Acing phone interviews has never been more important. The job interviewing process requires you to hone a variety of skills — and being well prepared to have a conversation over the phone is no exception. Just because you’re not meeting with someone in person doesn’t mean that job interview etiquette goes out the door.
Phone interviews have become a common screening device used by hiring managers and recruiters to ensure an in-person interview will be a good use of everyone’s time. Job hiring managers tend to schedule phone interviews with candidates who have a great cover letter so that they can ask some preliminary phone interview questions.
So, if you’ve applied for a job and land a phone interview, odds are that you’ve passed the initial resume glance-over or written a compelling cover letter. Kudos to you, potential job candidate! (If you haven’t landed a phone interview, perhaps you’re using a generic cover letter and need to brush up on some cover letter examples.)
But now that you’re about to have a phone interview, what are the most important tips to really nailing it?
The first stage of the hiring process requires some preparation. Here are 15 tips to help you through it.
For starters, be sure to avoid making the number one mistake that kills any job applicant’s chances of getting to the next round: sounding low-energy. You need to be professional of course, but enthusiasm is also of paramount importance; if you don’t sound like you even want the job, do you really think you’re likely to get it?
You may feel like since you’re not meeting someone in person, enthusiasm isn’t particularly relevant or important — but the opposite is true. You have to work even harder over the phone to convey your excitement about the job!
Perhaps you don’t feel particularly energetic, but thankfully, this is easier to feign over the phone than it is in person. However, to truly be putting your best foot forward, do what you can leading up to the phone interview to make your energy levels authentic: get enough sleep, drink plenty of water, eat foods that are high in fiber and low in sugar, and don’t overdo the caffeine.
Sometimes people are guilty of perceiving telephone interviews as less important, choosing to save the real prep for the face-to-face interview round. This is a mistake, considering you’re unlikely to be a candidate for that in-person interview if you mess the phone one up. This is often your first job interview for a given position, so the same job interview tips that you try to follow for an in-person interview are equally, if not more, important when you’re preparing for a phone interview.
Go through a list of commonly asked interview questions and get some stock answers ready. The top phone interview questions or initial phone interview questions are often not too dissimilar from basic job interview questions that you’re used to hearing. Popular phone interview questions — especially HR phone interview questions — tend to be relatively general; rather than asking phone interview questions that will require you to delve into a ton of detail about every single one of your past jobs, a hire manager will likely want to gauge your enthusiasm, your general experience and whether it’s a good fit for the job, and your ability to articulate your interests and qualifications.
You don’t necessarily have to answers prepped for every single question, per se, but the exercise will serve to get your juices flowing at least. Ideally, you’ve also been able to pour over the job description in advance of the interview. And while the questions you’re asked are bound to vary, the one thing you should definitely have 100 percent ready is your elevator pitch; that way, when you inevitably hear the words “tell me about yourself,” “why do you want to work here?” or "where do you see yourself in 5 years?" you’re not left fumbling.
You may have used your elevator pitch before, so you know that the more you practice it, the more confident you'll sound. While you don't want to come off as rehearsed, you should be able to answer basic phone interview questions sounding self-assured. Try practicing a few times with someone you trust, such as a friend or colleague. She can play the part of the interviewer, while you'll be yourself, answering the questions as you would in a phone interview. The more times you're able to practice, the better equipped you'll be to answer these questions in the real interview.
Studies suggest that you make a first impression on your interviewer in less time than you might think. One study in Psychological Science suggests that we form our visual impressions of people in less than one-tenth of a second! This has been established by research showing that longer visual exposure to how a person looks doesn’t materially change our initial impression of them. In other words, we form our first impressions of others in less than a blink of an eye!
You may be wondering, candidate, how this translates to telephone interview tips and making a great first impression on your interviewer.
