The job application process requires significant time and energy from hopeful candidates, including everything from polishing up a resume to constructing the perfect cover letter to prepping for in-person interviews. However, one crucial element to this experience often gets overlooked or undervalued: the phone interview.
Whether it’s a preliminary, pre-screening conversation or a full-fledged interview conducted remotely, these phone calls present a set of challenges quite different from those associated with face-to-face interviews. That’s why we’re bringing you a full overview of the phone interview — when they’re used, how to prepare for one, what to keep in mind during the chat and what snafus to avoid.
What is the purpose of a phone interview?
Phone interviews generally fall into one of two categories:
1. The pre-screening interview
After reviewing your resume and application, the hiring manager decides that she’d like to have a brief conversation with you to talk through your experience, to share further details on the position and to determine whether the company should call you in for a more comprehensive, in-person discussion. These phone chats usually take far less time than a formal interview (15-30 minutes), and their primary purpose is to separate applicants who clearly aren’t the right fit from those who merit further consideration.
While plenty of companies choose to forgo this part of the process, it can actually prove an essential tool to hiring managers with a vested interest in efficiency. Ask A Manager’s Alison Green is a huge proponent of the preliminary phone screen, insisting that “phone interviews are a massive time saver for you and for job candidates, because you can quickly eliminate people who aren’t right in a 15-20-minute conversation rather than investing an hour in an in-person conversation. It’s a hugely important way to test for basic fit.”
2. The remote interview
In certain cases (for instance, if you’re interviewing for a position in a different location and the company prefers to avoid the expenses of flying candidates in for a sit-down meeting), you may be asked to conduct your formal interview over the phone. These days, most companies who operate this way will opt for a video interview (via Skype or FaceTime) rather than an audio phone call.
While handling the entire interview process over the phone can seem beneficial to a company’s financial bottom line, it’s a choice that often comes with collateral damage. In-person interviews give managers the opportunity to glean a clearer picture of the candidates, and if the manager is hiring for an on-site role, it’s helpful to see how the candidate interacts in a face-to-face dynamic. However, for many jobs that are remote by design, a phone interview may provide all the necessary information for the hiring manager to make an educated decision.
How to nail the first phone interview:
Phone interviews inherently feel less regimented than in-person interviews; the candidate typically takes them at home, and from the interviewer’s perspective, it’s more of a getting-to-know-you dialogue than a deep dive into your suitability for the position. However, certain guidelines and rules still apply, and it’s important to maintain a clear mindset when entering into a pre-screening on your iPhone. A few helpful tips:
1. Keep your energy high.
There’s no need to fake a bright tone or to offer falsely-enthusiastic responses to questions, but you also don’t want to sound bored and disinterested. Take the necessary self-care steps before the interview to keep yourself focused and motivated: get a good night’s sleep, eat breakfast and make sure that you can take the call in a comfortable, quiet space.
2. Dress the part.
While it’s not necessary to wear a business suit when taking a phone interview, getting yourself dressed and groomed before the call can put you in a professional state of mind.
3. Research the company ahead of time.
Take time to read up on the company before your phone interview, just as you would for a sit-down tête-à-tête with a hiring manager. Come prepared with a small number of questions that can help you decide whether this job is worth pursuing.
4. Come prepared to talk about your previous position.
Be ready to talk about why you’re leaving your current position (or, if you’ve been unemployed for a while, about the circumstances that led to that situation). While this may not seem like the type of foundational info that’s relevant to a phone screening, managers will frequently ask this question during this first conversation, so you’ll want to have a concise and straightforward response ready.
5. Keep your notes handy.
Don’t hesitate to use notes and reference materials if needed. This is one of the advantages to a phone interview (since it would seem a little odd to constantly glance at a notebook during an in-person interview), so make the most of it!
6. Send a thank-you note.
Remember to send a brief thank-you email to your interviewer after the pre-screening conversation. Most interviewees know to do this after an in-person meeting, but taking this step after a phone interview also makes an excellent impression.
Mistakes to avoid:
Don’t try to multitask while phone interviewing. That means that you should stay far away from your inbox during the conversation, you should set yourself up in a quiet room away from other at-home distractions, and you won’t be expecting any interruptions during the scheduled interview.
Don’t focus your attention on detailed questions about salary and benefits. If a salary range hasn’t been posted in the job listing, it’s appropriate (and smart) to ask about that, as it wouldn’t make sense to proceed to an in-person interview if you have completely different pay expectations. However, because the pre-screening is a step taken quite early in the hiring process, it doesn’t make sense to push for intricate details of PTO policies and raise schedules at that time.
Whatever you do, don’t put the interviewer on hold to accept another call during this first phone conversation. This seems like an obvious point, but the casual nature of a phone screening can lull interviewees into gross lapses of formality.
Try not to interrupt your interviewer. This can read as particularly impolite during a phone conversation (since body language can be a helpful mitigating factor if this happens during an in-person interview), so do whatever you can to allow the hiring manager to finish her thought before starting in on your next answer.
Don’t miss your opportunity to ask your own questions. Not only will a failure to do so deprive you of potentially-crucial information, but ending an interview with “I have no questions” doesn’t make you look especially interested in the job.
Make sure that you’re paying close attention to the interviewer’s descriptions of the role and the type of candidate she’s seeking. Often, interviewees think of phone screenings as a “test” that they must pass in order to move onto an in-person interview and serious consideration. However, it’s equally important for the job to pass your “test”; if it’s not what you’re looking for and you don’t find that out until after you’ve started, there’s a good chance that you could have discovered that conflict during the interview stage, had you chosen to listen and engage really thoroughly.