How to give good Phone Interviews

How to give good Phone Interviews
By Jack J. Kelly

Lately, many things have rapidly changed with respect to the hiring process.

One interesting dramatic change, which happened quickly, is the phone interview replacing the more traditional in-person interview. Seemingly, out of nowhere, a significant number of firms are now conducting the initial couple of interviews over the phone rather than meeting in-person.

I recognize that there are some benefits to this trend, such as saving time for both candidates and hiring managers. With a quick phone call job seekers won’t have to make-up a fake doctor’s appointment, sneak out of their office, wait for a train to travel across town, spend an hour or more waiting in the lobby, having the interview, and then do the reverse trek back to the office. A hiring manager can spend ten minutes on a call and not waste his precious time going through the motions and pretense of being polite to someone who they quickly realize will never be a fit for the position. It’s much easier to get someone off the phone than usher a candidate out of the office.

In full disclosure, as a recruiter, I always spend a significant amount of time with a job applicant, sometimes too much time. In light of the effort an interviewee expends to get to my office, his taking time off from work, and the excitement they exhibit over embarking upon a new job search, I feel obligated to spend quality time with the person, even I feel that he or she is not a fit. I always tend to feel guilty if I sense the person thinks that the interview was cut short.

There are numerous downsides too. Over the phone it is kind of hard to actually see the hiring manager, view the office, watch the interviewer’s body language (not in a creepy way) as you answer the questions, look at the family pictures on the desk, take a peek for any sports or college related memorabilia in the office to serve as an ice breaker or find common ground to establish a rapport. The visual cues provide candidates with needed ammunition to help in the interview, and without the visual aids, it is much tougher for the candidates to connect and bond with the hiring manger.

Also, it seems that interviews are devalued when it is only over the phone. It feels as if a firm was truly interested in a person, they would take the time and effort to have a traditional face-to-face conversation. I have also noticed that phone interviews tend to be cancelled or missed by companies more frequently than an in-person meeting. This also illustrates the less prestige held for phoners. I get the sense that behind the scenes the attitude of the company is “just do a five minute interview and see how it goes”. It becomes another box to check off showing management that they are being productive in procuring a new employee without really putting their heart into it.

When there is an in-person interview, the candidate needs to go through security, who then calls up to alert the hiring manager’s office. An assistant will remind the manager that her interviewee has arrived. The candidate will be shown to a waiting room where a receptionist would sign him in and again advise the manager that his appointment is waiting in the lobby. These formal steps keep the hiring manager cognizant of the meeting. With phone interviews, without all the safeguards and announcements, it becomes casual and nonchalant. I have noticed it is too easy for the interviewer to get distracted on other business, space-out on the time, and miss the candidate’s call. This will then turn into an awkward few hours of the participants trying to contact one another, only to both get frustrated and aggravated. On the other side of the equation, a candidate usually gets stuck in a meeting or can’t find a quiet discreet place to make the call into the hiring manager.

Despite these and other pitfalls, the trend continues. Don’t worry, I’ll help you. Here is what you need to do.
First, treat a phone interview like an in-person interview. Although it may seem like I am not optimistic about these calls, if this is all you have, treat it with respect, and try your best. Before the call spend time to investigate and check out the interviewer on LinkedIn and other social media sites, thoroughly review the job description, scour the firm’s website to gain a solid understanding of their business, conduct a Google search to see how they are doing in the marketplace, and practice your elevator pitch.

The elevator pitch, if you are not familiar with the term, is a rehearsed and well-prepared sharp professional way to clearly and concisely sell your strong points to the interviewer. This is even more paramount when conducting a phone interview since all the interviewer can rely upon is your voice, phone demeanor and delivery.

First, since it is over the phone, you can write-up talking points and have them in front of you to keep on message. Even though you have practiced your elevator pitch, having the notes in front of you keeps you focused, relaxed and confident. If you get stumped with a question you can turn to your notes for help. This same tactic does not work out well when you are sitting across from an interviewer and nervously and awkwardly attempt to extricate the crumpled index cards with scribbled notes on them from your jacket pocket.

Since the hiring manager can’t see you over the phone, your voice is a win or lose instrument. Practice injecting enthusiasm, energy, motivation, drive and excitement into your speech. I recognize that this is hard to do, especially for people who are not in sales or marketing positions, or are introverted.

I would strongly suggest, just like anything else in life, to become good at something, devote a large chunk of time towards practicing. Don’t just do it in your head. Everything always sounds awesome when you think it to yourself. The same magnificent speech in your head sounds utterly dreadful the first time it is vocalized. In addition to practicing the pitch, also have some prepared answers to “why are you looking for a new job?” and all the other typical types of questions. Also, carefully practice your answers until your come across as confident, motivated and a person with a can-do winning attitude. Since most people will not do this and treat the phone interview in a caviler manner, you will make a great impression and clearly stand out above the crowd.

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