It’s common these days for employers to winnow down the number of job applicants and in-person interviews with an initial round of phone interview screenings. It’s a useful time-saving measure for human resources personnel or hiring managers, and it can spare candidates unnecessary effort when there are clear reasons they’re not a strong fit for a particular position.
These phone conversations don’t usually get too in depth, and often only last around five minutes. The interviewer (often not the same person who conducts the next stage of in-person interviews) is mostly trying to expand a little on what they glean from resumes to get a better idea of how well qualified each applicant is, whether they have experience with the most important aspects of the job, how they present themselves, and what prompted their interest in the opening.
Because of the brevity of phone interviews, because they’re frequently not conducted by the final decision-maker, and because they’re typically more casual than in-person meetings, some job candidates don’t take these initial screenings all that seriously. But remember, this is an essential step to getting your foot in the door for an on-site interview. It’s not the last hurdle between you and the job, but the prospect is still over if you’re eliminated at at this stage.
So, below are some tips for having a great phone interview to help you ace the initial screening and get called back for an in-person meeting.
How to Have a Successful Phone Interview
- To reiterate a point we made above, take the phone interview just as seriously as you would take an in-person interview.
- Do basic research on the company and position you’re applying for before a phone screening. Be prepared to talk about the job, why you want it, and why you’re a good fit for it. Also, your desired salary may come up, as it’s an effective way to narrow down candidates, so have a number or reasonable range in mind.
- Have a few questions ready about the company and the position that show you’re genuinely interested; make sure they aren’t questions easily answered by looking at the company website, job description, etc.
- Know who’s calling you, their job title, what time they’re calling, and which phone number they’re contacting you on (if possible, provide a land line number to reduce the risk of connection issues, missing the call because your cell is muted or in the couch cushions, etc.). Make sure the phone is fully charged.
- Ensure that you have a quiet place for the conversation where you won’t be distracted or interrupted, and where the interviewer won’t hear loud or strange sounds in the background.
- Keep your resume and the job description visible for easy reference during the phone interview. If you like, jot down some short, easily skimmed notes to help remember things you want to cover.
- Get dressed in professional clothing, even if it’s tempting to chat in your pajamas. What you’re wearing affects the way you feel and sound; dressing for an interview helps you come across with more confidence and professionalism. And for the same reasons, sit up with good posture in your chair while you talk.
- Speak enthusiastically and clearly, and don’t rush your speech. A lot of people talk in a monotone drone, or talk faster on the phone. You don’t want to sound lifeless, and you don’t want the interviewer missing what you say or having to ask you to repeat yourself. It also helps you sound better if you make your natural facial and hand gestures while you talk, even though the interviewer can’t see you.
- Pay close attention to the interviewer. Just like you’re at risk of being hard to understand or follow, so are they. You don’t want to have to ask the interviewer to repeat things, as this makes you seem inattentive.
- Wait just a second before answering when the interviewer asks you a question to be sure they’re done. Without visual clues, it’s harder to tell when somebody is finished talking, and you don’t want to interrupt. If you get interrupted, though, stop speaking and let the interviewer proceed.
- Don’t eat, chew gum, suck on a cough drop, etc. during a phone interview. No matter how hard you try to hide it, it’s bound to make sounds and affect the way you speak. Keep a glass of water on hand in case you need it, but be sure to move the phone away from your mouth when you take a sip.
- Remember to send a thank you to the interviewer afterwards. Follow up if you don’t hear back within the time you expect to; if the interviewer doesn’t specify a time, follow up a week after the phone screening.