The first impression of today's job market is no longer the face-to-face interview but rather the phone interview. Many fresh college grads and even some seasoned workers underestimate this opportunity and fail to prepare properly, making themselves quick names to cross off a company's possible hire list. 'Weeding out' job applicants through the phone is quicker and easier than setting up hundreds of in-person interviews that the company has to spend time and money to conduct, so be smart and take them seriously. Here are a few tips I've found extremely useful in acing phone interviews:
1. Ask the Interviewer
Some people actually don't do this, which I find very surprising. When an interviewer calls me to set up a phone interview, I always take the initiative to ask if there are any specific questions they would like me to focus on. Pretty much every time they respond with at least 3 to 4 questions that they are looking for in their candidates. Do not pass up this short opportunity and really show the interviewer your interest in the job by asking them what they are looking for in your first interactions with each other.
2. Commit to the Interview Day
This may seem like a no-brainer but you would be surprised how many people do not take the opportunity seriously. After you arrange a day and time, make sure to set a reminder for yourself. Put it on your calendar or cell phone, place a sticky note on your computer, ask a friend to text you that day, anything you can think of, and commit to it. Also plan for a 2-2.5 hour window for your interview. Why so long? I strongly recommend 1 hour of preparation before and at least 1-1.5 hours for the interview itself. The time varies for every interview, but it's always best to allow more time than less and feeling rushed.
3. Make Questions
Research the company by going to their website, reading their core values and mission statement, reviewing the job description, looking up past employee reviews, and other facts you need to understand what they are about. All this information will give you what they are looking for in a good fit for their company and most likely what questions they may be asking you. Supplement this with questions you can look up online or other media. After compiling a list of possible interview questions, begin answering them.
Side Note: Be as specific as possible when giving your answers. Many companies now use situational questions instead of descriptive ones to analyze a candidate's true character. This means explaining actual situations or experiences you have had instead of listing a bunch of adjectives about yourself. You can say you're organized, motivated, and a team player, but honestly so can everyone else the interviewer talks to. You have to make your words count with facts and experiences in order to really convince the interviewer you have these qualities.
Once you have finished answering your questions, you should make a small list of questions you want to ask. And trust me, your interviewer will ask if you have any. Use this opportunity to genuinely show your interest in the job or company. And do your best to not ask about their benefit programs or pay, this is usually saved for negotiation at the final interview.
4. Practice, Practice, Practice
Practice reciting your answers until you get a general idea of all the major points you want to hit for every question. This first time rehearsal helps to remove the 'um', 'like', and 'uhhh' sounds that everyone experiences. Try to limit the time of your answers to less than a minute; really get to the meat of the answer. Also practice the pace of your answers. During interviews, most people blurt out answers as fast as they can leaving themselves out of breath and dehydrated. Instead, imagine you are telling a great story, take your time to really get your point across and engage the interviewers attention.
When you know have a general idea of how and what you want to say out loud, practice putting emotion into your words. Add some enthusiasm when you are talking about your achievements or some different inflections when you are explaining an experience. You should also try smiling when you talk, it changes the tone of your voice. Keep practicing over and over until it becomes a natural conversation; like you are telling someone a story. I would also suggest walking around and using your hands while you rehearse your answers. It keeps you from fidgeting in a chair and helps release the pent-up tension in your body. Try practicing your answers and movements with a friend over the phone.
5. Prepare an Hour Before
The best way to prepare is to actually prepare yourself as if you are going to an interview. I am not suggesting to wear a suit – some people actually do – and I definitely do not suggest wearing your pajamas. Rather, take a shower, do your 'getting ready' routine, put on some casual, comfortable clothes and most importantly have all your information and resources readily available to you. Keep the company website up, your résumé on hand, a glass of water, a notepad and pencil for notes, and your question cheat sheet. If you have any spare time, skim over your answers and rehearse.
6. Answer Your Phone in a Quiet Place
Remember, just because it's a phone interview, it's not a reason to be informal. You should be in a quiet place, preferably your house, when you are expecting the call. Answering your phone in a public place is most likely an automatic denial; it leaves a bad impression with the employer. As stated earlier, phone interviews are designed to make the 'weeding out' process easier for the employer, not so you can conduct your interview while you are grocery shopping.
7. Phone Interview Etiquette
This applies for any interview you may have. Refer to the interviewer as Mister or Miss, do not interrupt them, and always be polite, formal, and friendly. Always open in a friendly, natural way, usually asking how their day is a good way to breaks the ice. Then they will usually start the interview. Continue through their questions and answer them completely with a good pace and in a brief, summarized way. If there is a question you haven't prepared for, don't worry! Do your best to answer it briefly and fully and move on to the next one. No person is perfect and neither are all interviews, so don't beat yourself up if you trip up.
At the end of the conversation, the interviewer will 99% of the time ask if you have any questions and you should have that ready for them. Take this opportunity to write their responses or any major points of interests. When you are done, you should always thank your interviewer, briefly reiterate your enthusiasm for the job and the opportunity to speak with them, and wish them a good day.
8. Write a Thank You Letter
As you would in a face-to-face interview, you should always follow-up your phone interview with a 'Thank You' email or note. This is done to genuinely thank the employer for opportunity and reiterate why your skills and experiences are the right fit for the job. Many job seekers forget this step and it really helps to differentiate yourself from the hundreds of other applicants. It goes a step further to show your enthusiasm and reminds the employer of your interview among the others.