How to Ace the Phone Interview

Do you dread the phone interview? Afraid your voice will sound weak or nasal?

Or you’ll get tongue-tied?

Or say something stupid?

Or not have time to elaborate on your qualifications?

Or that the interviewer will call when your children are fighting, the television is at full volume cartoon soundtrack, and you’re in the middle of stir frying dinner?

There are ways around all these problems. And they are all simple solutions. You can score high on a telephone interview with a little know-how and prep work.

What’s on Your Side

During a face-to-face interview, an interviewer will assess you on how you appear, but during a phone interview, he’ll judge you more by what you say, and how you say it. You can make this work to your advantage.

You can have a cheat sheet in front of you with the right answers to difficult questions. A cheat sheet can have specific details like pertinent percentages and dollar amounts so you’ll have these facts at your fingertips.

You can keep a copy of your résumé in front of you. You’ll be looking at the same thing the interviewer is looking at.

You can take notes while you are on the phone.

You are less likely to be pre-judged by age or disability or any ethnic or racial characteristics.

There are other advantages the phone interview has over the in-person interview.

It is usually shorter than the in-person interview. The typical one lasts 20 to 30 minutes, but it can be as short as five minutes or as long as an hour.

It will save you money. You do not have to travel to an interview. This can be a considerable savings if the hiring company is some distance away.

The Flip Side of the Coin

However, there are some disadvantages to the phone interview.

Because a phone interview is perceived as less personal, you may be asked difficult questions in the phone interview, like “Why did you leave your last job?” or “Why are you looking for a new job?”

The interviewer may be unskilled at getting information from you, and you could be unfairly screened from the next step of the application process.

You may have the kind of personal charisma that comes across better when in person than on the phone. You may have social skills that work best face-to-face. You may have physical advantages that don’t convey over the phone. For example, statistics show that tall people earn more money in their lifetimes. Although these kinds of things may work against you in a phone interview, they are minor.

What Will the Interviewer Want to Know?

The kinds of questions asked in a phone interview will have three purposes.

To check your credentials. The interviewer wants to corroborate basic facts he sees on your application or résumé. Or he needs to fill in the blanks for missing information.

To verify your experience. The interviewer has determined that you meet the requirements of the position, and now he needs to double check your experience by asking specific questions about your responsibilities and accomplishments.

To predict how you’ll perform. The interviewer needs to judge how well suited you are for the position. These types of behavioral questions probe how you handled specific challenges in the past. It will help you give good answers to all these questions if you are relaxed, and confident.

To Avoid Nervousness

Take several deep breaths before the call. And do not forget to breathe during the call. This can help lower your voice pitch.

If you have a strong accent, lisp, or anything that could make it difficult for the interviewer to understand, acknowledge it. Tell the interviewer, “Let me know if you have any trouble understanding me, and I will be happy to repeat the information.”

Walk around the room when you are not taking notes. Standing up will make you feel more in control. Feel free to gesture with your hands if that is your habit.

Smile. Put a sticky note somewhere to remind yourself to put on a grin.

Keep your prepared notes handy and orderly. This kind of prep will help calm the jitters.

Dress as you would for an in-person interview. It will put you in a professional frame of mind and boost your self confidence.

To Improve Your Speaking Style

Practice speaking concisely and clearly. Many people are surprised to hear how they sound on the phone. One easy way to hear yourself is to use a free conference call service, like Freeconferencing.com.

Be enthusiastic but don’t talk too loud.

Limit the “uhhs,” ‘umms,” and “you knows” in your responses. A positive and confident frame of mind will help you speak unhesitatingly.

Slow down. When you are nervous, you are likely to talk faster, which makes you more difficult to understand. So talk a bit slower than you normally would.

Don’t use a speaker phone. You will sacrifice clarity. Use a landline if possible.

Resist the temptation to interrupt. Make sure the interviewer has finished asking the question before you answer. Then, wait a second or two before answering.

Eliminate “uptalk,” which is ending a declarative statement with an intonation that makes it sound like a question.

Customize the When and Where of the Call

Most hiring managers do not expect you to be available at a moment’s notice. So if you receive a call at an inopportune time, you can ask to schedule the call for later that day or the next day.

If you decide to do the interview right then, ask if you can excuse yourself to a quiet place and call them back in a few minutes. This will also give you a little time to prepare.

If you are at work, if you are driving, or if you are some place noisy, do not answer the call. Instead, call back as soon as you are able to. It is better to have the call go to voicemail and call the interviewer back than to perform poorly because of distractions.

Never put your interviewer on hold to answer another call. Ignore or disable your phone’s call waiting feature.

When scheduling an interview, be sure to clarify any time zone differences.

What to Do Before the Call

The more you prepare, the better you will do. Here’s what I always tell my clients.

On a piece of paper, write down the company name, the job title you are applying for, the name of the person you’ll be talking to. Make sure you are thoroughly familiar with the job description or job posting.

Study the company’s website. Learn as much as you can about the company, the interviewer, and the job.

Create your own talking points outline. Remember to have your printed résumé in front of you, with any especially pertinent positions or accomplishments highlighted.

Plan to take notes during your interview with pen and paper, not the computer because the sound of typing is distracting.

Be prepared to answer the salary question if you are asked. Avoid bringing up salary, benefits, or who your supervisor would be. Save that for an in-person interview

Print an opening and closing statement on paper. The opening statement might be the answer to “Tell me about yourself.” This should include a 30- to 60-second statement of why you are qualified for the job, based on what you know about the position. The closing statement should include your desire to work for the company, reiterating your interest in the job. Speak using a conversational tone, not your reading-voice.

If using a cell phone, make sure the phone is charged (or plugged in) and has a strong cell signal. If you are using a cordless phone, make sure the battery is charged.

Go to the bathroom before the call.

With the right kind of preparation you’ll pass the phone interview with flying colors and that means being invited to the next level of job screening — the in-person interview.

Mir Garvy

Author: Mir Garvy

I’ve written resumes for 2,000+ job seekers just like you—and helped my clients land jobs with companies like Amazon, SAS, Google, Duke University, Travelocity, Cisco Systems, GlaxoSmithKline, Expedia, and IBM.