Well, on the phone, you make your first impression by the sound and tone of your voice. Just as someone meeting you for a face-to-face interview first registers a lot of visual information, during a telephone call, your voice — its cadence, rhythm, timbre, and volume — serves as that first impression. Our advice? Don’t do a phone interview first thing in the morning when you’ve yet to fully wake up or warm up your vocal chords much. Our voices need some time to adjust to wakefulness just like our mind does. So wake up and have a conversation — even if it’s with your dog — or do some singing in the shower before you even think of talking to that hire manager.
UCLA Professor Albert Mehrabian is best known for promulgating the 7% - 38% - 55% rule about the relative importance of words, your tone of voice, and body language in communication. While his findings have been widely taken out of context, the overarching point of his academic work is that a meaningful component of communication has less to do with what we actually say than how we say it — i.e. nonverbal cues.
On the phone, of course, there are no visual clues such as body language. The question then becomes whether body language seeps into your tone of voice. If you’ve ever seen Amy Cuddy’s TED talk on the importance of body language and power poses, you know that it’s very likely that how we sit — or whether we choose to stand — has an impact on how we are heard and received when we’re conducting a phone interview.
In addition to your posture, in some telephone sales training materials, experts advise that you sit differently because breathing deeply and having an upright posture will help make improve the sound quality of your voice.
There’s also the question of whether a smile is something people can pick up on during a phone interview. Would it surprise you to find out that “smile and dial” isn’t just a saying because it rhymes? In fact, Nestle is reported to have resorted to putting mirrors on their salespeople’s desks so they can see whether they’re smiling when they are on the phone. Rest assured, the warmth in your voice a smile creates will translate to your potential employer.
If you’re in between jobs and taking a phone interview at home, the temptation to stay in your PJs or favorite ~athleisure~ garb is real. After all, we want to feel comfortable during an interview, don’t we? So doesn’t wearing our favorite t-shirt and Nike leggings make sense?
Well, perhaps it makes sense on the surface level, but in reality, this practice is all wrong. More than anything, you need to have confidence during an interview, and it’s a little difficult to feel like your most high-achieving, high-powered self when your unwashed hair is in a messy bun and you’re still rocking your nightwear. So, shower, fix your hair, put on a little makeup (if that’s your thing), and dress as though you were headed to an in-person interview. It’s crazy the impact a button-down shirt versus a t-shirt can have on your attitude!
If standing, taking deep breaths, and smiling aren’t enough, you can also try moving around during your phone interview. This is easy enough with our smartphones and headphones since we’re no longer tied to landline phones at our desk. Moving around can create a feeling of positive energy and some of those good vibes may spill over into your phone interview.
As this isn’t an on-site interview, you may be tempted to think that having a printed copy of your resume isn’t essential. Wrong! Rest assured, your interviewer has a copy in front of them, and it will most likely guide their first few questions. You know your own accomplishments that qualify you for this position, of course — but interviewing, whether it involves an in-person meeting or not, can still provoke anxiety. It’s best to have a visual reference to the details regarding your many achievements in front of you, as that’s one last thing your brain will be tasked with remembering. You might as well have a copy of your cover letter, too!
On a related note, be sure to materials with you to take notes. The notes you take during the phone interview can serve to inform the questions you ask during your next one-on-one interview for this position (fingers crossed).
This is a no-brainer, but along with preparing for general questions about yourself and your experience, you should invest some time in understanding the basics of the company, such as the mission and day-to-day functions. You should also research aspects of the company that are relevant to the position for which you're interviewing. For example, if you're interviewing for a marketing or social media position, make sure you look at all the company's accounts and handles. See what's missing, too, so you can make suggestions as to how the company can improve its efforts and what you'll do to get it there.
At any stage of the hiring process, you'll be asked if you have any questions for your interviewer. You should always have two or three questions at this time. During the conversation, it's a good idea to jot down some questions that are relevant to topics you've been discussing to show that you're engaged and care about the company and position. Just in case, you should also come prepared with a few general questions. Try to avoid asking questions whose answers are easily Googlable or found on the company's website; you don't want to look like you haven't done your homework. Plus, this is an opportunity to learn information that can benefit you. After all, you don't want to end up at a place that's not a good fit for you.
