When J. Patrick & Associates first opened 25 years ago, the vast majority of interviews we set up for our clients were face-to-face meetings, based on a resume and our recommendation. Phone interviews were rare and arranged primarily for remote candidates. Well, times have changed, and today more and more of our clients require a phone interview regardless of the candidates’ apparent qualifications.
Make no mistake about it, a strong resume is still of prime importance, but hiring managers have taken to the phone interview as the first point of contact. Certainly, there are obvious considerations of time and money saved, but phone interviews lower the threshold for the hiring manager. Fifteen minutes on the phone with a candidate is a far more expeditious way to answer some basic questions about a candidate’s suitability and appeal than having to sit through a longer meeting.
And while you might think an interview is an interview, knowing that there are some key differences between a phone interview and one held face-to-face can mean the difference between failing to get to the next step and landing an offer.
The phone interview is your first and best opportunity to make a good impression. Follow these 8 pro-tips to ensure it’s not your last.
8 Tips for Acing a Phone Interview
Just as you do your homework in advance of an in-person interview, you must do your due diligence for a phone call. Be careful of falling into the mindset that a phone interview is somehow less important or just a necessary hurdle you have to get past to get to the real thing.
1. Do Your Homework
Research the company and the interviewer. Understanding what their strengths are and what challenges they might be facing are key to presenting yourself as a necessary addition to their company.
2. Make Notes Ahead of time
One great advantage of a phone interview is that you can use a “cheat-sheet” to refer to. Always have the necessary and vital statistics on the company close at hand so that you are prepared when asked what you know about the company.
Also be certain to print your resume, cover letter and any other supporting material you want to present and keep them close at hand. You don’t want to have to go digging for anything while on the phone, nor hem and haw as you try to remember why you left a previous position. Don’t make your interviewer feel that your attention is not 100% focused on the conversation.
Write out your questions ahead of time so that you can be sure to get the answers you need. Remember too that interviews are as much an opportunity for you to find out if the company is a good fit for you as it is for the hiring manager.
3. Clear Your Calendar
Assuming you have a scheduled interview be certain to allow yourself 10-15 minutes in advance of the call to prepare and clear your head of other business.
If you don’t have the advantage of scheduled time and the call comes in when you are not prepared to focus on it, you can always allow the call to go to voice mail - it’s unlikely it would be held against you. The better option, however, would be to say something like, “I’m not at my desk at the moment, when would be a good time for me to call you back?”
4. Dress the Part
It might sound counter-intuitive, but doing a phone interview from home in your sweats does not give you the best advantage. While no one might be able to see you except your cat, dog or pet fish, how you dress has a direct influence on how you feel.
While you want to be comfortable and not on edge, watch your posture and body language. Your interviewer may not be able to see you but they will be able to pick up on subtle hints when you’re not fully engaged or energized.
5. Clear the Distractions
Thirty minutes or more before your call check that your cell signal is strong and even and/or that your Skype connection is stable. You might also want to disable call waiting and other features that might break up the flow of your conversation.
Put the dog somewhere else, send the kids out of the house and close the windows. There’s nothing more frustrating than loud, extraneous noises on the other end of the phone. It’s best to find as quiet and contained an environment as possible for the phone call. If your home is not a viable option, see if you can’t borrow some office space from a friend or perhaps book time a short session in a co-working space.
6. Listen First/Talk Second
Once the call comes in, answer with your name - it’s a small thing but can go a long way to showing the interviewer you are professional.
Be certain to listen attentively - even though they can’t see you, we’ve all experienced that sensation that the person on the other end of the phone is not quite with us. Let them know you are actively engaged in listening - a few well placed “I see’s,”’ go a long way to create a bond during a phone conversation.
Unlike a face-to-face interview where you have the benefit of body language and other non-verbal communication, it’s wise to wait a beat (a count of 2 or 3) before answering a question just in case your interviewer has not finished with their question. There’s nothing worse than interrupting or speaking on top of someone, especially in an interview.
The one advantage of not having physical cues during a phone interview is that it keeps the distractions down, you can make your pitch free from the very human instinct to constantly interpret visual clues.
7. Speak with Distinction
Speaking on the phone requires slightly different inflections and an alteration in tempo. Slow down and articulate.
If you have a very low voice, you may want to try speaking at a slightly higher pitch - it will help with relay a better sense of engagement and avoid miscommunication.
Pro-Tip Not all HR and hiring managers do well on the phone. Some might ramble or be distracted themselves. If this is the case, use the opportunity to show them that you’ve done your homework and can keep the conversation focused on what you can offer the company.
8. End On A Positive Note
Thank your interviewer for their time and the information they’ve provided. If you’re interested in the position make certain to let them know that. Saying something like, “I’m very interested in all that I’ve heard and am confident I could add value to your company,” is a clear, professional message of your intent.
Send a thank-you note via email within the same business day to once again thank them for their time, reiterating your interest in the position and reaffirming the value you bring to the position.
As in any interview once it is over the next thing you have to do is let it go. As long as you were prepared, thorough, professional and personable, then you’ve done everything you can within your control. The rest is out of your hands, so change out of those work clothes, put your sweats on and let the dog back into the house.