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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Take Stock with a Mock Interview

Take Stock with a Mock Interview

Dear, Anita,

I have worked for and run the family business for over 33 years, but due to dwindling sales, I am going to have to close the doors and go to work for someone else. I applied for a promising management position, and have been called in for an interview. I know the questions I used for the specially-skilled positions at my company, but am unsure what will be asked of me. Help – I’ve never been on the other side of the desk! 

Job InterviewDear, First-Time Interviewee,

I’m sure in your tenure as a business owner that you’ve seen your share of faux pas in employment interviews.  Check out Top 10 Interview Fails  and see if any of the mistakes seem familiar.

Now that we’ve broken the tension with a good chuckle, let’s talk turkey.  Don’t wing it; be fully prepared for your interview. Write out your answers to common interview questions, and then rehearse them out loud until they sound conversational rather than scripted. Enlist a trusted friend or colleague to participate in a mock interview to give you valuable feedback. They can let you know if you’re talking too fast or if you answered a question with uncertainty. You may wish to videotape yourself. I know, it’s painful to listen to your own voice, but review the recording and analyze your performance like a pro sports coach. Some career centers and counselors offer mock interviews for an even more realistic experience than pretending with a biased buddy at your kitchen table.

As you probably know, the ice-breaker is usually, “Tell me about yourself.” While some experts maintain that your answer should be 100% work related, I disagree… slightly. The interviewer is not hiring a robot; they are hiring a team member that should fit into the company culture. But do keep the personal bit short (“In my spare time, I’m an avid cyclist”). You shouldn’t rattle on, sounding like an online dating profile.

Pick out a dozen or so of the tough ones in Monster’s list of 100 potential interview questions (don’t be alarmed… you won’t be asked all of them!). For a management position, expect to answer some variation of “Describe your management style” or “What would your direct reports say about you?”  In your situation, the interviewer may ask about the specifics of your business closure. See From Self-Employed to Employed for my advice to entrepreneurs re-entering the workforce.

This mock interview video from health care company Cerner Corporation is geared toward recent graduates, but illustrates some dos as well as don’ts for first-time interviewees:

Readers: Let’s role-play! In the comments below, give your best answer to the opening volley, “Tell me about yourself.”

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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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