How to Ace a Phone Interview

Eye contact, expressions, gestures – so much of our communication is nonverbal. And because of that, a phone screen interview can be challenging. But with solid pre-interview prep coupled with good phone interview etiquette, the challenges of trying to connect with a prospective employer from across town, or across the country, can be handily surmounted.

First and foremost it’s important to note that phone interviews should be taken seriously. It’s a mistake to assume that a phone call from a recruiter or hiring manager is just a perfunctory screen before a face-to-face interview, resume expert Annette Richmond says.

“One mistake candidates make is thinking that a phone interview is just a phone interview,” she says. “Today, many employers are using phone interviews for more than just screening purposes.”

And while most phone interviews will be set up ahead of time, if you’re actively applying for jobs and sending out your resume an interested employer may contact you without notice. That means you should always answer your phone in a professional manner (hello, this is John).

Likewise, “make sure that you have a professional and respectful message recorded for calls you can’t get to,” advises David Bakke, a career expert with Money Crashers. “Potential employers may call you wanting to set up a phone interview”

 

Phone Interview Tips

Assuming the call is scheduled, though, your first step for a successful phone interview is the same as it would be for an in-person meeting: preparation.

“Research the company,” Tiffany Brown, HR manager at FreightCenter, says. “Study the job description and make sure you have questions about the position and your potential daily tasks. If you have the names of the people who are conducting the phone interview, make sure you do your research on them.”

Important as it is, being knowledgeable about the company and position, as well as having rehearsed your answers to common interview questions, is just half of the equation. We talked to several career experts about how to shine once it’s time for your phone interview. Here’s what they told us.

Eliminate Distractions: Find a quiet spot for your interview, says Gilman Partners CEO Tom Gilman, adding, “If you’re not alone tell those around you’ll be busy for a while. Do whatever you need to do to make sure the interviewer has your full attention.”

Dress the Part: Even if they can’t see you, career coach Laurie Berenson says, getting dressed as if you were headed to an in-person interview will translate over the phone. “Treat it like a meeting,” she says. “Don’t take the call slouched on the couch in sweats – it will come across in your tone and energy level.”

Be Punctual: Being on time is just as important with a phone interview as it is with a face-to-face, says Ali Mercier, hiring manager at The Leadership Program. “If you’re calling, dial the moment the second hand hits the time of your appointment,” she suggests. “If they’re calling you, be on high alert, make sure you have service.”

Use Verbal Cues: When speaking face-to-face, you can demonstrate your interest in what the interviewer is saying through eye contact and body language. On a phone interview, verbal cues can accomplish the same thing, says J.N. Whiddon, founder of The Old School. “Don’t interrupt the interviewer’s line of questioning,” he says, “but an occasional ‘OK,’ ‘that’s inter­esting’ or ‘yes’ equates to positive body language in an oral form that indicates your attentiveness.”

In the same vein, Pierre-Renaud Tremblay, HR director for Dupray, advises naturally changing the pitch of your voice to keep the interviewer engaged in what you’re saying. “Vocal monotony and steadiness will leave interviewers bored and sleepy,” he warns.

Be Succinct: Another phone interview tip from Tremblay is to avoid rambling: “The interviewer is asking you pointed, succinct questions for a reason. Answer the question as thoroughly as you can, but do not veer off onto other unrelated tangents.”

Finally, just as the first step to a great phone interview (preparation) is the same as the first step for a great in-person interview, so is the last: Be sure to follow-up with a well-crafted post-interview thank you email to your interviewer. Your note should express gratitude for the opportunity to discuss the job, as well as further demonstrate your fit for the position.

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