Doing a phone interview from your home is a fine idea — if your home is an appropriately calm and quiet environment, that is. The last thing you need during the next 30 minutes to 45 minutes is distractions. Do you have roommates, perhaps pint-sized ones? If you can’t guarantee that your environment will be a quiet place and free of interruptions for the full time of your interview, consider taking the call elsewhere — from the inside of your car, perhaps (if you aren’t parked next to a busy freeway!). If you’re still struggling to come up with a fitting option, know that you’re not alone — at least three internet forums are struggling to find a real solution for this problem in New York alone.
On the topic of minimizing distractions, make sure your cell phone notifications won’t be dinging away throughout the job interview. Basics, people! You should also make sure you won't be distracting by anything else. Do you have an alarm that goes off at the same time every day? Make sure it won't go off during your interview.
No matter where you are or what you're wearing, it's important to feel as comfortable as possible during the interview. Being comfortable means being in the right head space to conduct an interview and show the interviewer your best self. Try to avoid stressors on the day of the interview—for example, you might not want to have your performance evaluation on the same day. On a similar note, if you're going to have trouble finding a quiet, comfortable place to conduct this conversation at work, you may want to take a vacation or personal day or take a long lunch break.
While it's easy to take a phone interview from the couch or your bed, you may want to consider actually sitting at a proper desk or, at least, a table. This can help you get organized if you want to take notes or if you have to refer to printed materials you may have on hand.
Also, a whole bunch of research proves that, if you get dressed up more professionally and make a real workspace for yourself, you'll do better work. The same goes for an interview. If you're sitting at a desk, you'll be more inclined to sound professional on the phone than you would if you were casually sitting in a heap of pillows on your bed.
Use noise-canceling headphones so that you can make sure you can actually hear the person on the other end of the phone. You don't want to have to ask the interviewer to repeat themselves because you couldn't make out their question. Even if you're in a generally quiet place, noise-canceling headphone can help you focus by drowning out even the slightest sounds around you.
Just make sure that the audio of the headphones works before you dial into your phone interview. You may want to try a test run first.
Drink lots of water before your call, especially if it's early in the morning. The last thing you want is to sound raspy with "morning voice" for your big interview. So drink some water to clear your throat and get your vocals ready. Doing this can help you to sound much more awake and alert, and it can also help your voice if its shaky from nerves.
At the end of the day, be kind to yourself. A phone interview can be especially nerve-racking because you can't necessarily tell how the other person is responding to you. You won't be able to see their facial reactions or body language. This can be intimidating, especially if there are longer pauses in your conversation.
Just keep in mind that all you can do is your best. Give it your all, keep confident, and remember that the interview is a two-way street.
Relax after your call is over. You don't know how many other candidates the hiring manager is always interviewing. While you, of course, want to be the one they choose, pestering them isn't going to help. Send a follow-up note to thank them for their time and consideration, and then let them think about it. It's a big decision for them, too, so they may need a little extra time to mull over their options. Be patient with the process.
Don't skip the crucial thank you note component! Just because it's not an in-person interview doesn't mean you should ignore the fact that the interviewer has taken time out of her busy day to speak with you. A thank you note is an important step that will show your courtesy and professionalism.
You don't need to go crazy here, but do send a polite follow-up email expressing your enthusiasm for the job and thanking the interviewer for her time. If your interviewer has asked for any materials from you, such as writing samples or other documents, you can send them in this email as well.
Hopefully, you’re now feeling way more ready for that phone interview and confident that you’ll soon be meeting your potential employer face to face. Take a few minutes before the call to get comfortable and stand powerfully — it’ll make a big difference in making a great impression. To prepare yourself for the next stage, you may want to ask the interviewer about the timeline for the hiring process and when she's looking to bring candidates in. That way, you'll be better prepared either way.
Georgene Huang is Co-founder and CEO of Fairygodboss.
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