There's no doubt that in order to do well in business, you need to have good telephone skills. These skills are especially important when you have a phone interview with a potential employer. I do a lot of phone interviews and I'm surprised at how many candidates treat our time together like a casual social chat. In reality, phone interviews are screening tools HR folks and Hiring Managers use to save time.
If I have 10 resumes that look promising, I need to weed out at least 6 or 7 of them. There is no way I can ask hiring managers to do 10 face to face interviews. This is where a 20-30 minute phone conversation comes into play. 20 minutes isn't a lot of time to make a favorable impression, so here are some things to think about:
#1 - When possible, prepare for the phone interview! Some HR reps like to catch people by surprise for a phone interview and see how candidates respond on the fly. That's a valid approach, and certainly gives us some information about a candidate. Personally, I like to call or e-mail candidates and schedule the phone interview for 2 days out. This way I know a candidate has had opportunity to prepare, and I can assess her interest level by how prepared she is. For example, the first question I will usually ask is, "Have you seen our website." A candidate who has had two days to prepare and hasn't looked at the website, suddenly seems a lot less promising to me.
#2 - Give concise answers. Most interviews have a set of standard questions they will be asking all candidates for the position. This way they can compare across candidates to pick the strongest ones. I take detailed noted to help me remember candidates, but if an answers takes too long to come to a conclusion I usually scribble "wandered" and wait for the candidate to pause so I can ask the next question. If your answer wanders, it is difficult to make comparisons, and you may end up in the "no go" pile as a result. Listen closely to the question and give as concise an answer as possible.
#3 - Be direct on basic issues. A phone interview benefits both you and the employer because it gives you a chance to see if you are a match on some very basic issues before investing the time and energy in a face to face meeting. Some issues recruiters may want to clarify with you are your career goals, salary expectations and reporting structure. For example, depending on how a company is structured, HR may report directly to the CEO, or it could report to Finance. I know that many HR pros prefer not to report through Finance. So if I was filling an HR job that reported to a CFO, I would clarify up front what a candidate's feelings are on that so we could save time for both of us if it just wouldn't work.
#4 - To quote Preacher Don in the movie Rebound, "Put a little pep in it!" The interviewer cannot see your gestures or facial expressions on the phone, so she is reliant on your words and tone of voice to convey meaning. You'd be surprised at how many people have flat monotone voices on the phone. It makes a world of difference to how you come across as a professional if you put a smile and some energy in your voice. If you aren't sure how you sound on the phone, call your own voice mail and leave yourself some practice answers, then go back and listen to them to see how you sound.
Brazen Careerist had a great posting on 5 Ways to Do Better in a Phone Interview. I love her advice! She suggests that you:
- Attend to your surroundings.
- Dress for the part.
- Stand up.
- Prepare for the most obvious questions.
- Don't forget to close.
Read the entire posting here.
Bottom line: Interviewers want to like you. If you do well on the phone interview, they will be doing PR for you before you ever come in for the face-to-face interview - i.e, "I'm really excited for you to meet John. He was great on the phone - articulate, really got our key business issues, pleasant to talk with. I really think you're going to like him." Who wouldn't want to have a set up like that before meeting the potential boss?