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How to Make the Most of Your Phone Interview

Written By Molly Hitchings | Jan 31, 2017

One evening, I was sitting around with a group of friends chatting about phone vs. text conversations when one of the ladies said, “I’m really good at the phone”. I couldn’t help but laugh. One, because it’s a weird thing to say. Two–it’s always interesting to me how many people are intimidated by phone calls, and would rather hide behind the delay of texting or emailing.

Talking on the phone isn’t the easiest thing. Having a blind conversation with someone, you don’t get to read their body language, or see how their face reacts to your funny jokes. This is one reason why phone interviews intimidate people. Conversations are more natural in person–communication flows better. Being well prepared for a phone interview, however, can completely change your approach to the call and hopefully help you land the job!

At least twice a week I am asked for advice on phone interviews. For the people that are “really good at the phone” consider this a helpful refresher. For those of you that need a little confidence boost in the telephone game, read on!

Don’t forget the benefits of a phone interview

I wouldn’t normally advise cheating, but mid-phone interview, cheating is 100% recommended! Still, do plenty of research before your phone call. Know the company, the position you’re applying for, and (most importantly) the person you’re talking to as well as you can.

“Talking about what attracted you to the opportunity–in a specific way–is important,” said CLEAResult Associate Creative Director Christina Meisner. “Bonus points for approaching it in a way that subtly shows you’ve done your research on the agency. That always impresses me.”

Have organized notes in front of you throughout the call. Have the company’s mission statement and website pulled up on your laptop. Since you’re on the phone, the person on the other end won’t know if you’re simultaneously doing research while chatting. But make sure you know where your research is laid out–nothing is worse than having a delay in the call, an uncomfortable “um” while you’re shuffling pieces of paper trying to find an anecdote you prepared.

Be prepared with standard questions

A phone interview is more of a pre-screen than anything else. The beginning of a hiring process. Making sure you’re not a robot.

“Moving forward, the in-person interview, the non-verbal cues, are very important in determining the right fit for an organization and team,” said SolarWinds Senior Director Brand and Creative Nicole Eversgerd.

Nicole enjoys tailoring her questions to each candidate. Questions about working style, and things the candidate enjoys outside of work, are standard conversation for Nicole and her candidates.

“Why do you want to work here?”

Then there’s the classic question about strengths and weaknesses. I like Christina’s approach to this question. She likes to phrase it as “If we were to call a few folks you’ve worked with, what do you think they’d say are your strengths and weaknesses?” For her, this question accomplishes a few things: Can they talk about their strengths in a way that’s sincere and not conceited? Are they self-aware enough to not only know their improvement areas, but also talk about how they’re addressing them? It’s important to answer the questions in full as it’s never a good look to be prompted again for a complete answer.

Most importantly, be prepared to answer the question “why do you want to work here?” A hiring manager wants to make sure you fully understand why you want the position.

“It should be for more than a title or money,” Nicole said. “For me, choosing people who enjoy what they do and who have passion behind what they bring to the table is imperative to a healthy team.”

Don’t ramble

Stay focused on the question at hand. Make sure you’re really answering it and not going off on an irrelevant tangent. It’s not about how much you talk, it’s about the quality of your response.

“When a candidate’s answers are unfocused, it’s a big red flag for me,” Christina said. “It’s important to answer the question, but if I’m unable to get a word in edgewise that demonstrates the candidate can’t effectively sell his or her ideas…and might have an ego.”

Dress for success

Taking the phone call from your living room? Totally fine. But make sure to get out of your sweat pants and get dressed for the interview. Even though they won’t be able to see you, your confidence will be boosted when you are wearing real clothes, and not those Hanes cotton sweats covered in coffee stains.

Quiet coyote

Common sense, but make sure you’re in a quiet space for your phone call. No barking dogs or loud music should be in the background. Also turn off any distractions. Don’t check a text in the middle of your phone call. You should still act as if the person is in front of you.

Your turn to ask the right questions

Not only should you be prepared to answer questions about your background and qualifications, but also to pose pertinent questions yourself. Nicole said she can tell more from what you aren’t saying in the conversation than what you are.

“Are they asking questions relevant to the role that show a deeper interest than, ‘I need a job and this fits?’ Do they sound upbeat and genuinely interested in the position? Have they done their homework on the company and the role?” she posited. “These are all things that come out quickly in the phone interview and help narrow down those with a sincere interest in the position–who ultimately end up being a stronger fit for a united team in the long run.”

Be mindful

Since phone interviews are the first stage of the hiring process, count on these hiring managers being pressed for time. Your interviewer is most likely in back-to-back meetings all day, and is speaking with multiple candidates.

“You want to make the interview as clear and straightforward for them as possible so that you stand out among the candidates,” Nicole said. “Tailoring your information to explain how your skills would benefit your hiring manager and the organization goes a long way. For example, if a company is looking for an email designer, you could tell them that you’ve designed hundreds of email banners. Or you could tell them you researched and tested email templates which had an increased click-through rate of 64%, then A/B tested hundreds of winning email banners to find the creative that works the strongest with your audience. If you don’t have quantifiable data for your work, you should try to obtain it.”

Smile!

When I was working at a restaurant in college, my manager used to call the hostess line and listen to how I’d answer the phone. He would often reply, “you’re not smiling”. He was standing 40 feet away, but he said he could hear it in my voice.

Give your phone call your full attention and personality. You can’t make eye contact, but a genuine smile or laugh will still shine through.

Christina agreed! “It’s the strangest thing, but you can definitely hear a smile in someone’s voice and it makes such a difference,” she said.

So there you have it, folks. Phone interviews are an important part of the screening process for many positions. Stay confident in yourself, be prepared, and know why you deserve the job!

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