Your first contact with a company that sees potential in your resume is going to be through a phone interview. A phone interview is an easy screening process that companies use when narrowing down candidates for a position. They usually last 20-30 minutes and are meant to ascertain whether you have the skills and knowledge the company is looking for. You meet their qualifications, but now is the time to demonstrate how your experiences are directly relevant. Your primary objective for the phone interview is to get invited to a face to face interview, and you and do this by demonstrating your qualifications and building chemistry.
The key to a successful phone interview is getting into the interviewing mindset. You have to take it just as seriously as a face to face interview. Some people thing that phone interview is just a formality before the face to face interview and don’t properly prepare for it. This sort of thinking will never get you to the next step. You shouldn't be lying around bed and wearing your pajamas during the phone interview. You need to prepare for the phone interview with as much drive as you would if you were putting on a suit for the face to face interview.
Begin your interview prep by researching the company and gathering your materials. Study the company’s website, LinkedIn, press releases, and any other information you can find to learn about the company, the people, and the culture. It’s a good idea to have these pages open on your computer in case there is something specific you want to call attention to during the interview. Determine what it is the interviewer is looking for so that you can anticipate questions and think about responses. Also have all of your documents laid out in front of you, including your resume, cover letter, the job description, etc., because the person interviewing you will likely have them.
Another item to keep on hand is a cheat sheet of critical points you want to emphasize and questions you want to ask. Make sure that you’re in a good environment for the interview. You should be isolated, away from children, pets, and other distractions. There needs to be minimal noise and you need to be able to speak as clearly as you can. Make sure that your phone line is clear, and that you won’t be interrupted by other calls. Land lines are preferable as there are less odds of a disconnection. Remember that there may be a line delay, so always pause for a second before speaking to avoid talking over someone.
Be settled and ready for your call 5 minutes ahead of time. It may take only 20 minutes, but always allow for at least half an hour so you don’t feel rushed. It can be a bit uncomfortable talking to a stranger over the phone so figure out how to make yourself feel comfortable. You may be better off standing so you aren't stiff and project confidence. You could put up a picture of someone you know or a mirror to watch yourself and stay engaged. Put up a sign reminding you to “SMILE” as it will make your voice sound more at involved. Also, speak slower than you normally would. Part of what they are looking for is whether you are an effective communicator, so be sure you are understood.
It’s possible the hiring manager gets stuck in a meeting and may be late calling you. Wait for a call for about 15 minutes after a specified time. If they still haven’t called you, call your recruiter if you or working with one, or whoever arranged the interview at the company. Simply ask if they are able to do the interview at that time or if it would be best to reschedule.
The Phone Interview
When the call comes in, spend the first minute or two building chemistry with the interviewer. You’re not shaking hands, but it needs to feel like you are. Exude enthusiasm and positivism. The first thing you’re asked will probably be to give an overview of yourself, so have a two minute pitch prepared. This pitch should give a sense of your education and work history, top accomplishments, and the overall themes of your career. Conclude with how your goals fit into the needs of the company and begin to discuss the position.
You interview should work as a dialogue where the interviewer asks about you, and you ask questions about the company. Listen carefully and be responsive. Be enthusiastic and assertive with everything, avoiding any traces of negativity. Never say anything bad about a former employer, sports team, political party, etc. Keep positive, professional, and honest, even though some questions will have the potential to be negative. If an employer is asking why you have changed jobs three times within five years, explain that each position offered a higher degree of challenge and fulfillment and cite your accomplishments in each position. If you are asked a question that you don’t understand, it is never wrong to ask for clarification. Ask them to rephrase it, or tell them what you will cover and ask if it is acceptable. Don’t answer without being clear on what they are asking.
The answers you give should demonstrate how your strengths meet the needs of the company quickly and concisely. Be sincere and factual when stressing your accomplishments. There is a wide range of different question types the interviewer could ask.
You should also be asking questions throughout the conversation. Don’t just wait until the end. By asking questions, you’ll learn more about the opportunity and be able to give truly relevant examples of how you fit in to the short and long term goals of the company. The interviewer is also selling to you on the opportunity so listen carefully. The information you learn by asking questions will also help you prepare for the in person interview later. Ask about challenges the company anticipates in the future, skills and attributes that are important for the role, the company culture, and anything else that will help give you a good sense of working for the company. Have a set of critical questions prepared that will help determine if the job is in line with your expectations. By getting an understanding of the job and company directly from the source you will be able to determine if you are committed to taking the next step.
It is extremely important that you do not discuss anything negative or anything regarding compensation during the phone interview. Criticism of your current or former employers suggests disloyalty and unprofessionalism. Your demeanor must be professional and tactful. Also do not discuss salary or benefits. You should be focused on getting to know the company first. If asked, be vague and say that you are open to a reasonable offer, but are more interested in the opportunity. If they ask again just tell them where you are currently.
- Some are certain to be asked and easy to answer including information about your education, work history, why you are considering a change, how you would carry out the duties of the position, and how willing you are to relocate.
- Other questions may ask you to describe how you responded to different situations. These questions are best answered using the STAR technique. When answering, make sure that you discuss the Situation, Task, Action, and Result. Describe the challenge you were faced with, what you needed to achieve, what you did and the alternatives, and what the result was. Give quantifiable evidence of how your actions achieved your objective and made an impact.
- Sometimes interviewers will ask broad questions, and you can give meaningful responses by focusing on specifics. They may ask what you can do for the company. You should respond by asking about the company’s plans for the next six month, and share similar experiences in your background that relate directly to the company’s needs. If asked about your background, concentrate on specific accomplishments, rather than areas of responsibility.
If the phone interview is coming to an end and the decision to move forth with a face to face interview has not been brought up, you need to close the interview. Don’t rush into saying thank you before covering a few final questions. State that you have found the conversation very interesting and that you look forward to further discussions. Ask if you have covered everything they need and if your skills sets meet the requirements. Finally, you must ask What is the next step? They will either discuss setting up a face to face interview or let you know when they will contact you about any decisions. Thank them for their time and that you are looking forward to hearing from them. Soon after you have ended the conversation send them a follow up email emphasizing your interest and appreciation.
The purpose of the phone interview is for you to confirm the opportunity is in line with your career and to move on the face to face interview. By adequately preparing you for the phone interview, you’ll successfully move on to the next step and closer to the next step in your career.