Dodging A Bullet: Acing the Phone Interview

The Internet has made applying for a job a very easy process, which means recruiters are getting a plethora of resumes for each job they advertise. One tool that recruiters use is the phone interview, and it is used for one of three reasons: 1) to eliminate you as a candidate for a position, 2) to further assess your fit for a position if you aren’t eliminated, or 3) to find out more about you in case you are a fit for other positions.

Be prepared. Some interviewers will call you out of the blue and start asking you questions — usually to try and eliminate you and cut the pool of applicants down to two or three candidates to interview. Others will schedule a phone interview in advance. Keep your job descriptions in one file and your tailored resumes (yes, you need an individual, tailored resume for each position) in another file. Research the company using Google, Yahoo, Hoover’s or other databases so you do not have to ask questions about the company during the interview. If your contact number is a cell phone, make sure you keep it constantly charged and that you can hear well on it.

If a recruiter catches you off-guard and calls you unexpectedly, try to politely put that person on hold and grab your laptop or your paper file with your resume and the job description. Try to talk to the recruiter at that time if at all possible. Delaying the phone interview may mean you just lost your chance to make an impact and to find out more about the position. There is no shortage of candidates these days, and the recruiter may just move on to the next one.

If you have a scheduled phone interview, make sure you are in a quiet place. Keep your phone and files nearby. If your interview is on Skype or is a videoconference, look around beforehand to ensure that the background view is not of your messy utility room or your refrigerator covered with magnets and papers. Find a blank, neutral-colored wall and position yourself in front of it. Dress as if you are going to an in-person interview if it makes you feel more professional. Be prepared to smile while you talk. It relaxes you and makes you sound friendly.

Write out your key words beforehand. What makes you unique? What can you bring to the job? Write out questions that will give you information that you did not get from the job description. Why is the job open? How soon do they expect to fill the position? What are some of the most difficult tasks of this position? Be prepared to give the recruiter information tailored to these question’s answers. For example, “Yes, I would be available to start on your target date,” or “those tasks can be difficult; however, I have performed x,y and z tasks with success.”

This sounds like a no-brainer, but when you are talking with the recruiter, make sure you are talking about the SAME position. Some recruiters are under pressure to fill several positions at once, and some of these positions have similar titles. Ask about the hiring process and the next step after the phone interview is completed. Ask if you will be one of the candidates moving on to that next step. The recruiter may not be able to tell you that during the phone call. Other candidates may still need to be phone interviewed, but that does not necessarily mean you have been eliminated. Reiterate your interest in the position and why you would be a good fit. Let the recruiter know you are looking forward to the next step, and send them a thank you note right away. Your follow up thank you note is acceptable in either email or snail mail format.

Take notes during the phone interview, and fill in anything you did not have time to write down. Keep these notes. You may have a second phone interview or get an in-person interview where you can use this information to build rapport and knowledge in that second interview.

Keep in touch with your recruiter. You may not get chosen for this position. However, you can always ask the recruiter if you would be a good candidate for any of the other jobs this person has or is likely to get. Some recruiters may honestly tell you no, that this position was a “one-off,” an unusual position type that they hardly ever get. If this is the case, ask if they have a recruiting network or other recruiter colleagues with whom they can share your resume.

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