April 18

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Phone interview tips: what to do before, during and after

Looking for some phone interview tips? Here’s 26 of them guiding you through what to do before, during and after so you can make it through to the second round.


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If you are panicking about a phone interview because its your first time, don’t.

Take comfort in the fact that it’s most probably not your first time - you have been through many already and just not realised it.

Every time you talk to a recruiter, you are being unofficially interviewed.

Screening candidates over the phone is a fast and easy way to eliminate those that don’t meet the criteria for a role and gauge the level of interest from those that are qualified.

Oftentimes, recruiters will be aware of a job opening and will already be working to fill it long before it can be officially advertised.

This means that there is a great chance that you have already been screened multiple times for positions without you knowing it.

So, my first piece of advice is to always assume you could be being screened for a position every time you take a call from a recruiter, even if it seems just like a general chat.

Always assume you could be being screened for a position every time you take a call from a recruiter, even if it seems just like a general chat.

When you do have an official phone interview though, you’ll need to have a plan so you can effectively prepare for a successful call.

The good news is that most of your basic preparation is the same as a traditional face to face interview but there are a few crucial differences that you need to consider before you pick up that phone.

To help you get organised, here are 26 tips covering the 3 stages of a phone interview - before, during and after.

Phone interview tips for before your call

1.

Expect the unexpected


If you are actively job seeking and applying for positions, you never really know when a recruiter or hiring manager may call you for a ‘chat’ about a position.


So, even if you don’t currently have a date for a phone interview set up, it is wise to go through these steps in the preparation section just in case, so you are ready.


In a perfect world, if you received an unscheduled call you would leave it to go to voice message and then call them back when you are perfectly prepared and ready or maybe answer it but then reschedule for a more convenient time.


But it is far from a perfect world.


If you don’t answer, they may not call back or take your call if you call back.


If they agree to reschedule for another time, they may find and hire the perfect candidate prior to your call.


That’s why it is so important to be ready when they are.

With that said, there are of course times when you really can’t speak.


If this happens say something like “It’s great to hear from you and I would love to talk about this opportunity. Unfortunately, I am (driving/not at my desk/etc) so could I possibly call you straight back in (5mins/30mins/1hour)?”

2.

Confirm interest


If you have received a request for a phone interview by email or LinkedIn and have a choice of dates, make sure that you choose the best slot.


I know that sounds strange but in your eagerness, you may forget an appointment and double book.


Further, send a response as soon as possible after their message to confirm interest, to say thank you and show that you act in a professional manner.

3.

Get and stay organised


You are most probably applying for multiple roles at different organisations and that means trouble. 


Set up a spreadsheet or use a free online software such as Trello so that you can track applications, contact details of recruiters and hiring managers, plus your results and outcomes.


You always want to be sure you know who is calling you and about which position and where you are currently at in the process.

4.

Get in the right mindset


Just because it is held over the phone it is still an interview, so you need to prepare just as seriously.


If it is in the morning, make sure you get a good night’s sleep, get up way in advance, eat some breakfast, move around and get those vocal cords warmed up.


If you are taking the call from home, get out of that tracksuit or pyjamas and dress the part too.


Yes, I know they can’t see you, but it will really help you kick your mind into the right frame to perform well.

5.

Check your tech


If possible, use a landline but if not, double check that your phone is fully charged, that your bill has been paid and that your outgoing voicemail message is professional. Humorous messages are very risky because you simply don’t know how they will react.


Try to use headphones if using a mobile because they really help to cut down on background noise and will help the interviewer hear you better if their service is spotty.

6.

Set the scene


Choose a quiet place with minimum background noise and don’t think that you can be watching TV and then just mute it during the call. Recruiters can tell if you are distracted in any way.


Try to have a desk or table that can hold your preparation material (see tip 8) and a copy of your resume and the job description. That way you can sit comfortably or better still, stand by it when you are on the call.


According to Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist at Harvard Business School, everyone should spend two minutes power posing prior to a job interview.


By adopting the stances associated with confidence, power and achievement — chest lifted, head held high, arms either up or propped on the hips - your performance will be significantly lifted.


Cuddy explains that “our nonverbals govern how we think and feel about ourselves. Our bodies change our minds.”

