A good résumé may no longer be enough to get you in the door. Increasingly companies or their outside recruiters want you to go through a telephone interview first. Whether you make the first cut for a job may depend on what you do before, during and after a phone interview. Here are some ways to up your odds.
There are two types of phone interviews — scheduled and unscheduled. Often the first contact for a scheduled one comes by email or via LinkedIn, but theoretically your phone could ring at any time. So make sure you answer it yourself (keep it out of reach of your two-year-old) and have a professional voicemail message.
Unscheduled calls never work in your favor. If you’re caught by surprise, schedule another time to talk. Nobody will blame you for saying something to the effect of, “Great to hear from you. I am not at my desk and won’t be able to give this call the attention it deserves. When can I call you back?”
BEFORE THE INTERVIEW
Do your homework. Thoroughly research the company and the interviewer, just as if you were preparing to meet in person. Expect some variation on the question, “What do you know about us?” If you are not able to state the company’s key figures, strategy and markets, the interview might be over after only three minutes. One of the nice things about a phone interview is that you can have your “cheat sheet” in front of you.
Prepare questions. These can make or break an interview. Design them with two goals in mind: To give you the information you need to determine if you want to go further; and to show you are perfect for the job.
Create a comfortable environment. If you don’t have a lot of experience with phone interviews, you might find them more stressful than live ones. So do everything you can to feel at ease. Shut out distractions and eliminate background noise (for example, from young children and pets). Have a a glass of water handy. Print out your résumé and mark key parts that you want to highlight in the conversation. Be ready 10 minutes early, so you don’t sound rushed. If you will be talking on a landline, turn off your cell phone; if you plan to do the interview on a cell phone, make sure it is fully charged. Have a paper and pen handy, so you don’t have to take notes on your computer during the call — the keyboard clicks might be distracting for the interviewer. If your computer makes audible pings as you receive email, turn off the sound.
DURING THE PHONE INTERVIEW
Listen first. Usually, the interviewer will set the stage. He or she will talk about expectations, why the person before you left, what it takes to be successful in this company and what the major challenges will be. Take notes so you are able to respond to all these points when it is your turn to talk.
The leitmotif of a successful interview is finding things that you have in common. Flagging them helps you bond with your future boss or the human resources manager. Look for ways to make these connections – for example, by saying, “Sounds familiar: We had a similar situation at company ABC. Here is what I did. And these were the results.”
Then talk. When we are in front of someone, we can send and receive visual cues. On the phone, we must make a good impression purely with our voices. Drink as much water as you need to avoid having to clear your throat. If you haven’t talked in several hours, do some voice exercises before the call. Posture is important too and has an impact on your voice. Stand, or make sure you sit up very straight, during the call.
Smile as you speak. If you don’t believe the difference this makes, test it by leaving yourself two identical voice messages — one with and one without smiling. During the phone interview, a good time to smile is when you talk about the work you’ve done, ask questions, or express your enthusiasm about the company. Smiling over the phone really makes a difference.
Create a positive ending. If you really want the job, end the call on a positive note. Say something to the effect of, “Thanks for the call. I like what I heard and from this information, I am confident I could fill the role. I am very interested in this job and would be pleased to meet you in person. What is the next step?”
AFTER THE PHONE INTERVIEW
Don’t forget. When the interview is over, carefully review any notes you were able to take during the conversation. Jot down what types of questions you were asked, how you responded, and any follow-up questions you may have if you have an opportunity for an in-person interview or a second-round phone interview.
Send a thank-you note. Let half a business day go by and then send a brief note (no longer than one screen shot). This email should come on the same day, but not immediately after, the call. Confirm your interest in the company, ability to do the job and desire to take things to the next step.
Be patient. You won’t necessarily get a reply email to your thank-you note. Follow up one week later, and again after two weeks. I do not send more than two of these “chasers.” After three weeks, I write one last reminder saying, “Dear Mary, I was happy to talk to you on [date]. Please note that this is my third message and I will no longer bother you. I am still interested in the job (in my case, the search assignment) we discussed and would be delighted to make your acquaintance soon.” After that, it’s up to them.
Face reality. We are all up against stiff odds. There is a lot of competition for jobs out there and you need to put up your best front!
Once you’ve followed all these steps, move on to other things. Remember: Somewhere out there is a job for you. You just have to find it. Good luck!
Check out my related post: What is the fear of rejection?