all time in
the archives?
#1: How to Get Hired if You Don’t Have Experience
#2: Time Theft: Is it really a crime?
#3: Contacting a Company After an Interview
#4: Disclosure of a DUI
#5: Post-Interview Advice
#6: Why So Many Interviews?
#7: Online Application – No Calls
#8: Saying “no” to working late
#9: Interview Questions
#10: Reference Check Response

Thank you, loyal subscribers, for sticking with Job Talk through thick and thin.

Readers: What was the most valuable piece of advice you ever received from yours truly, Miss Anita?

Public Speaking Jitters

Dear, Anita,

I’ve been asked by my manager to present a report at next month’s departmental meeting. It’s not a lot of people, but I’m still anxious. I’ve got to create a PowerPoint, and I haven’t had much experience speaking in front of a group.
Any advice for me?

Dear, Nervous Kelly,

Your manager has given you a great opportunity to get your oratory feet wet in front of your “peeps.” Your coworkers are friendly faces, and they are going to be rooting for you. Knowing that should alleviate half your fears.

The second key is preparation. I’m sure your manager has given you some guidance on talking points he’d like you to highlight from the report. Avoid text-heavy slides (the detailed information is in the report they’ll receive, after all). To keep your audience engaged, don’t simply read your PowerPoint slides verbatim. Use them as cues to explain, discuss, or go into more detail. Write your script in the Notes section of PowerPoint, and use the Presenter mode.

Once you’ve finalized your PowerPoint and your boss has approved, rehearse your script. Out loud. Close your office door so you won’t have to give your coworkers a spoiler alert. Or bring your laptop home and present to your dog. You may even want to do a dry run in the meeting room, so you won’t have any technical snafus that will sabotage your concentration on the big day.

Public_Speaking_Jitters_0315To calm your nerves, start out with a smile. Try for a conversational delivery (steer clear of a monotone drone) in a voice loud enough for all in the room to hear. Some people rush when they are nervous, so make a point to speak slowly and clearly, but with inflection. Other novice speechmakers tend to hold their breath. Back in the days of 3×5 cards, I used to write “Breathe!” on the bottom of each card. Remember to take a deep breath during each slide transition. Be sure to look up from your notes and make eye contact with your audience (your best buddies will be sure to smile their encouragement). If you lose your train of thought, just pause and regroup. Chances are, no one will even notice the hesitation.

If this is something you may need to do on a regular basis for your position (and in your career down the road) check out Toastmasters International, an organization that helps members improve their communication skills. You can join one of the 14,000+ clubs and practice giving speeches in a supportive environment.

Readers: What’s your best advice for overcoming pre-speech jitters?

Do you have a job-related question? Ask Anita.

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Disclaimer

Anita Clew's blog posts are intended for general guidance and should never be taken as legal advice. In all instances where harassment, inequity, or unfair treatment is believed to be present, please consult your HR Department or legal representation.
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