Congratulations, you received a call from a recruiter to set up a phone interview! Maybe it was even from me or another one of my colleagues who recruit for clients around the Washington area. Preparing for a phone interview seems like it should be a pretty simple task, right? There is no need to get a haircut, or a Brazilian blow-out. You don’t need to get dressed in your best blue, black, or gray interview suit, and there is no gassing up the car to sit in traffic on the inner or the outer-loop during morning rush-hour. Instead, you are able to have a relaxed conversation from the comfort of your own home in whatever attire you deem appropriate for a telephone call. However, the actual act of the phone interview is just as important as an in-person interview, and the same preparation etiquette applies. In fact, because many employers use telephone interviews as a way to identify a narrow pool of applicants who will be selected for an in-person interview, it is in the best interest of the interviewee to prepare with as much thought as they would for an in-person interview.
Tips to prepare for a phone interview:
- Use a Landline: While more than a quarter of Americans have ditched their landlines for cell phones, according to The Wall Street Journal, 71% of households still have a home phone. And while that percentage continues to drop, landlines have proven to be more reliable than cell phones in many instances. When speaking with a potential employer, it is important that you have reliable technology. And unless you are certain that your cell phone service is going to be unfailing, consider using a landline for your phone interview as few things can sour a good conversation more than being disconnected in the middle of a sentence due to a poor cell phone connection, or being asked the constant question, “can you hear me now?”
- Be Prepared: Prepare for a phone interview just as you would for an in-person interview. Be on time and do your research on the company and the key players. Prepare several key questions and be prepared to discuss any gaps of employment as well as your background and skill-sets (technical and functional). Compile a short list of your accomplishments, your strengths and your weaknesses. Also have a copy of your resume easily accessible so that you can quickly reference your talking points, and keep a pen and note pad handy for taking notes.
- Be Professional: Do not eat, smoke, drink, or chew gum while on a phone interview. Avoid using profanity, slang, or jargon and speak slowly and enunciate clearly. Pause and think about the question that has been asked and answer only the question that was asked, do not ramble or go off on a tangent. Likewise, do not interrupt the interviewer, if you have a point to make or a question to ask, jot it down on your note pad and bring it up when there is a pause or break in the conversation.
- Be Attentive and Avoid Distractions: Close the door, turn off the TV and the music, and lower the volume on your computer. Disable call waiting and text notifications for the duration of your call. And just as you would not bring the kids, the parents, the spouses, or the pets to an in-person interview, do not bring them to your phone interview either.
- Connect with Key Players: Look-up the recruiter or point of contact on LinkedIn and send them a connection request. Review their tenure and duties with the organization (if available) and be prepared to ask focused questions on their experience with the organization, including things like what they like and dislike about the organization, the challenges and the triumphs in their role, and what keeps them coming back. By getting the inside scoop from someone with the inside track you will be able form a more educated opinion about the organization.
- Show your Appreciation: Writing a thank you note or sending a thank you email after an interview is considered proper interview etiquette, even for a phone interview. Remember to proofread to avoid spelling and grammatical errors and also double check the correct spelling of names and titles of the interviewer(s). In addition, in the event that you decide that the job is not for you, still send a thank you note or email thanking the interviewer for their time and respectfully withdraw your application for consideration. Six degrees of separation is alive and well and it is always best to not leave professional encounters on bad terms as you never know what the future holds and whose path you may cross again.
- Think about the Future: The goal of a phone interviewee should be to secure a face-to-face interview with the phone interviewer. After you thank the interviewer ask questions about the next steps and the projected length of the interview process. You can also use this time to reiterate that you do want the job, restate how your qualifications align with the requirements, and clarify how you would personally contribute to the organization.
Despite the informality of your surroundings during the phone interview, the phone interview is a very important first step in the interview process. Now more than ever, the job market competition is fierce for job seekers! And with new graduates entering the workforce every year, it is imperative that you stay on top of your interview game. By applying these preparation tips to your next phone interview, you are highly likely to set yourself apart from the rest.