Ace the Phone Interview!!

Many recruiters use the phone interview as a quick and efficient method of screening potential candidates. While at first glance, it may seem that this is an easier way to be interviewed, in many ways, it is in fact much more difficult. The phone interview derives from a hiring manager reviewing your resume or other application materials and determining that you may be a good fit for a role that is available or that may become available. This is great: it means that your resume did its job and got you the interview. Make the most of the phone interview: it’s the one chance you’ll have at the outset to sell your skills, experience, education, and why you’re a great fit for the position. If you don’t do that effectively, the chances of getting to the next round, generally an in-person interview, and slim to none. A few key factors to focus on:

• List your home phone number and your cell number. Be sure that there are professional outgoing voicemail messages on both. While you may be tempted to have your child or someone else leave a cute outgoing message on your home phone (or any phone number you’re using for your search), this will backfire. Keep it professional and keep it clean and tight.
• Be persistent if you get into a game of phone tag. Perhaps suggest some good times when you will be available to chat; times that you know you won’t be interrupted or otherwise distracted. Common sense dictates that you return calls as soon as you can. In any event, do not let phone tag stop you from pursuing a position.
• If a call comes in and you answer, and you’re distracted (driving, at work, putting your child down for a nap, etc.), ask if you can schedule a specific time to talk. This is not an uncommon practice, and generally will not harm you, provided that you are professional and can schedule relatively quickly, and to the extent possible, accommodate the caller’s schedule. Most people calling recognize that you may not expect their call or that they may have reached you at a bad time.
• Body language isn’t readily visible on a phone call, of course, and so tone and voice inflection may carry unintended meanings. Be especially sensitive to how you’re coming across – be yourself, and also take pains to ensure that you’re as professional and confident as you can be.
• Be ready for the “zinger” questions – the ones that you will have the most trouble answering – questions (however phrased) about weaknesses, past failures, employment gaps, interest in the position, etc. and have answers ready. Canned answers are easily seen though, so be yourself and answer authentically, and of course, honestly. For especially negative situations, figure out a way to put a truthful “spin” on the answer so that the negative can be turned into a positive as much as possible. The point here is not to have “canned” answers, but to have thought about potential questions and answers in advance so that you can be ready and confident when answering these types of questions.
• Run a background check on yourself. No, not the kind you pay for: the free kind. Google. Yahoo. See what comes up. If there are photos of you drunk at a party, or saying negative things about your past or current employer, etc. be assured that the will be found and that they will likely be seen by the person interviewing you. Many, many organizations run Internet searches of applicants just to see what they can find (whether you agree or not, or whether or not this is a good Human Resources practice is debatable; the fact is, it happens. A lot). Clean up your online profile before you start an active job search.
• Your resume is a tool. It got you this far. Have it handy during your phone interview. Have notes written on it about things that you want to highlight in more detail that may come up. Take the opportunity when answering questions to highlight those areas and accomplishments that are relevant. You aren’t sitting in front of the interviewer, and thus you have the freedom to be as comfortable and prepared as you can be; they won’t know that you’re referring to your notes. Use them.
• The most effective way to position yourself as the best candidate is to relate past experiences, particularly solutions to problems that you have solved that have relevance in content or in other ways to the problems that your prospective employer is facing. The interviewer is likely looking for the way you think, analyze, and solve problems – even if they are totally different types of problems from your current or past role to the prospective one. Be ready to provide these examples, and the more that you can quantify, the better.
• Remember that an interview is a two-way street. You may do most of the talking or you may not. Whichever way it goes, be sure to abide by common courtesy standards: don’t interrupt, be respectful, and let the other person talk.
• The best way to think about this call (or any interview) is that it’s a conversation. It should not be an interrogation (although some interviewers like that style, and it’s a matter of personal preference for them). The interviewer asks you questions and you answer, and should have questions of your own (see next bullet). If you’re well prepared, this should be an easy, flowing conversation.
• Be prepared!! There is no excuse not to know all you can about the organization, potential issues they face, how you can solve those issues, and for you to have insightful questions to ask that show your true interest in the position, the depth of your knowledge about the industry or sector, and of course, of the organization.

Using these tips should help you have a successful phone interview. Of course, the final outcome is up to you.

Author's Bio: 

Copyright © 2010, Michael Trust & Associates. All Rights Reserved, Worldwide.

Michael Trust, MPA, SPHR-CA is a Career Strategist, and president of Michael Trust & Associates,, a Career & Business Coaching firm. His Coaching, Business, and Human Resources experience spans twenty years, and he has had major roles in staffing in all of his Human Resource positions. In addition, he has coached individuals at all career levels relative to their career paths, job search strategies, business strategies, and related areas. Mr. Trust is also a member of the International Coach Federation (ICF).