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How To Prepare For A Phone Interview

What Soft Skills Are Employers Looking For?

As far as interviews go, one by phone can make you feel like you've got the home-team advantage: you're home and wearing comfortable clothes, you've got your computer and notes at arm's reach, and you skip that anxious car ride, as well as the wait when you arrive at the meeting. Sounds pretty great!

Unfortunately, appearances aside, you're going to have to work even harder to make yourself stand out to a potential employer. Your first impression is solely based off verbal presence, attitude, and the way in which you answer questions. And because this is a "pre-interview," there's going to be many more candidates on the line — which means more competition for you.

Preparing for a phone interview requires a few simple things: preparing a space to be quiet and ready for your interview, researching the company (and interviewees), prepping your phone greeting, anticipating the questions, getting your notes and documents at the ready, and following up with the interview afterwards. Let's break down the details:

Why Phone Interviews?

Think of it from their perspective: employers usually have far more qualified job applicants than they have time to meet in person -- and, yet, that human interaction provides them with tremendous insights on the candidates that can't be found any other way. These calls help them quickly screen through a larger volume, helping them narrow down the playing field for in-person meetings.

Here's some things they'll be looking for:

  • Are they interested in (and excited about) the role?
  • Can they start soon?
  • Would they need to relocate?
  • Do they have reliable transportation?
  • Do they have any personality issues that will interfere with their work or teamwork?
  • Will they be a cultural fit for this company?
  • Are they qualified for the position?
  • Why are they looking for a new role?
  • What happened with your previous job gaps and transitions?
  • Is the role they're seeking a good match for the position and salary being offered?
  • (If a recruiter) Will this person represent me well when they interview with my client?

Bear in mind: While you’ll usually be given the opportunity to prepare for a phone interview in advance, JobSearch.com warns that these calls also come unannounced. It doesn't hurt to start thinking about your answers to these questions in advance.

Have a Designated Space

You have full control over where your interview will happen -- be sure to make the most of it. Find a quiet space where you can focus and the call won’t be interrupted. A poll from the University of Kent said phone interviews can take anywhere between 20-60 minutes to complete.

Get yourself a glass of water, speak slowly, and eliminate potential interruptions:

  • Avoid noisy, public spaces, and make sure everyone else in the house knows about the interview. Turn off any fans -- the blowing can be amplified in the receiver.
  • Eat beforehand so you're not hungry during the interview, and use the restroom.
  • Place all important documents nearby for easy access, like at a kitchen table or desk.
  • Position yourself comfortably, but in a way that keeps your voice clear and strong.
  • Find a room where you can shut the door and focus on the task at hand.
  • When the phone rings, close out ANY kind of distraction around you.

Planning for this ahead of time will help you create the best possible scenario for your interview, and create a feeling of preparedness as you step into the conversation.

Phone Interview Etiquette

Not to worry you, but you’ll be judged from the moment you say “Hello.” And their objective is to eliminate as many candidates as they can.

As the interview draws near, get in the habit of answering the phone yourself, using a professional voice every time. Keep your tone lively and show the interviewer that you're ready for their call. Be confident in what to say as you answer the phone, similar to this:

"It's great to hear from you! I'm really excited to be able to discuss this opportunity with your team."

If you need to relocate yourself for the call, simply say:

"I'm glad you've called! Can you give me just a moment? I need to move to a quieter space for our call."

Once on the call, it can be tempting to speak too much and/or too quickly. It doesn't hurt to have a "mock interview" with a friend before the actual interview, practicing speaking slowly, and at an appropriate length. While you're practicing, work also on asking strong questions to your interviewer, and listening fully to the answers they provide.

Besides having manners, don’t lie about your resume, or about your experience during the call. Research from the University of Massachusetts found that 81 percent of people have lied about themselves and job experience to employers. Whether or not you land the job, your boss will quickly see if you’re able to complete tasks based off “experience.” The loss of a job based on this could be very damaging to your future employment opportunities.

Use a Landline

U.S. News and World Report discusses the benefits of using a landline vs. your mobile device for a phone interview. Making the call from a landline leaves less room for misinterpretation and minimizes the odds of disconnection. Using a high-quality phone will make your voice clearer.

If you absolutely need to use a mobile phone, make sure it’s charged. Few things are less impressive during a phone interview than having your phone die or lose service during the call.

You never know when a networking contact may call and ask for a few minutes to talk, so always answer the phone professionally, especially if the number is unfamiliar. Update your voicemail message to a clear and concise one, stating your full name and intent to quickly return calls. Do it now, just in case a cold-call interview is coming.

What Recruiters Hate to Hear

  • An automated voice telling them to "leave a message"
  • Barking dogs, crying children, television, and radio audio
  • Typing throughout the interview
  • The interviewee's voice dominating the interview as they ramble on
  • A tired, impolite, or too-casual tone of voice

Do Your Homework

Take time to research a company and know who you’re talking to. Inc.com recommends reviewing their website, taking a look at their blog, and getting a general sense for what they're all about. Demonstrate the research you've done during your call. For example, if you can mention a specific recent company blog post and speak intelligently on it, you'll win some kudos with the hiring manager.

Great Points To Research

Doing this research now will not only prepare you for the interview, but it will also help you to screen out companies that you don't want to work for. Doing this early on can save you a lot of time and inconvenience, and free up your resources to better pursue other opportunities.

Five Things To Have On Hand

  • A hard copy of your resume
  • The job description, and the name of your interviewer
  • Your laptop/desktop, for quick access
  • Questions you'd like to ask the interviewer
  • A paper and pen for notes (Much quieter than typing!)

After the Interview

You’ve completed the phone interview. What’s next? It’s natural to want to take follow-up actions as soon as possible, but Careernook.com recommends waiting ten full business days. After all, the employer does know you’re interested, since you took time to prepare for the interview. 

In the meantime, send a thank you note within a day or two -- handwritten, if possible. It’s a small gesture that can leave a big impression — and solidifies in their minds that you're engaged with the opportunity. This could be the final, key factor that helps you complete your mission: to land a face-to-face meeting, and prove you’re the best fit for the job.