You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” ~ Author Unknown
The telephone interview is a crucial first step to getting on the short list. In Part 1, we covered 5 Tips to prepare. Now, are you ready when that phone rings?
Comparable to a sales professional who “qualifies” a prospect to determine whether he or she is a good fit for the product (and worth spending more time with), in a phone interview the employer is “qualifying” you and determining whether you are a good fit for the position being offered (therefore deciding whether to spend more time with you in a face-to-face interview).
Here are some tips to maximize success during the phone interview.
1. Manage expectations. Here’s what they want to know:
- You meet basic qualifications for the job
- Your answers are consistent with information on your résumé or application
- You understand the position and have asked appropriate questions
- You have expressed not only interest—but enthusiasm—for the position
2. Gather your dashboard data. You should have your resume/stories and the job description/posting handy, as well as the caller’s name, title, company and all related contact information for follow-up. Go ahead and ask for any contact information you still need. It shows you’re on the ball and focused on details.
3. Listen as though you can’t see. You will not have the benefit of visual clues (body language; eye contact). Try closing your eyes to block out any distractions. It will help you tune in and really listen to the caller. Another trick is to silently repeat a few sentences that the interviewer says (don’t do this for more than a minute or two). This silent-echo technique will help you focus on what’s being said. Remove background noises before the call—kids, phones, music and outside noises.
4. Tune in to how you sound. Because you don’t have the advantage of face-to-face visual clues like smiling, eye contact or nodding your head to show you are listening, use an occasional “I see” or “I understand” or “Go on” to indicate that you’re listening carefully. If you need a moment to think of an answer, that’s okay. But instead of having dead air, say something like, “That’s an interesting question.” Pay attention to how you come across.
- Try recording your voice on the call to hear what others hear. Listen for pitch, volume and attitude. Try smiling when you talk to add enthusiasm and friendliness to your voice.
- Monitor your pace. Think about shortening the length of your responses a bit for phone interviews. If you tend to be a talker, pull back so that you don’t dominate the conversation. Having a stopwatch or 2-minute hourglass in front of you might help.
5. Be prepared for their questions; and with your own.
Anticipate some of the frequently asked questions in phone interviews:
1. What are the top duties you perform in your current/most recent position?
2. What types of decisions do you frequently make in your current/most recent position? How do you go about making them?
3. How many years of experience do you have with _______ (the type of product/service you’ll be providing if hired for this job)?
4. How would you describe your ideal work environment?
5. Why are you leaving your current employer? Or Why did you leave your last employer?
6. What do you know about (or expect from) this position?
7. What do you know about our company?
8. How does this position fit into your long-term career plans? OR Where do you see yourself in 5 to 10 years?
9. Why are you the best candidate for this position?
10. When would you be available?
11. Is the salary range for the position within your acceptable range?
12. What questions do you have?
You probably won’t have time to ask many questions in a phone interview, as the interviewer is often more interested in confirming facts than establishing a relationship. However, there are a few key questions that will help you understanding the position:
1. How would you describe the ideal candidate for this position?
2. What are the top-priority projects or initiatives for this position in the next 30 days? 60 days? 90 days?
3. How does this position fit into the company’s long-term plans?
Note that there are NO questions about salary or benefits. At this stage, you want to focus on how you can contribute value to the organization. Listen carefully to the interviewer’s description of the company and the position. Continue to think in terms of “it’s about them; not me”.
6. Use your SMART Stories. Have your SMART Stories internalized and on hand. Interviewers will be impressed with concise and specific responses to questions. Make sure you cover the “R” in SMART – providing results will definitely set you apart from your competition. It answers the metrics of the “So what?” and “Make me care!” thoughts in each interviewer’s mind.
7. Anticipate surprise. You may be asked unexpected questions, or even be asked to participate in a role-play. If you need a moment to think on your feet, fill in the gap by repeating some of the interviewer’s instructions. For example, “Sure; let me review the scenario so that I’m clear on what you’re describing.” And then repeat a few of the steps.
8. Take notes. Note-taking helps you remember the specifics of your conversation and helps you come across as a great listener. Bonus: When you get to the subsequent face-to-face interview, bringing up important points from your prior notes continues to create a great impression that you’re motivated, in control and engaged.
9. Grab an opportunity to move to the next phase. When the interviewer asks a particularly important question, respond with a request for a face-to-face meeting. “That’s an important question, and one that I could answer more fully in person.” And if appropriate, “I have some interesting information that addresses that matter. Is it possible to set up a meeting on Wednesday or Thursday?”
If this type of opportunity does not present itself, make sure and close with a thank-you. Interviewers are typically busy people with a full plate. Thank the interviewer for taking time from a hectic schedule to speak with you. And ask with confidence what next steps will be, say that you are excited about moving forward. And of course, don’t forget to send both an email and hand-written thank-you note.
Any telephone conversation with a networking contact, recruiter or employer should be considered an interview. Remember the mantra, “It’s about them, not me.” Translation: think from the employer’s perspective and filter every situation with the question, “What does the employer need from me as a candidate and how can I meet their needs?” This focus on what the employer needs is the secret to being less self-conscious and more relaxed through the phone interview—and overall screening process. It’s a conversation and collaboration—not an interrogation! Here’s to you getting on the short list!