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How to Master the Phone Interview

November 3, 2011

By: Tim Augustine, Kent State

The phone interview is the most common interview a job seeker will experience and is usually the first step in the interview process. The objective of a phone interview is for the recruiter or hiring manager to learn a little more about your background in order to screen out the candidates who do not match the position description. Position descriptions are generally internal documents that highlight the skills that are needed for an open position and the tasks, activities and expected results for a specific role. The interviewer will use the Position Description to determine whether a candidate has the appropriate qualifications for a given position.

Here are a few tips to rock the interview!

  • When the phone interview is scheduled, ask the interviewer if you can be the one to initiate the call. For example, if the interviewer calls you and schedules the interview for 3 p.m. Tuesday, ask if you can call them at that specific time. Doing so reduces your stress level prior to the interview and gives you a psychological edge. You are ready for the interview as soon as you begin dialing the phone. If you wait for them to call you, you will be stressed fifteen minutes prior to the call waiting for them to call. However, if the interview is scheduled for 3 p.m., you need to call at 3 p.m. on the dot.
  • Dress professionally for the phone interview. When you are dressed professionally, you feel and act much more professional.
  • Prepare the house or apartment for the interview. Let everyone know that you will be on the phone for an interview.
  • Sit at a table where you can utilize your notes or stand near your notes. Standing can help project your voice, which illustrates confidence. The phone interview is like an open book test. Assemble your materials: resume, job description, company’s annual report, or company marketing materials. Just make sure you don’t make noise with your notes or with your computer!
  • Be familiar with this information already. Read your notes and company information BEFORE the interview.
  • Try your best not to conduct a phone interview on a cell phone as you may lose the connection during the call.
  • Make sure you ask at least three to five questions about the company at the end of the interview. If you did your research prior to the interview, you can ask questions about your findings.
  • When the question about salary comes up, do your best to avoid giving a specific number. For instance, when they ask “What are your salary expectations?” reply with “Compensation is not my primary driver at this point.  XYZ Company is one of my target firms that I am interested in and would like to better understand the role and responsibilities needed to be successful.” If they push the salary question again, do some research on sites like monster.com or salary.com and develop a 10K range.
  • At the end of the phone interview, make sure you close with a few questions about your interaction with the company. “Did I answer your questions to your satisfaction? Do my qualifications match your position criteria?” If they answer yes, ask about next steps and expectations of the face-to-face interview. If the interviewer answers no, meaning you did not match the position criteria, ask for constructive criticism and listen. Do not defend yourself. Use the information you gather for improving your next interview.
  • Remember to thank the interviewer for his or her time and conclude the call pleasantly.

A typical phone interview lasts approximately twenty to forty minutes. The topics most likely to be covered are your background and experience, your education, your job desires (what type of job you want), your salary expectations, your strengths as they apply to the job, and your perception of your weaknesses.

About the Author: Augustine is a nationally acclaimed author and professional speaker focused on career development and corporate people strategies. He is the author of the book How Hard Are You Knocking? and has been featured on ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC and reviewed in USA Today, Wall Street Journal, LA Times, The Chicago Tribune, and The National Association for Campus Activities. His newest award winning seminar is titled “Landing a Job in a Difficult Economy.” To learn more about Tim, his books and seminars series, please visit www.howhardareyouknocking.com or contact him directly at 734-786-7162.

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