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Can We Talk? How to Ace a Phone Interview

By Craig Lloyd

Since most interviews start with a telephone conversation, how you handle yourself as a candidate in that stage of the process is important. Often this determines whether you are invited to meet for a personal interview. Remember, you only get one chance to make a good first impression.

Whether you are engaged for only a few minutes in a phone screen interview or scheduled on the calendar for a formal telephone interview, your goal should be the same – to encourage your prospective employer to schedule a personal interview. If the employer is a plane flight away then all the more reason to gain a commitment.

Telephone Personality

Is your telephone personality warm, friendly and personable? Not sure? Then listen to how you sound when you leave a message on a voicemail via the replay feature. Sales people will often replay the messages they leave with customers or prospects to confirm the quality of their voice. You may not need a sales personality but everyone benefits from well-honed telephone skills. For example, a chief engineer may tackle equipment issues every day, but may need to coax a parts supplier – on the phone – to get a critical part to the plant ASAP.

Here’s a tip – practice smiling when you are on the telephone. It automatically comes across as an upbeat demeanor. Your ability to do that on command will pay dividends in a telephone interview. Smiling will also help disguise nervousness you may be experiencing.

Pen and Pad

A good telephone interviewer will confirm whether you have something to write on before engaging you in a conversation. So make sure you do. Even the best listeners need the insurance of a pen and pad. Always start by writing the employers first and last name, company name and phone number. There is nothing worse at the close of a conversation to have your mind draw a blank on someone’s name. This prevents you from using their name as you close the conversation. Remember, it is also important to take notes regarding information gleaned from the conversation and to jot down thoughts to discuss when appropriate.

The Right Questions

I usually suggest making a list of about ten operational topics for a personal interview. You can get that same list together prior to a telephone interview, but make a short list of about three items to use on the phone. Good examples: is the opening confidential and what issues has the current / previous person struggled with?

The Right Answers

If the employer has your resume in front of them, have your copy handy as well. You need to practice three types of answers:

    1. Paint the picture of your current /past work environments (volume, mix, equipment, direct reports, etc).
    2. Giving logical reasons as to why you changed jobs in the past. Volunteer names of past supervisors that will praise you and your work performance.
    3. Be prepared with 2 or 3 success stories that support your past performance.

Live Video Interview

This past year I have had three clients rely heavily on a live video interview.  All three clients were challenged logistically (Hawaii, the Caribbean and Canada) in regards to airfare. If you are considering locations in distant places, you should be prepared to make use of this technology.

It’s a Wrap

How well you read the employer over the phone will determine if or when you should ask for a personal interview. If you have given the three types of answers listed above and the employer has adequately described their need, then suggest the next step with something like “your opportunity sounds right up my alley. Can we make some arrangements for me to visit your plant” (facility, home office, etc)?

Good luck!