The phone interview has rapidly become a first step in the job-hunting dance.
Hiring managers and recruiters find it’s a convenient way to winnow down a swell of online resumes. Plus, it saves them time and travel expenses for candidates who appear promising on paper, but — they think — may not turn out to be finalist material. It’s your chance to prove them wrong.
The interviews tend to be short — 20 to 30 minutes — and straightforward. The person at the other end of the line is typically trying to get a read on your communication skills, background and why you’re interested in the position.
There are, of course, drawbacks for you: You miss out on the face-to-face contact that allows you to gauge the office vibe, assess a handshake and make eye contact — subtle clues as to whether it’s a place where you’d like to work.
Moreover, a phone conversation can be awkward at times. For instance, without visual body language signals it’s tough to tell if someone is done talking or just pausing. One woman I spoke with recently bemoaned that her phone interviewer kept moving on to the next question before she had finished her answer. It seems the interviewer didn’t get that the woman was simply pausing to gather her thoughts to emphasize a point.
Whether you make it past this first sorting for a job may depend on what you do before, during and following a phone interview. Here are tips to improve your performance.
Do a pre-game prep. Shortly before the phone rings, review the job description and the precise set of skills the employer is seeking so that they’re fresh in your mind. A quick Google search on the interviewer and a peek at the person’s LinkedIn profile may help you make a personal connection.
Prepare a list of questions that you want to ask about the position and the company. This is a job interview plain and simple, after all, so get ready as you would if you were going into the workplace for the interview.
Dress as if it’s in-person. Even though the caller can’t see you, this will make you feel prepared and professional.
Use a landline. “You’re breaking up.” You don’t want to say or hear those words. Avoid spotty cell and internet phone connections. A landline removes technical glitches that may unnerve you during the interview.
Pick a quiet location. Find a comfortable place without distractions from people, pets, music and street noise. If you’re home, inform everyone that you’re going to be on a very important phone call and are not to be disturbed.
Turn off other phones and mute the speakers on your computer. Make sure nothing is ringing or dinging in the background. Turn call-waiting off too, so your conversation isn’t beeped into.
Lay out a copy of your resume and the job description. You may need to refer to details from these documents during the call, but don’t read them off, because that can sound stiff.