“Our nonverbals govern how we think and feel about ourselves. Our bodies change our minds.”

If you find this hard to believe, watch this TED talk and you will be converted.

7.

Get support


If you live alone without pets you can move on to the next one but if you share your home with anything living you need to be sure you are not interrupted.


Make sure your partner knows the day and time of your interview and that kids are out of the house or busy with something.


Likewise, if you have pets, the same rules apply – out of the house or someone actively keeping them busy.

8.

Conduct research


This step is crucial and has three parts – your interviewer, the company and the position.



Your interviewer

When you have the name of the person interviewing you, go straight to LinkedIn. It is most likely going to be a recruiter, but you can find this out when you research their background.


This will help you to know that your questions will probably be more of a screening level rather than in depth.  If not, and it is your potential boss, you know the opposite is true.


Check out their background and see if you share anything in common or anything that will give you an insight into who they are and where they have come from themselves.


In the absence of seeing them it can make you feel more comfortable and help you build rapport.



The company

While you are on LinkedIn, visit the company’s profile page.  Take note of the obvious things such as its size, structure, products and services but also try to ascertain their overall culture, plans for growth or expansion.


Then do a wider research on their company website and any news articles you can find.


If there is sometime before your interview, set up a Google alert with the company name. That way the latest news will be delivered directly to you and you can impress your interviewer with your up to date knowledge of the company.



The job description

Now look at the essential skills and knowledge they require and make a list. Then make another list of desirable skills.


This will help you prepare for potential questions that may came up, tailoring your answers to ensure that not only are you satisfying what the interviewer is asking, you’re also positioning yourself to be the best possible candidate for the job.

9.

Prepare for common interview questions


Two things are worth noting here.


First, phone interviews typically last for around 30 mins so you are not looking to prepare long drawn out answers.


Second, going through this exercise will not only be invaluable if you get to a second stage interview for this job, but will also help you with all your other interviews too.


There are of course many questions that may be asked but there are some that occur more often than others.


If you prepare your answers in advance, it will give you a confidence boost on the day and make you feel far less nervous.



Common interview Questions


What they are and how to prepare for them

10.

Prepare a list of questions for them


At the end of most interviews, you will be asked “do you have any questions for us?”


If you say nothing, it all goes a bit flat and an awkward silence sets in. If you say something negative, you could blow the whole thing and ruin what was otherwise a great interview.


That’s why it is so important to prepare some questions in advance and here is a post that will help you do just that.



Best Questions to Ask at a Job Interview


Use this guide to prepare yours now

11.

Practice interviewing


Now you have put in the research and have made notes on potential answers, ask a friend or family member to do a mock interview on the phone. Give them a list to work from and record how you sound.


Ask yourself whether you are clear enough, if you use lots of filler words such as ‘umm’ and ‘like’ or whether you tended to ramble at any point.


Don’t get disheartened though if you hate the sound of your voice! This is very common so try not to fixate on that.

Phone interview tips for during your call

12.

Don't even think about multi-tasking


I have interviewed candidates over the phone on many occasions where they think they have got away with getting things done at the same time such as warming up their lunch in a microwave, throwing a ball for their dog, or washing their dishes.


Don’t do this. Recruiters know and you are basically telling them that they are not important enough for you to stop what you are doing and pay your full attention to them.

13.

Start positive


It is so much easier to create a great first impression in person because you can smile, look the interviewer in their eyes and offer a confident handshake.


So, when you have a phone interview, make sure that right from the beginning your tone is upbeat and friendly, that you thank them for their time, and tell them how much you are looking forward to hearing more about the opportunity.

14.

Smile


Remember Amy Cuddy’s power pose from earlier? Well research also shows that you can ‘hear a smile’ because our bodies change our minds and the way we communicate.


So, although they can’t see you smile, interviewers can feel it which helps build rapport and in turn makes you feel better and more positive.


I know you might feel silly doing it but do it anyway.

15.

Posture


Following on from the power pose and smiling, if you are going to sit, down slouch or sit in bed while on a call. This will negatively affect your voice and demeanour for all the reasons above.

16.

Glass of water


There’s a good chance that nerves will make your mouth dry so keep some water beside you so you can take a discrete sip when you need it.


Don’t be tempted to swap it for wine to calm your nerves though. It may dull your nerves, but it will also do the same to your answers.

17.

Don't eat, smoke or chew gum


This is another thing that people think they can get away with.


Talking with a mouthful of food, inhaling on a cigarette or chewing relentlessly are awful things to listen to.


This tells the recruiter one of two things.  First, you don’t think they are important enough to stop what you are doing. Or second, you lack the self-control needed to not do these things – even for just half an hour.

18.

Use an upbeat but controlled speed throughout


Your interviewer is trying to assess many things at once. Of course, there are your skills and knowledge, but they also want to gauge how interested you are in the role and whether you would fit culturally within the organisation.


Help them with this by speaking clearly and concisely and be positive throughout the call. Don’t let your energy flag towards the end. Remember, it is just half an hour so give it your best for all of that time.


Keep your speed steady. When we are nervous, we tend to speed up so, if you feel that happening, take a breath and slow down a bit.


Don’t go too slow either though because you will not seem enthusiastic.

19.

Make a real effort to listen


As time is limited, you need to be super concentrated on what they are saying and asking so you can provide the right response in return.


"Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”

- Stephen Covey -

Don’t just be waiting for them to finish. Really engage with what they are saying so your response will be natural and fitting.

20.

Never interrupt your interviewer


Naturally, we all accidentally talk over each other socially at points and this can happen in face to face interviews as well.


But if you constantly interrupt you interviewer during a phone call this will be seen as rude and will ruin the flow of conversation.


The rule is to talk but don’t dominate the conversation and leave a sensible gap after they have finished speaking so that you are sure they have finished.


If they interrupt you, allow it and take care not to react or get annoyed. Just let them finish and keep it professional
21.

Use prompts, notes & research throughout


The huge advantage of not being seen is that all of your notes you made earlier on your potential interview answers, your resume and the job description can be laid out in front of you to give you guidance. 


It’s a bit like going into an exam with a page full of answers.

Keep these close so that you stay on track.

22.

Be mindful of time


Be thorough but try not to give answers that are too long for any individual question.


If you feel that it is coming to an end and there are some questions you really still need to ask, or points you want to get across, prioritise your responses.

23.

Let them know you want the job


You may feel that it is obvious that you want their job, after all why would you be talking with them now right?


The truth is though that it can be hard to tell in an interview how positive and interested in a job a candidate is, even when face to face.


Always end with these three things.


Thank them for their time because that is polite and professional.


Also thank them for providing such a great overview of the position and the company because that makes them feel good about how they performed.


Then finish by confirming that now you know more, you are even more excited/enthusiastic/interested (choose what feels comfortable) about the position.


This is also the time to ask what the next steps are in the process if they haven’t already told you.

Phone interview tips for after your call

24.

Track the call straight away


As soon as you finish the call, go to your job application tracker that you set up before as a spreadsheet or in Trello.  Add the details from the call and the date and time so you know when to follow up.


If you made any notes on what they said, put that in there too. You may feel like you will just remember it, but trust me you won’t after a few more interviews.

25.

Send a thank you email


After you have recorded the details in your tracker, always send them a thoughtful thank you email which again mentions those 3 crucial things – the time they spent with you, the way they explained the job opening so well, and how you are even more excited about this opportunity.


If possible, thank them for something specific you learnt from them in the call because this will prove that you were both listening and appreciative of their efforts to brief you on the role.

26.

Be realistic


Know that there is no such thing as the perfect phone interview. If on a couple of occasions you grimaced because you felt you said something the wrong way, or there was a time when you clammed up and the silence was deafening, relax.


Recruiters are not expecting everything to be perfect because they probably won’t be perfect either.


But if you put in the time and effort to thoroughly prepare for your call you will have given yourself the best chance possible to advance to the next stage.



Mark Daniel

About the Author

A global resume writer and career coach, Mark is known for his honest, direct, and hard-hitting advice, helping people manage job applications and succeed at interviews. Now based on the Sunshine Coast in Australia, he is the co-founder of Real Life Career Advice and the Hi Vis Hub. A prolific publisher, Mark contributes to several industry magazines and his daily career advice blog to his 45,000 LinkedIn followers.

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